The many transitions of DJ Abilities

DJ Abilities returns to Minnesota with Aesop Rock and some super sick mixes.

Minnesota musician DJ Abilities is coming back to First Avenue tomorrow night to serve blended excellence.

Photo courtesy of DJ Abilities

Minnesota musician DJ Abilities is coming back to First Avenue tomorrow night to serve blended excellence.

Mary Reller

Gregory “Max” Keltgen, or DJ Abilities, is a man of many names and stages — an artist in more sense than one.

“It’s very similar to drawing a picture,” Keltgen said of his artistic process. “You sit there and you do this and you do that and you take this away. …It’s a long process of perfecting something, and once it’s done you say, ‘Here it is.’”

The Minnesota-grown musician is part of the Minneapolis-based label Rhymesayers. He has been a major success in the independent hip-hop scene and is returning to Minneapolis on Wednesday with Homeboy Sandman, Rob Sonic and Aesop Rock to perform at First Avenue.

Keltgen is known for his solo work as well his role in Eyedea and Abilities — a collaborative project with the late emcee Micheal Larsen.

“Max is an artist, as Mikey was, and I always describe artists as walking to the beat of their own drum,” said Larsen’s mother, Kathy Averill. “Artistry plays a big part in the perfectionistic idealism of the world.”

Averill has been one of Keltgen’s supporters since his late teens.

He lived at her house for years, where she said she watched him explore his music in their studio.

“I always call Max my surrogate son,” Averill said. “He always tries to do the right thing and put his best foot forward. …He had a hard life, and he worked through it and made a lot of progress, which a lot of people are unable to do.”

The songs “Now” and “Smile” by Eyedea and Abilities are among Keltgen’s greatest achievements, he said.

“I think Mike and I made a lot of really good stuff, and I’m honored to have worked with him.”

Keltgen’s life changed after Larsen’s passing in 2010. Solo work went from being the side project to the only type of music he could make.

But the emotional impact of losing his friend was much deeper than any effect Micheal Larsen’s death had on his work.

“I kind of had to start over in a sense, which seems difficult, but [it was] nothing even close to the emotional difficulty,” Keltgen said. “It wasn’t a work thing; it was an emotional, personal thing.”

Keltgen’s long-term friend Jesse Wiskochil — who is known by the stage name Keltgen gave him, “Willy Lose” — said Keltgen is a virtuoso when it comes to scratching and has always been ahead of the curve.

“The partnership that he had with Eyedea created a lot of future thinking,” Wiskochil said. “They did stuff that had never been done before. … [Keltgen] played a huge part in the history of hip-hop, DJing and its evolution.”

Rhymesayers helped cultivate the independent hip-hop scene that Minneapolis is known for, Keltgen said.

“It gave Minnesota [hip-hop] something to be proud of,” he said. “I think the Midwest has a lot of love for Minnesota [hip-hop] because of what it has established and what it continues to establish.”

Keltgen said his skills have furthered since his early work, but he still maintains a similar energy and vibe in his music.

“I think I am a better version of me [now] than I was then,” Keltgen said. “I think there are more tools to my disposal to fine-craft what I want to say.”

His mix “The Blends” is one hour and eight minutes of seamless cuts. It features a wild array of artists, including the Beastie Boys, Talking Heads, Outkast and a nice splash of Beetlejuice audio in the middle.

Keltgen said the intention behind his music has always been to evoke a strong sense of any emotion. But since becoming a father, music production has become more of an outlet for supporting his child.

“The reality is, you have to make money and you have to work; another reality is that I [expletive] love this,” Keltgen said. “I love creating, and I’m going to create until the day I die — regardless if it’s music or drawing or whatever — creation is the purpose of living for me.”

 

What: Aesop Rock with Rob Sonic and DJ Abilities

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: First Avenue Mainroom, 701 First Avenue N., Minneapolis.

 

Cost: $17-20

Ages: 18+