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.