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?"
"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 fußbal 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 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."
"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.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Spanish Fly: Part II (Electric Tapaçoo)

(continued from Part I)

Note: I realize cliffhangers can be maddening, and I apologize for any breath bated because of my week's delay in finishing this post. I also apologize to any 'baters.

Saturday, May 15, 2010
, Spain
5:57 AM

Surprise: the replacement mixer didn't work.
The truth is, it kind of worked: two out of the four channels on the mixer were perfectly fine. Two out of four ain't bad! Unfortunately, poor "Darshan" just tried a non-working channel in this photo, and his expression sums up what it's like to fade into silence in front of a club full of people:

This handicap seemed particularly perverse considering the exacting behavior of the club's "hostess" (read: artist liaison/babysitter) and her annoying junior minion
(not to be confused with "Junior Mints," which don't annoy me at all and are infuriatingly hard to source in Spain). Taken together, this duo was a micro-management tour de force. From the get-go, they aggressively demanded 100% of us (maybe even "110%," which hasn't been asked of me since my elementary school's field day back in 1982), despite providing us with equipment that was only 50% functional. In short, the math was not in our favor tonight.

The truth is that their demanding conduct began even before the get-go, the duo already hovering over us prior to our start time with the warm-up "DJ" still mixing his last few records. As is our custom, we
respectfully attempted to let his final record finish before "dropping" our first song, but this didn't play well with our minders: at one point, it appeared as if the agitated Junior Mint was actually going to take my hand and guide it into my record bag in an effort to "jump start" my selection process, thereby hastening our set's commencement. In addition to having to deal with such hostile and stifling behavior, we felt "vibe-icly challenged" (this is a technical term in our industry that roughly translates to "fucked") by the way the club set up the "DJ" area:

As you can see in the photo, a good third of the room we were stationed in was taken up by an embarrassingly deep (and empty, aside from our small "DJ" setup) stage. It's bad enough "DJing" on even a small stage, let alone a giant one, since the crowd inevitably looks upon you as an audience might look upon the actors in a theatrical production. They expect something exciting to happen, even though it is abundantly clear (especially by the second or third hour of the set) that the only thing to be seen onstage is some schmuck with headphones who occasionally changes a record or CD.

To be fair, certain "DJs" do elevate their performances to theater, which runs the gamut from tragedizing a skipping CD to miming an entire DJ set (and presumably getting paid for it, which I do find impressive). I'm always disappointed in how positively audiences react to theatrics, especially when there is no apparent skill involved and/or the theatrics are comprised entirely of half-assed "Eurocheerleading." In fact, I personally find "DJ drama" to be singularly embarrassing, which is probably one of the reasons (alongside not mixing well and playing unpopular records) that I'll never crack any "World's Top DJs" lists. I prefer to "let the music speak for me, man" - and as a result, I can be quite boring to watch when playing alone (luckily, I often have a partner).

Despite these obstacles, the evening turned out alright, although I have fairly low standards and consider a night successful so long as no bottles are hurled at me. There were some familiar faces from our previous visits to the club, which is always appreciated, even if their enthusiasm was occasionally embarrassing; for example, while a crowd cheering a particular mix or record can be exhilarating and motivate a party, one person's solo shrieking at each and every mix has precisely the opposite effect. Still, it's the thought that counts.

Best of all, we got approval from a vacationing Pan, which was a shock considering my aforesaid aversion to "DJ drama" and the fact that he's the god of theatrical criticism:

You can't see his little goat legs or hooves in the photo, but they were there in all their glory. And who knew old Pan loved Red Bull and vodka so much? In this crazy business, you learn something new at every gig.

Saturday, May 15, 2010
Barcelona Airport
, Spain
12:07 PM

I knew I forgot something on this trip: my laptop's power adapter.

Oh well. I guess that's it for this trip.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Spanish Fly: Part I

I just flew in from La Coruña (via Madrid and London) and boy, es mis brazos cansados! In fact, I'm going to post utilize a bloggeur vérité mode of entry today because I'm too exhausted to work all of my notes into a single, flowing, easy-to-read "narrative" (that's Vassar for "story"). Sure, it'll be messier than a Spanish whore's closet (I bet you thought I was going to write "hairy, diseased chocha"). But hey, life is messy. Here we go...

Thursday, May 13, 2010
Queens, New York City
4:20 PM

I'm checking in with a quick post before my limo (and by "limo" I mean "filthy subway") shuttles me to the AirTrain, which in turn will shuttle me to ye olde Idlewild Airport. It looks like I'll certainly be flying to Spain tonight, since Eyjafjallajokull has decided to take a breather. This is lucky considering the very airports I'm flying to (Barcelona and La Coruña) were closed mere days ago by that royal ash hole.

As mentioned in my last post (the hasty conclusion of which I humbly apologize for), I'm not quite in the mood to fly back to Europe just yet. I'm still exhausted from my encounter with Richard Dorfmeister and my month of touring there. However, duty calls.

In anticipation of having to sit cramped and motionless in flying tubes for the next 14 hours or so (or stuck in some port specifically designed for the reception and dispatch of flying tubes), I decided to get a last-minute stretch of the muscles in the form of a quick bike ride. Since I like to "balance out" any potential weight loss or health benefits gained from the exercise, I always incorporate eating into my cycling routes. In fact, I had already consumed a take-out container of leftover mock duck with Thai basil in anticipation of my departure (this is particularly good before rides on hot days).

I mounted my trusty velocipede and rode at an easy pace before stopping for my customary ten-minute-mark slice of pizza. Momentarily sated, I resumed cycling, but only made it a few blocks further before the onset of an unpleasant sensation familiar to all serious cyclists: the painful tightening of the taintal region due to the pressure of the bike saddle. Wincing in pain, hungry and seeking relief (and thankfully in Astoria, Queens, a neighborhood full of Greeks), I managed to score some koulouri at a nearby bakery. It was just what the doctor ordered, and my poor, tensed grundle loosened considerably. In honor of my Hellenic saviors, I purchased several large pieces of baklava and messily consumed them during the seven minute ride back home.

As I type this, it's dawning on me that perhaps I should have eaten a bit less. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the only volcano threatening my travel presently is nowhere near Iceland. I'll be lucky if my flight makes it past Hartford before my own Eyjafjallajokull begins erupting.

JFK Airport
7:20 PM

I'm staring out the window at the giant 747 I'm about to board, and the song playing throughout the terminal right now is Earth, Wind & Fire's "Let's Groove" (here is a sad video of the group performing the song at what looks like a LDS Church fundraiser). That's the one with these lines: "Move yourself, and gliiiide, like a 747. Lose yourself, in the skyyyy, among the clouds in the heavens." I always get a bit nervous before flying, and I can't decide if I find this musical coincidence soothing or foreboding. I suspect for it to be truly foreboding, I'd also be hearing a low, off-key synthesizer drone underneath the music, like in a horror film. I'm going with soothing.

I should be OK, however, since I always make a point to preemptively appease any plane I'm flying before boarding so it doesn't misbehave during the journey (in the form of, say, turbulence-seeking or catastrophic mechanical failure).

With a larger plane, the key is to start out gently:

At this point, if the plane (like this one) seems friendly and no signs of aggression are displayed, I move onto a full pet:

I knew I was in when the big guy started purring at this point (or perhaps the crew started the craft's engines, since boarding had commenced), and I wrapped up with my patented chin-scratch:

This ritual is obviously effective, as I've not died yet in a horrible plane crash. The only downside is that the other passengers tend to avoid eye contact with me throughout the ensuing flight, which can be quite lonely.

Friday, May 14, 2010
London, England
9:06 AM

I'm sitting in Terminal Three of Heathrow. While I made it through the transcontinental leg with clean underwear, I continue to tempt my "pants volcano" to erupt, this time with a disgusting English breakfast purchased (somewhat ironically) from Caffé Italia (the sole hint of "Italia" I could spot was my waitress's mustache).

Please forgive my lowbrow (or perhaps "unibrow") humo(u)r, but I'm in a foul mood. I only had time for this meal because of the hundreds of circles my plane described in the ever-present holding pattern just outside of Heathrow. As a result, our arrival was delayed significantly, and I missed my connection.

I also broke a rule enacted years ago after a futile, sweaty dash through the human habitrail known as Charles De Gaulle Airport: never run for a connection you're on schedule to miss (this rule applies double if you have checked baggage). The impetus behind today's anomalous sprint was the promise of pescaditos fritos and patatas bravas awaiting me in Barcelona (rather than the pedestrian mint or chocolate, it is the custom of finer hotels there to place tapas on a guest's pillow). I ran so fast, in fact, that I beat BA's delivery of my bag of phonographic and compact discs to the plane. Rather than risk losing it, I elected to play it safe and take the later 11:00 flight, since the BA employee at the gate assured me (in uncertaino voce) that this "guaranteed" my luggage would arrive with me in Barcelona. We shall see.

11:32 AM

The plane is delayed until after noon. The bravas will definitely be cold by now, my hotel pillow soaked through with oil from the uneaten fried fish. Three obese English children just put their sticky hands all over my sweatshirt. Things are looking up.

Friday, May 14, 2010
, Spain
3:35 PM

After 16 hours, I am finally in Barcelona. "Darshan" just sent a text: his flight to Madrid was late from New York, and since he is flying with that top-shelf carrier, Air Europa, there are no further connections to Barcelona until tonight. As a result, he has to waste the entire day in Madrid Airport. Even worse, I have no one to go eat tapas with. I guess I'll just go to sleep.

10:00 PM

"Darshan" has arrived in Barcelona, but is still at the airport since his checked bag of records was lost by Air Europa. This, apparently, is his reward for having to wait nine hours for the next connecting flight between two cities that are less than three hours apart by train - a train he didn't take, of course, because he was waiting for his bags.

I'm off to dinner with the Type A (or "Tapaç A") hostess of the club we're playing tonight, called Razzmatazz (try that one on with a Castilian accent). I haven't slept at all, in part because she's been calling and texting me all afternoon with questions about our mixer (a mixer is to the "DJ" as a steering wheel is to the psychotic elementary school bus driver). We had a terrible experience last time we played the club, battling turntable feedback (a loud howling that drowns out the music) and a broken mixer all night. Technical issues invariably make the "DJ" look awful even when it's the fault of the club. Club patrons don't care about the subtleties of sound reinforcement and malfunctioning equipment; they just know they paid 20 Euro to get in, the ecstasy they took an hour ago is peaking and the fucking music just stopped playing!

Anyway, the mixer we chose months in advance for tonight's performance is apparently "broken." Keep in mind this is probably a multimillion-Euro club complex, and the mixer costs about $800. It's bad enough that half our records are missing courtesy of Air Europa, so I told the hostess to just find us any mixer that will be working 100%. Fingers crossed.

(to be continued)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Swiss Mess

Life moves in cycles. We are born helpless and we die helpless. Love sparks, glows; passion subsides into compassion, then fades. Retainers are paid to matrimonial lawyers, then the lawyers themselves fall in love, blissfully unaware of their perilous futures. Wild fields of chest hair blow savagely about in Autumn's winds, only to be scythed into martinis come spring. Blind, newborn kittens maturate into snarling pit bulls, killing everything in their path, only to revert into back into kittens right before they die, dry out and disperse in the wind as floating, seed-bearing fur clumps that eventually fall back to earth and sprout into new, cuter kittens. Blocks of feta are purchased and lovingly snacked upon, but eventually spoil; alas, the cheese is too salty to eat every day. Then: "We need feta, the new crop of kittens is eating through our spanakopita like gangbusters." The cycle begins anew. Blogs are born, raised tenderly; but by and by, their writers lose interest, and the blogs shrivel into digital decrepitude, like some unwanted, salty kitten.

In other news, I feel like the creative writing course I've been attending at The Learning Annex is really paying off. I enrolled because I needed a firm kick in the tush (that's Yiddish for "testicles") to get back on track with these blog posts.

I think the cyclical nature of life is on my mind because, much to my chagrin and/or disbelief, I am scheduled this Thursday to once again board a plane, this time to Spain, where I'm booked to spin records in the rain, mainly on the plain (actually, I'll be in Barcelona and the Grand Canary Islands). I've barely recovered from my month in Europe, and while I'm looking forward to meeting the Grand Canary himself, I'm less than enthusiastic about the looming transcontinental travel, especially considering the very same ash hole that screwed up my April tour is wreaking havoc once again. I'm developing a terrible case of carpal tunnel from compulsive reloading of the Eurocontrol homepage, though that could be a handy (pun intended) excuse for the blog posts dropping off in the likely case that I end up expelled from the Learning Annex. (I'm currently on "strike two" for frotteurism with my non-consenting, nonagenarian writing partner, Mrs. Ivanovna.)

Moving on, I want to make good on the promise made in my last post: the documentation of heretofore undocumented travel from my April tour. I'll start with Zurich, where I played at the excellent (and dangerously hot) basement club, Zukunft. Zurich has a fairly rough red light district, despite being the one of the world's leading financial and reggae centers. The main language in the city is Zürich German, but anglophone travelers like myself encounter very few translation issues insofar as essentials are concerned:

As is my custom regarding good gigs, I shall spare you the mundane details (nice sound; enthusiastic crowd; fee paid in gold stolen from Jews) and instead pierce the crusty bread of affliction with the dipping fork of recollection and swirl it around in the cheesy fondue of shame.

I was picked up at the airport by Alex Dallas (his real name, despite sounding like the name of someone who might co-star in a film alongside the product pictured above). Sitting next to Alex was a gentleman who looked vaguely familiar to me and seemed to know my name. I had no idea who he was, and to make matters worse, I couldn't even remember if I had met Alex before or played at his club. I have an awful memory for faces and names (one might even say I have a memory like a Swiss cheese), and this weakness certainly isn't helped by my profession. For example, I find it difficult to establish a reliable mnemonic device if the subject is standing inside a giant subwoofer, illuminated solely by the blinding flash of a strobe light.

Mercifully, Alex volunteered that I had played his club as part of Kelley Polar's band years before, and my memory of the place (and the whole band's nearly passing out from the sweltering heat, despite our machismo) clicked into place. Still, I was desperately trying to piece together the other gentleman's identity from the scarce clues I had desperately gleaned from my perch in the back seat (he had just played in Italy; he moved to Zurich from Austria). My anxiety grew as we drove on, and I broke out in a sweat when the mystery man glared at me through the rear-view mirror and intoned, "Yes, this lifestyle of ours is so strange - you meet so many people, and then you meet them again somewhere and sit there hoping they will drop some clue in conversation that lets you know who they are."

I knew only the cruelest of sadists would toy with me in such a manner, so I began to run through my memorized list of the most evil beings in the world of Austrian-Swiss dance music, working backwards through the alphabet in an effort to focus intensely on each name. Having dismissed Yello, it suddenly dawned on me: the mystery man was the Prince of Downtempo Darkness himself, Richard Dorfmeister!

While I could forgive myself for letting such a common last name slip from memory (we had at least 20 Dorfmeisters in my elementary school in New Jersey), I chalked up this particular block to psychological repression, so traumatized was I by childhood experiences (well, in my 20s) experimenting with Kruder & Dorfmeister records. Suffice to say these recordings made GWAR sound like Simon and Garfunkel. K&D's labyrinths of jarring, aggressive, evil sound struck terror into the hearts of even the most hardened wearers of linen suits, and to this day I find I'll instinctively quicken my step if I accidentally walk by a time-worn copy of Ibiza Chillout or Give 'Em Enough...Dope, Volume Two in a used record shop.

Anyway, I was profoundly relieved to have remembered his name before he turned into a bat and flew out of the car's sunroof.

Reliving this trauma has so exhausted me that I must finish this post at another time.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blog Lag: Explanologies and Edutainment

The month in Europe is over. I'm back in New York City. My sunny penthouse in Berlin is but a gauzy memory, and with my hard New York shell softened by an April's worth of gentle rousing by the tintinnabulation of Teutonic church bells drifting through its windows, I found it particularly jarring to be jolted awake this morning by the perpetual cacophony that emanates from the nearby "Boulevard of Death" here in Queens.

In short, I'm a bit down in the mouth, and it doesn't help my gloomy mental state to know I've been delinquent in making regular and timely updates to this Web log. For this, I apologize not only to my loyal readers (now numbering in the high single digits), but also to the overly-ambitious, perfectionist side of myself that planned to "blog" every day. I know you, dear reader, can forgive me; I just hope my better half can accept my proffered "masturpology."

In my defense (now I'm masturfending), a major obstacle to regular, real-time posting was the very subject of this blog: the rigorous "lifestyle" of an international spinner of prerecorded phonographic (and compact) discs. While there are far more stressful avocations, there's no getting around the fact that this line of work is frequently exhausting. After all, it requires remaining conscious way past my usual bedtime (6:00 PM, directly after devouring the TV dinner and watching my nightly "CHiPs" rerun), traveling far beyond my usual time zone (Eastern Standard), consuming strange foods and generally running myself ragged in the name of making kids on drugs dance. This leaves me feeling exhausted and ashamed, with little energy to write.

As a result, I've fallen behind on current events. But fear not, as I plan to make amends by using the next few posts to catch up on hitherto undocumented travel over the last month. You can look forward to my musings on gigs in Zurich, Rome and Paris, as well as a delicious (and romantic) getaway to Naples, the pizza capital of Florida Italy.

I'd like to offer another apology, as well. Actually, it's more of an explanation (for simplicity's sake, let's just call it an "explanology"). I am cognizant of the fact that I've been writing like an "Ugly American" in this blog, wallowing in my ignorance regarding local customs (e.g., growing a beard and heading to the local supermarket to beat down visiting "DJs") and language (e.g., pretending "pinnwand" means "needle-dick" instead of "bulletin board"). I realize to some of my more worldly readers, this smacks of the worst type of American ethnocentrism (it may also reek of arrogant provincialism, with lingering notes of xenophobic exceptionalism and a touch of BK Flame).

How can I justify the twin sins of reeking and smacking? Surprisingly, I found that ignorance, that crude cousin of naivete, could actually enhance appreciation of a foreign land - especially if I was "appreciating" in the name of cheap laughs "edutainment" on this blog. In Berlin, my 3D glasses of stupidity revealed fascinating details obscured to the experience-blinded eyes of natives and seasoned expatriates. Take, for example, this photo I snapped of a fellow commuter on the local tram:

As a New Yorker, I assumed the suspicious gaze and accompanying obscene gesture with the bottle was this gentleman's way of saying kein danke to my sitting across from him. In reality, he was actually attempting to help me avoid getting a fine for Schwarzfahren, or riding without a fare. You see, in the barrier-less Berlin transit system, commuters must purchase (and validate) a ticket for entry or risk a fine from plainclothes transit officers on patrol. However, in the gentrified neighborhood of Prenzlauerberg (the Berlin equivalent of Park Slope) in which I was residing, there is an obscure local law that grants riders the option of purchasing subsidized bottles of organic rote bete saft in lieu of a ticket. Riders must begin sipping the sanguine juice immediately upon entry into the transit system, since validation in this case takes the form of the Reißzähne, or "fangs," the lack of which is easily spotted by any patrolling officers:

In my ignorance, I unwittingly captured an illustration of an obscure, local transit law, something far more "edutational" than the cheap snapshot of a funny-looking German commuter I thought I was getting. A native Berliner would never have documented such a pedestrian component of their daily commute, just as a native New Yorker probably wouldn't stop to photograph a subway turnstile. In other words, my ignorance paid off, and you, dear reader, are the beneficiary.

There's a lot more to share, but CHiPs is about to start. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lux Exterior: Man's Search for Meaning

Last Thursday was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and as usual, the day was pregnant with meaning for me. To wit, Lufthansa had contacted my booking agency and notified them that my flights to Portugal (via Frankfurt) would be operating on schedule. This meant I would make my gig at Lux and finally realize my longtime dream of fleecing (in my own, small way) that pretentious bastard, John Malkovich.

To be sure, this marked a departure from my usual Earth Day reflections (hint: Thursday was also the 23rd anniversary of the termination of a bewildering high-school dalliance between a smoking-hot, popular cheerleader and an angst-ridden, Skinny Puppy T-shirt-wearing outcast who shall remain nameless - and, nowadays, hairless). Nonetheless, I realized it was antithetical to Earth Day to be celebrating the return of fuel-guzzling jumbo jets to the sky, and it was with a conflicted heart that I boarded my Lufthansa flight at Tegel the next morning.

In some strange way, my conflicted state felt right; after all, Berlin is itself a city of great internal conflict, what with the lingering estrangement between inhabitants of the former East and West. However, evidence of this conflict often manifests in more obscure arenas. Take restaurant names, for instance.

My Berlin guide Matt pointed out this unfortunately-named restaurant on a tour of the city earlier this month:

While the meaning of "creative eating" may be vague, naming your restaurant after the protestations of a victim of parental incest is clearly a bad business idea. That circumflex above the "o" just makes it worse, somehow, and I figured most Anglophone Germans (to say nothing of the 24,500 English-speaking expatriates in Berlin) would share in in my distaste. Imagine my surprise, then, when I spotted this Freudian eatery from the window of the M2 tram on the way to the airport:

"Oedipal" sounds a bit like "edible," I suppose. Regardless, the coexistence of two Berlin restaurants named "Mama Yes" and "Papa No" demonstrated serious conflict in Berlin's gastronomischer Verstandzustand ("gastronomic mind-state") regarding Kindbelästiger (translate that one yourself). As for my own opinion on the matter, I've said it before and I'll say it again: there's nothing appetizing about child molestation. But I digress.

My flights to Lisbon were uneventful, and before long I was dining at a posh restaurant near Lux with Tiago, the resident DJ. I had been sleeping badly the week before the trip, and it was with some trepidation that I asked my set time through a mouthful of bacalao. "I think if it's OK with you, maybe you will start at four" answered Tiago. Resigned to my fate, I agreed, but only after securing a ride back to the hotel for a pre-gig "disco nap." Unfortunately, I was too nervous to sleep, and by the time my pickup arrived at 3:30 a.m., I felt like what the art on my hotel room's wall kinda looked like:

Thankfully, the gig itself went off without incident, aside from my repeated, fatigue-induced attempts to play CDs on the turntables:

"Esse idiota está tentando jogar um CD na plataforma giratória!"

I concluded my set around 6:30 a.m. with a "throwing down" of Pepe Braddock's "Deep Burnt." During the dramatic string break, I strode away triumphantly from the "decks" - only to whack my head into the concrete wall above the booth's low exit door in full view of the crowd. The resultant stars were the only ones I saw, however, when I finally exited the club a few minutes later:

The view took my breath away, and for a brief and magical moment, I could almost feel my long-lost cheerleader in my arms again, her warm, firm pom-poms pushing softly against my Skinny Puppy T-shirt-clad chest, our hearts beating together as one.

"Damn you, Malkovich" I exhaled, once recovered. "You sure know how to pick 'em."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Airlines, Anchovies and Alpha DJs

Eyjafjallajökull (I can't get over how similar this is to my maternal great-grandmother's maiden name, Eyjafjallajökullstein) continues to erupt, disrupting air travel across the globe for a sixth straight day. However, the aggregate pressure from the International Air Transport Association, large commercial airlines and thousands of disoriented clubbers has yielded a decision to open large swaths of European airspace. This makes real the possibility of my actually reaching Lisbon for a gig at Lux Frágil on Friday. (While people make a big deal over the fact that Lux is co-owned by John Malkovich, I only deem it noteworthy because it has one of those giant chandeliers made of tampons hanging inside.)

Eager as I am to return to touring, I must confess this resumption of flights at the behest of the airline industry has me concerned that commerce is being prioritized above safety. Giovanni Bisignani, the head of the IATA and a skilled taunter of EU governments, said that the transportation crisis (or perhaps the volcano) was “really a failure of Europe." Personally, I think it would really, really be a failure of Europe if I found myself plummeting towards earth in an ash-stalled Airbus on Friday.

Speaking of failures of Europe, I'd like now to lodge a complaint against a specific breed of music nerd/"DJ" I tend to encounter primarily on this continent. Their preferred habitats are record stores and clubs, but this time around I had a rare interaction with one at a supermarket here in Berlin.

I was innocently procuring anchovies for today's lunchtime preparation of my favorite Great Grandma Eyjafjallajökullstein recipe when I heard my name called out from behind me in a German-accented voice. I turned around (fearfully, of course, since crippling guilt pervades every atom of my being and I figured I was in trouble for something) and found myself facing a large, hirsute man with a puffy black beard (the puffy beard marks the disco nerd as the red breast marks the robin). It turns out he was an acquaintance of "Darshan's" and had been at a Berlin gig we played earlier this month at Cookie's.

We had only been engaged in small talk for a minute or two before it started. "Zo," he began, "are you usually playing this sort of classic house music like you did at Cookie's when you DJ?" I answered honestly that we simply felt like playing that style on that night. "Mmmm, yes," he replied, "because I can't play those records anymore. When I began getting into all this music, in '93 to '95, I was buying all of these kinds of records. But now, I just can't listen to them anymore. They make me think of my adolescence or something." He closed his eyes and shook his head gently from side to side. "Not for me." We stood there in silence for a bit, me nodding mutely with a close-lipped smile frozen on my face, not knowing what to say. Eventually he excused himself, claiming that he needed to finish shopping with his girlfriend, and left. (I should note here that I had my suspicions about the "girlfriend" part, but this anomaly was confirmed when I narrowly evaded the pair in the sardine section.)

The truth is my Beardar (like radar, but for Beardos) is so exquisitely developed by now that I was already tensing up at his initial "Zo." Yet in spite of my considerable experience with these interactions, I always feel a bit ambushed and dumbfounded afterward. While I'm theoretically fine with someone giving me negative feedback about my music or "DJ" set, his timing (minutes after we met) and the context (amongst potentially-impressionable anchovies) made it feel like an assault. In fact, I think I'll "throw down" a therapeutic illustration:

The great mystery is what motivated this Beardo to volunteer such a harsh critique in the first place. What were his aims? Was he testing me, and if so, what exactly was the test and was there any way I could "pass?" Did he need to prove he had "cred," and the only way he knew how was to cut me down in terms of his own superior autobiography (complete with dates)? Was he trying to determine if I was a nice, normal guy or an arrogant and immodest crobag undeserving of my gigs (with the corollary that he was more deserving)? Or is he just compelled to sniff the ass of every other "DJ" he meets in order to establish who is the alpha dog (and by that I'm talking about this, not this).

The more I mull it over, the more I think this "alpha DJ" theory is closest to the truth. I find these interactions confusing because I have no desire or compulsion to establish my status in the "DJ" pack. I'm just not competitive as a "DJ." The truth is I don't really give a fuck ("IDRGAF"). I play music because there are records I enjoy sharing with others and I need the money. It's really quite simple.

Despite this, such interactions leave me feeling exhausted and defeated by their lose-lose nature. On the one hand, I have no interest in being subordinated by another "DJ," since I have faith in my own facility as a record-spinner and am free to play and relish whichever records I choose (plus hey, nobody wants to be subordinated by a "pinnwand"). On the other hand (or paw, since we're discussing alpha behavior), I have zero interest in trying to "win him over" or dominate him, because (remember?) IDRGAF.

Ah, well. Eyjafjallajökull allowing, I'm sure I'll have ample opportunity to research this phenomenon further.