It all started in 1994 while digging through a box of old records. A Willie Nelson box set had a number of old-timey commercials interspersed throughout the album, and an ad for Spam caught Andrew Yeomanson's attention. He chopped up the commercial, using bits of it over a Cuban dance groove. The catchy tune stuck, becoming part of his DJ repertoire. The nickname DJ Le Spam followed suit. The Miami-based artist soon put together a backing band loaded with horns and percussion. In the mid-'90s, their shows were wild spectacles with inflatable toys and Christmas tree lights and random offerings for the crowd that Le Spam would pick up at the grocery store.
"It was weird and psychedelic in the early days," recalls the DJ. "I would fry Spam up and cook with this electric frying pan on the front of the stage." But Yeomanson is a vegetarian. "I would never eat it, and I'd feel a little guilty actually, because people would get drunk and we'd serve it to them."
Spam manufacturers Hormel got wind of the band and sent a letter ordering them to cease the association. The name survived, but the frying pan was packed away.
Fortunately, the Spam Allstars don't need gimmicks to be memorable. Their highly danceable sound incorporates dub, funk, and hip hop with a heavy dose of Latin rhythms. The six-piece traveling band includes three horns — sax, flute, and trombone — along with guitar and timbales. Le Spam handles the beats and the bass with his sampler.
"The way that I function in the band, I mix the whole show from the stage where I'm standing," he explains. "I have loops I've recorded over the years, and I program drum machines and record drummers and arrange those into little chunks. I'm playing the bass from samples, muting the bass lines in and out and trying to create different patterns and work the effects. We have arrangements, but they evolve and definitely change from night to night."
Le Spam still uses the same sampler he bought in the '90s. Unlike many modern DJs, he doesn't use a laptop, instead preferring the rudimentary simplicity of the equipment he learned on despite its obsolescence.
The band has released five albums, dating back to 1999's Pork Scratchings. Their 2007 release, Electrodomesticos, is the most recent, but Le Spam says they're about halfway through recording a new disc. Between a weekly residency at Hoy Como Ayer in Miami's Little Havana and a busy touring schedule, it's been difficult to find time to complete the album.
Because the band has such a wide-reaching, world-music appeal, it has generated a non-stop parade of work offers for Le Spam. He's written and recorded music for Volkswagen, Palm Treo, Lonely Planet, and the Miami Heat, among many others. This summer's big project is a three-part score to a documentary called Square Grouper on the mid-'70s to early-'80s marijuana-smuggling industry in South Florida.
"Believe me, I don't leave my house as long as these things need to be finished," he says. "I don't socialize. I don't even go record hunting anymore."
As for his home base, Le Spam says there's a lot more to Miami's music scene than the South Beach clubs.
"As a whole, culturally, there's a lot of stuff here that wouldn't work anywhere else," he says. "There's a scene that's definitely worth exploring."
The Spam Allstars manage to take the best of Miami and create one sound, fusing multiple genres into a steady, meat-free, dance party.