Wednesday, November 10, 2010

April DJ Tour Flashback! Neapolitan Gluttony

On April 11, Darshan and I played at the Meet In Town electronic music festival staged in Rome's Auditorium Parco della Musica, the retro-futuristic, pupa-like music venue designed by architect Renzo Piano.  To be precise, the entire festival was ghettoized and shoehorned into the lobby of the complex, but I'm pretty certain that still counts (and means we're finally playing the same venues as Elton John).

Anyway, in a topical break from form, I'm not going to report on the various follies that befell us at our Roman gig (there were many) or complain about the preposterous "career" that is flying around the world to play records. Instead, I'm going to write about pizza.  After all, Naples is less than an hour away from Rome by express train.  Since our epicurean friend Matt was also playing the festival, we decided it was imperative that the three of us should go to Naples immediately after the festival and eat pizza until we couldn't move.

We arrived in Naples late in the afternoon and headed directly to L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele.  Despite Da Michele's status as the most famous and highly-recommended pizzeria in Naples, we walked into a nearly empty restaurant and sat right down at a large table.  It might have been the jet lag or our low blood sugar, but the silent, white-marble dining area seemed as if it was enveloping us in a (buffalo) milky haze, feeling a bit like Dr. Bowman's space-room at the finale of Kubrik's 2001 - that is, were that room furnished with a wood-burning pizza oven and lacking a giant monolith (you'll note I'm studiously avoiding mention of the popular film that featured a scene in which Da Michele is invaded and sullied by a pizzaphilic beaver).

We ordered three pizzas: two margheritas (one normale and one doppia mozzarella) and a marinara.  The margherita and marinara are in fact the only two choices on the menu, albeit with options to double the cheese and or change the pie size (normale, media, and maxi, with each larger diameter increase commanding a 50-eurocent increment above the normale's astonishing four euro base price).

The pizza, in short, was perfect:
Margherita (foreground) and marinara.
I could not identify a single element that was wanting, and the interplay among the sauce, crust and cheese was as natural and effortless as a conversation among old friends.  No single ingredient drew undue attention to itself; rather, all of them sang in perfect harmony.  The fior di latte was milky and smooth, the salt content absolutely perfect.  The crust was incredible on its own, ripped straight from the cornicone: tender, with perfectly-distributed leopard spots of char that held us rapt as we knife-and-forked our way through each pie.
Da Michele "upskirt."
The sauce drew me in with its fascinating coincidence of mellowness and piquancy, emboldened on the marinara pie with a sprinkling of fresh oregano.  The marinara, in fact, was my favorite, which surprised me considering my fondness for cheese (reading Peter Reinhart's American Pie on my flight to Berlin the following day, I felt validated when I learned that Da Michele's marinara had left him similarly smitten).  We left sated and giddy, unanimously agreeing that Da Michele alone had justified our trip to Naples.

Only a few, short hours later it was dinner time, and we headed off to Da Dora, a seafood restaurant up on Via Palasciano.  Always thinking ahead, Matt had reserved us a table there as a respite from our planned pizza marathon.  Although the plates of perfectly-fried red mullet, tender calamari, shrimp, dorade and anchovies distracted me, my thoughts kept returning to Da Michele and its humble rounds of perfection.  Da Dora's homey, familial ambiance, complete with singing nonna, belied what turned out to be an expensive tab (though we drank wine, we were still surprised by our total of nearly 250 euro).  Though I was thankful for the experience, I had experienced better fish in other European cities, and was looking forward to our return to pizza-eating the next day.
Singing nonna, approaching with insalata caprese.
A detail of the mixed fried fish (octopus, fish cakes).

The following morning, we walked around the old city for a few hours in a valiant effort build up an appetite.  We only had about five hours before we were to split up and depart to our respective trains and planes, and we were still a bit full from the night before.  Nonetheless, we were soon seated at Trianon da Ciro, a pizzeria recommended to me a few days prior in Geneva by a restaurant proprietor originally from Rome.  In fact, he was quite dismissive of Da Michelle, claiming it was overrated and "for tourists only." Knowing firsthand how wrong this chef was about Da Michele, I was filled with trepidation as we waited for our pizzas (selected from a menu of perhaps twenty varieties) to arrive.  We had ordered a classic margherita and a D.O.C.  

The verdict?  I think the expressions on the faces of the pizzaioli at Da Michelle versus the one at Trianon mirrored our own feelings about their respective products perfectly:
Pizzaioli at Da Michele (left) and Trianon da Ciro.
The pizza at Trianon was unimpressive.  The crust was neither crisp nor airy, possessing a strangely tenacious chewiness and pull that left it feeling undercooked (it wasn't).  There was some charring, but it couldn't stand up to that soft chew.

The pasty Trianon "upskirt."
The sauce was unremarkable, and the cheese on the D.O.C. was oddly brackish.
Trianon's D.O.C.
The three of us marveled at how quickly Da Michele had spoiled us, complaining without irony as we ate our way through pizzas that were probably as good or better than many of the Neapolitan-style pies being served in New York at four times the price.  However, my fears about the Swiss chef's judgment had been borne out, and we left Trianon mourning the valuable belly space and eating time we had squandered there.

Our final stop was at Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente.  The pizzeria had formerly been called Cacialli, but a summer visit in 1994 from then-President Bill Clinton moved the owners to change the name.  If you find the sycophantic corniness of the name a bit off-putting, wait until you see the mural outside:

Try not to think of fraternity hazing rituals.
Rather than delve into my own personal critiques of the mural (staying on the PG-13 end of the interpretive spectrum, I thought it looked like an allegorical painting concerning improper men's room etiquette), I will simply say that it's a fine thing it didn't dissuade us from eating at Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente.  We ordered three pizzas: a margherita, a marinara, and the Tarantina, a cheeseless pie adorned with capers, black olives, anchovies, fresh oregano and basil.  All were fantastic.  
The Tarantina.
The crust, while a bit more dense than Da Michelle, was still crisp and tender, retaining its physics-defying lightness and delicate flavor even when supporting the strong, salty wallop of the Tarantina.  The margherita rivaled Da Michelle's, but lacked the subtlety, perhaps owing to the mystery "formaggio" listed as an ingredient on the menu.  We wondered if there might have been a shaving of grana padano on top. 

The margherita.

In the end, while the regal Da Michelle remained our one true love, we thoroughly enjoyed our "improper relationship" with the feisty intern mistress that was Il Pizzaiolo del PresidenteIt was the perfect way to end our Neapolitan adventure: at a restaurant filled with memory-making smells and tastes, noisy with contented locals who ate their lunches without fanfare and went on with their days.  Unlike us, they took for granted the pies we traveled thousands of miles to taste and would revisit in daydreams for months to come.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Setting It Up

I played a local gig last Friday in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to a crowd of twenty-something "hipsters" who (lucky for me) apparently just discovered house music the week before the party.  The concrete box in which the party was held was stifling (no A/C) and the sound was awful, but the youngsters danced anyway, yelping enthusiastically at even the most overplayed house anthems.  I should also note the party was called "Let's Play House." House, apparently, is back - meaning we can expect a New York Times article about its nascent resurgence in about 18 months.

On the down side, the promoter paid me a fifth less than promised (ever trusting, I didn't open my payment envelope and discover this until the following day), an out-of-control friend was doing lines of cocaine off the floor throughout my set, and the "DJ" following me yelled the following line into my ear as he took over: "You set it up perfectly!"

I'd like to touch on why this line irks me. It's one I've heard before.  Contrary to what this "DJ" might have thought, I did not "set it up perfectly."  I did what is known as "playing my records."  Sure, perhaps this "DJ"  thought he was paying me a compliment, but I tend to see the glass as half-empty (and filled with putrid tar-like substance rather than the resplendent, pink, freshly-squeezed watermelon juice commonly associated with the metaphor) and therefore receive such a statement in the worst possible way: as a passive-aggressive, pecking-order establishment move typical of alpha DJs.

The way I see it, if you tell the a "DJ" who plays before you that he or she "set it [the party] up perfectly [for your "DJ" set]," it implies he or she played records in your service.  Viewed in this light, instead of treating the preceding "DJ" as a peer whose set is a distinct and important part of the night, he or she is reduced to someone prepping and arousing the crowd for your arrival and your more-important "DJ" set in much the same way a "fluffer" might prepare and/or maintain the arousal of a porn actor's you-know-what (and by "you know what" I mean "weenis," and by "weenis" I mean "baloney poney") for an all-important scene.  And let's be honest: no one really wants to be the fluffer.  (Of course, I realize there are such things as "warm-up slots" and "chill-out slots" and other temperature-based and hyphenated roles that are vital to the ebb and flow of a successful party.)

Anyway, there's little else to report about the party.  It was a short set of 90 minutes and relatively easy.  Therefore, in lieu of a more detailed write-up, I will leave you with a transcription of a short conversation I had with a Hasid on a return flight from Europe about a month ago.  The exchange amused me at the time and I scribbled it on the back of a xeroxed page from the American Airlines Passenger Service Manual page (Section 220-70SH, Page 9) I found in the plane's galley.  It's nothing special, but I figure it's time to clean up my desk and that means throwing the paper out.  Rather than lose all memory of the exchange, I'll dump it here.

----

I had been waiting on line for one of the mid-cabin lavatories to become available when the Hasid ambled up the aisle from Business Class.  He had wild eyes and wet lips, grinning at no one in particular and loudly blowing his nose.  Despite the obvious queue leading towards the rear of the plane, the man walked directly up to me and, gesturing at the closed lavatory door, asked, "Were you here first?"

We heard the whoosh of a flush, and the lavatory door opened.  The man who had been waiting ahead of me in line slipped in after the erstwhile occupier exited the toilet.  I was next.

"Yes, I was after him," I answered.
"I'm not  sure he was after me," said the Hasid.
"Whatever," I replied. "Go ahead if it's urgent."
"It's not urgent, but I'm very quick."

I let his non sequitur claim of briskness in the john slide, especially as I was becoming increasingly disturbed by the way he was staring at my chest and grinning.

"What is WNYU?" he asked, referring to the design on my T-shirt.
"It's a radio station," I answered, slightly relieved. "Are you from New York City?"
"Yes."
"It's the radio station of NYU."
"My alma mater," replied the Hasid.

I must admit I was nonplussed by his ignorance of WNYU, considering the fact that the station has been around since 1949 and has call letters that are essentially an eponym of the school's name. Even if he missed those connections, my shirt's accompanying graphic of the Washington Square Arch should have tipped him off.  Nonetheless, I soldiered on with the small talk, if only to distract myself from the increasing pressure in my bladder.

"What did you study?" I asked.
"English," he replied quickly.
"A useless degree," I said, smiling. "I did the same."
"It guarantees unemployment!"
"True. So what do you do?"
"I'm an author."

So, he was employed in a field directly related to the degree he just proclaimed guaranteed unemployment?  I was starting to feel like a urine-filled Abbott to his Kosher Kostello.

"What did you write?" I asked.
"Novels and short stories."
"Fiction, then."
"Non-fiction," replied the man.
"Short stories that are...non-fiction?"
"Yes.  Stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things."

I felt my sphincter clench a bit at this, most likely as a result of his description of his stories (and the way he drew out the word "extraordinary" to a full fifteen seconds), but also as a result of my now-blinding need to urinate.  Thankfully, the lavatory door opened.

"May I go in?" he asked.
"Please," I replied through gritted teeth, and gestured expansively towards the foul-smelling booth.

A minute later, the door opened.  The man walked out and leaned towards me conspiratorially.  I instinctively backed up, fearing he hadn't washed his hands and might touch me, causing me to wet my pants.

"I just wanted to clarify something," he said. "I wasn't asking to go before you.  I'm quite sure I was here before you."

I nodded, slipped past him into the safety of the lav, and locked the door.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Philly Cream

I had a fun gig in Philly last week.  I also love driving through New Jersey at night and not having to get to airports or sit on planes.

The crowd in Philadelphia was ideal: hungry and alluringly naive (like the mythical "farmer's daughter"), but somehow in possession of a disco instinct (her father is a gay farmer who came out when she was three and grows only opium poppies).  Such a crowd is rare and usually cultivated, like opium poppies, by a few optimistic, trendy/cool kids doing something new in their city.  Sure, the crowd will soon grow jaded and the kids will turn into various variations of me, but let's try to enjoy the now.

Speaking of the now, I'm going to be playing in Munich and Plock (that's Poland) this week.  I may or may not report back on that.  My recent blogular silence confirms an inner conflict, since I've come to the conclusion that I can't really report on anything truly scandalous (or pick apart in detail the doltish promoters, agents and clubbers I'm forced to deal with in this "profession") without implicating the hands that feed.  After all, I make my living from promoters, agents and clubbers.

I suppose I'll struggle with this issue a bit and eventually resolve it one way or the other.
  1. One Way: It's OK to be a douche and I hate the music business.  I'm naming names.
  2. The Other: I should be thankful. Plus, I'll stop getting gigs if the wrong people read what I write about them.
  3. The Third Path: No one reads this except my dad.  I'll just send him private emails.
  4. The Fourth Dimension: I'll become the Perez Hilton of "DJing" (but somehow less hated - maybe more like a mix of Hilton and a waiter at Ed Debevic's) and people will book me at parties just to get trashed in my blog afterward.  Even though this is a long shot, it's the reality I wish for the most.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

You're Stinki: Did You Finnish That Cologne?
(Part II)

It's about a million degrees in New York City this week (give or take a few zeros), and while it doesn't take much to make (or rather, keep) me grumpy, hot weather does the job particularly well.  Once the temperature reaches above, say, 68 degrees Fahrenheit, I start acting like a surly indoor cat: drooped listlessly across my sticky leather couch, I "blog" halfheartedly (most cats "blog," albeit silently and sans computer) and occasionally rouse myself to bat at a Kitty Frenzy or use the litter box.  Lately, I've even taken to trying to stretch my leg above my head so I can "clean myself"; after all, it's been nearly two weeks of hot weather keeping me indoors and I'm lonely (not to mention in desperate need of a "grundle" cleaning, what with all the profuse sweating on the aforementioned leather couch).

Anyway, my point is that I'm in a mood to complain.

I will now proceed to discuss the second destination of my European weekend: Cologne, Germany.

I think the only thing that beats hot weather in terms of precipitating grumpitude in my person is a minor, irritating, potentially-avoidable illness such as a cold.  A summer cold, in fact, is a "perfect storm" for rendering me nearly impossible to be around, and that's exactly what I came home with from my gig in Cologne two weeks ago.  Despite not sleeping in Helsinki and taking multiple long-haul flights, I'm positive I caught this cold from the promoter for my Cologne gig, who saw fit to shake hands, shout (and surely spit) in my ear and engage in other space-invading maneuvers throughout the night of the party despite (unbeknown to me) being quite sick.  "I am so ill, I feel just terrible!" he exclaimed as he counted out my Euros at 6 a.m., putting the "germ" in "German" and sending me into a hypochondriac panic that would be borne out over the next mucous-filled week.

I must confess that his behavior seemed particularly "Euro" (the xenophobic American epithet, not the currency) to me.  As is obvious from previous posts, I have a complex love-hate relationship with Europeans (plus I also tend to talk about "Europe" and "Europeans" as if they are one homogeneous group, which tends to effectively irritate "them" with a minimum of effort on my behalf).  Their cavalier attitude regarding illness and personal space is rivaled only by their cavalier attitude towards public breast feeding and Speedo-wearing (or worst of all, cavalier public breast feeding whilst attired in only a Speedo).  Maybe it's because I'm from New York, where the average resident (for example, me) is a hyperventilating, hypervigilant hypochondriac, squirting Purell compulsively and ceaselessly fretting over his health.  Nonetheless, I prefer a bit of considerate precaution, and only wish I had been afforded some by my snotty host.

While I'm being petty, which is of course the entire point of this "blog," I feel I should point out another faux pas on the part of this promoter (and/or Europe, since as far as I am concerned, he was an ambassador for the continent).  Often, an artist or band must supply an invoice (documenting goods or services and the amount due) for payment for a gig.  My complaint: if an invoice is required (as it was for this gig) and the promoter hasn't yet received one by the time he or she meets me at the hotel or airport, that promoter should apprise me of the situation then, and not after I play, when all I want to do is get paid, get away from the blaring music and sleep.  Unfortunately, at nearly 6:00 a.m., this promoter actually made me wait in his office for twenty minutes while he slowly typed out an invoice with one finger, mumbling to himself about font size and formatting.  I had of course already fulfilled my side of the contract (even playing an extra hour beyond what my itinerary specified), and could have just re-emailed him an invoice if he supplied me with a working e-mail address; however, he refused to pay me (or let me leave) before he had his invoice printed and signed. 

His lack of trust left me with a bad taste in my mouth, which was further soured when we walked outside and hailed a cab to take me back to my hotel.  Out of an abundance of caution and a gut feeling, I asked the promoter if he had paid for the taxi (as my contract specifies and is the norm).  "Oh, actually, do you mind paying for it yourself?" he answered nonchalantly. "I don't have any money left for the cab."  Considering his anal-retentive, compulsive business with the invoice mere minutes earlier, I probably should have replied, "Then go ahead and get some cash, you hypocritical, Teutonic fuckwit - I'll wait!" However, fatigue was winning out over principles, so instead I simply said, "Sure."

As for the the gig itself: it was sparsely attended, which the promoter blamed on the balmy weather.  The crowd was inoffensive, neither enthusiastic nor hostile.  Overall, it was fairly unmemorable, although they did have a giant video screen which brightly illuminated the sparsely-populated dance floor:


Upon returning to my hotel, I unsuccessfully tried to get a couple of hours' rest in the sleeping-bag sized bed, and before long the car taking me to Dusseldorf Airport was waiting for me downstairs.  As I climbed into the back seat, the driver said it would be a quick drive. "We must get there before the game starts," he said distractedly, flicking off the dashboard TV and starting the engine. "It is England versus Germany today."  I groaned inwardly as I realized I'd be flying home to New York via Heathrow, which (paired with Dusseldorf) probably meant a full day of having to deal with the World Cup, a tournament I take no interest in and by whose enthusiasts I am consistently annoyed (especially in New York, where this enthusiasm seems mercifully limited to hipsters, yuppies/Cityorkers, douchey New York Times editors and recent immigrants).

My worry was soon substantiated.  Shortly after my arrival at Dusselforf airport, I found myself diving under a restaurant table in terror after Germany scored a goal as I was innocently purchasing a small salzbretzel.  I found myself reminded of "Eric," my ranting friend on the "E" train from Friday's commute to JFK, and how positively sane he seemed in retrospect when compared to these screaming fu├čbal fans.  Walking to my gate, I had a fleeting moment of hope when I misread a sign and thought someone had finally created a lounge specifically for men like me:


Alas, it did not read "Huge Junker's Lounge" as I had thought, and I was denied the World Cup-free oasis I had hoped for (to say nothing of the callipygian delights I imagined would be staffing such a lounge).  It was a depressing end to the weekend, and despite having toured for the better part of a decade, I realized still was naive regarding the outer limits of airport pain: it all gets much worse when you add face paint and vuvuzelas.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

You're Stinki: Did You Finnish That Cologne?
(Part I)

To say I was unenthusiastic about leaving for last weekend's gigs in Helsinki and Cologne is a gross - nay, repulsive - understatement. I had been recently chagrined by two spirit-crushing New York City gigs and was dreading the prospect of spending double-digit hours crammed into yet another airplane seat. Words fail to express how utterly sick I am of flying to and fro across the Atlantic. Suffice to say that when we make landfall in Europe and the French city of Brest appears on the airplane's moving map, I now remain stoic. "Brest again," I might sigh ruefully, but no more than that; certainly a far cry from the maniacal tittering that for years discomfited my fellow passengers.

Souring my mood further was the 95 degree heat plaguing New York City on Thursday afternoon as I began my journey. It's no fun to haul records around in such weather, and the rising mercury had brought out what sociologists call "the crazies" here in New York City:



Despite riding the "E" train regularly to my remote studio on the rugged Brooklyn-Queens border (Woodhaven residents are considered the Pashtuns of the "outer boroughs"), I had never encountered "Eric" before.  Pacing around in an outfit reminiscent of Dr. Fink's, he repeatedly yelled, "All day long, they're complaining about the same BULLSHIT!" while pushing his metal cart through the train.  The cart was laden with several bunches of bananas, empty plastic bags, a dozen or so sandwiches made on white bread and wrapped in cellophane, and 30 or so hand-labeled cassette tapes. I desperately wanted one of Eric's tapes, but I already felt like too much of a hipster douche tourist surreptitiously squeezing off photos for my "poor me, I'm a 'DJ' who has to fly to Europe" blog:


The above crappy photo is of an equally-crazed gentleman relieving Eric of about six tapes. I learned during their screamed transaction that the Eric's tapes were in fact free, which made my remorse over not procuring one even more intense, and when the gentleman began screaming, "Sugar, these are some CLASSICS! Oh, SUGAR!" as he flipped through his bounty, my heart sank. I was fairly certain that the tapes Eric was giving away were filled with more of the ranting my fellow riders and I were witnessing live, but still, maybe they were classics.  Future classics.

I could definitely relate to Eric. Like me, he appeared to be in a perpetual state of paranoid ranting (I just keep my ranting inside my head, which is probably exactly how Eric started out years ago). But more importantly, I felt like we were fellow disgruntled "DJs," and even though he only had cassettes instead of records or a laptop, a handwritten sign on his cart boiled down the "DJ" experience (or mine, at least) perfectly:

I WORK 4 SMILES
I haven't been making enough smiles lately
The haters have me surrounded

I thought about Eric for the rest of the ride to JFK, and after a weather delay of about 2 hours, my Finnair flight finally took off for Helsinki.

---

After taking a taxi through what looked like a ghost town, with nary a person walking on the street and even the licorice-crammed kioski shuttered, I arrived at my hotel.  Glancing at the lead story of the Helsinki Times, I discovered the reason:

Outgoing Midsummer traffic is expected to be at its busiest in the afternoon and evening of Thursday, 24 June. This weekend sees the annual celebration in Finland of Midsummer, juhannus. Held this year on 26 June, Midsummer is notable for the majority of the population heading to the countryside for prolonged celebrations that include the lighting of a giant bonfire, or kokko, at lakesides and by the sea.

As I read this paragraph in the paper, my fantasies of a redemptive gig filled with cheering, translucent blonds in rectangular black-framed glasses vaporized.  Why would they have booked me just as everyone was leaving town? The club would be empty! I was going to have to hit the salmiakki pretty hard to make it through.

To my surprise, however, the gig was well-attended considering the circumstances.  While the beautiful new Club YK was certainly not packed, a sufficient number of country bumpkins had trekked into the city to eliminate the need for any "pity dancing" on the part of the promoter.  There were even a few familiar faces from my past gigs in the city, and I was reminded of how even a modest display of genuine enthusiasm could sustain a "DJ" like myself through the night (this even holds true at an otherwise-hostile club, provided your allies are positioned directly in front of you and blocking your view of the scowling masses).  Genuine enthusiasm is the antithesis of "pity dancing," which is so obviously contrived that it ends up accomplishing the exact opposite of its intended goal.

In all honesty, the only real problem with the gig was my own performance: I was exhausted, jet-lagged and disoriented (Finland is seven hours ahead of NYC, and the sun never goes down in the summer).  As a result, my brain couldn't seem to handle thinking more than a single record ahead in the mix.  This made it nearly impossible to plan the trajectory of the night, or even the trajectory of the next fifteen minutes.  I was struggling to stay awake, and at one point I even "dropped" the following classic fatigue-induced "DJ" trick:
  1. Place record to be mixed in on available turntable.
  2. Enter zombie-like state.
  3. In zombie-state, remove record you just put down from turntable, slip it into its sleeve and carefully return it record bag.
  4. Turn around to face now-empty turntable.
  5. Jolt out of zombie-state.
  6. Wonder where the record to be mixed disappeared to.
  7. (Optional) Panic.
Luckily, by that point in the night, the juhannus-celebrating Finns were too plastered to notice or care.  Of course, I remember what they forget.

(to be continued in Part II)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Uphill Battle

The ones of readers following this blog may have noted that I've been M.I.A. lately (that stands for "Maudlin In Astoria"). I don't live in Astoria, but I live nearby. Close enough.

I'm at what pop psychiatrists refer to as "the bottom" regarding "DJ'ing." As previously noted in these Web pages, I no longer possess the internal engine of passion driving me to "DJ" and long for the days when I could simply produce records for other people to play.

I "DJ" solely for the money, and while I won't argue with the tiny, conflicting ego boost that may or may not accompany a well-received gig, there is no longer any momentum, no looking forward to the next gig. There aren't even fringe benefits to playing: I don't have an album to promote (I decided to stop recording music after I found out records are "whale blubber"), I'm too neurotic to screw groupies (as if I had any) or enjoy illicit substances (as if anyone offers me any), and, contrary to what most "DJs" will tell you, I don't think the enterprise is particularly creative. I don't even really like the travel; while the destinations can be wonderful, being too exhausted and/or rushed to see any of them isn't, and the prospect of hours in a cramped airplane seat causes me to plunge into despondency.

Admittedly, like the hipness of sampled piano breakdowns in house music, I tend to go in cycles regarding my outlook on "DJ'ing." For example, sometimes I step off a plane and marvel aloud, "My stars, someone flew me all the way here from New York City to have me play records in a mediocre fashion. How lucky I am to be the beneficiary of such idiocy!" And it's true: I do realize I am lucky, luckier than most. There are literally thousands (just in Williamsburg) of skinny-jeans-wearing, ambisexual twenty-somethings who would kill for my touring opportunities. I should be happy, but I'm not. After all, "lucky" doesn't equal "happy" - and let's not even try to guess what "happy-go-lucky" means. Let's just say it's currently at the bottom of my "favorite idioms" list.

When I'm down like this, it's never fun to play, and what would normally be a considered a small infraction on the part of, say, an audience member or promoter becomes something gargantuan and looming that seems to confirm every ill feeling I have towards the profession (calling the spinning of phonographic records a "profession" is definitely the most ridiculous thing I've written so far). I begin to replay the offense in my mind over and over, and - like a nightmare - sometimes it helps to just tell someone about it and get it out.

Earlier in the month, I played a long-running party series here in New York City with my partner, Darshan (formerly known as "Darshan" to protect his identity, I recently discovered the quotation marks were superfluous, since by pure coincidence I had selected his actual name as an alias). I had been relaxing out at the beach prior to the gig, and was therefore already in a foul mood for having to take a four-hour train ride back to the city to earn a few bucks. This party was described to me by many, perhaps unfairly, as a "techno party," so was already apprehensive about playing. While I'm certainly a fan of Detroit techno, I tend not to play modern "techno" because it all sounds like quantized dripping to me. (It also tends to attract a crowd that takes drugs because it makes the dripping sound "epic.") The point is I shouldn't have been so surprised or bothered by the minuscule interaction that I'm about to describe, bearing in mind the "culture" of the party.

Early in the morning, with barely anyone remaining in our room (we had been forsaken by most of the attendees for the dripping in the back room), the party promoter and his girlfriend dipped in for what I like to call a "pity dance." A "pity dance" consists of a promoter, friend or supporting "DJ" entering an empty dance floor and prancing about and/or yelling "Whoo!" in an effort to conceal and/or distract from the general hopelessness of the situation. By this point, my spirit was sufficiently crushed that I was playing slower records that only I wanted to hear, and it was while I was playing "Danger Zone" that the promoter's girlfriend came up to me and proclaimed, "This is the gayest song I've ever heard!"

Now, at another party, coming from another person (say, a gay man), I might take this as a compliment. But not at this party, and especially not from this woman who just came from the far more popular dripping room. For some reason, she reminded me of some of the more "provincial" (that's guilty New Yorker for "xenophobic douche") Poles I witnessed when I played Warsaw, who would come up to my Korean-American friend who was accompanying me on the tour, clasp their hands together and bow to him with their faces screwed up - as if that were a sophisticated joke, or as if he didn't notice that he was not a white Pole. This woman wanted to point out me that what I was playing was not the chic dripping she was used to, but that she was still willing to humor me. For a fleeting moment I even thought she might have meant what she said as a genuine compliment, but that ambiguity was removed when she squealed, "I love it! Keep up the cheese!" before "pity-dancing" out of sight (presumably to return to the techno).

I remember my Korean-American friend laughed his Polish experience off for the stupidity that is was, and I wish I could have followed suit and done so here. However, I just couldn't, and it haunted my dreams that night (which, to be fair, was a refreshing change from the usual recurring dream involving a giant Grover trying to touch my bathing suit parts). I certainly can see how "Danger Zone" might be considered "cheesy" to people who think the future is the sleek, icy sound of quantized dripping, but to me, the song is actually far less "cheesy" and trite and predictable than what most people dance to these days. Most importantly, it's music that is important to me, and I felt condescended to by someone who thought she knew better than I what was in good taste or not.

Regardless of the reason, I was amazed at how an insignificant bit of small talk could provoke such ire in me. Had my fuse become so considerably shortened by prolonged disgruntlement with clubs and the people inside them that it no longer functioned and I went directly to anger? Evidently so.

The following week was bleak; I could barely get off the couch to fetch my hourly glass of Rote Bete-Saft. However, I had another local gig to look forward to, this time at Cielo. Cielo is a popular club situated in the Meatpacking District, a locale I studiously avoid for myriad reasons ranging from the overabundance of ankle tattoo/high-heel combinations to the overabundance of raw meat juice in the street. Cielo is is described by its owner as a "European-style club." This in itself is enough to depress me, since I remember a time when it was sufficient for a New York club to simply be a "New York-style club," but since New York is now chock full of "paryorkers" (or the even clunkier-sounding "Cityorkers") and other "European-style" people, the club is understandably well-attended. In fact, its popularity earned it the attention of the NYPD more than once, and as a result, even working "DJs" like myself (hired by the club) are subject to a pat-down and bag search.

It was during my own TSA-like screening that the security man frisking me said, "Dude, you're the DJ? I hope you play better stuff that what they're playing in there, because this sucks!" Cielo's door person, stamping patrons' hands nearby, nodded in agreement. "These guys suck!" she said. "Please play some good music!" I should note here that it was Darshan's party, and if anything, the sounds I heard drifting out of the door were far more appropriate to the club than what I had in my record bag. I decided honestly was probably the best policy, since both the bouncer and ankle-tattooed, beheeled gatekeeper were so honest with me. "It's about to get worse," I said, and walked inside with my records.

Unlike my particular (and, perhaps, peculiar) sensitivity to the woman's comments at the previous week's party, I probably don't have to explain much about why this interaction worsened my already-dire outlook on "DJ'ing" - or at least "DJ'ing" in New York City.

Tomorrow I fly to gigs in Helsinki and Cologne, and if I can summon enough psychic energy after the gigs to write about them, I certainly shall.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Fabric of Life

"London nightclub Fabric has gone into administration this week."
-PropertyWeek.com
"I don't care if it's a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I'm leaving it. If you don't, you feel even worse."
-J.D. Salinger
"You're a really weird but cool kid. K.I.T."
-Unknown signatory in my 8th-grade yearbook
It appears the rumo(u)rs of the London "superclub" Fabric going into administration are true (for U.S. readers, "administration" is fish and chips for "Chapter 11"). To the best of my minute of internet research knowledge, "administration" allows a troubled business to continue trading in the hope that it will pull through its current financial crisis. Therefore, there is always the chance that Fabric may merely change hands and recover rather than disappear forever.

I'm saddened by this news, not only because each gig at Fabric perfectly precipitated the feelings of alienation I so adore whining about in this blog (plus I hadn't yet documented a night there), but also because the club and label was a major supporter of many "DJs'" and artists' careers, including my own. For a large club and major tourist destination, their booking policy consistently (and refreshingly) skewed towards so-called "underground" music rather than the usual superstar hacks.

I suppose it's not terribly surprising considering what happened recently with Matter, the terrifyingly sterile megaclub Fabric's founders chose to open in the remote galactic pimple London 02 Dome.