Thanks to everyone who came out and danced and sweated with us on Saturday. We’ve got several exciting guests lined up for the next months’ Atlas events, so it will be a while before it is just the three of us DJing again. We’re very excited to have Joro-Boro in August, Ori from Balkan Beat Box in September, and possibly Maga Bo returning in October. We only like to have guests a few times a year, but we are excited to have this level of talent gracing our night.
One of my big challenges as a DJ is managing to play all the music I am so excited about at home, once I get up on stage. I am frustrated that month after month, so much great music in my collection never gets played for the dancers that come to our nights. I always bring hundreds of hours worth of selections, not sure where I or the crowd are going to want to go. I want this freedom of choice, but then I often don’t play all the latest, hottest stuff I am most excited about. Many times the pressure and time-crunch of being on stage in front of an audience means I reach for more comfortable and familiar selections rather than the totally new. I am generally happier with my sets, the more I play things that are new for me, and the dancers. That may not be what the dancers are looking for, but that is what is personally more artistically satisfying for me.
Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to only bring the newest material I am excited about, to guarantee that it gets played. However, the dance floor is not always on the same page as I am, and a DJ often has to revise their plans on stage if they have any desire to effectively connect with the crowd. Despite all my at-home listening to reggaeton, I rarely drop more than a few songs in my Atlas sets, and they are often (disappointingly to me) the same ones. I could play dozens of hours of non-stop reggaeton from my collection, if the opportunity were to arise, but when I am only playing a few tracks, I don’t vary my selections as much as I would like. It often comes down to the crucible of the stage, when I reach for my trusted and reliable tools, rather than something new and untried. It is frustrating and a source of personal dissatisfaction.
My friend Alissa has been kind enough to share with me a bunch of Kuduro CDs she picked up in Angola while filming a documentary about two Angolan boys. The CDs are great, and I was very excited about them as I listened to them the week of Atlas, but no songs from them made it into my set. There is a great comp that has been out for six months called “Urban Africa Club.” It is the best collection of Afrcan club music I have heard. I’ve been turning other people on to it, but it doesn’t get featured in my sets the way I’d like. I’ve been listening to a lot of Brazilian music lately, but I didn’t feature any batucada selections in my Atlas sets on Saturday. I’ve been stockpiling Balkan music like nobody’s business, but only a few tracks manage to make it into my sets. The list goes on and on. Often I’m covering five or six genres in an hour set, and I’m down on myself that I didn’t include five or six more.
The one that really gets to me though, is reggaeton. Despite a lot of recent critical interest that has been directed at the earliest manifestations of reggaeton, I have found the last three years to be the most exciting period in the development of this music for my own interests. There are so many songs I like so much, and I never play most of them out. I really want to change this.
We have a regular rotation at Atlas, but due to outside events in the lives of Anjali and E3, my headlining slot turned into an opening slot. I wasn’t prepared to open, and didn’t bring any of the downtempo sounds that I would want to bring for an opening set. I had to improvise. Jorge Ben, Ruben Blades, Brazilian electronica, “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom,” French hip-hop, “Kamjaraf” from the new Bombay to Goa soundtrack (it sounds totally ripped off from another song, but I can’t place it yet), Orishas, but some Balkan action actually got some people on the floor, despite how early it was, and how few people were at the club. This is the danger of the opening set. While I might be playing rhythmically enticing songs, I’m not really shooting for a dance floor, because of how early it is. Invariably, half-way through some song, people will start dancing, and by that time, I already have the next song lined up, and it was not chosen to maintain a dance floor, so, unless I have time to do a quick switch, the dance floor is cleared after one song. Which is what happened when I went into an odd track off the new Mala Rodriguez after the Balkan track. Eventually E3 and Anjali showed up, and E3 went on next.
E3 sounded great, but unfortunately his sets are the only time Anjali and I have to hang out during Atlas, so I regret that I do not focus more on what E3 plays. I heard some Balkan Beat Box, French hip-hop, Rai, etc. Good stuff.
When Anjali went on she started out with a New Flesh song and then went into a dancehall set that the crowd was really not feeling. She will often rebel against what she feels is expected of her, regardless of the crowd’s response. She played the Cham remix of “This Is Why I’m Hot,” and this brought a bunch of people to the floor. Eventually she was playing Panjabi beats, and this is what really got people going. I was not feeling up for going back on when it was my turn. It had snuck up on me. I had been futzing with the soundboard all night, but I still wasn’t sure I was happy with the sound. Things had been sounding fried-out and distorted, and I didn’t want that to happen during my set when I was dropping heavy beats.
I started with reggaeton, the Fergie remix of “Impacto” which has been stuck in my head for weeks, so I guess Daddy Yankee knew what he was doing when he dropped it as the first single off his new album. I felt totally unprepared to be on stage. I spent my whole set looking through my reams of music having trouble finding what I was looking for, and what I had been so excited to hear at home. Frantically I put on LDA’s “Ooh Aah,” which I LOVE, but I feel like I have been playing it every month for a long time. I played some Yomo and I may be forgetting something, but I played another version of “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.” From here I went into “Para De Gracinha (Euro Crunk Mix). This is my favorite 12” in the Man Recordings series, but I felt it was a little too hardcore electronic for the Atlas crowd.
I went into spazz mode with some kuduro, speed Klezmer, chutney soca, and merengue on crack. I really pushed the crowd to the point where very few were willing to keep up with my spazz fit. I managed to end with a mad dance floor by playing “Sajanaji Vaari Vaari” and a J-Skillz-produced bhangra finale two-fer. There was quite a lot of applause at the end of my set, which felt really good, especially after I forced my audio perversity on the crowd to such an extent.
E3 was up next with a set that sounded great. I especially liked his playing some berimbau Funk action. I really wish I could have studied his set more closely, but I was enjoying my downtime. Anjali finished out the night with a mostly Desi Beats set, some Sean Paul (including his duet with Beyonce), ending up with some old filmi. Another night at Atlas wrapped up. Thanks to everyone who made the night such a success.
PS The only request I got all night was for “Dhoom 2” aka “Dhoom Again.”