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March 26, 2009

i like pie

Here's a little round up:

Western Swing is ME.
I am currently in love with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. This is in preparation for the Hot Club of Cowtown tour next month. I saw them in the UK (at the Marlborough Jazz Fest) in 2004, and they were freakin' GREAT. The next week I saw Casey McGill's band at a dance camp and they told me that their bass player had absconded for the HCCT. I'm not sure whether that's a tragedy or an awesomey.

Bad foot is still ME.
My foot is still bung. I have been to see a podiatrist to strapped me up. That helped the first time, but not the second time. I am also doing exercises to strengthen the muscles in my calves/shin to help out my plantar fascia (ie so it's not overloaded). I am down to get orthotics next week, but they mightn't work. Basically, these fibroids in my foot are never going to go away and they can't be cut out. So I'm looking at pain management and impact reduction. I danced two half dances on the last weekend and it HURT. The problem is not so much the impact (which hurts and hurts normally), but the fact that there's pivoting and my foot actually twists when we do lots of turns and things. That's where the pain is at. It sucked to find out how much it still hurt, but at least I know where I'm at. Though I think I'd have preferred to continue in blissful (and hopeful) ignorance. If I can't dance again, I'm really not sure what I'm going to do. If it's not lindy hop, it could have been something else - I come from a long line of dancing, lumbering folk, and I can't fight my DNA. Perhaps I'll learn an instrument. Any suggestions? Maybe the drums? Bass? I did a lot of singing at school, but that was a long time ago.

Allergies are GO.
I am having trouble breathing and my ear is all glued up. Again. Still, I've had much less trouble with my health since I moved to Sydney, so I'm certainly not complaining. It is melaluca flowering season, and there goddamn paper barks all over every street in every inner city suburb in Australia, so I need to deal. Won't be long now, though, and I can come off the antihistamines.

Library is MINE.
I have been back to the Con's library this week. It is a joyful place. Though it is full of students, now, and that sucks. They're almost uniformly middle or upper class, supernerds and 70% male. Guess that's what a career in hardcore arty music requires. The jazz section was all dusty when I first got in there. Now it has at least some use. The refec near the library is SHITHOUSE. The actual room is quite nice - it has a lovely little stage (with nice piano), and would be perfect for a dance gig. The acoustics are magical. But the food is inedible. I was reduced to pre-made sandwiches. Most of the students in this (actually quite nice) mini-refec were eating packed lunches. There you go.

emusic is not all mine. Yet.
I am blowing through my emusic downloads ridiculously quickly. Even when I ration them. There're simply not enough.

Quickflix is suspended.
Since we moved to Sydney the DVDs have been slower to arrive, have almost always been terribly scratched, and we never get anything in the top 50 of our list. I have suspended our account until we've decided what to do. We're still on one of their unlimited DVD accounts, but I'm not sure it's worth it, as we only get about 3 a week, which isn't much better than getting 12 a month max, is it? The video shop here is pretty good, so we might just go old school. Though using a video shop means I have no natural limit on my DVD viewing.

Dr Who and Farscape rule my world.

Screw BSG with its upsetting gender politics and ridiculously FAILED science. I am all about rebooted Dr Who and Farscape. I didn't dig either the first time I saw them, and never really got past the first couple of episodes. Now I love them. Farscape passes the Bechdel Test. Dr Who does not. Rose + her mum. Talking about the Doctor. Though every now and then Rose gets to discuss a drama with another female character, there's not much woman-to-woman action. I think it's partly to do with the newer format - story arcs only last an episode, rather than a week's worth of episodes. There's not as much character development. And a bit too much kissing. I like Eccleston, but I'm not struck on Tennant. His bottom jaw sticks out too far. I liked Eccleston's big nose and ears a whole lot. And was the Doctor always this manic? I'll have to rewatch some old ones (I liked brown, curly haired, long-scarf, jelly baby Doctor best).

I am a crocheting demon.
I should post some pictures to prove it. But I love complicated afghan patterns, and have been compulsively crocheting as I watch my way through the Commonwealth's greatest contributions to popular culture. We went to Spotlight in Bondi Junction the other weekend so I could stock up on yarn. That joint was totally trashed on Saturday afternoon. I need another supplier; perhaps I could order online in bulk? The poor Squeeze is buried in gorgeously three dimensional flowers, in various combinations, so perhaps it's time to stop.

I am bike YAY!
Yesterday we rode down the Cook's River after work for a quick ride. It was overcast, humid and coming up a storm. It was great. The sun set over the river, we saw wildlife, we dodged nonnas out walking and talking and planned a longer down-stream walk for a future date. This river goes to Botany Bay, you know.

I am still dealing with the fact that we live in Sydney.
I'm surprised by the historical weight I'm carrying in Sydney. It's like all these suburbs and places are full of all the post-Invasion history of this country. Every bit of history I remember has something to do with Sydney. And most of it is narrated by songs from the Peter Coomb's song book which delighted so many good little Australians in the 1980s.

Singing too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-attidy,
Singing too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay,
Singing too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-attidy,
And we're bound for Botany Bay.

I'm sure that that song has celtic roots as well. One of the strangest moments of my post-MA European travel was being shut in at a Cornish pub where a heap of drunken ... Corns? Cornishpeople? sang one of those sorts of 'traditional Australian songs'. But with celtic names. My Irish grandfather used to sing The Wild Colonial Boy. So even though I'm caught up in all this Australian music, it's just as Irish as the American folk music I dig.

I did arrive in Australia in 1982, straight into rural Wagga Wagga, so moving to New South Wales is far more familiar than moving to Melbourne did in 2001. The humidity is lovely. It's not as heinous as Brisbane's, but it's nicer and wetter than Melbourne. And my skin loves it. The Squeeze declared last night, as we rode up the hill towards the lightning and iron-grey sky: "Moving here was the best thing we've done!" He's delighted by the tropical storms. So am I - I've missed them. There's something wonderful about a good, heavy-like-a-hot-shower rainstorm, complete with lighting and crashing thunder. Far, far better than drizzly, wingey bastard Melbourne weather. Even if it didn't rain, it'd be cloudy and overcast forever. I don't miss that shit. Though I'm thinking the Victorians are.

Dollhouse sucks arse, Pushing Daisies is delightful.
That's it in a nutshell, really. I'm not impressed by DH.
1. The FBI/BSG guy is a crap actor. He's so crap I can hardly watch him on screen. That scene in the last episode where he and the 'dead wife' DH client chatted in the kitchen? It was so, so, so bad. I groaned. I gnashed my teeth.

2. The opening credits are incredibly, crappily bullshit.

3. I'm still not entirely sure about the gender stuff. There's an awful lot of talk about the women 'dolls' as sexualised bodies. And though there're references to their missions which don't involve sex, we spend a lot of time looking at them having sex or wearing very high heels or tight, booby shirts, or generally packing a whole lot of very conventional, bullshit femininity. It's a bit too Alias for me, but with less self-determination on their part. I had hoped there'd be a clever twist to undo some of this, but I'm beginning to lose hope. Joss Whedon is hyped, but, really, Buffy was his pinacle. I didn't mind Serenity (look, I'm losing the italics, ok?), but it wasn't great. The film wasn't great cinema. The series wasn't that good - a little too heavy on the patriarchal family structure for my liking. Yes, I get the whole male captain/father parallel, and that Mal might perhaps have been overcompensating for his wartime mistakes with other people's lives, but still... Actually, it takes Buffy an awful long time to lose her patriarch. I've rewatched a bit of season 5 lately, and she's STILL got Giles there, Watchering. So perhaps Buffy isn't so great either... God, if this is the best we can do, this string of compromises.
Anyways, I'm not impressed by DH

4. Did I mention the terrible acting by FBI guy?

Pushing Daisies, though, is wonderful.
It's charming. It's clever. It's lovely to look at. Its visual style has a lot in common with Tim Burton's brighter, more colourful stuff. It's a bit surreal and hyper-colour, but not dark like Burton. Well, except for the premise of the series: the pie maker protagonist can bring dead things back to life. For a minute. If he touches them within that minute, they go back to being dead. If he doesn't, they stay alive and something has to replace them in the deadness. The point of the series: Emerson Cod (finally, a show with a not-white central character!), a private detective, works with the Pie Maker to solve murders. For profit. Pie Maker brings his childhood sweetheart, Chuck, back to life in one of the earliest eps, so they can't touch. They love each other. The other main character is Olive, who, by the end of season two, is the very best character.

Why do I like this program?
1. The hyper-colour, phantastical mise en scene.

2. Passes Bechdel Test.
3. Olive. With her pet pig Pigby.

4. The male protagonist is a pie maker. There's a lot of talk about food and baking pies and comfort food. It's very lush. Here, have a look.
5. The singing scenes. Olive sings a couple of songs. One of which is 'Eternal Flame'. Yes, a Bangles singing scene. The other is 'Hopelessly Devoted to You'. It's wonderful.
Also, there's singing.
6. Chuck's spinster aunts (who raised her) are cheese fans and also used to be synchronised swimming super stars: Darling Mermaid Darlings. One has an eye patch.
7. Most of all, I love the dialogue. It's very, very wordy. Lots of fast talking. But it's all puns and onomatapeia (sp?) and all those other lovely wordnerd things. It looks good, it sounds good, and it's funny. It makes me giggle.
8. It's not horrid. There are some pretty gross deaths, but it's not upsetting. Most of the programs I like these days are horribly dark. But Pushing Daisies is not. It's lovely. The Pie Maker and Chuck love each other. Olive is tiny and super tough and awesome. She can bake pies or solve crimes. She's great.
9. I watch it before bed, when I'm tired, and it helps me get to sleep. It's nice.

The only thing I don't like about it is that it was cancelled before the end of its second season. Apparently they're screening the finale in the US in their summer, so at least we'll get that degree of closure. But still. It's really great telly. Here's the first bit to prove it:

"i like pie" was posted by dogpossum on March 26, 2009 10:05 PM in the category bikes and crafty bastard and digging and djing and lindy hop and other dances and music and sydney and television | Comments (0)

March 23, 2009

while we're talkin' balboa...


Swing Time are running a Balboa weekend in May (for more details clickhere). The teachers are pretty dang good: Valerie Salstrom and Nick Williams from the US and Zack and Maryse from Canada. Full passes are only $210, which is quite reasonable for two days of workshops and social dancing with top notch international teachers.

"while we're talkin' balboa..." was posted by dogpossum on March 23, 2009 11:18 AM in the category lindy hop and other dances | Comments (0)

March 22, 2009

korea for the win

Korea wins the Frankiefest shim sham:

It's Frankie's birthday this week. He's 95. The lindy hopping world is in a tizwoz, with people making videos of themselves doing the shim sham and putting them on youtube. It's really lovely to see how many thousands of people respect and value this bloke. I wish we were in New York this week - the Frankiefest celebrations are just amazing.
The work part of my brain is also pretty excited about the way people are using Faceplant, Youtube, etc to get together and organise the shim shamalong.
We did Sydney's yesterday afternoon. It was a glorious day, the FREAKIN OPERA HOUSE was all glisteny in the sun, and everyone was keen to get together and celebrate Frankie's birthday. As the Koreans say in that clip "Dear Frankie. Happy birthday to you!"

Who's Frankie Manning?
He's an old school lindy hopper. Watch this iconic clip from Hellzapoppin' to see Frankie (in the overalls) dancing. He choreographed this scene. Frankie is important not only as a dancer and teacher today, but as a choreographer and film star from the Olden Days. He's 95 this week, did I mention that? And he's still dancing. Here he is leading the shim sham in 2007, when he was 93.

Frankie was a badass lindy hopper in the Olden Days, but he retired in his 60s (or maybe earlier. Actually, I think it was earlier. He worked for the postal service, then retired from that). Then he became lindy hopping teacher extraordinaire in the 80s, when he was in his 70s. Now he is still teaching and traveling the world. He had a hip replacement years ago, then last year had that replacement replaced with new technology. He is borg lindy hopping bomb.

It's become a tradition for scenes to film themselves doing the shim sham for Frankie's birthday. It's almost the one event where even warring local factions come together and do something creative for a bigger purpose. Not even bush fire appeals or tsunamis get this sort of cooperation.

So, "Dear Frankie. Happy Birthday to you!"

"korea for the win" was posted by dogpossum on March 22, 2009 2:17 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances and lolfrankie | Comments (0)

March 21, 2009

djing bal for the first time

So I DJed for balboa dancers for the first time on Thursday night. It was really interesting. I really liked the crowd, and I really enjoyed figuring out what might work with bal dancers. I don't dance bal (well, if I'm led, but not by preferences), so it was kind of challenging.
I'm a bit tired now, so I can't say much, but here's the set I played.
Some songs worked (Jive at Five, plus the other bal faves), some didn't. I misjudged a couple of times and played songs that made people want to lindy. Which can't be too bad a thing, huh? ;D

One of the nice things about this set (and preparing for it), was being able to use a wider section of my music collection. The tempos are quite high - 160bpm is the base. I've been playing for lindy hoppers at an average of about 140bpm these days, and I'd like to take that higher. Sydney lindy hoppers seem less interested in higher tempos. Or I could simply be reading them wrong (which is entirely likely). With lindy hop, I often feel that I need to build the energy in the room before I raise the tempos. Most of the events I've been DJing have been smaller or less intense social events, so the energy level doesn't quite get up there to critical mass.

Balboa, though, is a different animal. What does it look like? Well, it looks like this:

(Kelly and Mickey, ABW 1st place 2008)
This clip is interesting for the fact that it really emphasises the style and 'feel' of many balboa dancers, in contrast to lindy. It's a 'tighty whitey' dance (as I've heard it described by bal dancers): white kids dancin' white. The couple spend more time in closed position. It's really amazing stuff - intricate footwork, a real 'dancer's dance'. I like this couple - it's pretty good stuff. I just find them a little... cloying. And straight. Watch them dancing lindy hop here for some contrast. Bal gives you some sweet-as weight commitment, which really helps your lindy.

I like to watch bal, I quite like dancing it, but it doesn't set me on fire the way lindy does. Lindy makes me feel crazy. Bal makes me feel a little... constrained. I also have some trouble with the fact that the follow really has to _follow_, and the trend seems to be for follows to dance a little more passively than in lindy hop. This, of course, is not always the case. But this is what I see most frequently. Probably because I simply don't get to too many bal gigs. Can you see why it's not really my type of dance?
While I'm talkin' gender, I think it's worth checking out Kate Hedin. Notice anything different about her body shape?

I think it's worth pausing here for a little Sylvia Sykes time:

Sylvia was one of the earliest revivalist lindy hoppers. She's also one badass follow. She's older than the other flibberyjibbets getting around, she's phenomenal, technically, and she has the sort of confidence and presence that makes you think 'why aren't there more of the sisters getting this sort of recognition?' She is one of the few female teachers who's billed 'with partner' (though, btw, Nick is top shelf (young man) bal lead action).

From watching just those clips, you can see how bal is quite a different dance to lindy hop. It's amazing to watch - like really fast, really sophisticated knitting. I'm just not... all that into it. I definitely prefer to lead it rather than follow it - boooring. Leading is technically challenge, intellectually exciting and physically a lot less demanding than lindy.

This is one last example, for the sake of illustrating the range of styles and approaches to balboa:


That's Mia and Todd. Todd is better known for his lindy hop. Mia is badass bal Sistah, who usually dances and teaches with Peter Loggins.
I quite like this clip for the way we see Todd's phenomenal musicality demonstrated. But it's less pleasing as an example of this couple's communication. Todd is very much an 'in control lead' - Mia is _following_. Sometimes he doesn't quite give her time to finish what she's doing - we feel as though he's cutting her off before she finishes her sentence. There are some points, where they're out at maximum extension (holding just one hand in open) that I think 'eeek' - it goes beyond rubber band and out to too-far, too-extended. It takes a badass follow to make that sort of waaay out there extension work. Which is what Mia is. But Todd's bal has an energy that I really like. I like the bounce, I like the flamboyance. But it's probably a little further from hardcore balboa and a little closer to lindy hop.

FYI 'pure bal' is danced all in closed position. Not so much of a spectator sport, unless you're into really hardcore technically precise, close dancing. Which I am. At times.

So you can see what bal's about, a bit, from those clips. The music is high energy, but it feels as though balboa dancers (with their small, precise steps and footwork) have a greater capacity or - or at least interest in and emphasis on - music which is technically precise and 'smaller', more intricate. With bal dancers, I feel as though I don't need to get the energy really high before I get the tempos high. Bal dancers are generally comfortable at at range of tempos, though most bal dancers dance to higher tempos (this is a local trend rather than an historical 'accuracy'). Technically, they do the things lindy hoppers should: small steps, clear weight transfers, traveling less at higher tempos. But they can also add in lots of intricate, time-consuming stuff that most lindy hoppers just don't have the time or skill to do at higher tempos. Also, because the follow isn't traveling as much on her own (as in lindy), there's less pressure on her at higher tempos.

DJing for this crowd last week, a friend made this interesting comment: music for bal is 'less in the pocket' (or 'not as deeply in the pocket' - I can't remember the exact line). This means, basically, that the music doesn't 'swing' as much - it doesn't feel as though the musicians are as far behind the beat. This gives it a great 'uppy downy' feel (now I need Trev to chime in with the bit about forward/horizontal propulsion and vertical propulsion in swing being closer to equal). To me, this screams 'lindy hop!'. But to a crowd brought up dancing to super groove (which tends to be super in the pocket), this isn't the case. Peter mentioned a while back that 'if it feels good to lindy to, it'll feel even better to bal to'. But it's not as simple as just playing stuff that 'makes me feel like lindy hopping.' At least not for this crowd.

There were a couple of songs which didn't work for this crowd (who were relatively flexible) - 'Main Stem' and 'Who Stole the Lock' were two of them (both of which are, coincidentally, songs Todd and Naomi have danced to in quite well-circulated clips). They felt 'too lindy'. 'Jive at Five' went down a treat, but this is a song I think of as _quintessentially_ lindy hop. Same goes for 'Stomp it Off' (though I have played this for both lindy hoppers and balboans and had good responses from both). Fats Waller also went down a treat, and he's my go-to man for lindy hop. That song 'Twenty Four Robbers' is drilled into my brain as 'that Frida and Skye song', so I associate it with skankin'ly badass lindy. In summary, the songs that I think of as 'tinkly' or 'light' or 'cheery' work well for balboa dancers in this town. Goodman and Ellington small group stuff goes down a treat. Olden days early 30s/late 20s works well for them as well, but not all the time.

I'm looking forward to more experimenting on those poor balboa doods. :D

Also, this was the first time I've ridden to a dance gig since moving to Sydney. I have MISSED it!

Rag Mop Bob Crosby and the Bobcats 164 1950 Bob Crosby and the Bobcats: The Complete Standard Transcript 2:15
Call Me A Taxi Four Of The Bob Cats 175 1938 All Star Jazz Quartets (disc 2) 3:13
Mr. Ghost Goes To Town Mills Blue Rhythm Band 192 1936 Mills Blue Rhythm Band: 1933-1936 3:24
Jive At Five Count Basie and his Orchestra 174 1939 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 03) 2:51
C-Jam Blues Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 180 1942 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 13) 2:39
Tar Paper Stomp Mora's Modern Rhythmists 174 2000 Call Of The Freaks 3:32
Whoa Babe Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra with Lionel Hampton, vocal 201 1937 The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-1941 (disc 1) 2:53
Stomp It Off Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra 190 1934 Swingsation - Jimmie Lunceford 3:09
Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, Part 1 Benny Goodman Quartet with Martha Tilton 176 1937 RCA Victor Small Group Recordings (Disc 2) 3:27
Chris And His Gang The Cairo Club Orchestra 180 2004 Sunday 2:40
Minor Swing Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five 202 2003 Jammin' the Blues 3:24
Jungle Nights In Harlem Charlestown Chasers 213 1995 Pleasure Mad 2:49
Swingin' On That Famous Door Delta Four 190 1935 All Star Jazz Quartets (disc 2) 3:00
Stompin' At The Savoy [take 1] Benny Goodman Quartet 166 1936 RCA Victor Small Group Recordings (Disc 2) 3:19
Twenty Four Robbers Fats Waller and his Rhythm 196 1941 Last Years (1940-1943) (Disc 2) 2:43
Who Stole The Lock (On The Henhouse Door) Jack Bland and his Rhythmakers with Henry 'Red' Allen 243 1932 I Was Born To Swing 2:40
All The Cats Join In Benny Goodman 176 All the Cats Join In 4:23
Main Stem Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 207 1942 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 13) 2:50
Hittin' The Bottle Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra 211 1935 Rhythm Is Our Business 2:57

"djing bal for the first time" was posted by dogpossum on March 21, 2009 2:54 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music

March 17, 2009


Lat night, after a promising trip to the podiatrist that afternoon, I had a dream about dancing. I was dancing and dancing. And it didn't hurt.

"sigh" was posted by dogpossum on March 17, 2009 3:08 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances | Comments (3)

March 9, 2009

an awesome jazz doco from 1961 six parts, on youtube (can't find number 2, sorry).











"an awesome jazz doco from 1961" was posted by dogpossum on March 9, 2009 9:57 PM in the category clicky and lindy hop and other dances and music | Comments (3)

recent djing

I've been doing quite a bit of DJing in Sydney, more than I did in Melbourne. I quite like it - I need the money for CDs (or downloads), I like keeping my hand in, DJing-wise, and DJing gets me out to see dancing people while I'm injured and not dancing.

I can't say the actual DJing has been awesome. This is partly to do with my own less-than-awesomeness, but also to do with my adjustment to a scene which doesn't have the sort of crowded, hard core dancing I'd DJ for in Melbourne. Sydney actually has more social dancing nights than Melbourne, it's just that this greater number of (diverse) gigs means that the dancers are spread across more events, leaving you with fewer people at individual events. There are also the usual issues RE teachers and troupe dancers - they don't go social dancing as much.
I suppose (though it's impossible to generalise) that the usual factors contribute: these guys are already dancing three nights a week and not interested in another social dancing; they value performing and teaching over social dancing; they're involved in tight knit social groups which make them reluctant to explore social events without their homeys. What this means for me as a DJ, is that there are fewer of these more experienced, hard core dancers out social dancing when I'm DJing. Which means that you're left with a crowd who have less dancing stamina, less experience with more complex rhythms and patterns, and less interest in hard core dancing. This isn't an entirely bad thing - I've always liked DJing for new dancers, if only because they haven't developed a rigid set of dance and music preferences - they're just in it for the fun. But it does mean that I have to take more care with the tempos and song selections. But I'm not complaining - I am still enjoying DJing. And there are still quite a few experienced dancers out there on the floor - the types of people who aren't interested in the teaching and performing, but are interested in gettin' jiggy on the dance floor.

I DJ one night at a pub which is heaps of fun. Pub or bar gigs are always good, as there's alcohol involved, and that usually loosens the dancers up a bit. But at this gig there's a larger number of older dancers who don't really have the dance fitness required for hard core lindy hop. When I say older, I'm talking people in their mid to late 40s and higher. I know, it's not actually 'older' at all, but once you get over 20, if you're not actually dance-fit, lindy hop is really challenging, especially at higher tempos. As Frankie Manning says, "Get in shape to do lindy hop, don't do lindy hop to get in shape." I also find that this crowd has more interest in talking and socialising than dancing; they tend to do things like dance two songs in a row then stand on the dance floor talking rather than moving off the floor. This discourages other people from dancing, and means that I'm left with an empty floor for a song. So I have to 'start from scratch' with the next song. They do this regardless of the type of song I'm playing in that third spot. They just want to talk.

As you might expect, this makes this gig the most interesting and welcoming, socially speaking. As new folks in town, we've always preferred this gig, just for hanging out and meeting people. But it's a very difficult crowd to DJ for. There's also a large number of rock and roll dancers there, and these tend to be the older dancers. Who really aren't into old school swinging jazz. And seeing as how that's where my DJing preferences lie - right back there in the 30s, well before the shuffle rhythms and un-swingness of rock and roll. And I've even been easing off the jump blues lately, so I'm not really offering much to this particular crowd.

I have played some really bad gigs at this venue. But I have also done some good sets. Last gig I did there the sound set up was seriously fucked, so I had trouble getting anything to sound ok, let alone being able to concentrate on the combination of songs. But I have, finally, figured out that a combination of tempos and eras works with this crowd: old school for the lindy hoppers, 50s jump blues and later swing for the rock and rollers. I refuse to play rock and roll (mostly because I don't own any and don't really want to buy any), but I will play 50s Basie, Witherspoon, etc, leaning on their later, less-swingy, more-jumpier stuff. It's not ideal, and I really hate seeing what it does to people's lindy hop, but I do breathe a sigh of relief when the floor fills up again.
To make it work at this gig, I need a mix of dancers - I need younger, hard core lindy hoppers. I need the drinking, less-dancing rock and rollers for the social, party vibe. I simply don't have the skills to work this crowd as-is. I find it frustrating. And while I'd usually muddle through for a paid gig, I do this one pro bono for mates, so I'm a little less happy about the deal. It's mostly that I'm frustrated with myself for not being able to make it work. And I'm frustrated because I can't play the sort of music I really love, all the time. I do get to play it, just not in a big, solid block. And I certainly don't get to experiment with even early (ie late 20s) stuff or with things like recretionist New Orleans doods like later Bechet - that stuff goes down like a ton of bricks with this crowd. The problem is really that they simply don't have the musical experience that I need to be able to play a really diverse set. But then, these sets remind me that that stuff (the 20s and NO revivalist) isn't that great for lindy hop - it doesn't quite swing properly, it often doesn't have the right 'feel'. Frankie wouldn't like it.
So I don't think of this gig as a 'crap gig'. I think of it as the most challenging gig on the calendar, and I'm stretched to make it a successful one. I'm not quite there, yet.

Beyond this one, I also play a blues night. It's once a month, and the only blues night on the calendar. It's pretty well attended, but the venue is a little big for blues dancing, so you don't get the right vibe in the room. Blues really needs a crowded, smaller room that feels like a crowded bar. Well, that's what I like for blues - I like to play a rollicking, rolling blues room where people are shouting and sweating and partying hard. Lots of energy and fun. I'm not interested in playing cuddle-blues gigs at all. Boooooring. But this set isn't too bad a gig. The dancers are new and enthusiastic, and blues is simple enough (because it's slower and it's taught in a simpler format), easier than lindy hop, so dancers feel more confident. I don't have a very big collection of music for blues dancing, so I'm not actually all that specialised - I tend to play across styles. Though I avoid soul and funk (because that's not blues, and because there are specialist soul and funk DJs in the broader music community who use original vinyl and make swing/blues DJs look like lame amateurs), I don't lean as heavily on olden days stuff as I do for lindy. This means I have a better chance of pleasing more people. Or rather, I have a better chance of pleasing them with less effort. When you're playing old school, I think you have to work harder to draw people in. With a mixed set, you eventually find something someone likes, even if it's just the right 'style' for their tastes. This is how I started DJing lindy hop. I think it can be the mark of a newer DJ, but I also know experienced, truly top notch DJs who play fabulous mixed sets. It's just that DJs often specialise after a few years as their own musical interests follow particular trails and historical periods or particular artists.
As a dancer, I like both types of DJs. Though I loathe a DJ who changes gears without the clutch: smooth transitions are essential for making this work.
But I like the blues sets. The crowd is enthusiastic and supportive, the set up of the room lets them get physically close enough to talk to me (and let me know whether they like what I'm playing), they like looking over my shoulder from the raised mezzanine behind me to see how I'm DJing (blokes like this especially - they like seeing the technical side of DJing), and like hearing their responses to my music and knowing whether I'm doing what they're interested in. I would like to use a smaller room, but I'm not going to bitch about that when the crowd is so enthusiastic and welcoming. It's also in a bar, and bar + blues = good news for the DJ.

I also play a couple of other lindy gigs. One is a twice-per-month larger event in a church hall, another is a fortnightly, smaller event in a smaller bar venue. The larger one is tricky. The sound set up isn't adequate for the large, echoey, high-ceilinged church hall. It's a large space, and not particularly 'nice'. It's fine once the lighting's fixed, or if there's a large crowd. But otherwise, it's fairly 'church hally'. There's no bar, either, which is bad news at this event, which is already in pretty dire need of some loosening up. One of those two monthly gigs is also explicitly marketed as a 'beginners' night'. This is a mistake, I think. It means that anyone who doesn't think of themselves as 'beginner' doesn't turn up. And of course, with dancers being as status conscious as they are, we see no troupe members or teachers of any type at these 'beginner' nights. Ordinarily, this wouldn't worry me - I quite like a packed room of beginner dancers high on their own endorphines, discovering the headiness of physical contact with strangers. But this gig doesn't pull a large crowd at all, and it'll have to pull a massive crowd to fill that hall. So it ends up kind of quiet and empty. Tricky stuff. I'm not all that good at working smaller crowds (though I am improving), so this night is really challenging for me.

The last social dancing night is fast becoming my favourite. The venue is the same as for the blues night, but it works better for lindy hop. It has a good set up, with the sound desk facing the speakers rather than being behind them (it makes me crazy that lindy hoppers can't seem to grasp the fact that sitting behind the speakers sucks for DJing - I want them on the opposite wall so I can hear what's going down!). The venue is the right size for the crowd. I can get there easily on the bus, or catch a train (rather than only having the train option for the church gig - which requires my walking to the station, which hurts my foot a lot). The sound set up is generally pretty good (not perfect, but the best in this town). There's also a bar! I found this crowd tricky at first as it's a mid-week, mellower gig. But I've gradually figured out that that does not mean that I should only play low-energy music. I need to mix it up and work the energy just as I would with any other gig. But because the crowd is smaller, it requires a little more work.

In general, this town dances to very, very, very low tempos. We're talking between about 110bpm and about 150bpm. That's super, super low. When we get to 155bpm, they switch to balboa. There are a number of reasons for this. 1) the DJs play a lot of groove, which is often lower in energy - the uppy-downy bounce of the big band is smoothed out by super-behind-the-beat smaller bands. 2) the DJs play the same music every set - they don't have large enough collections to really push their DJing, and encourage them to explore new music. 3) the DJs tend to all play the same songs. This could be a result of music sharing or simply sharing similar tastes. 4) the transitions between tempos isn't terribly smooth - there are often blocks of faster music for 'balboa', moving straight back down again to 110. So we hear 110, 120, then suddenly a few at 200, then down again to 110. And of course, everyone sits down at those 'balboa' tempos, unless they do dance balboa. I do like balboa, but it's not as exciting to watch at 200 as badass lindy.

My comfort zone for dancing lindy hop is about 140-200bpm. I am comfortable at 180, start to work at 200, then am challenged above 200. Well, when I'm dance-fit and not injured. But I have been dancing for a while. Though I'm certainly not a badass lindy hopper or competitor extrovert; I'm actually pretty conservative. In the olden days (ie at the Savoy in the 30s), 180 was average. At Herrang the DJs aren't to play under 160bpm. This is quite fast - most contemporary 'disco' music is about 120 bpm.
These higher tempos are very challenging if you're very tight in your upper body, or if you don't do triple steps or simply don't have very solid technique. Smaller steps, stay relaxed, do your triple steps (because followers need them to travel!) - all that helps you lindy at higher tempos. But these are often things that are neglected in class. And many dancers don't hear older music (which tends to be faster) in class, so they're not used to the structures of the music. They want to do their smaller, subtler body movements, when big band 30s action and faster music want you to do larger movements (as in, swing outs rather than body rolls), and to think of musicality in terms of combinations of these larger moves, thinking of the music in terms of phrases, rather than thinking of musicality in terms of responding to each individual note or sound. But if the moves you're taught in class are about smaller, finer movements, you're going to be kind of at a loss when you hit the social dance floor and hear faster, older music.

At any rate, when I started DJing in Sydney, I came in swinging, just as I would have in Melbourne, starting at about 130bpm. There isn't terribly far to go from 130 to 150bpm. I am finding that the dancers are stretching a bit, but things are still pretty slow, generally. I used to play much faster gigs at the mostly-beginner Funpit in Melbourne. But I try to 'begin as I mean to go on' - so if I don't want to sit on 110 all night, I need to start higher. I like 130 as a beginning tempo, though I'd really prefer to start on 140 and not drop below that. I won't start on 120 any more - it's just too freakin' slow. As you can see in the set list below, I started at 140 and was actually doing relatively higher tempos at first. This was in part because the music in the class was higher than usual (they were doing charleston).

The preponderance of balboa is both a blessing and a challenge. On the one hand, balboa lets dancers get used to dancing to faster music (they're really not much beyond 200 for faster music here), but on the other, it means that they default to balboa as soon as they hear slightly higher tempos. And balboa is less physically exhausting than lindy at these higher tempos, so they don't work up that dance fitness that you need for faster music. I'm not disparaging balboa here - it's a craft. It's a challenging dance. It's an awesome dance. But the movements are smaller. Though I do like what balboa has taught a lot of Melbourne dancers - bounce (or pulse as they call it). Smaller steps. Leading 'with the body' - by moving their body to move their follower's body (rather than using their arms to move a follower). A more relaxed upper body, especially at higher tempos. All this is fabulous for lindy too. I also have some frustrations with the type of music Sydney people hear as 'balboa music'. Someone's obviously been teaching a lot with Mora's Modern Rhythmists, Campus Five and Sydney Bechet. They hear revivalist New Orleans as 'balboa music'. This drives me nuts when I'm trying to play this stuff for lindy hoppers; the lindy hoppers sit down, the balboa dancers get up. From what I can learn, balboa dancers in the olden days were into the same types of music as lindy hoppers. So there was a lot of big band action in ballrooms. I can't really see them getting into revivalist New Orleans action... but I could be wrong. Either way, it niggles me to see balboa dancers hear one type of music as 'balboa music', especially within the broader swinging jazz family: that's way to rigid a definition, even for a purist like myself.
But this will change as balboa dancers travel more and get more experience with a wider range of music. It'll also help the lindy hoppers to travel a bit more too.

For me, DJing, I have to take the long term view. I can't just jump in and play with an agenda and expect them to DANCE. I have to gradually add stuff in and move the general vibe of my set in a particular direction. As a new DJ in town, all my music is 'new' to them - they haven't heard me overplaying my favourites for the past few years. So I do have some liberties. But it's also been important to find out exactly what they're dancing to otherwise. Basic research tool? My getting out there and dancing. So you can see how my DJing might have lagged a bit since I've been off the floor. At any rate, because I'm DJing so much, I can start adding in 'new' songs, while also building up a body of music which is 'familiar'. While I type this, part of me is shouting, "Hey! Arrogant, much?" I'm not sure I actually have a solid grasp of what dancers are into in Sydney - I can't see them when they're sitting down behind me. I'm not getting out to social dance and hear and see what they're dancing to in other DJs' sets. And I'm not in class, hearing the teachers' music. So I'm not entirely sure my instincts are tuned in properly. It's all a bit frustrating, and I do worry that the longer I'm out of dancing, the more my DJing will decline. I've seen it in other DJs: if you don't dance, your DJing inevitably declines as you get disconnected from what actually feels good for dancing. It's a struggle if you're generally someone who only dances within one particular style or one particular tempo range, but it's impossible to stay on top of things if you're neveR dancing to anything.

In that vein, I'll be doing my first set for balboa dancers next week. I've tried to score a balboa set in the past in Melbourne, but have been knocked back a few times. This could be because I suck, because I'm not a hardcore balboa dancer, or because I'm just not in the loop. But we'll see how I go. I'm looking forward to it - I think I'm going to learn a lot. I'm putting together a list of 'maybe' songs (as I usually do before a gig), and I'm looking forward to playing a wider range of tempos. I have a lot of faster stuff that I rarely, if ever, get to play for dancers. Thing is, I have absolutely no idea what these guys play at a regular balboa night, so I'm not going to have any idea what their 'normal' music is like. I will make it clear to the dancers on the night that I have no experience, and that I'd like feedback. The organisers also know I haven't done this before, so they're going to be ready with suggestions (hopefully). It's not a paid gig, either, which is good... although it's not, really. I'm going to enjoy it, I think. Once I stop being nervous.

Anyways, here's the set I did last week at the fortnightly gig in the smaller blues/bar venue. It's a 'lindy hop' set. The tempos are higher than I usually hear at that venue. At one point a guy asked "can you play something slower?" This was while I was playing 'Chimes at the Meeting' which is 245bpm, so I was "of course - I was just about to drop the tempos a lot. This next block will be much slower." And it was. I'm kind of working the wave here, but I think that these days I'm focussing a bit too much on the transitions between musical styles, and not enough on the tempos. It's almost as though I've lost touch with how dancing to four songs at 150 in a row can feel (bit boring, mostly). I think this is a consequence of my not dancing these days. But it's also a consequence of my DJing for people who like a wider range of tempos. If you're happy at 180bpm, three songs at 150 are a 'rest'. But if 160 is your max, then three 150 songs is a real stretch. Sigh. These are the little things that I'm worried about, as a DJ. And I do wonder if I'll be able to continue DJing if my foot never recovers (which the specialist says is a real possibility - though I'm going to address that again at our appointment this week). Three months off dancing already, and I'm having trouble with the thought of no more dancing ever.

If you've ever seen any of my other sets or heard me DJ, you can see from the set below that I didn't play terribly much new or challenging stuff. An awful lot of old favourites, stuff I overplay. There are a few new things that I've bought from emusic or on CD lately (mostly emusic, though - hence the incomplete details). That Bob Crosby song 'Rag Mop' is fully sick. I love that MBRB version of 'Mr Ghost Goes To Town' - I will never play the Campus 5/MMR version (which does it?) again. MBR's version just has more pep and zing to it. It's also a little faster (maybe 10 or 20bpm - enough to spice it up a little). The musicianship is certainly far better. There was a birthday/farewell dance at 'Jersey Bounce', hence the sudden style change. After that, I suddenly had the urge to go all groovy and hi-fi. I really like that Ernestine Anderson album atm, even though Gene Harris is involved. That version is way better than the live one we hear a lot. Then I decided I was over this slumpy, low energy groovy stuff (it was also making people sit down rather than jump about like fools). So I played 'Smooth Sailing' because everyone knows it, and because I like to pair it with 'Lemonade'. Note the tempos there - boooringly 110 or so. The dead zone. So we went up a bit with the Jay McShann one. That song 'Blue Monday' is on my overplayed list, but it has lots of shouty energy. From there I did drop down with the Basie, but it's another high energy, live song that's good for building a sleepy room. The inclusion of CJam Blues there should let you know just how badly I was leaning on the overplayed list. That song is overplayed everywhere in the lindy hopping universe. The last two songs were requests. Then I had to RUN for my bus.

While I am leaning on the overplayed stuff, I'm not sure if it is actually overplayed here in Sydney. Many of these songs I know I've played a lot and still do play a lot. I try to avoid them at exchanges, as people are at exchanges to be challenged and to experience something new and exciting. But at a smaller gig like this, familiar stuff is often welcome, and it's hard to resist the way people respond to something they know, especially if they're finding the other stuff a bit challenging or unfamiliar. I do tend to DJ lazy and lean on the familiar, and I will try to fix that up. Thing is, some of these songs I know I'm the only one playing, so I never get to dance to them, so they don't feel overplayed to me - I know them well, but I don't know them well with my body.

Any how, here's the set. name, artist, bpm, year, album, length, last played (the last played will vary - I did the set on the 4th, starting at 9pm, so ignore the last played times/dates on the ones I've listened to since).

Massachusetts Maxine Sullivan 147 1956 A Tribute To Andy Razaf 3:19 4/03/09 8:58 PM
My Baby Just Cares For Me Nina Simone 120 The Great Nina Simone 3:38 4/03/09 9:02 PM
Bli-Blip Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five 140 2007 Moppin' And Boppin' 2:44 4/03/09 9:05 PM
Rag Mop Bob Crosby and the Bobcats 164 1950 Bob Crosby and the Bobcats: The Complete Standard Transcript 2:15 4/03/09 9:07 PM
Savoy Blues Kid Ory 134 1945 Golden Greats: Greatest Dixieland Jazz Disc 3 3:01 4/03/09 9:10 PM
Ain't Nothin' To It Fats Waller and his Rhythm 134 1941 Last Years (1940-1943) (Disc 2) 3:10 4/03/09 9:13 PM
Summit Ridge Drive Artie Shaw and his Gramercy Five 128 1940 Self Portrait (Disc 2) 3:21 4/03/09 9:17 PM
A Viper's Moan Willie Bryant and his Orchestra with Teddy Wilson, Cozy Cole 153 1935 Willie Bryant 1935-1936 3:26 4/03/09 9:20 PM
Mr. Ghost Goes To Town Mills Blue Rhythm Band 192 1936 Mills Blue Rhythm Band: 1933-1936 3:24 4/03/09 9:23 PM
Solid as a Rock Count Basie and his Orchestra with The Deep River Boys 140 1950 Count Basie and His Orchestra 1950-1951 3:04 4/03/09 9:26 PM
Joog, Joog Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 146 1949 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra: 1949-1950 3:01 4/03/09 9:29 PM
Oh I'm Evil (05-01-41) Una Mae Carlisle 158 1941 Complete Jazz Series 1938 - 1941 2:25 4/03/09 9:32 PM
Turn It Over Bus Moten and his Men 148 1949 Kansas City Blues 1944-1949 (Disc 3) 2:38 4/03/09 9:35 PM
Did You Ever See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball? (06-29-49) Count Basie and his Orchestra 155 1949 Complete Jazz Series 1947 - 1949 2:15 4/03/09 9:37 PM
Cole Slaw Jesse Stone and His Orchestra 145 Original Swingers: Hipsters, Zoots and Wingtips vol 2 2:57 4/03/09 9:40 PM
Bearcat Shuffle Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy with Mary Lou Williams 160 1936 The Lady Who Swings the Band - Mary Lou Williams with Any Kirk and his Clouds of Joy 3:01 4/03/09 9:43 PM
The Back Room Romp Rex Stewart and his 52nd Street Stompers 152 1937 The Duke's Men: Small Groups Vol. 1 (Disc 2) 2:49 4/03/09 9:46 PM
Chimes At The Meeting Willie Bryant and his Orchestra with Teddy Wilson, Cozy Cole 245 1935 Willie Bryant 1935-1936 3:01 4/03/09 9:49 PM
Peckin' Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra 165 1937 The Duke's Men: Small Groups Vol. 1 (Disc 2) 3:10 4/03/09 9:52 PM
Walk 'Em Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra 131 1946 Walk 'Em 2:53 4/03/09 9:55 PM
Hungry Man Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five 135 1949 Louis Jordan And His Tympany Five (vol 6) 3:08 4/03/09 9:58 PM
Four Or Five Times Woody Herman Orchestra 141 The Great Swing Bands (Disc 2) 3:09 4/03/09 10:03 PM
Jersey Bounce Ella Fitzgerald 134 1961 Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! 3:36 26/01/09 9:50 PM
Goin' To Chicago Blues Ernestine Anderson with Ray Brown, Gene Harris, Red Holloway, Gerryck King 135 1984 When the Sun Goes Down 4:53 4/03/09 10:11 PM
Smooth Sailing Ella Fitzgerald 118 Ken Burns Jazz: Ella Fitzgerald 3:07 4/03/09 10:15 PM
Lemonade Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five 117 1950 Louis Jordan And His Tympany Five (vol 6) 3:17 4/03/09 10:18 PM
Blue Monday Jay McShann and his Band with Jimmy Witherspoon 125 1957 Goin' To Kansas City Blues 3:40 9/03/09 8:58 AM
Every Day I Have The Blues Count Basie and his Orchestra 116 1959 Breakfast Dance And Barbecue 3:49 9/03/09 9:01 AM
C-Jam Blues Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis 143 1999 Live In Swing City: Swingin' With Duke 3:34 4/03/09 10:29 PM
Blues In Hoss's Flat Count Basie 144 1958 Chairman Of The Board [Bonus Tracks] 3:13 4/03/09 10:32 PM
All The Cats Join In Benny Goodman 176 All the Cats Join In 4:23 4/03/09 10:37 PM
Shake That Thing Mora's Modern Rhythmists 227 2006 Devil's Serenade 2:58 30/09/08 3:31 PM

"recent djing" was posted by dogpossum on March 9, 2009 10:03 AM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music | Comments (7)

March 7, 2009

building the millenium falcon

Dust For Eyes put me onto this awesomeness:

Building the LEGO Millennium Falcon from Gizmodo on Vimeo.

(from gizmodo)

"building the millenium falcon" was posted by dogpossum on March 7, 2009 9:10 AM in the category clicky | Comments (0)