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.