last night’s djing

I haven’t done this in ages (hellz, I haven’t posted in ages – I’m blaming teh tweets), but I just feel the urge. So this is a post about a set I did last night.
I’ve been working super hard at uni lately. Too hard, really. The assessment for one particular subject was out of control, and I’ve really pushed myself. So I haven’t listened to any music in two weeks. Really. I did a couple of hours preparation work yesterday afternoon before my set at the Roxbury because I really wanted to get on top of my music and to do a good job. I need the practice before the MSF weekend next weekend, where I have some sets. So I really thought about this set.

I wanted to avoid doing some things:

  • leaning on the modern recordings of old songs. I wanted to play the original versions.
  • ignoring the wave. I really wanted to work the wave, tempo and style and energy wise. Basically, that means moving logically and smoothly between speeds, musical styles and energy levels. Build up the energy, climax, let them down, build it up, climax, etc etc etc.
  • getting distracted and not giving the crowd 100% of my attention.

I had some other goals, but those were the main ones.

So this is what I played:

Roxbury 5th June 2010 9-10pm

title artist album bpm year length

Jump Through The Window Roy Eldridge and his Orchestra (Zutty Singleton) After You’ve Gone 154 1943 2:42

The Harlem Stride Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra Live At The Savoy – 1939-40 199 1939 3:29

Leap Frog Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra (Luis Russell) The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946) (disc 7) 159 1941 3:00

Ridin’ And Jivin’ Earl Hines and his Orchestra (Walter Fuller, Milton Fletcher, Edward Sims, George Dixon, Edward Burke, John Ewing, Joe McLewis, Omer Simeon, Leroy Harris, Budd Johnson, Robert Crowder, Claude Roberts, Quinn Wilson, Alvin Burroughs, Horace Henderson, Jimmy Earl Hines:Complete Jazz Series 1937 – 1939 158 1939 2:40

A Viper’s Moan Willie Bryant and his Orchestra (Teddy Wilson, Cozy Cole) Willie Bryant 1935-1936 153 1935 3:26

Joshua Fit De Battle Of Jericho Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band (Barney Bigard, Helen Andrews) Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band 1944-46 160 1946 3:13

Just Because You Can Catherine Russell Inside This Heart of Mine 136 2010 4:10

You Got to Give Me Some Midnight Serenaders Magnolia 187 2007 4:02

When I Get Low I Get High Linnzi Zaorski and Delta Royale (Charlie Fardella, Robert Snow, Matt Rhody, Seva Venet, Chaz Leary) Hotsy-Totsy 165 2004 2:36

Davenport Blues Adrian Rollini and his Orchestra (Jack Teagarden) Father Of Jazz Trombone 136 1934 3:14

Rag Mop Bob Crosby and the Bobcats Bob Crosby and the Bobcats: The Complete Standard Transcript 164 1950 2:15

Summit Ridge Drive Artie Shaw and his Gramercy Five Self Portrait (Disc 2) 128 1940 3:21

Massachusetts Maxine Sullivan With Buster Bailey, Milt Hinton, Jerome Richardson, Osie Johnson, Dick Hyman, Wendell Marshall A Tribute To Andy Razaf 147 1956 3:19

C-Jam Blues Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis Live In Swing City: Swingin’ With Duke 143 1999 3:34

St. Louis Blues Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra Ella Fitzgerald In The Groove 183 1939 4:46

Wrappin’ It Up (The Lindy Glide) Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra (Henry ‘Red’ Allen, Buster Bailey, Ben Webster, Benny Carter) Tidal Wave 208 1934 2:42

For Dancers Only Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra Swingsation – Jimmie Lunceford 148 1937 2:41

Peckin’ Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra The Duke’s Men: Small Groups Vol. 1 (Disc 2) 165 1937 3:10

[Gettin’ Much Lately?] Ain’t Nothin’ To It Fats Waller, his Rhythm and his Orchestra (John Hamilton, Bob Williams, Herman Autrey, Geoge Wilson, Ray Hogan, Jimmy Powell, Dave McRae, Gene Sedric, Bob Carroll, Al Casey, Cedric Wallace, Slick Jones) Last Years (1940-1943) (Disc 2) 134 1941 3:10

I Like Pie, I Like Cake Four Chefs Roots, Volume 2 the 1930’s 154 2:45

Madame Dynamite Eddie Condon and his Orchestra (Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon, Sidney Catlett) Classic Sessions 1927-49 (Volume 2) 176 1933 2:56

Get Up Skeets Tolbert and his Gentlemen of Swing (Carl Smith, Otis Hicks, Clarence Easter Harry Prather, Hubert Pettaway) Skeets Tolbert 1931-1940 144 1939 2:52

As you can see, it’s not a list of rare and unusual songs. There’re a lot of standards, songs that people know. Which is kind of the point, isn’t it?

I started with Roy Eldridge, because this song continues to be a great opener. Fab trumpet solo to open. Sharon had the room nice and warm for me, and there were enough people to justify something in your face like ‘Jump through the window’. I do like this song a lot. The fact that Frida and Skye used it for a fairly ok routine only adds to its cultural cred with lindy hoppers. If they’re the type of lindy hoppers who follow international competitions. And not that many of the Roxbury crowd are. I assume.

I wanted to get some up tempos in there after that, and to take advantage of the energy generated by the first song, so I played that lovely Ella track. It’s from one of the live recordings she did with Chick Webb’s band at the Savoy after Webb passed away. That stuff is fucking GREAT. I crap on about it to everyone, I pimp it all the time, but it continues to go really well whenever I DJ it. It’s good because it’s live, you can hear the crowd, and you can hear the musicians egging each other and really interacting. It has a stomping rhythm section and a super fun building energy thing happening.

The crowd were a bit tired after that, so I did the right thing and dropped the tempos so they could recover. These days the Roxbury crowd will dance to any tempo. Sharon starts the night with 30mins of super fast old school big band action which she calls the balboa bit, and I call the badkickingfuckingarse bit. Because it is awesome. I am playing that version of ‘Leap Frog’ quite a bit, but it is great. It does exactly as I want, too – it keeps energy there, but it’s not all up in your grill, so you have a bit of an emotional break. It’s kind of fun and interesting and does some fun back-and-forthing musically, so it’s fun to pay with at the lower tempo.

Then I played ‘Ridin’ and Jivin” because I haven’t played it in a hundred years, and it’s one of my favourites. I don’t hear it here in Sydney very often at all, though it was super popular in Melbourne in about 2007 or so (I think it was another of those competition songs). It’s kind of mellower at 150 odd bpm and it has a less in your face energy. It kind of builds up and down, it feels a bit saucy, but in a kind of a sneaky way. Not sexy, but kind of lurking.

Then I played ‘Viper’s Moan’ because it is an old fave, and I was trying to mix in favourites with things I don’t hear all that often in Sydney. I also like ‘Viper’s Moan’ as a transition from old school big band swing to more New Orleans influenced stuff, and I wanted to kick things up tempo and energy wise with that great version of ‘Jericho’. I hear the Sydney Bechet version all the time, but the Kid Ory one is vastly superior.

From there I had a few other bits and pieces lined up – ‘Sister Kate’, ‘Blackstick’, ‘Ballin’ the Jack’, favourite stuff that you hear around the place – but I didn’t. I felt as though I’d kind of pushed that as far as I could. I was a little bit all over the place with the energy, and I wasn’t confident that the NOLA stuff would work. It’s not all that popular in Sydney, and I’m not really enjoying it myself atm. By NOLA, of course, I mean that 40s/50s revivalist sound. It’s great, but there were other things I wanted to do.

I played ‘Just Because you can’ because it’s super popular atm. People go nuts for it, and I always get asked about it when I play it. So I’m going to play it til we’ve all had enough of it. It’s a good song. It was a big fat energy drop from Jericho, but that was kind of the point. I was pulling a Brian stunt with a bit of stunt DJing. It was within the same sort of stylistic vein of Jericho, what with the violin, chunky rhythms, banjo, etc. But it’s kind of saucy and Russell almost eases over into the way-back-behind-the-beat of later swing. Almost. I like this song because it starts chilled and sparse, but it builds up.

I followed up with the Midnight Serenaders because that’s a fun song. It’s light, it feels bouncy and fun. It’s a bit quick in that combination, but the funness always drags people onto the floor. I also like matching the singers in those two songs.

‘When I get low I get high’ was another in a similar vein – a modern band doing old school small group stuff with chunky rhythms and eccentric vocals. That’s one the Roxbury kids are into, because Christian played it when he DJed there. At about that time I realised just how Ella Fitzgerald heavy my set was. I don’t usually play her, in part because I don’t like her early lyrics, and I find her later stuff a bit groovy. And I don’t like her singing all that much at any time.

I played ‘Davenport blues’ because it’s mellow and calm. And because it builds up at the end. I was also determined to end that whole modern thing right THERE because I could see myself going overboard. ‘Davenport Blues’ is one I overplay. But it always goes down really well, and people like it.

I think it’s worth saying here, that one of the things people like about favourites is that they know all the breaks, all the structure, so they can experiment with musicality and step combinations in a musical way, and with some confidence. I know, I know, it’d be easy to critique that with a comment about how lindy hoppers should be familiar enough with the structure of this music (which isn’t very complicated, really), and not need hand holding. But I think it’s important to remember that this isn’t popular music we’re dealing with here. It’s not something you hear every day, and the structures and style and elements are pretty unfamiliar for most people. And what the fuck – why not play a song people know so they can pull out their best action? That’s what makes for a good competition, that’s what makes for fun dancing, sometimes.
‘Rag Mop’ needs to go on my ‘don’t play this again, you play it too much’ list. But it kicks the energy up.

But by the end, the dancers were pretty tired. People seemed pretty tired that night. I think it’s because they were dancing most nearly every song. So I played ‘Summit Ridge Drive’, which I don’t play that often any more. In retrospect, I’m really glad I did. I do love it, and people love it too, even though the harpsichord intro puts them off at first. It’s a nice, friendly, stompy little song. And I’m glad I went so low with the tempos; it’s evidence of my working a real wave, with proper troughs as well as crests.

After that, people were rested, and it was time to get serious. ‘Massachusetts’ is so overplayed. It’s so familiar. But it’s still a great song, and it’s a great way of building up the energy in the room. The musicians are just so good, they just work together so well and build something really nice.

Same goes for ‘C Jam Blues’, which I’ve actually had a moratorium on for ages. But I do like it. And it did the job.
Energy was up by then, people were rested and feeling confident after two familiar songs, so I played ‘St Louis Blues’ (the Ella one), which I also overplay. But it’s great! It’s another of those songs that makes people dance even if they’re feeling a bit ‘oh, it’s too fast’. The thing about Roxbury these days is that 183bpm isn’t really fast any more. That crowd are also quite happy to experiment with the latiny rhythms in the intro. Also: live! Ella! At the Savoy! It’s such a fucking great song.

‘Wrappin’ it up’ was a bit of a stretch, but the hardcore bal dancers just pulled out their shit and eased into some dancing. It was really nice to see the floor stay filled, but with a completely different type of dancing. Balboa is really good for making people feel comfortable with higher tempos. They just get used to them, and don’t panic.
Then I played ‘For Dancers only’ because it was just right. I wanted to get everyone back, and it’s a fun, familiar song that actually sounded mellower in that context. And it’s a big band classic swing track, to continue that vibe.
Then ‘Peckin’ because I’ve been using it for tranky doo lately, and I fucking love it. Still. I love the shouting in the middle. I have been thinking I need to play more Ellington, and this was a step in that direction (that’s actually one of his small groups).

‘Ain’t nothin to it’ was a continuation of the silly feel from ‘Peckin’s lyrics, and also a less intense sound. Another smaller band, but with a more relaxed, fun feeling. So I was easing off the intense emotion of ‘St Louis Blues’ and ‘Wrappin it up’. This is important when you have a smallish crowd of dancers who’re dancing every song, over the course of a longer night of social dancing. I find they get emotionally drained as well as physically, so you have to pull back a bit now and then. Work an emotional wave.

I didn’t mean to play the pie and cake song there. I really don’t much like that version. I _hate_ the intro, and _everyone_ is playing it, _everywhere_ in Sydney. I had meant to play ‘Get up’ (which I didn’t end up playing at all), because it was the perfect segue to ‘Madame Dynamite’. It would also have been a song that we don’t hear very often (if at all), so it would have made this last section more interesting. But I made some sort of clicking/playlist error. Boo.
Pie Cake, whatevs. It filled the floor, though. I’m a sell out.

‘Madame Dynamite’ is one I overplay, but it’s very popular. And It’s super fun.

And then I finished and did some dancing!

It was a fun set, and I think I did a much better job of watching the floor, working the room and playing songs in interesting, smoother combinations. I spent less time looking at my computer, and more watching the room. Yay. I find it a bit tricky to get connected with the crowd in the fairly separated DJ booth at the Roxbury, but it just means I have to walk around more. Though I hated it as a venue, CBD was well set up for connecting with the dancers on the floor and the people in the room.

So I didn’t play a particularly challenging set in terms of familiarity – people knew most of that action. But that’s ok. I don’t think we should set aside songs just because they’re popular. I mean, there’s a reason favourites become favourites. Sure, they might be hip because some rock star did a routine to them that then got pimped on youtube and faceplant. But if it’s a good song, and someone DJs it to dancers a few times, they’ll dig it.

I like the Roxbury at the moment for the old school emphasis and higher tempos. But part of me wonders if the slow disappearance of the older crowd and rock and roll crowd hasn’t actually been doing good things to the event. Sure, it’s now more solidly a good night for lindy hop, and lindy hop tends to be a dance for the younger, more agile crowd (because it helps to be fit when you start getting into it), but a mixed range of ages is a good thing for a community. Longevity, baby. Sustainability, baby. A lack of cliqueiness, baby.

But for now, I’ll just enjoy it. And perhaps think about how we might promote it to the half of Sydney who don’t go, but do go to the Swingpit.

Swingpit is not fun these days. It’s a nice, big venue, the floor is good, it gets a big crowd. But the acoustics are poo, and it’s a _church hall_ with no bar. Boo. The DJing has been utterly terrible lately as well. So even when I go looking for fun, I don’t always find it there. I haven’t DJed there in ages, partly because I’ve been doing so much Roxbury work and get a bit burnt out when I do more than one set a fortnight. But mostly because I haven’t been asked, and haven’t really sought it out. And I hated the sound system there (though I noticed they had a new one). I haven’t heard DJs like Alice or Justine DJ there in a zillion years, and they’re really good stuff. Worth getting your arse to a dance event on a Friday night to see.

The Squeeze calls it Noisepit because the volume is usually pushed so high (to fill the huge, echoey room) it distorts the music and just makes a whole heap of ear-hurting NOISE. And that noise is usually fucking Michael Buble or some second rate neo or some fucked up Wham. I have to say, my friends, an entire set of that does not a fun lindy hopping night make. It’s rhythmically WRONG for lindy hop (it don’t swing), it’s structurally dull, and it’s just plain old bad music made by second rate musicians doing ordinary arrangements. Booooring. Annnoooooooying. But I’ll go back. And when I get the energy, I’ll volunteer for a set. But sometimes I just like to go and dance and dance and take advantage of the large floor space.

There is another night happening in Sydney these days, once a month in Balmain. It’s intended as a dance for ‘advanced dancers’, which of course gets my hackles up. I do not approve of segregating ‘advanced’ from ‘beginner’ dancers at social dancing events (which Swingpit and this new thing deliberately do). I don’t like it because mixing is good for both groups (beginners dance up and see fun dancing; more experienced dancers learn to fucking socialise like normal people, and mix it up… though they don’t always). I don’t like it because I don’t actually think the categories ‘beginner’ and ‘advanced’ apply in this setting – they just seem to be arbitrarily applied by position within that dance school’s hierarchy. Perhaps they should be ‘people who’ve only spent a bit of money with us’ vs ‘people who’ve spent too much money with us’. I really don’t like that sort of segregation of people. I think it breeds cliqueiness, and I think doesn’t help build sustainable dance communities, and I think it’s rubbish.

Also, the classes before the DJed social are on when the very good band is on downstairs at the same time, and I think it’s wrong to disrespect the band like that. I’ve heard people justify this whole thing as ‘giving people a choice’, but I don’t buy that. I’ve heard that rubbish before. It’s not a ‘choice’ when you weigh the process down with such ideologically and value-laden structures.

Mostly, I’m not all that interested in going because it’s in Balmain on a Sunday and that’s too late and too far away on a school night when the buses are really unreliable. It’s often on the night after a Roxbury, and I’m a bit over dancing, loud music and late nights by then. So I don’t go. If it were in a different area… nah, I still wouldn’t go. Balmain is hard for me. If it were in a different area, I’d be more likely to go. If it was just another social night, I’d be more likely to go. And if I wasn’t already dancing one night a week on the weekend, I might go.
So that’s dancing for me at the moment.

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