Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Deejaying is weird. Douglas Wolk did a terrific presentation about it at EMP, right after my own (we keep appearing on the same panels there, not a complaint in the least), attempting to explain and demonstrate its lack of corporeality--you're not the musician and you're not the dancer/audience, you might as well not exist except that in the settings where you can/do DJ those elements don't or wouldn't necessarily meet otherwise. But setting is important, and when I DJ at Havana (Wednesdays, 7 to 9 p.m., Pike St. between 10th and 11th, behind the iron gates) it's not radio deejaying and it's not dance deejaying. Since Daylight Savings, the club is bright for at least the first hour of the set, and that adds something to the set and setting I have to consider as well. I don't have to keep a groove but I don't want to jerk things around for jerking-around's sake--I like right-angled segues for damn sure, but mostly it's people having after-work drinks and talking, and I have to be mindful of that.

It's really fucking fun. Sometimes it's tough; for a few weeks in March and early April it was hard to get a grip on where I was going with things, and it took a while each time to figure out the groove. The reason clubs are kept dark isn't just because it looses inhibition (I remember the first time I tried my hands doing stage lights during a First Avenue dance night; the great Kate Zarvis taught me that the you don't blind the dancers with color because they stop dancing when you do). It's because it allows you to control the vibe: a DJ projects most easily onto a darkened canvas. It's you and the listener, or rather your selections and the listener, mind to mind.

Two weeks ago I took mushrooms and went to play at Havana. I rode there on the bus, as I always do, the sun bright in my face down Pine St.; I knew it was going to be special, and it was. I brought the usual stuff, but once there I decided to play the most gorgeous records I could pull out, and began with Franco & O.K. Jazz's atomic, ten-minute "Limbisa Ngai," from the mid-'80s, which I'd played at home earlier in the day, when the mushrooms were kicking in. "Limbisa Ngai" is up there for me with "That's the Joint" and "Apache" and "Lonely Woman" and "Rock Your Baby" and two-dozen more as a legitimate contender for the greatest record ever made. The sunshine kept doing its work even after the sun went down. I wound up playing for a half-hour over my time, something I never do; I never even looked at the clock. My good friends Jen and Jill sat at one table, my newer friend Erin and a companion at another, and I bounced between them and the set-up. I've never had such a good time playing music for people.

Last week no one I knew came by. (There are a couple of regulars that I see in there a lot, but they're friends of the bartender.) It was overcast. I kept the tempos medium and the feel muted. It was satisfying, though not in the same way--it couldn't have been, would have been a lie to try to capture that again, and not just because I wasn't zooming. Havana is a big place, very high ceilings, enormous windows; what's outside is inside, at least before dark. Even if I'm not entirely there--the music is what fills the space, not what I think of the music--that additional factor has taught me a lot about the relationship between the component parts of a DJ set. I have no real skillz to speak of, and doubt I'll ever acquire them. But if I get to play records out in New York when I eventually move there (who knows when at this point), I'll be lucky if I get to do it somewhere half so inviting.