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August 16, 2010

djing for noobs

Posted by dogpossum on August 16, 2010 4:51 PM | Comments (0)

Tim has asked about DJing for beginners, so I'm going to talk about the set I did last Friday at the Swingpit here in Sydney. Once again I'll disclaim: this is just my opinion, not gospel, people will disagree and that's a good thing, etc etc etc.

DJing for new dancers: my approach, and a case study

Firstly, my general rule for DJing, for anyone, is "everyone should dance, and everyone should have a really good time." There are other rules: "make it easy to have fun" and "don't try to 'teach' anyone anything or 'test' dancers". Just get up there and DJ that badass shit, motherfucker.

I find that DJing for new dancers is a bit like leading a new dancer. Do your very best work. And make it easy for everyone to have fun. So avoid the stunts, avoid the tricks, play good songs, do nice stuff and enjoy yourself. There's a reason we have favourite songs, and a reason we have 'basic' or foundational or fundamental steps. The swingout is generally considered the 'foundational' step for lindy hop (this is of course debateable, but let's talk about that another time, huh?), and I take it as a model for my DJing.

It should swing.
I wouldn't play neo for advanced dancers, so why would I play it for new dancers? It's shit. Don't play it. Same goes for rock and roll, slow groovy blues and so on. Play good, solid swinging jazz. Because it's both awesome and also challenging and interesting. It's also new to new dancers, for the most part, so introduce them to your very best friends. Your best friends are the ones you like the most, the most forgiving, the kindest and the funnest. You have other friends, but these are the ones you'll take to this particular party.

There are no rules about tempo.
Some people think you should only play slow songs for new dancers. I think that's bullshit. You wouldn't play only fast songs for experienced dancers, so don't insult your noobs. But this does highlight an important point: new dancers don't have good lindy hop fitness. Even if they're super fit athletes already. Lindy hop kicks your arse and requires good motor skills, balance and coordination. All with a strange person. So it's quite tiring when you're just beginning. So remember when you're DJing for new dancers, that they'll get tired quickly. This brings me to the next important point...

Work that goddamn wave.
Move through the tempos (120-140-160-180-200 and down again) quickly and efficiently. Don't do crazy jumps (120-200), but don't linger at a particular tempo. You can do a bit more time in the < 160 territory if people are especially tired, but don't sit down there too long. You might want to restrict your highest tempo if you're DJing a particularly tired group of new dancers, but do NOT assume that they don't want to dance fast. No one's told them a song is 'too fast' yet, so they'll have a go at anything. Which is WONDERFUL and something experienced dancers don't do any more.
All this is really just good DJing practice. Working the tempos helps you work the energy in the room, and also the emotions in the room. I like to build to a crescendo (to a climax, or to the punchline of a good joke), where half the pleasure lies in the expectation. So building up is as important as arriving.

Work with emotions and energy.
I do tend to avoid the overly sexy songs or songs that feel sexy, mostly because new dancers are often uncomfortable dancing close to strangers and sexy songs adds to that discomfort. Especially in mixed age groups. I also lean a bit on the cheery songs (rather than the moodier stuff), but then, that's lindy hop. It's meant to be a big, fat kick of adrenaline and happyjoyjoy. It could be manic or kind of arsekicking happyjoyjoy, but it's still a good feeling. I take Frankie as a model: he used to aim to make a woman laugh when he danced with her. And I reckon it's a good approach. He might've been doing it to get laid, but I'm doing it to have a good time for a more ordinary sort. I want to see dancers on the floor and sidelines laughing and smiling. Not cranky.

Play your best songs.
Not your newest, strangest songs or songs you're not really sure of. Play your best songs. This can be a hard one, especially if you're a new DJ and not really sure what constitutes 'best'. For my money, the 'best' songs are often the favourites. The Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra playing 'C Jam Blues' is a best song. It's a bloody good band recorded live, playing a bloody good song at an accessible tempo. It has lots of energy. It has fun breaks. It's good. It's ok to old, overplayed favourites for new dancers. They're favourites for a reason. And they're not 'old' to new dancers - they're new. You're introducing new dancers to your best friends, right? So introduce them to the songs people love. As The Squeeze says "I'm here to have a good time. Play good songs, and play some songs I know."

I'm not saying don't ever play a new or untested song to new dancers. I found, DJing the Funpit in Melbourne, that I'd often test my newer stuff on those guys because they were up for ANYTHING, so long as it was fun. But I try to cushion the songs I'm not sure of. Build up with a safe song, follow up with a safe song. So I'd prepare the crowd for something new and strange with 'C Jam Blues' and have something like 'Apollo Jump' on hand in case it bombed. If it went well, I'd follow up with something else, perhaps go in a new direction stylistically or otherwise take another risk. Try to figure out what they liked in the song.

Try to go easy on song length.
This isn't a hard and fast rule. But newer dancers do tend to lack stamina, and new leads can get a bit sick of their same 3 moves, and new follows can suddenly figure out 1 minute into a song why no other woman will dance with that unpleasant older man. So cut them some slack and play shorter songs.

Live bands.
I do not, however, support the suggestion that live bands should follow any of these rules (except for the neo one - don't play that shit. It's nasty. Unless you are actually a neo band. Then I probably won't be at your gig). Long songs = important for bands because they give musicians a chance to improvise and shine. I tend to drop the 2-dance rule when I'm dancing to really long songs.

What else? Hmmm. Be prepared for new dancers to come running up to say "What was that song?!" and then to have to explain who Ella Fitzgerald is.


Be aware of the music in the class before the social dancing, if you're DJing after a class.
This is a big one. I try to give half an ear to what they're teaching in the class, and what music they're using. This can be hard if they're using neo to teach dodgy stuff. But what I might think is 'oh, I'll play hi-fi stuff with lots of energy and probably vocals'. Because that's what people like about neo. They also tend to like its non-swingingness because it's familiar (and more like rock n roll or punk or whatever). But I won't pander to that. I will perhaps play some upenergy jump blues, but I won't play neo. Yucky.
If they're teaching with really really really slooooow music, then you're going to have some trouble getting the tempos up later on. If you come in with something at 160 after they've been learning at 112 (welcome to recent life), you're going to scare them. So come in a bit slower. But get the tempos up. Don't sit down there on 112. That's bad news. Because you're introducing new dancers to your best friends, remember? And you have more friends than just 'Night Train', right? RIGHT?

I try to match the feel and the energy and the style of the last song they play in class. Which is where I segue to my last set....

First set @ Swingpit, Friday 13th August 2010

title - artist - album - bpm - year - song length

My Baby Just Cares For Me Nina Simone The Great Nina Simone 120 3:38
Let's Do It Terra Hazelton (feat. Jeff Healey, Marty Grosz, Dan Levinson, Vince Giordano) Anybody's Baby 126 2004 4:28
Massachusetts Maxine Sullivan With Buster Bailey, Milt Hinton, Jerome Richardson, Osie Johnson, Dick Hyman, Wendell Marshall A Tribute To Andy Razaf 147 1956 3:19
For Dancers Only Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra Swingsation - Jimmie Lunceford 148 1937 2:41
Walk 'Em Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra Walk 'Em 131 1946 2:53
Cole Slaw Jesse Stone and His Orchestra Original Swingers: Hipsters, Zoots and Wingtips vol 2 145 2:57
Jump Through The Window Roy Eldridge and his Orchestra (Zutty Singleton) After You've Gone 154 1943 2:42
Big Fat Mama Lucky Millinder and his Orchestra (Trevor Bacon, Buster Bailey) Apollo Jump 135 1941 3:09
Leap Frog Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra (Luis Russell) The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946) (disc 7) 159 1941 3:00
Stuffy Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five Jammin' the Blues 153 2003 3:46
Blues In Hoss's Flat Count Basie and his Orchestra Chairman Of The Board [Bonus Tracks] 144 1958 3:13
Blue Monday Jay McShann and his Band (Jimmy Witherspoon) Goin' To Kansas City Blues 125 1957 3:40
Gimme A Pigfoot Lavern Baker La Vern Baker Sings Bessie Smith 120 1958 3:11
The Spinach Song Terra Hazelton (feat. Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards) Anybody's Baby 165 2004 4:57
San Francisco Bay Blues Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band with Barbara Dane Blues Over Bodega 160 1964 3:42
You Can Have My Husband Tuba Skinny (Erika Lewis, Todd, Kiowa, Shaye Cohn, Barnabus, Alynda Lee, Robin) Tuba Skinny 144 2010 3:49
Bizet Has His Day The Solomon Douglas Swingtet Ain't No School Like the Old School 155 2010 3:44
Twenty Four Robbers Gordon Webster (with Brianna Thomas, Jesse Selengut, Matt Musselman, Adrian Cunningham, Cassidy Holden, Rod Adkins, Jeremy Noller) Happy When I'm With You 209 2009 2:39
Yacht Club Swing Echoes of Swing Harlem Joys 164 2008 3:20
Be Careful (If You Can't Be Good) Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra Walk 'Em 121 1951 3:09
Long Gone John Gordon Webster (with Brianna Thomas, Jesse Selengut, Matt Musselman, Adrian Cunningham, Cassidy Holden, Rod Adkins, Jeremy Noller) Happy When I'm With You 140 2009 3:57
Solid as a Rock Count Basie and his Orchestra with The Deep River Boys Count Basie and His Orchestra 1950-1951 140 1950 3:04

The teachers had been using CW Stoneking's 'Don't Go Dancin' (from King Hokum) which I initially thought was a bad idea, until I saw the routine. It was Friday 13th and they were doing a 'spooky' routine which was actually quite fun. The students were _really_ enjoying it, and would go from quiet and attentive during demonstrations to raucous and rowdy during rotations to new partners.

So I began with 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' because 'Don't go Dancin'' is just vocals + a bit of rinky tink uke action. Difficult dancing. I chose 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' because it's also sparse instrumentation. The piano dominates, with a nice, simple walking bass line and the vocals are delivered quite simply and plainly. It's a mood change, but it still works in much the same ways as 'Don't Go Dancin''. I wanted to change the mood because I couldn't stay down there in moody land. But I did want to use the clutch while changing gears. 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' about the same speed, but it builds in energy. It's an old favourite. It's fun to dance to because of the breaks, and because the piano is actually quite clever (go Nina, Go!) and allows room for jokes. I like it. It's overplayed because it's good. New dancers love it. They also recognise it because of the claymation video clip that used to get played on Rage a lot.

I played 'Let's Do it' because it's another iconic jazz song. Most people know it. It's saucy, but not in an up-in-your-grill way. This version is hi-fi and fun. Same slow tempo, because I'm still prepping the room. I'm playing nice, to get everyone up and feeling good and comfortable. This song went down really really well.

'Massachusetts' is another overplayed gem. It's good. It starts simply, but it has a lovely, chunky rhythm that's easy to dance to. It's a little faster, but not crazily so. It's funness and easiness actually makes people dance, even though it is faster. With bubs, at this point, I want to convince them to try to dance, to get some endorphines, and then to decide they like dancing. So I play nice at this early point.

All three of these have lyrics. Which is good for people who never listen to jazz. They're all women, so they link. They all have quite conventional deliveries, which is also useful (no Cangelosi Cards just yet). All this action is safe. But there's no fucking Buble here. This is good stuff. I'm warming the room.

'For Dancers Only' is a switch to a big band, because I wanted a bigger sound. It's another old favourite. It's also overplayed. It went well. It also worked as a trigger for the social dancers who'd arrived (and I noticed there were quite a few there that night - far more than the students from the class).

I wanted to play nice, so I went down a few bpm to 'Walk em', which is a song I think of as a 'beginner song', partly because of Johnson's comments in the liner notes of that album about playing slower songs for inexperienced dancers. It worked, and filled the flor a little more.

'Cole Slaw' - more overplayedness. But clapping. At an easy tempo, but a little higher than 'Walk em'.

'Jump Through the Window'. Yes, just assume that I'm playing all overplayed favourites unless I say othewise, ok? This had mixed results. The squawky trumpet kind of blew up the sound quality and this song really demonstrated the limitations of the sound gear at that venue. Boo. It sounded squawky and without enough sound in the mid range. I fiddled with the equaliser, but it wasn't really going to do much good. I resisted the urge to pump the volume so I could 'hear' the mids, because that doesn't actually work.

Back down the tempos again, but playing 'Big Fat Mama' because it has vocals and is fun and accessible. Still a big band.

....I'm losing interest in this post, actually, so I can't really be bothered writing any more. The only thing worth pointing out is that I should have skipped that version of 'Yacht Club Swing' (or replaced '24 Robbers' with it) and gone straight to the lower tempoed Fats version of 'All That Meat and No Potatoes' I'd intended, instead of pushing a smart arse Fats theme (they're all Fats Waller songs). Too fast.
Also, that version of 'Bizet has his day' bombed. I thought it might work because it has clapping. And I remembered it as being the most appropriate from Sol's new album for this crowd. I was wrong. I had set it up properly with the upenergy 'San Francisco Bay Blues' and then the mellower 'You Can Have My Husband', as 'Bizet Has his Day' starts mellow and then builds. But it just bombed. Listening, I thought 'oo, this isn't that good a song'. I find the solos a bit intrusive and annoying and the transitions between solos are a little clunky. It's a bit of an unusual song, but I had set it up properly. I'll try it again, but not soon (sorry Sol).

The second half of the set was mostly newer or less familiar songs, and they had mixed results with the new dancers. But by that point there was a more mixed crowd, so I wanted to change things. the Terra Hazelton and Tuba Skinny are going down really well (both here and at Canberrang) and they're a nice combination.

We ended on a birthday/farewell jam and then I danced a couple of songs before suddenly discovering I had A SICK STOMACH and having to rush home to bed. That sucked ARSE and was entirely unexpected. I was feeling fine and wanted to DANCE. A big BOO to that.

"djing for noobs" was posted in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and lolfrankie and music

June 25, 2010

the highest joy

Posted by dogpossum on June 25, 2010 9:27 PM | Comments (0)

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"the highest joy" was posted in the category lindy hop and other dances and lolfrankie

November 29, 2009

MLX9 set 2

Posted by dogpossum on November 29, 2009 2:30 PM | Comments (0)

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 in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and lolfrankie and melbourne and music and people i know and travel

November 28, 2009

yay MLX9!

Posted by dogpossum on November 28, 2009 1:49 PM | Comments (0)

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 in the category djing and lindy hop and other dances and lolfrankie and melbourne and music and travel

May 25, 2009

happy birthday frankie!

Posted by dogpossum on May 25, 2009 6:05 PM | Comments (1)

As many of you know, Frankie Manning passed away a couple of weeks before the massive Frankiefest week of celebrations for his 95th birthday. The saddest of news, and yet, probably saddest because Frankie'd be crawling with jealousy that thousands of dancers are enjoying his party without him.
But even those of us who couldn't get to New York are thinking of him. And watching clips that make us cry and cheer out loud:

"happy birthday frankie!" was posted in the category cat blogging and lindy hop and other dances and lolfrankie

March 22, 2009

korea for the win

Posted by dogpossum on March 22, 2009 2:17 PM | Comments (0)

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 in the category lindy hop and other dances and lolfrankie

August 17, 2007


Posted by dogpossum on August 17, 2007 1:25 PM


"rly!!!1!" was posted in the category lolfrankie

friday frankie blogging

Posted by dogpossum on August 17, 2007 2:52 AM

this will mean nothing to non dancers.


"friday frankie blogging" was posted in the category lolfrankie


About dogpossum

i live in melbourne sydney, australia, like jazz music and dance, swear too much, sew, drink a lot of tea and adore puns. ask me about my phd.