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November 30, 2009

MLX9 set 3

Goodness me, but that 3-5am set was a bit of a push for nanna. I used to always be there right til the end, ready willing and able to play blues til the very last dancer lay down and died. But not this weekend. I was exhausted by 2. But I still managed to get it on.

The main room closed at about 2.30am, and while I and the DJ before me were rostered to do 'blues' sets, we both figured it was a good idea to play more transitional sets. Noni played a spankingly good set of what I think of as 'power groove' - hi-fi, lower tempos, but good, fat, chunking energy. It was really great to watch and listen to, but a bit of a challenge to follow. I was just blank (again). I really don't handle these late nights very well any more. We were in the back room, which I much prefer for dancing (wooden floors, not parquetry over concrete, a smaller, more intimate setting, slightly darker lighting, etc etc etc) and the main room had closed.
The lindy hopping crowd had moved into the foyer full of couches, or started filtering into the back room. Keith, the DJ before Noni and I, had played my favourite set of the weekend: olden days stuff. Stuff I love to dance to. Small and large bands, the former of which especially suits that back room. Then Noni and I were to follow up with blues. So the crowd was still, generally, a lindy hopping group, but with a fair few blues dancers or people who dance either. It was a tricky moment, really. I'm not sure how I would have handled it as an organiser. MLX is a lindy event, so lindy should always come first, but blues is very, very popular in Melbourne and MLX has given good blues in the past.
We'd had similar issues the night before when I finished the night out in the lindy hopping main room at 4am (as requested by the organisers): people were really still interested in lindy hopping. The problem, really, was that the organisers and volunteers were just too shagged to keep going. And of course their night doesn't end with the DJ, it continues on for an hour or two afterwards as they clean up and push dancers out.

At any rate, I feel pretty ok about my set. I didn't know when to move to blues, though, and would have appreciated some guidance from the organisers. But they were particularly unhelpful with this sort of thing that night. So this is what I played:

MLX9 29-11-09 3-5am Blues

All Right, Okay, You Win Gordon Webster (with Brianna Thomas, Jesse Selengut, Matt Musselman, Adrian Cunningham, Cassidy Holden, Rod Adkins, Jeremy Noller) 137 2009 Happy When I'm With You 4:41
Intro / Time's Gettin' Tougher Than Tough Jimmy Witherspoon with Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Vernon Alley, Mel Lewis 134 1959 The 'Spoon Concerts 3:35
I Ain't Mad At You Mildred Anderson 158 1960 No More In Life 3:04
Blues For Smedley Clark Terry, Ed Thigpen, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown 137 1964 Oscar Peterson Trio + One: Clark Terry 6:57
Here I Am (Come and Take Me) Al Green 95 1975 Greatest Hits 4:15
Son Of A Preacher Man Aretha Franklin 77 Greatest Hits - Disc 1 3:16
I Got What It Takes Koko Taylor 72 1975 I Got What It Takes 3:43
Hound Dog Big Mama Thornton 76 Very Best Of 2:52
I Just Want To Make Love To You Etta James 106 1960 The Best Of Etta James 3:07
3 O'clock In The Morning Blues Ike and Tina Turner 64 1969 Putumayo Presents: Mississippi Blues 2:40
I Hate To Be Alone Roosevelt Sykes 77 The Bluesville Years Volume 11: Blues Is A Heart's Sorrow 2:04
Telephone Blues George Smith 68 1955 Kansas City - Jumping The Blues From 6 To 6 3:03
Built for Comfort Taj Mahal 98 1998 In Progress & In Motion (1965-1998) 4:46
Sleep in Late Molly Johnson 86 2002 Another Day 2:47
Reckless Blues Louis Armstrong and his All Stars (Velma Middleton, Trummy Young Edmund Hall, Billy Kyle, Everett Barksdale, Squire Gersh, Barrett Deems) 88 1957 The Complete Decca Studio Recordings of Louis Armstrong and the All Stars (disc 06) 2:30
Perdido Street Blues The Lake Records All-Star Jazz Band 107 2009 The Rosehill Concert 6:05
Sister Kate Firehouse Five Plus Two 100 Dixieland Favorites 4:31
Wild Man Blues Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers (Sidney de Paris, Sandy Williams, Cliff Jackson, Bernard Addison, Wellman Braud, Sid Catlett) 88 1940 The Sidney Bechet Story (disc 3) 3:20
Winin' Boy Blues Jelly Roll Morton and his New Orleans Jazzmen with Sidney de Paris, Claude Jones, Albert Nicholas, Sidney Bechet, Happy Cauldwell, Lawrence Lucie, Wellman Braud, Zutty Singleton 91 1939 The Sidney Bechet Story (disc 2) 3:10
Rosetta Blues Rosetta Howard acc. Harlem Hamfats 103 1937 History of the Blues (disc 02) 3:00
Gimme A Pigfoot Bessie Smith acc by Buck and his Band (Frank Newton, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Chu Berry, Buck Washington, Bobby Johnson, Billy Taylor) 1933 Complete Jazz Series 1929 - 1933 3:30
Papa Ain't No Santa Claus Butterbeans and Susie with Eddie Heywood sr 116 1930 History of the Blues (disc 01) 3:20
You Took My Thing C.W. Stoneking with Kirsty Fraser 111 2006 King Hokum 2:51
Jealous Hearted Blues Carol Ralph 80 2005 Swinging Jazz Portrait 3:48
Riverside Blues The Lake Records All-Star Jazz Band 88 2009 The Rosehill Concert 4:47
St. James Infirmary Allen Toussaint 107 2009 The Bright Mississippi 3:51
Kitchen Blues Martha Davis 80 1947 BluesWomen: Girls Play And Sing The Blues 3:05
Fine And Mellow Mal Waldron and the All-Stars (Billie Holiday, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Milt Hinton) 79 1957 The Sound Of Jazz 6:22
I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl Nina Simone 65 1967 Released 2:33
Hard Times Mildred Anderson 67 1960 No More In Life 4:15
Back Water Blues Belford Hendricks' Orchestra with Dinah Washington 71 1957 Ultimate Dinah Washington 4:58
Hound Dog Big Mama Thornton 76 Very Best Of 2:52

The first few songs were very much transitions from Noni's vibe: high energy, hi-fi power groove with a live or high energy feel. That new album by Gordon Webster (who is also a dancer) is very versatile, and I heard a lot of it this weekend. I quite like this version of All Right because it's not the Barbara Morrison one. Then more Witherspoon live. I really, really like Mildred Anderson's voice, and though this song isn't what I'd think of as good lindy hopping music, it is quite fun early r n b or jump blues (I'm not sure of the distinction). I wanted to move towards blues (as briefed), but I wasn't sure people were ready to get cuddly. I also wanted to get to New Orleans in the near future, but wanted to keep the chunky basement party feel.

Blues For Smedley was a mistake. I don't know what I was thinking. Except, perhaps, that I wasn't quite thinking clearly and hadn't really decided what I was doing. I think I might have been trying to mellow the crowd out. I just bored us all with an interminable Ray Brown solo. Again.

After this, things were kind of flat/mellow. So I tried some (wonderful) Al Green because he's touring here very soon. And because I love him. I was also thinking about that r n b/soul/ house party vibe and deciding that was what I wanted to do for the next little while.
Aretha was purely an attempt at populist easy-scores. It's also a sing-along song. I DJ it at blues dances every now and then, and it still rides well with me. I was kind of trying to get to the soul/rnb side of Aretha rather than the soul/funk side of things.

I Got What It Takes was a test: were they ready for blues dancing? For slower, sexier stuff? This is where I got a bit confused. The floor emptied and refilled with a completely new crowd when I moved between higher and lower energy stuff over the next half hour or so. It was as though the blooz guys were moving in for the blooz, then sitting down when the kids interested in lindying on got up. So I was confused. I was a bit too tired to go survey the foyer and see what people were into. I would kind have liked to do a lindy set, but, really, I'd prepped for a blooz set, and I wanted to work that vibe. In retrospect, I could have done as a band would have: moved from each style alternatively. And an early New Orleans style would have worked for me. A brave move, I think, but could have worked.
Oh well.
This is clearly one instance where a bit of clear guidance from the organisers would have been helpful. And usually I can judge these things pretty well. But I was so freeking tired, and really having trouble focussing. I was also alternating between standing up and jiggling and dropping into my seat, exhausted.

Hound Dog was the perfect vibe for this particular moment. If I had more of this stuff, I'd have played it all night long. This is the stuff DJ Goldfoot plays. It's early rnb, it's gritty, it's not, in any way, associated with Elvis Presley or that sell-out, rip-off white-wash bullshit. I have decided to blow my remaining emusic credits on lots more as soon as our internet gets unshaped.

This is an interesting stylistic moment, actually. I'd put it, clearly, in the blues music camp. It's definitely blues music. But it's quite high energy. A lot of this stuff is above 100bpm, though it's really heading towards the average tempo for pop music today (about 120bpm). But it doesn't really feel as though it's in the jazz camp any more. We can hear rock n roll, just, sort of, in the next room. But it's also remembering jazz and early blues. And echoed in the work of people like Sharon Jones.

I think that I'd really, really, really like to go to an afternoon or Sunday night gig at an exchange that featured this type of band in a grotty basement bar or nightclub. Beer, food, dancing, talking shit, hanging out, singing along. Not hardcore anti-social lindy hop where we all leap about like rabbits, but real party music, where people pick up and fight and get back together and laugh and drink have fun til they're exhausted.

So then I played a Tina and Ike Turner song that's a little mellower. I love this early Tina Turner stuff - she's just so great. I wish I had more.

Historically speaking, I'm not sure how people danced to this stuff. I suspect it was a little like this:

(Image lifted from here. If you're liking this Bill Steber photo, I've linked to a few more here.)

That's how I dance to it. I spent about two band sets talking to a good friend about the advantages of having a whole heap of jelly to shake and being over 35. We laughed a LOT, frightened a couple of twenty year olds and talked a great deal about >35 year old boob-sag and boob-bounty. Ultimately, if there's a pistol on the mantelpiece in act one, it's going to get used by act three. And, really, it's a crime to pack heat and not flaunt it.

Speaking of which, this Taj Mahal song is still a favourite. It's a good thing I don't DJ blues much these days, or this song would be massively overplayed. I love the lyrics. And the fact that it's a man singing. There were actually two blokes dancing together to this song and it was a delight. I think, unfortunately, the gender-flexi subtext of the song added to the social challenge of two men blues dancing together eventually led to their abandoning the dance. I was disappointed.

Sleep in Late was my transition song. I was thinking 'New Orleans'. And also '1920s.' And 'blues queens.' Which, really, is where I want to be most of the time.

That version of Reckless Blues is another I overplay. But it's hi-fi and a really useful transition track.

That version of Perdido Street Blues is super-saucy and really fucking great. And it's live, and featuring Duke Heitger. I'd had the Bechet/Armstrong version on my shortlist all through my Saturday lindy set, and was really glad I managed to stuff it in somewhere. At this point a heap of people returned to the room for dancing. In retrospect, I think they were lindy hoppers looking for uptempo stuff, but then again, I'm not entirely sure - some of them were also hardcore blues people. Ah well. Maybe they were looking for that particular style?
I'm not all that keen on the Firehouse Five any more. They're a bit cutesy. But I couldn't resist another slower version of a popular fave.

And then I _finally_ got to Bechet. If you're thinking about New Orleans, you really have to play some Jelly Roll. This is a version with cleaner lyrics, which is a good thing, as the other version is really obscene. Nothing coy or double entendre about it at all - it's just straight up obscenity. And I kind of prefer a little clever word play.
At Rosetta Blues, I was thinking 'tinkly piano' and 'dirty nannas.' I'd had a few requests for some dirty nannas kicking arse and taking names, so I figured it was time. I play this song almost every time I DJ blues so, once again, it's a good thing I don't do much blues DJing these days. I fucking love it.

I'd had Bessie Smith lined up for ages, but hadn't quite had the guts to do it. I've never DJed Bessie Smith before... well, I think I've DJed Do your duty (with Bessie Smith acc by Buck and his Band (Frank Newton, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Chu Berry, Buck Washington, Bobby Johnson, Billy Taylor in 1933), but not for a long while. It was an absolute delight to see dancers really getting into her and really responding to her performance. Smith is really incomparable as a vocalist, and even all these years later, mediated by layers of wax and crackle, she still pwns.

Pappa ain't no santa claus was a stretch. I should perhaps have not played it. Or not have played the next song. The Stoneking song is almost exactly the same as Butter Beans and Susie, but the performances aren't any where near as good. I have ongoing reservations about Stoneking's appropriation of black blues performance styles and songs, and kind of wanted to show how he's not as good as the originals. It didn't go down as well as the preceding songs, but then it was the third or fourth in a row, and this stuff is a bit challenging for Australian dancers at the moment (in my experience, any way, and my experience certainly isn't terribly broad).

All this annoyed me, and I was particularly irritated by Stoneking's bullshit, so I decided to just change gears immediately. Carol Ralph's song is another good, solid transitional track when I want to get to what I think of as 'New Orleans'. That's a good song, and it kind of trucks along with a nice, rolling rhythm.

Riverside Blues went down well as well, with an effect similar to Perdido Street Blues. I like it that I play the same artists for blues dancers and for lindy hoppers, just at different tempos. I like the implication (or evidence?) that you can't have swing or jazz without the blues, that blues dances (and the blues idiom more generally) gives lindy hop and swing its backbone.

The Allen Toussaint went down as well as it usually does, and I was tempted to just play another. Or even the entire album. It's gorgeous music, beautifully produced, and a wonderful tribute to and reimagining of the New Orleans classics. But I played it in part as a way of dropping the energy. It was time to cuddle-blues. This version of a blues dancing favourite is so lovely. I love listening to it, and it's really nice seeing dancers work with the dynamic range, and exploring the layers of rhythm at work here.
I was also trying to make my way to the lovely version of Billie Holiday's Fine and Mellow. I think Laylie had actually sung it with the band earlier that night (I can't really remember, though). I love this Holiday version because it's so, so taught with emotion and suggestion. She's trashed, but her musicianship is flawless. It's also a live performance.

So Kitchen Blues, with its light touch and Lutcher's delicate piano and lovely, rich (yet restrained) vocal are a great introduction. Kitchen is instrumentally sparse - just piano and drums, I think.

Fine and Mellow did as expected. Cuddles all round. It gives me goose bumps every time I hear it in a dark room on a big sound system.

I almost played the Bessie version of Sugar in my bowl, but went with the super-sensual Simone version instead.

The more Mildred Anderson. This time slow, slow, slow, with her lovely, velvety voice really stretched and achey.

Back Water Blues is something I always play for Cheryl when she's in the room, because she loves Dinah. And because I do too. And I figure, if I'm playing Bessie, I better play a whole lot.

And then I had to call last song because it was 4.57 and I was utterly exhausted. The kids would have danced longer, but, frankly, they would have danced til they died, so I wanted to end it before it made me hate all blues dancers. And I like to end with a full room, rather than letting it peter out.

This song's so nice, I played it twice. There was some comment on that, but, what the fuck - it's 5am and I'm the boss. And it's a fucking good song. And people liked it as much as I did, so they had a fun dance with it. There were more than a few voices joining Big Mama in the howling at the end.

So, generally, it was a pretty good set. It went better than I'd thought it was. I discovered that I'm probably a bit too weak for super late night DJing these days. Though sitting down makes it easier. Blues is boring to DJ. Super boring. Because the dancers are really introverted and partner-centred. I never see anywhere near enough solo stuff (if any at all), and I don't see enough extroverted, show-off stuff or parodic/ironic riffs on the parodic/ironic lyric content, but then, that's blues dancers for you in general. They tend to be a bit... serious.

MLX9 is over now, and I'm kind of relieved. My ankle is pretty swollen, but it doesn't hurt that much. I didn't dance much, which really sucks, but then it's kind of good because it means that I didn't hurt myself. I spent most of my time talking to people, which was fabulous. I also made a serious effort to get to all the band gigs on time so I could watch the bands. The more I DJ, the less interest I have in listening to DJed music; I want bands. And the bands at MLX9 were really really good. A really good cross-section of styles, from recreationist 1920s hot jazz to 1950s Ella and Basie. And things in between. I have a few clips to upload at some point so you can see what I mean.

Now, I think I need to go to bed. Because it's finally after 7.30 and I don't feel ridiculous letting myself sleep. The Squeeze has been fast asleep beside me in the bed for ages already, and it's very sooooothing.

"MLX9 set 3" was posted by dogpossum on November 30, 2009 7:10 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and melbourne and music and travel | Comments (2)

November 29, 2009

MLX9 set 2

Because I <3 Timmy.

Last night I did my second set, starting at 2.40am. It wasn't the best I've ever done, it wasn't as good as last night. Here's my list of excuses:

  • I started my period and I was beginning to feel really rough. Also, a little angry. Don't DJ angry.
  • The preceding DJ was using the booth monitor which was sitting next to me where I was preparing my for my set. It was very loud and full of bass and jiggled my sore menstrual guts in a painful way. Did not want.
  • Everything seemed really loud. It did not please me. But I turned the volume waaay down when I started my set.
  • I felt really good about the job I did the night before. Quite a few people had said they were really looking forward to my work in my second set. The pressure was on, and I felt a bit under the pump. And I crumbled.
  • I was cold. The night before I was boiling. But last night I was cold. So I wore Scott's (tiny, kindly leant) jacket and it squeezed me.
  • I really wasn't on top of my music; I didn't have enough badass stuff at the front of my brain.
  • I couldn't really find my focus til the last part of the night

I have plenty more excuses, but these are the important ones.

MLX9 28/11/09 2.40am-4:00am

Froggy Bottom Jay McShann and his Band with Jimmy Witherspoon 155 1957 Goin' To Kansas City Blues 2:37
Sent For You Yesterday (And Here You Come Today) Count Basie and his Orchestra with Jimmy Rushing 172 1952 Complete Clef/Verve Count Basie Fifties Studio Recordings (Disc 2) 3:13
Blues In Hoss's Flat Count Basie and his Orchestra 144 1958 Chairman Of The Board [Bonus Tracks] 3:13
Flat Foot Floogie Carol Ralph 186 2005 Swinging Jazz Portrait 3:44
Sweet Nothin's Midnight Serenaders 154 2009 Sweet Nothin's 3:14
I Ain't That Kind of a Baby Janet Klein and Her Parlor Boys 159 2008 Ready For You 2:59
Putting On The Ritz The Cangelosi Cards 195 Clinton Street Recordings, I 3:38
Shake That Thing Preservation Hall Jazz Band 157 2004 Shake That Thing 6:30
Deep Trouble Les Red Hot Reedwarmers 179 2006 King Joe 2:55
Tishomingo Blues Carol Ralph 128 2005 Swinging Jazz Portrait 4:15
Davenport Blues Adrian Rollini and his Orchestra with Jack Teagarden 136 1934 Father Of Jazz Trombone 3:14
The Harlem Stride Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 199 1939 Live At The Savoy - 1939-40 3:29
Whoa Babe Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra (Lionel Hampton voc) 201 1937 The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-1941 (disc 1) 2:53
Everything Is Jumpin' Artie Shaw and his Orchestra 170 1939 Self Portrait (Disc 1) 5:07
Fifteen Minute Intermission Cab Calloway and his Orchestra 165 1940 Cab Calloway and his Orchestra 1935 - 1940 vol 02 (disc 04 - New York-Chicago 1939-1940) 2:54
Just Kiddin' Around Artie Shaw and his Orchestra 159 1941 Self Portrait (Disc 3) 3:21
Blackstick Noble Sissle's Swingsters with Sidney Bechet 183 1938 The Young Bechet 2:46
Peckin' Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra 165 1937 The Duke's Men: Small Groups Vol. 1 (Disc 2) 3:10
Truckin' Henry 'Red' Allen and his Orchestra 171 1935 Henry Red Allen 'Swing Out' 2:54
Ain't Nothin' To It Fats Waller and his Rhythm 134 1941 Last Years (1940-1943) (Disc 2) 3:10
Light Up Buster Bailey 189 2008 Complete Jazz Series 1925 - 1940 2:48
Chasing Shadows Louis Prima, Pee Wee Russell, Frank Pinero, Garry McAdams, Jack Ryan, Sam Weiss 170 1935 Louis Prima Volume 1 3:04
Algiers Stomp Mills Blue Rhythm Band (Lucky Millinder, Henry 'Red' Allen, J.C. Higgenbotham, George Washington, Edgar Hayes) 219 1936 Mills Blue Rhythm Band: Harlem Heat 3:08
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

The preceding DJ had been playing a set of favourites and crowd pleasers, all of which were at moderate to slow tempos. The set began a bit old school, but moved into a more mixed, and then more contemporary set. The floor was full the entire set. I think that this is where my personal priorities as a DJ become mixed: do you take a risk and play a mixed tempo set and really push dancers, so that the hardcore kids really stretch _and_ the newer/slower/injured/older/not full-on dancers get some fun? Or do you play a set pitched primarily at the latter group and guarantee a floor full?

I didn't get the floor as full as the previous DJ, but I did hit the 3am kill zone, and lost a few folk. There was a full blues room with some great DJs, and blues is almost as popular as lindy at MLX, so that room was very full, and there's not a lot of lindy/blues cross over once people are in a particular groove. Also, I didn't really get it together. I couldn't quite find my groove. I think, basically, I was too tired for the job. Goddess help me with my 3-5am set tonight. But I just couldn't quite find my flow, couldn't quite get in the zone, couldn't really get it together. So I felt as though I wasn't really _with_ the dancers, and it really showed. But, ah well. What can you do?

The last song of the last set was a soul/funk track, which meant that I could either change gear without the clutch or find a transitional number. I began with an old fave and my workhorse starter: Jimmy Witherspoon doing some chunking, in your face hi-fi jump blues. I should have realised when I began with that, that I wasn't quite happening. But I had a short list of about 30 possible songs, and that also tells me I couldn't quite get a handle on the dancers.
I wanted to get to old school, big band lindy hopping action. So I went with 50s Basie and Rushing as a transition.
Then I got distracted and confused. Rather than going straight to someone solid like Lunceford before getting into more unusual stuff, I was pulled off-course by Carol Ralph (an excellent Australian act). I think part of me was thinking about the previous DJ's populist approach, and I wanted to maintain that general, all-crowd interest with something with vocals and hi-fi. It's a great song - a really great version of a well-known fave - but it pulled me away from my mission.

But from there I figured wtf, and did a little Midnight Serenaders loveliness. A little saucy, but kind of quirky and accessible. Followed by Janet Klein, who does similar stuff. Then the glorious Cangelossi Cards. This little chunk of three songs (which a friend described as 'old fashioned radio style songs') went down really well. It was a lovely room to play at that moment. Willing to experiment with quirky stuff, interested in the more complex musicianship and arrangement, enjoying the funny/suggestive lyrics. So what did I do wrong?

At this point I thought 'I could do an entire set of new bands.' But I discovered that that stuff wears a little. I should have moved from the Cards to something different. But I went with the Preservation Hall. That version of Shake that Thing is fab - long, though - full of energy, lots of shouting. But LONG. And while it filled the floor, it did tire everyone out. It also tends to get a bit wearing, what with all the shouting.

The Les Red Hot Reedwarmers was positioned wrongly. It's a great song, and goes down well, but it was too great a mood change from the Pres Hall. I should have played it directly after the Cards instead. It's kind of a light, wacky feeling version of a really nice song. But it really conflicted with the Pres Hall. I should have gone into something solidly lindy hop or solidly big band or solidly olden days here instead.

So I figured I'd fucked up a bit. The floor was emptying. We were right in the middle of the kill-zone: 3.15/3.20. If you don't keep them on the floor here, they go home. If you do keep them on the floor, you have to be careful with their energy. Let it get too low with too much slow or mellow stuff and they get tired and sit down. Let it get too high and full on and they get overkill and tired and sit down. And when they sit down two or three songs at that time, they go home.

Ralph was ok here, but it was just a little slow. And a bit too in-your-face, really. Which is in contrast with the way this song usually works - it's a good floor-saver earlier in the night.

Then I played Davenport Blues. Again. Yes, I'd played it the previous night as well. I love it more than anything. And I wanted an old school medium energy song that kind of chugs along and then builds a little. But I just couldn't think of anything else. Which means that a) I was too tired, b) I was too uninspired, c) I don't know my music quite well enough atm, d) I was just not _on_. Sigh. It's moments like this that I get frustrated with myself. I know I can do better, but I just don't quite bring it off.

So here I thought: 'ok, wench, fuck this shit up properly; get those motherfuckers dancing. Do what you do, don't try to do what other people do.' Thank you Ella with Chick's band, live @ the Savoy in 1939 (not '41, Brian :P ). Chunking fun that did what I wanted.
It did clear out some of the lagging tireder not-hardcore-lindy hoppers, but then I was thinking 'ok, can we dance badass at this point, please?' I figured that the earlier part of the night had been more accessible, it was time to really push things. Which is kind of dodgy thinking, I know. But we are at the biggest, most hardcore lindy exchange in the country.

Whoa Babe has a fabulous intro. But it drags in the middle. It made people crazy, but then it screwed them over and let them down instead of sustaining them with crazy energy. I should have chosen something a little more badass all the way through. This is another point where my tiredness and not-on-ness really showed.

So I decided to save it with something familiar and live and pumping. That Shaw track is great. It's long, but it's really worth playing because it's so energetic and great. It's also a very accessible tempo/energy combination. And it worked. Unfortunatey the version of Fifteen Minute Intermission was almost incoherent audio mess on the sound system. Sigh. DJfail. Again.

The next Shaw track saved me again, but then I fucked it with Blackstick. I had had reservations about that one, but I thought 'it's high energy, it's a fave.' I should have reminded myself 'it's squawky, New Orleans flavoured and kind of unrelenting' a little more loudly.

Then I just thought 'Hamface, what would YOU like to dance to right now? What do you love?' And I decided: something lighter-feeling (ie not a wall of sound or face-punching intensity). Something musically a bit interesting. Something at an easy tempo. Something with a lovely riff that just makes you feel really good. A sort of melodic sweet-spot that makes you feel really good with its repetitive, charming gentleness. Peckin' was just right.

I love to follow this song about a dance move (where there's a line dissing truckin') with this spunky Red Allen version of another song about a dance move. I love it that they're both kind of sell-out pop song tracks about pop culture. But that I love the scrunchy vocals in Peckin and I love the kind of lazy, sardonic, vocal part of Truckin. They sort of tip the sell-out factor on its side. This version of Truckin really _feels_ like the dance step. Sort of slidey, scuff-and-drag shuffle with a quirky finger in the air - the lighter melody waggling over a chunky, drag-shuffle rhythm. And Red Allen making it all work together.

And then my fave Waller song. A slightly bigger group for him, and a nice, easy tempo. Friendly, fun, dirty lyrics. It's a great song. And people loved it. Not quite selling out to the Waller craze because it's a bigger band. But mostly selling out. But then: I loved Waller when all the kids were into the Soup Dragons.*

I thought Light Up was one of those Herrang-fad songs that everyone knew. Perhaps not. It's a great little song, that did go down well. It has a big break in the middle with almost utter silence. I hadn't been paying attention, so when it came on the crowd yelled and I was caught hopping. At first I thought 'hey, what's gone wrong now?' and couldn't figure out the error - it was still playing. All was cool. And then it started again, and everyone laughed and yelled and it was all cool.

At this point, I had them. The floor was filling for every song, regardless of tempo. I had found my groove. Lighter feel, not in-your-face. Mixing tempos. Interesting musicianship. Quirky not-big-band, mid-30s coolitude. It was also about then I was told I had to wrap it up. Which was frustrating but also a very great relief. I like to finish on a high note, and I don't like to drag a set out to the point where there's no one dancing but a couple of friends. There was a general outcry from the dance floor, but I was very firm. And then Cheng was very firm. I let them know we had to stop to give the volunteers a chance to clean up. It was also 4am and there were a lot of people there and a lot of junk to clean out of the room. They wouldn't have had that room done til 5am at least.

Meanwhile the back room was continuing with blues. We went home because we were EXHAUSTED.

I have to add: Yvette Johansson and Andy Swan did their mid-50s Ella and Louis show at the evening dance, and it was just GREAT. I sat and watched and had a lovely time. I danced about four songs (I'm not dancing much - I need to keep an eye on my stupidly swollen ankle), and those four songs were fucking amazing. It was a really good show. They were so professional, Yvette has great stage presence and really commands the band, calling the solos, checking the tempos, working the crowd. She's a gem. A lot of people commented on these things, and it was really nice to see how the dancers really responded to her/their work. There was a massive ovation at the end of their second set, and I did think they were going to demand an encore right then and there. That second set was really tops. And the third was tops. Talking to Yvette, she said that she'd planned a mellower, gentler set of favourites for the first one, then heated it up for the kids in the second. That's a dancer/seasoned band-for-dancer speaking right there. It was also nice to see how she worked the dancers' energy and really engaged with them, talking and interacting with them from the stage.

I have really enjoyed the MLX9 bands: I think I'd really rather there were bands at each event, and far less DJs.

But I have also heard some nice DJing. Loz Yee had only just begun DJing when I left Melbourne, and in the last year she's really started kicking arse. I enjoyed here band break sets an awful lot. Sharon Callaghan was a gun, but unfortunately wasted on a first set to an empty room (sigh). Same goes for Sarah Farrelly. But I made an effort to be there to hear them, and I enjoyed them both.

I have also pretty much decided that the sistahs are pwning the blokes, DJing wise. Justine and Alice at SSF/SLX, then the Loz/Sharon/Sarah trifector at MLX. But there's always tonight, and I'm sure the fellas will bring it.

*I also like their old stuff better than their new stuff. And I listen to bands that haven't even been formed yet.

"MLX9 set 2" was posted by dogpossum on November 29, 2009 2:30 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and lolfrankie and melbourne and music and people i know and travel | Comments (0)

eggs @ MLX9

This is a crap way of poaching eggs. But they turned out better than our first go. We are so fucking tired. I wish we were eating nice food, but we aren't.

Yesterday (Saturday) I managed to bully my friends into going to Bismi's on Sydney Road for fully sick rotis. They are fully sick. I can't remember if they're roti chani or what.

We ate:
3 plain roti (these are served with dahl)
1 garlic roti
1 plain rice
1 indian fried rice (lamb) - this was super tasty and my fave. Lots of fresh coriander and spinach as well as other vegie bits, fried egg bits, lamb, etc.
lassi (plain and mango - I like the salty ones)
2 chicken fry (a thigh/drumstick chicken bit fried in nommy spices)
1 samosa
1 fried fish
paneer in spices (cheese blobs in red spicey nom)
goat m... something (goat curry - a bit tough, but tasty)
chicken in something (this one was chosen by sight and not name)

...and some other things I can't remember. It cost us $18 per head. We ate til we felt strange, then we went dancing and felt even stranger.

Bismi is really really delicious. It's cheap as chips, it's served from bai maries (sp?), but that's ok because it's so popular with locals (esp Indian, Malay and Singaporean students, a table of who next to us asked for a bunch of things "make them all really spicy!") and the turn over is really quick. It's very spicy: spicy in that there's often a lot of chilli (of various types), but also spicy in that the tastes are really complex and interesting. Dishes like the fried rice have all those lovely dark, lower notes, but also bright, fresh green flavours. The chicken fry is kind of dry on the outside and moist inside, perfect with lemon squeezed on it, and with a tasty dry spicy taste.

I'm sorry I'm not writing very well. I'm very tired. And, as with many of my women friends this weekend at MLX, I am riding the crimson wave. All about the jam sandwich. Having a visit from a friend/aunt. And other coy euphemisms. This has made me a bit tireder than usual. Also, quick to anger. Not really ideal DJing conditions. But I am tough.

Tonight I'd quite like to have some really good Lebanese food. Possibly at Tiba's. We are a bit poor atm, so we are eating at cheap eatery places. Places we love. I'd like to have salads with lots of lemon: chick peas, broad beans, long beans, lentils, tomato, cucumber, greens. Yoghurt. Mint. Garlic. Lamb. Felafel. Octopus. And lots of flat, skinny pide with hommus rubbed all over it. But mostly I'm thinking about the lemon and the salads. Tiba's is very cheap and does a range of very delicious fresh salads. That's what I want.

"eggs @ MLX9" was posted by dogpossum on November 29, 2009 2:24 PM in the category djing and fewd and gastropod and lindy hop and other dances and melbourne and travel | Comments (0)

November 28, 2009

yay MLX9!

I've just woken up, and it feels as though we've actually had another day in between yesterday and today. We got to bed at about 4.30am, which is actually pretty civilised for MLX. In previous years I've left the venue at 6am. Today I did also wake up at 9.30am, which is insane. So I ended the insanity and went back to bed.

But now I am awake, and needing to do some quick DJ prep for tonight's set. Mostly because I played all my guns last night and am left with the same old spooge for tonight.
Here's last night's set:

MLX9 Friday 27th November 2009, 1am-2.30am
title artist bmp year album length

Rag Mop Bob Crosby and the Bobcats 164 1950 Bob Crosby and the Bobcats: The Complete Standard Transcript 2:15
San Francisco Bay Blues Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band with Barbara Dane 160 1964 Blues Over Bodega 3:42
Joshua Fit De Battle Of Jericho Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band with Barney Bigard, Helen Andrews 160 1946 Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band 1944-46 3:13
St. Louis Blues Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 183 1939 Ella Fitzgerald In The Groove 4:46
Leap Frog Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra (Luis Russell) 159 1941 The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946) (disc 7) 3:00
Davenport Blues Adrian Rollini and his Orchestra with Jack Teagarden 136 1934 Father Of Jazz Trombone 3:14
Madame Dynamite Eddie Condon and his Orchestra (Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon, Sidney Catlett) 176 1933 Classic Sessions 1927-49 (Volume 2) 2:56
For Dancers Only Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra 148 1937 Swingsation - Jimmie Lunceford 2:41
Flying Home Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra 197 1942 Lionel Hampton Story 2: Flying Home 3:11
Savoy Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra with Trevor Bacon 166 1942 Anthology Of Big Band Swing (Disc 2) 3:05
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
Sugarfoot Stomp Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 244 1939 Live At The Savoy - 1939-40 3:09
Stomp It Off Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra 190 1934 Swingsation - Jimmie Lunceford 3:09
A Viper's Moan Willie Bryant and his Orchestra with Teddy Wilson, Cozy Cole 153 1935 Willie Bryant 1935-1936 3:26
Shortnin' Bread Fats Waller and his Rhythm 195 1941 Last Years (1940-1943) (Disc 2) 2:41
It's You're Last Chance To Dance Preservation Hall 179 2007 The Hurricane Sessions 4:31
Shake That Thing Mora's Modern Rhythmists 227 2006 Devil's Serenade 2:58
Savoy Blues Kid Ory 134 1950 Golden Greats: Greatest Dixieland Jazz Disc 3 3:01
Call Me A Taxi Four Of The Bob Cats 175 1938 All Star Jazz Quartets (disc 2) 3:13
Jump Through The Window Roy Eldridge and his Orchestra (Zutty Singleton) 154 1943 After You've Gone 2:42
Jumpin' At The Woodside Count Basie and his Orchestra 235 1939 The Complete Decca Recordings (disc 02) 3:10
Keep On Churnin' Wynonie Harris 146 1952 Complete Jazz Series 1950 - 1952 2:56
Big Fine Girl Jimmy Witherspoon with Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, Earl Hines, Vernon Alley, Mel Lewis 156 1959 The 'Spoon Concerts 4:55
Every Day I Have The Blues Count Basie and his Orchestra with Joe Williams 116 1959 Breakfast Dance And Barbecue 3:49
C-Jam Blues Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis 143 1999 Live In Swing City: Swingin' With Duke 3:34

I followed Sarah Farrelly, who is one of my favourite party DJs. It's a pleasure to step into the DJ seat after her: she builds the fun, and then I come and play in it.

The last song was a joke. Because I'd been trying very hard to avoid my usual party-favourites. The room was very hot and humid and the dancers, though trying very hard and full of exchange beans, were really having trouble keeping their energy up. So I tried to work a pretty sharp-angled wave. There was also a pleasingly diverse crowd - lots of noobs, lots of old sticks, all the states represented - so I tried to work those tempos. This was only the second night of MLX and the first late night, so I wanted lots of energy (this IS FUCKING MLX MOTHERFUCKERS!), but I figured the peeps wouldn't quite be at their most lindy-crazed just yet. It was a super-prime set, and I felt very lucky and excited to have it. So I tried to do my best. I also used my 'DJ standing up because the dancers are standing up' policy, and it worked. I find I lose my DJing nerves faster and I feel more connected to the dancers. I also figure there's something interesting to look at if you're not dancing - down the front of my shirt as I bend over to check the computer.

I tended to avoid the 'safety songs' with simple lyrics and hi-fi familiarity (eg Blip Blip and its ilk) and to go with the big, fat swinging big band. Because this is lindy hop, yo.

Playing For Dancers Only was a tactical decision. It was nice to play it not because it's a safety song and I knew it would work, but because I was thinking 'ok, I need some high energy, big band classic swing of a moderate tempo, something familiar but also something with serious staying power and iconicism*' And that song was just perfect. I like it because it makes me think about Frankie Manning. Then, of course, Flying Home also reminds me of Frankie, because of its role in the Spike Lee Malcolm X biopic. And it's also carrying the iconic weight of twenty years of post-revival lindy hopping culture. They're also both really great songs, and I think that sometimes we forget how great our overplayed favourites are. So I tried to use them both not as safety songs (as I've said), but as great songs in their own right. I also wanted to revive a tiring room after a couple of what I think of as Chicago tracks.

Basically, though, my set 'theme' (if there was one) was big bands playing in big ballrooms to crazy crowds. Hence the Ella live at the Savoy stuff, Flying Home and so on.

Savoy has been (re)popularised by the Silver Shadows, but it's also a standard. But it's not always a song every scene plays a lot, so I like to use it. And, of course - Savoy! I don't play it that often, but the Silver Shadows reminded me of it. Which is nice.
By that stage people were kind of frazzled and hot, so I shifted gears. Back Room Romp is a song I overplay, but which not everyone else does. It has a mellower energy in the beginning - tinklier. But it has a steady, chugging rhythm with funky upenergy flourishes that make you want to dance. So it gave the kids an energy rest, but also an energy injection of a different type. This is part of my working what I think of as an 'energy' or 'mood' wave as well as a tempo wave. I like to pound the dancers with high energy songs, but I also like to mix the styles and types of high energy to move their mood around as well.
I came in with Sugarfoot Stomp just one song too early. They needed something about 160 or 180 in between to build things a little. This is a great song, but it's a bit complicated and 'fussy' for such a high tempo if you're not really ready for it. But it has great energy (live! Savoy!) and it's familiar. But it's not a version I hear very often. It was a bit of stunt DJing, really, because I wanted my average tempos up a bit.
Stomp It Off always sounds mellower and slower when I play it after a hardcore faster song, so I like to use it to trick dancers into higher tempos. It's also fully sick. I had intended another build from here, but the room was HOT and people really weren't recovering as fast as they usually do in a cooler room. So some very familiar Willie Bryant.

Shortnin Bread was my concession to the current Fats Waller fad. I love that man, but I'm not always convinced he works 100% with every crowd. But I freeking love this song. I think it's one of his very best dancing songs. It always goes down well, and it did this time. It's another song that doesn't sound as fast as it. It also has that lovely chorus at the end which is kind of furiously crazy and awesome.

Here, the energy was high, but I felt as though I was just about to push that barrel over a cliff if I kept going, so I switched it up. The Preservation Hall has that lovely, chaotic New Orleans instrumentation and improvisation (which Fats heralded in that last chorus), but it's a slower song. It's simple, melodically and vocally - there aren't many words, really, but they're repeated. And the message is perfect: "it's your last chance to dance, so get up!" It made the crowd crazy. Sweet. I have played this for crowds where it's died. I think its in-your-faceness requires a larger, more robust crowd. I wanted to stuff in some 'charleston', so I played a lesser-played version of a familiar song. It was a bit too fast for this tiring crowd.
Savoy Blues was a recovery song, with more of that New Orleans flavoured style, but I think of it as a transition song, leading me from NO to classic swing. Call Me a Taxi was a strange choice in retrospect, but it has that lighter, easier feel than the previous face-kickers, and it also feels slower than it is. It has a lovely melody and really invites you to play.

Jump Through the Window is a song I used to play all the time, but had left behind for a while for a break. The recent Frida/Skye performance clip has popularised the song, so it's a good one for the crowd. This chunked the energy up again. The Taxi song had given them a rest, and many people were ready to go again.

I didn't play Jumpin at the Woodside intending to provoke a jam, but it has kind of Pavlov's lindy hopper effect. I played it because it's a really good song, and it builds on the energy of the Window song really nicely. At the end of that jam (which I didn't watch), I moved straight to an 'everybody dance!' song because I don't like to overdo jams. And that one was kind of lagging - not much crowd noise. I also like them to want more than to get tired of it. The Churning song is overplayed everywhere. But it's a great builder/spanker. It's at this point that people got their second wind and went insane. It was crazy. The dance floor was jammed, and people were losing their biscuits (in a non-vomit way)

So I figured it was time for more dirty southern sounds, maybe some sort of Kansas activity. Live Jimmy Witherspoon was the go. It was interesting playing him at this point, mid-set, because it changed the way I listened. It's a live song and it's in the middle of a performance, so it feels as though it's carrying on existing energy, with lots of crowd energy. The lyrics don't come in for a while, so it has that 'holding pattern' feel for a while. But the instrumentalists are mad-awesome.

As you can see, I was going hi-fi here. I wanted to change the energy in the room, to shake things up and kick the dancers into a different mood, so they'd be distracted and get over their hot-and-sweaty tiredness. It worked.
They were then utterly shagged, so a super slow Basie live track to let them breathe.

Then, seeing as how I was plumbing the favourites, I figured I'd play the most overplayed song in all of christendom. It went down a TREAT. And then I ended!

So I guess I did play a bunch of faves, but I used them in a different way. I was proud of myself for not just defaulting to them in a moment of panic, using them as a crutch. I actually used them for their own awesomeness and relationship with other good songs. The fact that this was also my first set of the weekend is probably another contributing factor: I like to open a weekend with faves and party songs. But it was a late night, prime lindy hopping territory, so I wanted to play solid lindy hop. Avoid the jump blues for the most part, and go a little easy on the eccentric or smaller group sound.

Tonight's set is later - 2.30-4 - so it'll be slightly different. I'll see what's happening at 2.30am, and play it by ear. I'm hoping for some slightly different stuff - the more interesting eccentric, small group and unusual songs. Earlier jazz (ie late 20s and earlier 30s) and more complicated rhythms. But I'll really wait and see.

*Is that a word?

"yay MLX9!" was posted by dogpossum on November 28, 2009 1:49 PM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and lolfrankie and melbourne and music and travel | Comments (0)

November 27, 2009

Monsieur Truffle on Smith St

Monsieur Truffle on Smith St

Originally uploaded by dogpossum

We are fooding and lindy hopping our way through Melbourne, visiting all our old favourites and discovering a few more. Monsieur Truffle on Smith St in Collingwood is run by a bunch of hippy chocolate nerds. The truffles were so rich, this is all I could manage - half of these three. I just said to the guy "just a few little blobs to taste, please. With a milky coffee." The Squeeze got angry coffee and a gluten free chocolate cake.

It's a lovely shop and it smells nice.

We also went to Books for Cooks on Gertrude Street to buy books. I got a big, colourful one about Cajun cooking - expanding from my passion for Mexican fewd to cuisines within gastronomic proximity.

And we began (after a painless bus trip down Bell Street to Sydney Road) at A1 bakery for baked goods. It was difficult to pass my favourite Italian patisserie on the corner of .... Moreland and Sydney Roads? Perhaps it's a little higher. And I was also a bit keen for serious felafel or doner kebab at the Kebab Station in Coburg. But I held off for pide goodness.

And then, finally, we bought ourselves much-needed shoes. PHEW.

Oh, and last night we went to day 1 of MLX9. It was fucking crowded. Hot. Busy. Exciting. The band was made up of dancers and was really very good and fun. With dancers coming up to sing or take a turn on an instrument all night. My favourite was arriving as the brass section wandered through the crowd (as they did all night) playing 'When the Saints' at a slow, sauced-up funereal pace.

This is the biggest MLX so far, and it's the biggest event in Australia. I'm DJing a prime lindy hop set tonight at 1.30am and I'm a bit nervouse. Doing some hardcore prep now.

We've also done some quality family time (visiting the elderly, yet seriously bad-ass nanna yesterday morning, a father at lunch time, and tonight we dine with the aunt and mother) and spent some time with our extra-favourite buddies.

Oh, and last night we had tea at the Town Hall Hotel, and I was reminded of the awesomeness of Melbourne pubs and the fuckedness of Sydney pubs.

I will continue to nom and dance my way through the weekend. My ankle is a bit sore, but not as bad as expected. I did not bring enough Tshirts to get me through the weekend. Thank goodness it's cooler!! Knock on wood....

"Monsieur Truffle on Smith St" was posted by dogpossum on November 27, 2009 5:23 PM in the category brunswick and djing and fewd and gastropod and lindy hop and other dances and melbourne and music and travel | Comments (0)

November 23, 2009



Originally uploaded by dogpossum

Finally, we have kitchen. Finished on about Monday the 9th November, we had a party on the Wednesday and cooked for 10 people. It was freeking horrible cooking in that tiny space. There is NO WORKSPACE. Click the pic to see all my notes.

I have big plans for this kitchen, but only a tiny budget, a budget which must first accommodate the scary bathroom with its 1970s approach to water proofing.

"kitchen!" was posted by dogpossum on November 23, 2009 9:19 PM in the category dogpossum and domesticity and fewd and gastropod | Comments (0)

in which i am disappointed by packaging


Originally uploaded by dogpossum

I thought they'd be just like the pictures. I was imagining a whole series of miniature, dried up sushis. But they looked like this. But, strangely, they tasted like every sushi on the packet. All at once.

"in which i am disappointed by packaging" was posted by dogpossum on November 23, 2009 9:15 PM in the category fewd | Comments (1)

November 19, 2009

modernism + jass = orsm punnage

A new 8track:

Or check the linky.

Songs include:

Putting On The Ritz The Cangelosi Cards Clinton Street Recordings, I 3:38
All I Know The Countdown Quartet 2002 Sadlack's Stomp 2:57
Digadoo Firecracker Jazz Band 2005 The Firecracker Jazz Band 5:20
My Daddy Rocks Me Les Red Hot Reedwarmers 2006 King Joe 6:17
Who Walks in When I Walk Out Midnight Serenaders 2009 Sweet Nothin's 3:21
Zonky New Orleans Jazz Vipers 2006 Hope You're Comin' Back 5:06
Eh la bas Preservation Hall Jazz Band 2004 Shake That Thing 3:52
Sud Buster's Dream Rhythm Rascals Washboard Band 1995 Futuristic Jungleism 4:18

I'll do another one of just Australian bands when I get a chance. Putting this together I found I had far too many modern bands to include in just 8 tracks, which suggests I should have put this together by theme. I guess the theme is 'new' and 'things I like at the moment.'

"modernism + jass = orsm punnage" was posted by dogpossum on November 19, 2009 5:29 PM in the category 8 tracks and cat blogging and djing and lindy hop and other dances and music | Comments (1)

November 18, 2009

house update + (much) exchange-inspired DJing thinking

Well, we are in our new house, and have been since the 2nd November. It was a bit of a push, and neither of us is all that keen to do any more painting, though we did manage to do the kitchen the weekend before last, which was necessary, as it stunk. It still stinks, and we want it OUT. But if the bathroom is leaking, that'll be the next job on our list, and then we'll have to wait til we save up lots more money for renovating. I've already been to Ikea to check up on kitchen and bathroom options and prices, and I can say, categorically, that Ikea sucks. It sucks because it's horrible shopping there, and because they don't deliver (they can organise an expensive delivery for you, though). But we are tough.
Otherwise, the flat is very nice to live in. The wide doors from the lounge room onto the verandah are very pleasant, and the long views out this door and the large windows in every room make the place seem much bigger. It's also a positive delight to live in a community (because it really is a community - people are very friendly and involved in the grounds and facilities and general community of this complex) with so many large trees and, consequently, so many birds. Lorikeets, rosellas, mynah birds, cockatoos, curlews, magpies, pigeons, sparrows, etc. The rosellas are my favourite at the moment. There's a pair considering moving into a hole in one of the big trees, despite the mynah's bullying attempts to see them off. There are also lots of bats at night.

On other fronts:
We've just had the Sydney Swing Festival weekend, and that was quite busy. I was organising DJs for the weekend, and I was very happy with their professionalism and capable skills. It was a delight to work with them all. It was also very nice working with the organisers.

As a punter, SSF was much improved on last year, though my stupid foot is still limiting me; not nearly enough dancing as I would like. Though everyone else made up for that. I liked the Sunday night band quite a bit as well. If you have faceplant access, you can listen to them here.

It was also nice catching up with a number of DJs and listening to their music and talking DJing talk. It's also very nice to see how exchanges inspire new DJs... (this DJ in particular was inspired and challenged by the good work she heard.) There were a number of interesting conversations about DJing in general, and about DJing skills in particular, which caught my attention. I'm of the opinion that a scene needs a DJing critical mass to maintain the interest and inspiration of both DJs and dancers, and that as new DJs develop they challenge the old sticks to keep their skills on-track and to think critically about their own work. A body of DJs also provides buddies for DJing nerdery talk.

The latter are things I find particularly useful. I really like the way new DJs not only make me move out of my comfort zone musically (making me move beyond my 'safety songs' and streeeetch), but also critique my own work and think critically about what I'm doing. Why did I play that song? Why did it work? Why didn't it? I especially like it when other DJs come up with songs in their sets in combinations I'd never expect or think to use. Especially when they play musical styles I don't usually use.

I think that having a few DJs in the scene keeps me working rather than just sitting back and being lazy. They remind me that I'm not actually the best DJ in the world, and that I actually have a lot to learn. I know. Really. I suppose this issue best points out the limitations of hierarchies within a cohort of DJs (and there certainly are hierarchies, even when you're all buddies) and the benefits of humility.

Exchanges are particularly useful, because they're the one time you know that every other DJ will also have that same collection of 'safety songs', and that just playing CJam Blues or Lavender Coffin won't work. In fact, just sitting on those favourites will really highlight how lazy I'm being, when I have a big, fat collection of music sitting there unused.

I'm not arguing that we should neglect the favourites at big events; I think that the faves are very useful at these events, especially on the opening night, for newer DJs, or for adding a little squirt of familiarity if you're playing a varied set. But I am arguing... or rather, I am suggesting, that in these situations, surrounded by DJs of sound skill and collection, I don't feel I can just hack through the same 20 songs. I really feel inspired to take my DJing to a new level. Having the faves unavailable (whether because I've chosen not to play them, or because they've already been played) pushes me to play a wider range of music.
And exchange crowds - particularly ones like those who attend the upcoming MLX9 - are not only willing to dance to new music, they're also looking for a wider range of music, in part because they're 'at an exchange!' but also because they're dancing with a range of new people, and they're feeling all energised and willing to play and experiment and be stretched themselves.
So this past weekend, where the other DJs were all capable, competent DJs who had that body of faves as well as a range of new and interesting and not-played-very-often songs, really reminded me that I can do better. And that a lazy DJ is a dull DJ who isn't learning anything new. And I like DJing because it challenges me. Challenges my knowledge of music and of my collection, but also my knowledge of rhythms and musical styles in combination, and my ability to judge the crowd. And I like the way DJing can fall flat; I like the element of risk, of possibly looking dumb in front of a crowd of people. It keeps me sharp. Ish.

This sort of relates to an issue that came up over the weekend, and comes up every now and then... or, rather, an issue I've seen on SwingdDJs once or twice in the past. Do DJs have a responsibility to 'educate' dancers? I kind of feel as though this one's a straw man. An argument that exists mostly as an argument, and not as a real issue. The premise is that DJs owe it to the dancers to play music that the dancers don't know. The other (more ideologically loaded premise) is of course that DJs know more about the music than the dancers (which isn't necessarily the case) and that DJs have more importance and influence than dancers. It also implies DJs occupy a position of power and privilege which I'm not entirely comfortable with.
I find that experienced dancers are very likely to have a broad musical knowledge, and that dancers with good musical and dancing skills tend to have a very complex understanding of music. In many cases, the DJ is not as capable a dancer as the people they're playing for, and so it's likely they won't understand the music in the way that these dancers do. And that's a particularly provocative statement, I know. I'm not suggesting a 'those who can't dance, DJ' scenario, but I am making the argument that DJs do not have a monopoly on musical knowledge. I am also increasingly of the opinion that you cannot DJ well if you're not also dancing. And the more you dance, the more dancing you experience (partners, scenes, events, tempos, styles, etc), the better your DJing will be.

I do feel, very strongly, that we should avoid privileging the power and status of DJs. After all, they didn't play the instruments or write the score, they're just very good at buying it. And, hopefully, very good at listening to it and predicting how a crowd of dancers will respond to it. Not to mention having good observation skills. So I find the suggestion that DJs are in some way 'educating' dancers both patronising and arrogant. Problematic in the extreme. So I avoid it.

How, then, do I imagine my role in playing music? Particularly in terms of playing 'familiar' and 'unfamiliar' music for dancers? I think, first and foremost, my DJing is all about me. Me. Me. Me. I buy and collect and listen to music that I love. When I first started DJing I did set out to collect the standards and songs that the dancers would like, songs that I knew would be an 'easy win' with the dancers. I still do occasionally seek out songs that will suit a theme or an event's style rather than my own personal preferences. But, ultimately, it's a waste of my time and money and energy to buy music I don't like. So I don't. I buy music that I love. I seek out new artists who catch my interest and fuel my passion for dance and for music itself.

I tend to follow individual musicians between bands and cities and through time. So I might go on a Louis Armstrong bender. Or an early Chicago kick. And when I play this music I'm certainly not thinking 'with this song I will educate the dancers about early Chicago hot jazz.' I usually think 'I fucking LOVE THIS SONG! I MUST PLAY IT THIS WEEK!!!!' And then I do. And I hope people will like it. If they don't, and I still think it rocks, I play it again at a different event or on a different night, in different combinations with other songs. Sometimes I look at people dancing to it and think 'these guys are struggling, but more experienced dancers would be ok.' Or I think 'hmm, this is great for newer dancers, but it's not quite structurally challenging for experienced dancers.' And sometimes hearing it on a loud system and watching people try to dance to it makes me realise that, well, I was wrong. It's a good listening song, not a good dancing song. Or it just isn't a good song.

I think that my judgement of whether a song is going to work improves every time I DJ. The more scenes I DJ in regularly, the more exchanges I DJ, the more I travel and dance, the more live bands I listen to and watch, the more confident I feel about judging a crowd and their responses to the music I want to play. That's not to say I'm actually any better at it, but more that I have the confidence to experiment.

That bit about live bands is important. There is no comparison to a live band for dancing. DJs simply don't cut it. Even if a band sucks, there's something about watching a group of people making music, and then dancing to/with them, that wins every time. And when a band's really good, and really working with the dancers (and it is a conversation), then it's sublime. Bands, unlike DJs, aren't looking to present a 'range of music' for dancing; they're just playing their songs, their way. So they're not interested in finding 'new artists'. It's quite acceptable for a band to play _only_ songs or compositions by a single artist or band. They are interested in new compositions, but they'll usually arrange them to suit their band's size and skills and interests. They'll rework a song.

Isn't that a fabulous idea? That's the sort of idea I really love. That's how dancers work, too. We take an existing or common or shared step and rework it to suit our personalities or abilities or what we hear in the music at that moment. And that's jazz, really. Unlike popular music, where doing a 'cover' is kind of a big deal and an act of homage to another artist or an attempt to co-opt their cred or whatever, 'standards' in jazz serve as a shared set of parameters for band and dancers, where each can work through their interpretation. And as with jazz dance, the shared structures allow for - require! Demand! - improvisation within those delineated spaces. So you're 'copying' but you _must_ also make it your own.

The problem with DJing is that while you can, to a certain extent reframe and recontextualise familiar recordings of songs by recombining them with other songs, or playing them at different times to different dancers, you're still stuck with playing the same, exact recording. The notes are always the same. The intonations are always familiar. It is the exact same expression of emotion or intention or idea that it was last time. DJs can get around this by using different recordings or versions of the same song, but, ultimately, each of those recordings is still a static object, a moment caught in amber.

So I think, really, the 'educating' comes when you dance to a live band. Otherwise, it's simply DJs doing what a dancer could do for themselves - play recordings they've found online or in a CD or a record or wherever. But bands do something we can't, as DJs - they _make_ music.

I think the idea of DJs educating dancers really is a straw man. It's fake target, a distraction from more interesting discussions. It's also a way of ideologically framing the DJ's role within a community or discourse. And it's most interesting effect is to establish a hierarchy of knowledge and power with DJs at the top. And that's crap. Let's be a little more interesting, shall we?

Writing about bands working from the songbook of only one artist reminds me of another issue that came up over the weekend, and which I've talked about with other DJs quite a few times. When - or is it - ok to play more than one song by an artist or band in a single set? I remember Brian Renehan's response to this when it came up on SwingDJs years ago. He played a set of nothing but Basie. I know Trev did this recently as well. Nothing but one single band for the entire set. And because it's Basie, the rhythm section would be the same. When Brian did it, no one noticed it was just one band, but they _did_ notice that it was a great set.
I regularly play more than one song by the same artist in the same set. This is usually because I've just bought a bunch of stuff by one artist and I just _have_ to play as much of it as I can. Sometimes it's because I'm working a 'wave', where I move between styles, and eventually come back to where I started. I even play two songs by the same artist in a row. Or more than two! Sometimes nothing suits the previous song like another by the same artist.

I think that there's only a problem with repeating an artist if you're accepting the idea that a DJ must play a diverse set, or that they are 'educating' dancers or otherwise intent on exposing dancers to as wide a range of music as possible.

...actually, I draw the line at Lou Rawls. One Lou Rawls song is too many in my book. More than one... sheesh. Shoot me now. But that's just my personal opinion and an expression of my musical taste, not a definitive stance on the technique. I just don't like Lou Rawls...

To return to that issue of a DJ playing a diverse set versus a DJ playing a fairly 'samey' set. This is something I've wrestled with myself. Should I play a diverse set, covering a range of styles, or should I specialise? There are advantages to each, and which approach I take depends on the set and the crowd and the time and the place. I tend to play a diverse set if I'm playing for new dancers, mostly because it's all new to them as dancing music, so I like to offer a sort of smorgasbord. But I have also done all old-school for new dancers as well, and had just as positive response as when I've played a mixed set.
As a DJ doing larger gigs, it can be an advantage to be known as someone who can play a mixed set - you have more flexibility. But by the same token, if you're a specialist, you're hired specifically to play that stuff you specialise in. And when you specialise, your knowledge of a particular styles acquires a depth and rigour that a mixer mightn't have time for.
As someone who organises DJs for exchanges and large dance events, I like to have both types of DJs on the program. Mostly, I look for DJs who have a decent collection (ie, they will be playing beyond the 'safety songs'), and a decent collection (in other words, songs of a reasonable sound quality and of a style suitable for lindy or other jazz era dances). Whether this collection is of one particular style, or of a range of styles is neither here nor there - either is good. Either is useful. I might favour the mixers for an opening night, but not necessarily. I'm far more interested in how a DJ combines songs, and their judgements about song length, suitability for that crowd and so on. I want a full, crazy dance floor. The rest is icing.

If I have DJs who can offer icing on hand, then I'm extra happy. Dancers are generally easier to get on the floor at an exchange, so I'm not just looking for full floors, I'm also looking for DJs who work the energy levels in the crowd (up and down the tempos, up and down the emotional scale, back and forth across styles within an era or general 'type'). And who really stretch themselves in terms of rummaging through their collection for 'new' stuff. In my experience, music collectors tend to also be music fans. And that's good. But not enough. You might have a large and esoteric collection, but if you can't get every kid out on there on the floor and keep them there, you're just a wanker.

As a dancer at an exchange, mind you, I like to hear unfamiliar songs. I like every song to be new to me. The good thing about jazz, especially swing, is that it has consistent and fairly predictable structures. So even if a song is new, you know what's coming next: phrase by phrase, chorus, verse, whatevs. You feel it building to a crescendo, you preempt breaks, you feel the easing or release of tension. So even if it's new to you, a song is still 'familiar'. I guess this is why live bands are so great - they're harder to predict, and so much, much more interesting.

But back to the issue of playing more than one song by any single artist. Here, I think it's worth asking, 'what counts as a single artist?' I mean, are we talking the exact same band, with the exact same personnel? That's a tricky one. Many of the bands from the 20s-40s really only recorded a few songs together in any one session. Then it was likely the personnel'd switch out as musicians went off to other gigs. So it's very difficult to play songs by the 'exact same artist' in a row.*

... though now I'm thinking of that ripper session the Mills Blue Rhythm band did in 1936, the one with Algier's Stomp....

So, if it's not the exact same band that counts as the 'artist', is it the composer, the person who wrote the songs? I doubt many dancers could pick that one. I know I couldn't. The same arranger? That might be interesting - some Henry Red Allen action, perhaps. Or Ellingtonese. The same vocalist? Sure, but even if you're working within just that criteria, there's a world of difference between Billie Holiday's stuff from the 30s and her stuff from the 50s. Same goes for Ella Fitzgerald. Or Louis Armstrong. I wouldn't tend to play a set entirely made up of vocals anyway. I'd actually be more likely to play a set of all instrumentals.

What about a particular soloist or musician? Now, that'd be a fun set to DJ, especially if you're talking about someone like Charlie Shavers, or someone who most people don't recognise immediately. Even if it was a particularly recognisable musician, I think it'd be ok. I mean, a set made up only of songs featuring Louis Armstrong could be perfectly awesome. You'd get some King Oliver, Armstrong's Hot Fives, Armstrong's orchestra, Sy Oliver's bands, Ella/Oscar Peterson/Louis supergroove, Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Jelly Roll Morton Red Hot Peppers, Bessie Smith accompanied by Armstrong alone, Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, some stuff starring Sidney Bechet... and so on and so on. It'd be a diverse and really interesting set.

How about a band leader? That's a bit more telling, particularly when you're talking about band leaders who had shorter careers, or whose best music was recorded during a shorter period. But if it's a truly cracking band leader, with a really awesome band during an especially awesome period... I'd probably draw the line at a set of 1930s Basie alone, but not because it'd be crap music. It'd still make for a ripper set, with lots of dancing oomph. And that's the goal, isn't it? Good dancing?

This issue is, again, something of a straw man, I think. It assumes more importance if you don't have a list of personnel and arrangers in your library... which many of us don't, I'd suppose. Even me, with my obsessive time in the discographies has a long way to go before I have all that information for all my music (and it's a bit of a mobius strip - the more I collect, the further behind I get, the more I get, the more I want...). I'm sure the hardcore collectors are more up on this stuff, and that the longer you've been in the game, the better you get at picking particular musicians or arrangers, but generally...

I also think that a DJ sharing their passion for a new (to them) artist or band with repetition is ok. I think we all do it, eventually. And sometimes it turns out that the band we were obsessing over is crap. And sometimes it doesn't. I like to hear a DJ's enthusiasm exposed this way. So long as it's not Lou Rawls.

My position on this is: more than one song by a single... artist/band/whatever is ok. So long as I'm not playing songs that all sound the same.** So long as I'm actually going for a diverse set. If I'm doing a Bessie Smith retrospective, showcasing Basie or working my way through the best of contemporary street jazz bands... well, then I'm going for it.

My final point is, I guess, that many of the 'rules' we give ourselves as DJs are fairly arbitrary, and don't really accommodate the range of circumstances in which we play. Each of us is a different DJ with different musical interests and ways of watching the crowd and understanding what we see. We all play different types of gigs (well, we'd hope so) and we all articulate what we do in different ways.... if we even bother with that at all.
Generally, I don't have any DJing rules for myself, beyond:

  • Make all the people dance.

No exceptions. I want 100% strike rate. Anything less, and I'm not working it hard enough.

To achieve that I might add some general guidelines:

  • Watch the dancers; spend more time looking at them than at my computer.
  • Stand up, don't sit down when I'm DJing (this is a new one for me, and surprisingly important.)
  • Don't go into sets with an agenda. Don't say "Tonight I will play x% of this and x% of that, I will play y number of artists and z range of tempos." This always go wrong, and at the very least, limits my DJing; it means I'm following rules rather than following the dancers.
  • Work a wave. Whether it's a range of tempos, a range of energy levels, a range of styles, a range of band sizes or a range of eras, vary what I play so that I can best manipulate the dancers' energy level and mood.
  • Be prepared to be wrong and to start again. Sometimes I just suck, and sometimes I just need to play CJam Blues.

I might approach sets for different events in different ways - lots of energy and higher tempos for exchanges; mellower stuff with a sparser sound for a smaller gig; a few more 'simpler' structured songs for a beginner-heavy gig - but this stuff will really vary with my mood. And I try not to pre-plan. Because it's bad news.

So, ultimately, the rules are "There are no rules!" and, quite possibly "Keep it simple, stupid." The latter meaning, of course, "MAKE THEM DANCE! ALL OF THEM!"

*Which in itself is interesting. These days we might think of a band as a group of artists creating art for our arty ears. But the big bands - and the swing era in particular - really emphasised the idea of bands as working enterprises. Music - live music - was an essential part of everyday leisure time activities. So it carried a more workmanlike quality (well, so to speak... I exaggerate). Of course, we can still talk about swing musicians as artists, particularly when they were _on_, but the act of playing swinging jazz professionally certainly wasn't in accord with a romanticised vision of the artist in a garret creating art. It involved a lot of long, hard, dirty hours on the road, on stage, in shitty studios and in late night diners. The race politics at work meant that if you were a black musician (particularly in the south), your job was pretty fucking hard. And racism was not only rife, it was institutionalised. No hotel room for you, baby.

** So no freeking Lou Rawls. Well, just one song. But someone else can play it, not me.)

"house update + (much) exchange-inspired DJing thinking" was posted by dogpossum on November 18, 2009 11:51 AM in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and music | Comments (6)