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.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Times They Are a-Changin'

Perhaps it's mere habit from growing up in a relatively liberal household in the New York metropolitan area (or simply because I don't know how to change my Web browser's homepage), but I've always chosen the venerable New York Times as my go-to source for world news. I value the journalistic integrity of its writers and editors and generally believe (and parrot) every single word I read in it. Bearing this in mind, you can imagine the shock and alienation I experienced this morning upon reading an article entitled "Europe's Cloud of Ash Casts Pall Over World of Music":
Travel disruptions from Europe’s volcanic ash problem have brought a heavy measure of turmoil to the classical music world. More than in many other fields, its practitioners — conductors, singers, pianists and other instrumentalists — depend on plane flights. Opera casts are increasingly international. Concert promoters, especially in this country, place a heavy premium on foreign talent. After all, where does “jet set” fit better than adjacent to “conductor”? [enraged emphasis mine]
Now tell me: what sort of a crobag thinks "jet set" fits better adjacent to "conductor" than it does to "DJ?" I was flabbergasted that the Old Gray Lady (respected journal of language Urban Dictionary notes this nickname for the Times is "now often used with a disparaging tone") completely ignored "DJs" like myself, whose Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint dwarfs any conductor's. In fact, the only non-classical musicians featured (aside from a single titillating mention of Dee Dee Bridgewater) were the pop-music "pinnwands" associated with the Morrissey-vexing Coachella festival:

Coachella, which has a daily attendance of about 75,000, began Friday and runs through Sunday. Festival organizers said the major headliners — including Jay-Z, Pavement, Public Image Limited, Gorillaz and Faith No More — were safely in the country.

Frankly, I am disgusted that the Geriatric Ashen Whore saw fit to affirm that Faith No More, a (US-based) band that broke up in 1998, were "safely in the country" for Coachella while ignoring the countless stranded "DJs" like myself who were missing vital gigs (in my case, a one-off in Arnold Schwarzenegger's hometown of Graz, Austria). Well, faith no more, indeed: I intend to contact the Computer-Aussenseiter-Gruppe (the German version of Geek Squad) first thing Monday morning to assist me in changing my computer's homepage to my second-favorite news source, Tageblatt of Luxembourg.

Moving on, I must confess I am in awe at how quickly this Icelandic ash-hole has, like Björk before it, thrown so many lives into disarray. With nearly all flights in Europe canceled, non-resident "DJs" like myself are unable to reach our gigs, and a curious phenomenon is occurring as a result: clubs are using whatever spinners are locally available, much like what might happen if Michael Pollan finally wrote a book on minimal techno instead of rehashing "The Omnivore's Dilemma" over and over. Fortunately for me, Berlin is full of clubs, and as a result I was booked at the last minute to play records with my ex-friend and music collaborator "Darshan" at a 3-to-5 a.m. set at Watergate, a gorgeously-situated venue in Kreuzberg.

"Darshan" and I had been told by our agent there was a 50 Euro buyout, so instead of our usual dinner of water and a split bag of Nic Nacs, we ran out to the nearby pan-Asian doucheteria (from their Web site: "Established Western interior design rituals have been modified to accord with Feng Shui tenets") and racked up a bill of €49.20. After leaving a generous (by Berlin standards) 80 Eurocent tip, we proceeded to the club, whereupon our arrival the manager informed us that the fee our agent had promised us was somewhat higher than what the club expected to pay. After a few tense minutes of negotiation (we employed our usual tactic of standing silently and staring at the floor), we were told the promised fee would be honored, but at a cost: we would have to pay for our own hibiscus blossoms and sauerkraut juice-strawberry-basil shakes. Lesson learned: don't spend your buyout before it's paid.

Even though I'm burning to write a line like "Nixon had an easier time with Watergate," the truth is it was a pretty easy night. There's not much to report, nor are there many photos, since the same cruel despot who deprived us of our buyout instructed me not to take any photos (I can only assume this has something to do with Germany's privacy laws). Nevertheless, I sneaked a few in, including a readout on the club's decibel meter confirming we were in compliance with the house rule of playing no louder than the grunts of tennis star Maria Sharapova:

I also got a shot of the lights, which (by Tron standards) were more than adequate:

And finally, the insanely enthusiastic crowd, just before they all dozed off:

Suffice to say the high point of our set occurred while I was playing Bottin's "No Static" and a smug-looking crobag with oversized hipster glasses summoned me to the periphery of the DJ booth:

Him: You know this Bottim track?
Me: It's "Bottin."
Him: Yes, do you know this Bottim track is going perfectly with a mix of Michael Jackson "Say Say Say?"
Me: ...
Him: You see then, I must do a mash-up with it! I'm sorry, I'm sorry!

He then retreated backwards, apologizing all the while and making some sort of exaggerated, "this food is delicious!" charade with his mouth and fingers. It was an oddly compelling performance.

We were home by 5:30 am, and like the line from the Elderly Light-Black Slut article I began this post with - "That violinist onstage this weekend may be addled by a 14-hour drive" - "Darshan" left the apartment an hour later for a 14-hour train ride to his next gig in Milan.

Take note, New York Times: the gaping, post-Björk ash-hole that plagues the skies of Europe has casualties that extend far beyond the borders of the classical music world and Coachella.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Judy Plume: Are You There, Amsterdam? It's Me, Volcano.

Further explanation of my crystal-clear text message pictured above seems utterly superfluous, but (sigh) I suppose I should be making up for the blogging slack caused by my recent malaise.

As I wrote earlier today, I was supposed to be headed to Amsterdam tonight for a gig at Melkweg (which means "Milkyway" in Dutch, unless the club is filled with pinda, or peanuts, in which case it's called "Schnickersh"). Berlin has an amazing transit system, so as is my custom, I took the M2 tram to the S42 train to the TXL bus stop, where I spotted an agitated "Pinnwand" standing around in his neo-Lederhosen:

The bus was actually late, and I was so taken with his exotic pants and gold-plated tag that I invited him to split a cab with me to Tegel Airport. After I told the cab driver my airline, Herr Plaidpants informed me that Amsterdam had recently joined the rapidly-growing list of destinations with canceled flights resulting from an ash plume originating from a volcano in Iceland.

Tempted as I was to leap out of the speeding taxi to avoid having to pay my share of the fare, my ruthless professionalism compelled me to remain seated and continue on to the airport. Rushing up to the check-in area, I was advised by a KLM agent that mine would indeed be the last flight out, so I checked my record bag and raced through security faster than magma streams down a fucking trip-ruining volcano in Iceland, only to find this at the gate:

I realized I was not going to make my gig. In an effort to lift my spirits, I thought of a silver lining to the volcanic ash-cloud that was my canceled flight: I would be home for my usual Friday custom (as of last week) of grilled Makreleleiste im Brot sandwiches in the park with my friend and musical collaborator (to protect his privacy, let's just call him "Darshan"). I excitedly texted him regarding my newfound availability, and he immediately replied with a terse message indicating his own non-availability. It was then that I realized he was probably cheating on me again with his new best friend from Naples:

I trudged back through security to reclaim my bags. However, I discovered all wasn't lost (well, besides my income for the week and my dignity) when I heard a loud meowing. I must confess a fondness for pussy, so off I went in search of the mellifluous feline. I finally found a couple standing near a cat carrier, and after bending over to view its noisy inhabitant, I straightened up for the following exchange:

Me: Ah. I heard the cat, but couldn't see him.
Woman: You heard him, but he cannot hear you.
Man (to woman): Oh, don't tell!

At this point, I began searching for clues that the woman was, in fact, a man. She sounded like a German Bowzer. Her voice was so deep and masculine, I couldn't fathom any other possibility.

Me: The cat is deaf?
"Woman:" Yes. He is the white cat with blue eyes.

I was still recovering from Bowser's Bergmanesque non sequitur when the man (who had a voice like, say, Enya) busted out with this:

Man: The cat is deaf, but can hear lower noises, so he gets along best with the peoples who are having a low voice.

At this point, I involuntarily looked at the "woman" and made one of those snorts that occur when one stifles a laugh with one's sinuses. Sensing a growing tension among us, I quickly bid them adieu and collected my record bag.

Walking out of the terminal towards the bus, I realized the missed flight and gig was not such a big deal. Touring is about meeting new people and seeing new places, and while the volcano kept me in grounded in Berlin instead of at my gig in Amsterdam, I at least got to meet a few new terrifying, Teutonic freaks people. Plus, tomorrow I'll get to eat grilled mackerel - albeit alone, but still better than having to eat these things (and potentially next to this guy).

The Berlin Trilogy

Later today, I am flying to the land of croquettes, canals and way too much of this. But first, three quick newsflashes from my base in Berlin:

1) Many readers (that is, none) have complained about the vulgarity in this blog. In response to them (that is, nobody), I decided yesterday to take the first sweeping step by eliminating my use of the beloved term douchebag. Since this move would effectively reduce my written output by about a third, I started searching immediately for a suitable replacement, and last night (call it an example of douche ex machina, if you will) I found it in the form of a coffee and bakery chain outlet spotted on a train platform in Alexanderplatz:

2) I woke up this morning thinking Pinnwand was another entertaining word for ignorant English-speakers like myself. It means "notice" or "board," or "notice board" - I think - and is a fine replacement for the epithet needle-dick.

3) Finally, to all you crobags and pinnwands who have complained about my heretofore low output on this blog: I've been ill. Lots of flying, little sleeping, being spit on by drunks shouting in my ear at clubs, not having access to my giant tub of hand sanitizer - these are all risks inherent in the life of a traveling synchronizer of phonographic records, and sickness was probably inevitable. I apologize for the lack of updates; however, I'm on the mend and I promise more soon. Thank you for your patience.

Friday, April 9, 2010

In Soviet Russia, Plane Flies You

I know quite a few DJs who will avail themselves of any opportunity to brag about successful gigs, boring anyone within earshot with stories of "killing it" and/or "throwing down" (which sounds like the opposite of "throwing up," i.e. eating, but is actually lingua deejayz for "playing records well"). I don't see the point, since there's really not much to relate of interest about a gig that goes well, and instead prefer to discuss tangential matters - for instance, my British Airways flight to the Russian Federation (where, incidentally, I убито ему - that's Russian for "killed it").

Let's start with a photo of my flying companion from London to Moscow:

And say hello to the first three of his nine or ten little friends for the flight:

To be sure, this gentleman didn't seem especially concerned with dispelling Russian drinking stereotypes. What with my dabbling in teetotalism, I may have been too easily impressed by his voluminous brown-liquid intake; however, I think anyone would have been wowed by his brusque, "don't beat around the bushski" ordering style, e.g.:

Stewardess: Sir, would you like any coffee or tea?
Man: Whiskey.

Nearly the entire plane was Russian, and I savored interactions like the above between the aggressively chipper and polite (to the point of condescension) English crew and their apathetic charge. Most of the time, the crew would compensate for any lacking etiquette on behalf of the Ruskies by inserting it into their own speech in a sing-song manner customarily reserved for interactions with toddlers (or Americans). However, the façade occasionally cracked and you could sense traces of genuine fear, like when a nervous-looking stewardess gestured towards the loud commotion coming from the back of the plane and whispered conspiratorially to her colleague, "They said it was iced tea, but it isn't iced tea."

Before long, we were on our final descent. I was warned that customs could be rigorous in Moscow, so I pulled out a pen and "threw down" a bit of wacky and jocular glasnost via my landing card:

I figured opening with with a joke might warm the agents up and facilitate a smooth entry. Unfortunately, it didn't play well, and the only smooth entry I experienced was courtesy of a customs agent's gloved and lubed digit during the resultant cavity search.

The posh venue I played in Moscow summoned in me a familiar feeling, which can basically be boiled down to this: "They wouldn't let me in here if I wasn't the DJ." (I anticipate revisiting this feeling regularly in this blog, so I'll develop some sort of acronym for it once I'm back in Berlin and have access to my Denkendekappe, or "hat made for thinking.") The venue is owned by Denis Simachëv, the famous Russian enfant terrible and fashion designer, and is situated in the most expensive commercial district of Moscow. I can only assume only the hippest of the hipsters and creamiest of the doucherati make it past the doormen - and without my big bag of records, I'd likely never make the cut.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed "throwing down" last year, and this visit was the same. I think my genial hosts have a lot to do with it. Here is my primary minder, Sergey, also known as "Orange" in the Low Budget DJ crew (named ironically, as they all demand luxuries such as first-class flights and cavier-filled Cookiepi on their riders):

As you can see, Sergey has situated himself in one of the venue's whimsically-designed booths, this particular one featuring twin posters of terrifying orifi, namely the lethal yap of Jaws (the real one, not the one who performed pectus excavatum on me) and the vagin natural of Madonna.

Besides organizing my Moscow gig, Sergey also accompanied me to Saint Petersburg, where he played "bouncy stuff" (I believe this is Russian for "commercial crap") at a larger club before joining me at the diminutive Druzbha Bar for his set. At the time, I was playing some tag-team with our pickled Lithuanian friend Saulty, who became excited (well, as excited as people from Vilnius get) over Sergey's arrival and, despite protesting later that he was "only dancing," proceeded to propose some sort of gay DJ three-way in sign language:

Despite his apparent love of New York, I demurred, and Sergey probably wouldn't have been up to the task anyway, bragging that he had already downed "a full bottle" at his prior gig. Indeed, his crippling shrinkage was still painfully evident the next afternoon at our Easter Sunday lunch:

Still, he seemed happy, tossing back hard-boiled Easter eggs while threatening to throw up, and that made me happy. I'm looking forward to "throwing down" in Russia again as soon as they'll have me back.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Guv'nor? I Hardly Even Know Her.

I rarely look forward to visiting London. To me, a London gig's sole pro is that it's a relatively short flight for a transcontinental fee. The city's con list is longer: it's expensive, dirty, induces claustrophobia and, worst of all, is full of Londoners.

As a youngster, I worshiped London as the epicenter of cool, which slots it perfectly into my theory regarding the inverted perception of coolness between youth and adulthood. For example, when I was a youngster, James Bond inspired awe within my little-boy soul with his exotic autos, post-kill bon mots and suaveness with the femmes, but sometime shortly after puberty (watching a Bond marathon on Spike at the age of 24), James suddenly seemed a hokey, chauvinistic douche (forgive all of my français today -like all well-educated people, I tend to lapse into it despite myself).

One thing London does have going for it (and the reason for my frequent bookings there) is a fairly healthy club scene, and by "healthy" I mean full of puking, wasted, tripping, coked-up and/or k-hole'd paying customers between the ages of 18 and 21. This was definitely the scene when I arrived at my gig at Stamford Arms on Easter Thursday, the start of the holiday weekend in London.

Sometimes it's best (and easiest) to let others do the talking for you, so let's head over to a the review thread at a popular dance music site to get some idea of what people thought of the party:

I should point out, however, that some commentators got the details wrong:

Move D is another DJ I played with that night, and the commentator is assuming that the DJs were taken care of by the promoters. Perhaps Mr. D (known to friends as "Move") was, but I certainly wasn't. In fact, the low point of my night (perhaps tied with the bloke leaning over the barrier and vomiting repeatedly over the DJ setup) was trying to get into the club itself unassisted. The following comments may provide an idea of what the 50 or so yards of near-rioting kids, all pushing towards a sliver of open door manned by a shaved-headed, black-clad doorman version of Jaws, was like:

Only a person possessing Bond-like finesse could maneuver (or in this case, maneuvre) through such a scene holding a bulky, 50 pound bag of of vinyl and CDs. Yet despite lacking the requisite finesse (and a burning desire to turn tail and flee back to my hotel), I managed to get to the front of the mob after about fifteen minutes of involuntary moshing. The only thing that kept me from retreating was my ruthless sense of professionalism and a growing fascination with the unfolding sociological experiment I was witnessing: in virtually every incidence of smacking a person or persons with my record bag or crushing them against a wall in my salmon-like effort to swim upstream to the entrance, I'd be repaid with a Jeckyll and Hyde-like behavioral pattern that went something like this:

Me: Excuse me (smash!)
Them: (Glaring or shoving back) Wot the fock, you wanker! You little cunt!
Me: I'm really sorry, I'm the DJ and I'm late for my set. I know, this is terrible.
Them: (Wide smile spreading across face, adopting sycophantic tone) Aw mate! No worries! Can you get us in, mate? (Shouting ahead) DJ coming through! Make room for Mr. DJ! He's gonna get us in!

I'd say this happened 98% of the time, the remaining 2% involving single, insecure-looking men slimmer or shorter than I.

Now, remember Jaws? I had to face him when I finally swam up to the door. A surge in the crowd propelled me and my bag into the slim gap leading into the venue, and helpful Jaws responded by slamming the metal doors on my record bag (presumably to stabilize me) and ramming his elbow into my sternum (this part I didn't understand). Thus rooted in place with my chest now doing an ET, I politely told the goon that I needed him to open the fucking door because I was the DJ, he had just assaulted me and he was crushing my records. Jaws replied by digging his formidable elbow further into my sternum and telling me he didn't care who I was. At this point, I loudly told him I was about to leave and he could explain to his bosses why the DJ didn't show up. Somehow that worked, and I was allowed not merely to live but to be let inside, only to immediately get frisked for weapons and drugs.

There's nothing worth saying about the actual gig, and soon enough I was headed home in a cab to the my hotel and thankful for the night to be over. Can't wait to go back.

Monday, April 5, 2010

This Blog Was Supposed to be Called "Deejayz!"

However, that name was taken, so it's now called "Try To Smile More." Lame, but it's midnight here in Berlin and I'm exhausted. I have better things to do than try to come up with a snappy name for a blog; for instance, I haven't yet had my nightly therapy session with the Fernsehturm. Anyway, I'm just using this blog to update friends and family and do some writing about my travels as a reluctant, recalcitrant and generally grumpy "DJ."

So why did this brilliant blog name come to mind? It's because people always say I need to smile more when I'm DJ'ing. I'd describe my expression while DJ'ing as residing somewhere betwixt "constipated" and "furious." This seems to disturb people (including me, since girls won't flirt with me and promoters are always slipping laxatives into my payment envelopes). To clubbers, I don't look like what they want a DJ to look like:

Even if they eventually realize that I'm not the type to jump around and make devil horns with my hands, they at least want me to stop scowling and ruining the "vibe."

Indeed, clubbers may even go so far as to agitate for facial change while I'm DJ'ing. This occurred a few nights ago in Moscow, when a dancing Muscovite actually stopped her boogie in mid-step, demanded my attention and then angrily executed a "poke-fingers-in-cheeks-and-lift" maneuver in an effort to catalyze a smile on my disgruntled visage. Always a professional, I did my best, but it felt forced. The whole episode seemed highly ironic considering Moscow is not the most smile-drenched city on my itinerary (that honor goes to Graz, Austria).

Why don't I smile while I DJ? Good question. I've thought long and hard about it (that is, as long as it took me to stop typing just now, toast the kind Fernsehturm and quaff my customary bedtime tumbler of rote bete saft) and came up with two reasons. First, I remain a mediocre DJ who has to concentrate while mixing. I tend to drool when I concentrate, not smile. Secondly, and more importantly, I don't really smile when I'm doing something I don't want to do. I mean, does anyone? I don't smile during a prostate exam, for instance. So why must club-goers demand that I smile while I suffer through a night of "spinning?" Does the urologist do the poke-fingers-in-cheeks-and-lift maneuver while I'm drooling through a prostate exam? Yes, he does, but not in the same way as the dancing Muscovite.

Perhaps I should be more understanding. After all, clubs are temples of joyful catharsis where the human spirit soars to great heights on the wings of music and dance (etc.). Maybe each time I DJ, I become the rabbi of that temple, and instead of being a fun rabbi (please note the similarity to the "fun DJ")...

...I'm more like Rabbi Dresner, the rabbi at my temple when I was a kid. He was angry and always shouting about the wrongdoing of his congregation (and was eventually voted out of the temple by said congregation). Perhaps it's possible that I'm the Rabbi Dresner of each club I play?

That's all for now. I'll do a little highlights blog of my first weekend tomorrow. It should be chock full of complaining. Thanks for reading.