Saturday. August 9th 2008 Part I : PLayground Fixtures

Saturday, August 9th, 2008 was a busy day. Anjali, E3 and I were a part of the all-day Playground Fixtures DJ event put on by the Fix and Upper Playground in Irving Park. We had an hour and fifteen minute set to split in the middle of the day. It was quite cloudy, but the rain stayed away, at least while we were in the park. The boys at the Fix are entirely vinyl-centric, so I knew there would be no CD players at this event. Since most of the music in the world has never been pressed on vinyl –only the middle and upper classes could ever afford that luxury– and most countries in the world stopped pressing vinyl entirely in the late eighties, Anjali, E3 and I, by necessity, play a lot of CDs, in order to feature the latest music being produced outside of the United States. Since most DJs who champion vinyl only play American, Western European, and possibly Jamaican music, they have no concept of how xenophobic and classist it is to argue the all-vinyl position. After bemoaning the fact that none of us would be able to play the latest, hottest music we are most excited about, due to the fact that it is not available on vinyl, we started focusing on what we could do with our sizable record collections — which is to play oldies.

Rather than try to unsuccessfully replicate an Atlas set that is only really possible on CD, I started thinking creatively about what I might want to do with my twenty-five minutes on stage. I really wanted to play the Fastbacks’ “In the Summer,” my favorite Summer anthem, and I considered playing a lot of fifteen year-old Portland indie rock as well, as my tribute to old Portland. After I found out a bunch of Desis were planning on attending, I considered doing an all Bollywood oldies set. I spent one feverish night dreaming different versions of the show, awaking at multiple times, obsessed with the upcoming gig, and in the middle of the night I had the revelation to play Charles Mingus’ “II BS” and “Get It On” by Ebony Rhythm Funk Campaign.

For a twenty-five minute slot I picked out two boxes of 7″ records and 120 records or so. Several hundred records too many. I left the 7″s at home, pared down to about 40 records, and managed to leave the house with only ten times as much music as I was going to need for the event. Not bad.

When Anjali and I arrived at the park Saucebox resident Mr. Mumu was performing a great set of Latin electronica, including some cumbia, and the new Buraka Som Sistema 12″, along with a bunch of other Latin tracks that sounded hot, and I will admit to wishing I knew what they were. The man definitely has records. Most Latin music is not pressed on vinyl, but Mumu buys the club tracks with a Latin feel released for the Western European and American DJ market .

I was the first Atlas DJ to take the stage in front of a small crowd of people sitting on chairs and blankets in a semi-circle around the covered DJ setup. Mr. Mumu was kind enough to warn me that the right cue on the mixer was funky, and sure enough, I could barely hear the tracks on the right turntable in my headphones. It was like a whisper, and very difficult to hear what I was doing. I began with “II BS,”(which earned me an instantaneous compliment from DJ Suppoz for playing what is possibly his favorite Charles Mingus song), went into “Get It On,” (Which earned me a compliment from DJ Beyonda for playing funk. She herself had brought two gorgeous vintage 7″ record cases, filled with what I could only assume were fabulous, and fabulously rare funk and soul 7″s), I played Panjabi MC’s “Boliyan” on 12″ vinyl, and then exited the stage to the epic “Pag Ghunghroo Baandh” from the Namak Halal soundtrack. Since the song is ten minutes or so, and I couldn’t wait to leave the stage, and Anjali was standing on stage throughout the duration of the song, many people assumed it was her first song, when it was actually my last. E3 complimented me on that monster, so I guess I pleased some DJs with my set, and DJs were certainly a large part of the crowd, so I apparently I did some things right.

As I wandered into the gathering crowd lounging on blankets in the grass, I discovered that a bunch of our friends had arrived at the park during my set, including a noticeable contingent of Desis, some of whom were happily singing and dancing to “Pag Ghunghroo Baandh.” I made some people happy. I love doing that.

Thank you to everyone who came down to support us during our sets. It made the event infinitely more pleasant to have all your smiling faces there.

After my extra-long final song finished, Anjali began with a Madlib Bollywood-sampling Beat Konducta 7″. She almost brought her own vintage 7″ case as well, but at the last minute decided to bring mostly 12″ records, with some 7″s thrown in. She then played Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting.” (I will go out on a limb and suggest that I was the only person who knew that Anjali was playing the song because it is a composition by Biddu, who is responsible for some of the biggest Bollywood and Indi-pop songs of all time. Most people are totally unaware of the connection.) She then mixed into Nazia Hassan’s “Boom Boom” (One of Biddu’s huge soundtrack hits), Alisha’s Hindi “Like a Virgin” cover (While Biddu is responsible for some of Alisha’s biggest albums, this is actually produced by Anu Malik.) and Cornershop’s “Hotrocks.” Unfortunately as “Hotrocks” was playing, the sound totally died. Anjali could hear the record in her headphones, but no sound was coming out of the speakers. E3 was about to take over from Anjali and they both tried to figure out what had gone wrong. Anjali slapped a record on the other turntable that had been working, and it ended up being Ges-E + Social Security ‘Zubeida’ which was not how she had envisioned ending her set. She wanted to play Timbaland & Magoo ‘Cop That Ish (Mentor Remix Feat Juggy D)’ but that song was spinning with no sound coming out on the right turntable. The soundman then appeared to say that the mixer was running too hot, and the soundboard should have been turned up, but this is little consolation to a DJ who has had the sound die on them, since DJs rarely, and in this case certainly didn’t, have access to the soundboard.

E3 switched to the second of two turntable setups, thinking that he could avoid the sound issues that had sabotaged the end of Anjali’s set. Little did he know the awful fate that lay in store for him. The left set of turntables were inclined just enough, due to the slightly sloping hill the DJ booth was set up on, that the counterweights on the tonearms actually slid around on the tonearms, causing Ezra’s records to skip all throughout his set. Since no one in the crowd could have had any idea how badly the equipment was malfunctioning, they might have wrongly assumed that E3 brought a bunch of really scratchy, skipping records to the event. No, he didn’t, and it is a shame that his set was so impacted by the faulty setup. E3 mostly stuck to a Jamaican vibe, but he did slip some vintage French hip-hop into the end of his set.

Since Anjali and I had to leave during Matt Nelkin’s set (he was playing a bunch of dancehall, and dancehall remixes while we were there), I don’t know if any of the other DJs suffered from technical issues during the rest of the event. Matt Nelkin wisely chose to go back to the turntable set up on the right at E3’s advice, rather than risk the sliding counterweights of the left turntable setup.

I had spent the week so obsessed by my twenty-five minute set at Playground Fixtures, that it wasn’t until I got home with a few hours before we were due at Atlas that I was confronted with the result of what I already knew in the back of my head was an ass-backward way to go about things. What should a DJ prepare for more, his regular night that involves playing for two hours in front of hundreds of people dancing, or a twenty-five minute set for a small group of people sitting in a park? Hmmmmm. I found myself with little time to go over my many New York purchases from our last visit, and my music was in such a state of disarray, that I found myself bringing an obscene amount of music, because it takes far less time to throw everything in a bag, than to carefully go through all the music and pare down my selections. In my rushed preparation, I ended up bringing 150 records, three 200+ CD binders, and a suitcase filled with CDs. For an hour and fifty minutes worth of performing time. Talk about overkill. Since one of my standard Atlas complaints is that I take way too much music, and I drown in the selection, stymied at playing with a clear direction, I knew I was really setting myself up for a confused evening. As it was, getting home from one gig to prepare for another, we got to Holocene later than we ever have to set up . . .