Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts & Lollypops
I could perhaps be over the saucy comedic lyric. But not just yet.
Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts & Lollypops
Raunchy Business: Hot Nuts & Lollypops
I could perhaps be over the saucy comedic lyric. But not just yet.
Since I started DJing (way back there in February – CRAP, how time flys!), I’ve noticed that my hearing has kind of gone downhill. This upsets me, because I previously had amazing hearing – really the aural equivalent to 20-20 vision. But not so much any more.
I’m considering getting some proper ear plugs. But they cost a lot.
It’s a bit of a dilemma…
I think it’s worth me running through DJing at the Blues night last Sunday, seeing as how I took the trouble to blog about it.
Much of this I’ve copied from my post on Swing Talk, so feel free to skim-read/skip. But I have added some additional comments, so you might just miss out if you do.
To start with, here’s my set list (Sunday 4th June 2006, first set (9.30-10.30pm)).
|Willow Weep For Me||Louis Armstrong||Ella And Louis Again [MFSL]||1957||90|
|My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More||Alberta Hunter||Amtrak Blues||1978||76|
|Reckless Blues||Velma Middleton with Louis Armstrong and the All Stars||The Complete Decca Studio Recordings of Louis Armstrong and the All Stars (disc 06)||89|
|I Ain No Iceman||Cow Cow Davenport||History of the Blues – disc2||89|
|Save It, Pretty Mama||Sidney Bechet||The Blue Note Years||1945||91|
|I Left My Baby||Kansas City Band||Kansas City: A Robert Altman Film||1995||83|
|Stormy Blues||Billie Holiday||The Complete Verve Studio Master Takes (disc 2)||2005||62|
|I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl –||Nina Simone||Nina Simone Sings the Blues||2006||66|
|I Never Loved A Man||Aretha Franklin||Greatest Hits – Disc 1||90|
|Please Please Please||James Brown||Sex Machine||1991||74|
|Amtrak Blues||Alberta Hunter||Amtrak Blues||1978||95|
|Back Water Blues||Dinah Washington with Belford Hendricks’ Orchestra||Ultimate Dinah Washington||1957||71|
|Baby, Get Lost||Billie Holiday||The Lady Of The Blues||70|
|Rocks In My Bed||Ella Fitzgerald||Ella Fitzgerald Day Dream: Best Of The Duke Ellington Songbook||1956||68|
|Hamp’s Salty Blues||Lionel Hampton and His Quartet||Lionel Hampton Story 3: Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop||1946||86|
|Long John Blues||Dinah Washington||22 Original Classics||96|
There are some incomplete details there – missing dates etc. This is partly the result of slack cataloguing on my part, a complete disinterest in cataloguing on The Squeeze’s part (he’s responsible for the Aretha and JB stuff) and general all-round pftness.
This was my first time DJing to a blues crowd at anything other than a party. It was a bit weird, for a few reasons:
Blues dancing has a different wave than lindy. You work in longer sessions and with longer-term goals. I found I rely on tempo to change the mood in a room when I DJ for lindy, but this wouldn’t work with blues. I found I could play any old tempo, really, so long as I was very careful with mood. I found I was DJing according to mood and musical style rather than tempo. This could have been a major mistake, and I need some feedback from dancers to see how this worked out. I could be full of crap on that part. But the floor is always full at blues, so you can’t use that as a gauge.
There was no after party that night, which is a shame, as that’s a chance for people to get all serious with their blues dancing. And I would have liked a chance to really try DJing hardcore for a crowd of blues dancers. But I had a nice time otherwise. Only danced for half an hour (or even less), but I really like Vibe as a venue – high ceilings, bar, wooden floor, olden dayes feeling. And I really like the mood of the blues nights.
…why do I keep typing bleus?
A music resource site with one of the most comprehensive (but by no means complete) guides to jazz and other music.
Red Hot Jazz Archive
Red Hot Jazz
Guides to jazz music.
A local DJ’s list of great songs for dancers.
Yehoodi radio show
The Yehoodi Radio shows are perhaps the most swing dancer-relevant radio programs available, produced by swing dancers for swing dancers. The focus is primarily on lindy hop, but not exclusively. The guest DJs are from all over the world and often post their set lists on SwingDJs or are otherwise regular posters on that board. The shows cover every type of swing dancing music, and the schedule is as follows:
* Stormy Mondays
Contemporary swing and jazz from artists, like Oscar Peterson, Barbara Morrison, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ernestine Anderson, and more!
* Toe Tapping Tuesdays
Swing with the big boys of big band and classic jazz, including Count Basie, Duke Elllington, Harry James and Buddy Johnson. Add a few contemporary artists, like George Gee, Bill Elliott and Dave Berger, and you’re in big band heaven!
* Jumpin’ Wednesdays
“It Rocks! It Rolls! It Swings! It Jumps! It puts you in the groove!” – The Treniers said it best. We’ve got a brand new format for hump-day. Tune into Yehoodi Radio on Wednesdays for the finest in jump blues, boogie woogie and early rhythm & blues. Catch the Kansas City flavah!
* Guest DJ Thursdays
Entire broadcasts of favorite tracks hand-picked by the local swing DJs you know and love. It’s like having your own personal DJ-ed event right on your desktop!
* Producer’s Picks:
Radio show producer, Jesse Miner, brings you a cool mix of his favorite tunes.
* Mixed Up Weekends
A weekend blend of everything.
Hey Mr Jesse!
Hey Mr Jesse is a talk show devoted to swing dancing music hosted by popular (and stunningly knowledgeable) American DJ Jesse Miner and Spuds (Manu Smith). The show discusses all types of swing dancing music, features interviews with big-name musicians and bands and an â€˜8-countâ€™ list of 8 top dancing songs. Show notes for each of the monthly shows are also available. Jesse and Manu are enthusiastic about audience-responses and welcome emails from listeners
An American-based (but internationally focussed) discussion board for swing dance DJs. Covers a wide range of musical styles (from old school scratchies, through groove, hi-fi and so onâ€¦) and is effectively moderated to keep threads on track. Posters are friendly and helpful, and the board encourages members to use their real names. An excellent resource for DJing technique, but also for swing dance music.
A discussion board related to blues dancing and music. Perhaps not as comprehensive as SwingDJs for music, but one of the few boards which is exclusively devoted to blues music and dancing. The posters are friendly and good contacts for plugging into blues dancing culture.
Swing Talk Threads
There are many useful and interesting discussions here on Swing Talk about DJing for swing dancers and about swing music. The best place to start is in the Big Beat a Rockinâ€™ forum. Here are some that seem to have the most useful and on-track discussions:
Swing Talk thread listing the cheapest sources for CDs (for swing dance music).
Swing Talk thread where new (and experienced) DJs can ask questions about DJing â€“ music, technique, theory, networking, etc
Online Requests box
Swing Talk thread where dancers can request songs theyâ€™d like to hear on the dance floor.
Swing Talk thread discussing blues music.
Previewing Music Online
Useful sites not only for buying music, but also for listening to clips from albums.
Buying music online
Cheap Australian online ordering.
Jazz by mail
Barnes and Nobles
Stomp off Records
And so I return to the issue of how a DJ should regard their role, prompted in part by this discussion on SwingDJs.
Before I start in, I suggest you take a peak at that thread, not only for the content, but to see how posters use photos and their real names on this discussion board. That’s kind of unusual for discussion boards, though less so for swing dancers, who ultimately realise that being ‘honest’ or not using aliases online is relevent to a community which is ultimately embodied. Membership of this community is also heavily dependent on reputation and regard for etiquette (both online and embodied).
This is stuff that I write about in my thesis in great detail – the uses of online media by an embodied community, and the ways this online participation is informed by embodied practice and relationships.
But to be on-topic, and address the issue of DJs and their role…
Firstly, I should point out (again, in thesis mode) that I’m fascinated by the tension between ‘communitas’ or community responsibility and the DJ as ‘artist’. The two positions often seem at odds, though they are occasionally combined in the notion that a DJ should be in some way an educator (a role of great status in a such a pedagogically centred community), ‘exposing’ dancers to new and ‘historically accurate’ music.
As you might expect, these sorts of arguments are tied up with conflicting notions of aesthetics or cultural ‘appropriateness’, the relationships between music and dance, the power and status of a DJ in a particular local community, the way these DJs participating in a globalised community of interest (SwingDJs itself) bring concepts of ‘DJ’ and ‘DJing’ to their local discourses, etc etc etc. It’s all very complicated and interesting, which is why I wrote a chapter on it. But more on that later. Let’s look at the specific arguments raised on SwingDJs.
Here’s an interesting comment from one of the posters in that thread:
As a DJ, isn’t our responsibility to the dancers, not to an aesthetic about artistic expressively? In my role as an event producer -or as a DJ for an hour- I am indeed being trusted to “choose for everyone”. … I’m not saying that I’m even 1% of the artist whose music I’m playing, but I am the one who gets to decide what song, when it’s played and in some cases, how it’s played. My job is to watch the room and please the dancers …
(Greg Avakian Posted: Fri May 26, 2006 07:51)
And in response:
…As a DJ, isn’t our responsibility to the dancers…
…My job is to watch the room and please the dancers…
This is pretty much my approach, at least to the extent I’m running the event. I consider it a specific kind of party, rather than just a time for swing dancing. I work very hard to play music that people enjoy, and to play it in a way that helps them achieve an emotional- and social freedom that encourages them to dance. That’s my focus. To that end, I sometimes edit songs, or change the pitch/tempo, and I do it with the dancers – not the musicians – in mind.
(Matthew, quoting Greg Avakian, Posted: Fri May 26, 2006 15:16)
These discussions fascinate me. We have much the same talk going on on Swing Talk, the Australian discussion board, but on SwingTalk the participants are DJs and dancers, rather than DJs (who are also dancers), as on SwingDJs. The discussion on SwingDJs is also informed by a wider national swing dance discourse which is older, more complex, and far more sercurely focussed on social dancing than in Australia, particularly Melbourne. Here, we are continually working to ‘convince’ people that social dancing is essential to ‘good dancing’ and far more important than classes or competitions, let alone that DJing is actually a fairly demanding craft, requiring specific skills and resources.
…I should note here that I’m well aware of the fact that the latter argument is in fact self-serving, as well as contributing to the development of heirarchies of knowledge and cultural practice (very much as Matt Hills describes heirarchies of knowledge in fan communities…). And this of course begs the question, do DJs have delusions of grandeur?
Matthew’s point that he considers a DJed dance as a ‘special kind of party’ rather than ‘just a time for swing dancing’ echoes this.
How does all this fit in with how I regard my own role as a DJ in that community, and as a dancer?
I’d like to address that second point, as I’m fascinated by the way my attitude to dancing has changed since I started DJing, but I doubt I’ll have time for it here.
So how do I regard my role as a DJ in this community, considering the fact that I’m also reading criticallly, as a feminist with decidely Red interests?
Status and power
First, I’m well aware of the way being a DJ accrues status. It’s not a financially driven status (though I appreciate the $30/$25 deals, they’re certainly not enough to live on…though it does fund my yoga and (comparatively) modest cd purchasing). But it is certainly a social status which is quite interesting.
In Melbourne, status in the swing dance scene is largely determined by one’s standing within the largest dance school (things used to be different, but this school now dominates all embodied dance and online discourse, so…). If one is the school’s principal, one has highest status. Then come visiting teachers. Then come local teachers, then teaching cadets. Within the general body of the school (ie not within the rarified circles of teachers), being a member of the elite troop is the next level of cred, followed by being a member of the lower level troop. Now, if one does not have institutional affiliation, one’s staus is kind of amorphous. Because the school does not teach or endorse alternative dance styles (why promote another company’s product?), many students simply don’t recognise other lindy styles as lindy. Which is ironic, considering the oldest old school styles are in this ‘unrecognisable’ basket.
So if you want some status, outside this formal heirarchy, but through your dance ability, you have to be able to contribute to this embodied discourse in the appropriate ‘language’ (and now I’m thinking of Nancy Fraser and women’s participation in the ‘official’ public sphere). In other words you gotta dance ‘right’.
DJing, status and power
So where does DJing fit into all this? There are other roles which accrue status – being an MLX organiser is one (though probably not the way I do it – I need to cultivate an air of inaccessability, as per the school’s relativley inaccessible heirarhcy. Not sweat all over people, demanding a dance and throwing myself down stairs). But DJing is another.
Why? Well, for a start, and perhaps most imporantly, you’re ‘in’ with those who organise the events – teachers. So you got institutional affiliation. Secondly, you got distance – you’re up there on the DJ podium and relatively physically inacessible, but certainly socially distant (you’re literally not on the same level as the dancers).
Beyond that, you certainly gain status if you’re a ‘good’ DJ. Being a good DJ, however, is a matter of opinion and observance of fashion. Again, you have to speak the right ‘language’. One of the most fascinating things about learning to DJ has been figuring out how to affect linguistic drift on the local musical accent. In other words, convincing dancers that music other than hi-fi, groovey, funky late era jazz and soul is actually ‘good’ for dancing.
The most effective way of achieving this is to sneak alternative music song types into my play lists. Paving the way with hi-fi but ‘classic sounding’ recordings of new bands (thankyou Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra, Kansas City Band, late Count Basie and Mora’s Modern Rhythmists), you can prepare a crowd of dancers for earlier (and in my opinion, frequently superior) versions of these now-familiar songs.
Why DJ at all?
Can you hear the whole ‘educating dancers’ theme in there? I know I can. And it makes me uncomfortable. So why do it?
So how do my goals as a DJ work in with the whole DJ status thing?
All this, as I’ve said, makes me uncomfortable. I do, really, want to make the dancers happy.
It’s like a drug – a room full of dancers totally going nuts on endorphines and adrenaline – you breathe it in from the DJ stand. And while it SUCKS to have have to stand there and watch, rather getting in amongst it, it’s still wonderful. I always have a moment of ‘I guess this is what it’s like to be in a cult’ when I’m DJing well and the room is really pumping. Talk about group emotional experiences and so on. There’s no more powerful a drug than a room full of people all feeling the same thing at the same time. And music is a wonderful tool for achieving that state.
So when I do a good job as a DJ, I not only get off on the vibe, but I also really enjoy seeing people having a great time.
How do I balance this ‘me’ stuff with my feminist politics… or how does a feminist swing dance DJ do ‘communitas’ in this environment?
Argh. That’s hard. But there are things that I try to do:
This last point is becoming more and more important to me. Because it’s so easy to download songs (though I challenge most people to find half – or even a tenth – of the music we play on torrents or other illegal sources), people tend not to look for the whole album to buy. This sucks because:
I know that a lot of these arguments also justify not sharing playlists or song titles or artists. I imagine that as I get more experience and develop a larger (and more esoteric) collection, I may become more reluctant to share knowledge. But it’ll be interesting to see…
DJing as art
And while I feel uncomfortable with the idea of a DJ as art (is this some sort of Australian tall poppy cultural cringe hangover from high school thing – should I be over feeling self conscious about wanting to be artistic and creative in a public context?), sometimes it feels like art. Or at least creativity. It feels like the natural partner to dancing. As a dancer, you feel the way the music affects mood in the room. The longer you’ve been dancing, the greater your dancing stamina, the more you learn about musical structures, the more susceptible to this you, and also the more aware of it you are. But as a DJ, as I’ve said elsewhere, you have to step outside a little, to understand with your conscious brain, how it all works.
Ironically, the incontrovertible rule is that you cannot be a decent DJ if you are not also a dancer. And you cannot, possibly, ever, do a decent DJing job if you don’t also have ‘one foot on the dance floor’, keeping an eye (and your emotions?) on the mood of the dancers.
I also wonder if you can be a half-decent DJ if you don’t have empathy going on. I’m beginning to wonder if being a good DJ is like being a good dancer – you gotta have good social skills. You’ve gotta be a good observer, to be know how to make people feel good about themselves, and to find pleasure in making people happy.
Can you be a crap person and a good DJ?
Or is that just another example of DJ hubris – implying that all (good) DJs are good people?
I’m doing my first ‘public’ blues set* at the blues pit this Sunday, and’ve been going through my music to sort out stuff I might play. I Â got to thinking about how I may handle it, as a DJ. My feeling is that the deal will work much as with lindy hoppers – combine tempos, careful transitions, manipulate energy levels.
But I’ve noticed a few things that make it a bit different to DJing for lindy hoppers:
– the tempo range is far smaller. While I’ve been reading that varying tempos is actually more important in blues dancing in the States than one might expect, the range is actually fairly limited. With lindy, I tend to think that I’m working between 115 and 250bpm (pretty much – give or take). With blues, I’m looking at a range between about 45 and 115bpm.
I know that there are other DJs who may vary the tempo range a little more for blues (but I can’t really talk more about that), but from my experiences at the Blues Pit, I reckon this is the safe range.
– the energy levels are more important as a result. Working with such a small tempo range, I think you have to be a bit more aware of how the music makes you feel.
I’ve seen blues DJs get up and play a series of songs seemingly at random – it feels like they’re just playing ‘their favourite songs’, one after another. Just being ‘slow’ isn’t really enough to make songs work together. The problem with blues is that the tempos are so low, the vibe in the room can be so mellow, that it’s all too easy for the crowd to sit down, start chatting, and not get up again. So I really do think you need to work the energy levels and mood of the room. Just as with lindy, I guess.
– there’s a greater tolerance for a wider range of musical styles in blues dancers than lindy hoppers (in Melbourne atm, anyway). I know there are purists who won’t tolerate ‘non-swing’ or ‘non-jazz’ or even ‘non-blues’ in blues dancing, but I’m tending to lean towards the camp who feel that ‘blues dancing’ is such a wide and flexible notion, that we can really borrow ‘blues music’ from a wide range of blues styles: 20s blues, slow drags, 12bar blues structures and the ‘blues key’, rhythm n blues from the 50s (60s, 70s, etc), etc, but even move into stuff like funk and soul. Not to mention the more ‘arty’ piano- and small combo- driven instrumental stuff (like Junior Mance, Oscar Peterson, Jay McShann, etc).
My personal feeling as a dancer is that ‘music for blues dancing’ feels best if it has a solid beat. By solid beat I don’t mean insistent beat, but that kind of deep, solid and low-down bass that makes you move your hips. So I’m happy with a kind of hip hop beat as well.
Having said that, it makes complete sense to me to play mostly from the jazz and blues genres, not just because it suits blues’ positioning within a swing dance community which favours lindy and other jazz dances, but because that stuff is simply often so much more musically interesting and challenging than some of the newer or non-jazz stuff.
I also feel that you can’t really do, say 20s charleston without doing slow blues or drags – it just feels like you’re leaving out half of the musical and emotional story.
– the lyrics seem more important with 12 bar blues (in that traditional form) than they do to lindy. So I think that playing more songs with vocals is perhaps more workable than lindy. I really like this style of blues music, mostly because I like the combination of humour, sadness, longing, desire and irony. In his book ‘stomping the blues’, Arthur Murray talks about how ‘singing the blues’ isn’t just about singing sad songs. it’s also about singing (and dancing) to drive out the blues. So you get these interesting contrasts between sad, sad lyrics and upbeat, energetic melodies and rhythms. Or you get seriously slow, saucy rhythms and melodies with funny, sarcastic or ironic or just plain funny lyrics. All this hung on a relatively simple musical structure (A, A, B or whatever it is).
So it feels like the lyrics are especially important, and encourage us as dancers to move in these layers of meanings – not just sexy all the time. Not just super-slow.
Having said that, I think it’d be a bit dull if we left out other musical styles, such as slow drags, which have all those other wonderful musical and social meanings.
-> I think that all of these points are a result of the fact that (or contribute to) blues dancing is less ‘structured’ than lindy (well, not when you do lindy the way I do: “structure? What, you can do lessons in this shit?”), so people feel free to experiment and innovate.
In addition, blues is so slow, you really have time to work on expressing all these feelings and contrasting emotions. So you can do technically difficult steps which aren’t possible at higher tempos, and you can really milk every musical iota out of the songs. Because you’ve got the time. So it really helps if the music is more interesting.
Other things I’m thinking about as a DJ:
– the set is an after-class set, and most of the dancers will be new to blues dancing (as regular blues dancing nights are relatively new to melbourne), but most of them will be familiar with swinging jazz or blues music (from their lindy).
– I’ve only got 45 minutes, which is tricky, as blues dancing takes a while to warm up to, good blues nights last late into the night, it feels right to take longer with each partner (more than the 2 song rule for lindy, definitely right for loooong songs), and it takes longer to work through moods – the curve or wave is kind of longer.
– the room is seriously crowded – it’s small, there’s far, far, FAR less room for each couple than in lindy rooms. And I’m standing at floor level to DJ, so my view of the dance floor will be limited.
As per usual, I’m set on avoiding the ‘teach dancers about music’ thing or ‘expand their minds’ thing, or ‘be historically accurate’ thing, even though it’d be nice to really get into some old scratchy blues, eg. As with lindy, if I go in there with a mission, I will almost certainly stuff up. It’s always best to work with the vibe the room is giving off.
It’s going to be really interesting: I’m wondering if these ideas I have about the similarities between DJing for lindy hoppers and blues dancers will hold up in practice.
I’d be interested in any feedback from people who’ve DJed for bot …
*ie not a private party
…yes, you have read this post before. but not here. here
The best part of looking at site stats today was finding my site was a hit for a search for “how nanna would make pumpkin soup”.
That pleases me.
I wish I had more to offer in the gastropod way of things. But I don’t. Buggered if I can remember what I’ve eaten this week. I’ve been so busy with the thesis, and I DJed three nights straight over the weekend (Thu, Fri, Sat), including my first after party. Which I was happy with, though I guess it’s hard to stuff up a 45 minute set, isn’t it?
My DJing issues are continuing with a search for a media player to which I can drag songs from itunes (using itunes as my library), but which also produces useful play lists. I mostly want to be able to preview songs on headphones before I play them, and for this you need two media players as macs can’t understand why you’d want to have two versions of one application open at any one time. Sometimes this rocks, but sometimes it sucks. This is one of those times. I think I’ll settle for a combination of DJ1800 (about $AU70) for previewing (no sensible playlist option), the usb headphones (plugged into the imic I need to buy from Brian, or into the usb directly) for listening to the DJ1800 songs, and itunes for actually playing to the sound system, searching, creating playlists, etc.
But if you’re looking for gastropod action, I have a little tub of nice bocconcini in our fridge atm, and some nice hydro tomatos on the window sill (I was in bed when the potato man came this week – 8am is TOO early!) and some sweet rocket in the garden. Make of that what you will. I choose to make nice salad.
I am also going nuts with mandarins and apples at the moment. It’s that time of year. We have a bowl full on the coffee table, and I push segments down The Squeeze’s neck every evening while we watch Buffy and Angel. Soon he will have strange Buffy-citrus dreams.
Meanwhile, I had a dream where I was stabbed by a platypus with its poison spur. It was also a dream about the house I lived in in Brisbane, and also about houses generally. I know that if I’m having house dreams, it’s anxiety season. And of course, the source of this anxiety would be the thesis. And the fact that my supervisor goes away 2 weeks from now, for 3 weeks. Arriving back one week before I’d planned to submit. Yes. Isn’t that nice?
call of the freaks is an album by a contempoary band. I doubt I’ll listen to it as much as my cab stuff, but it’s worth it just for the versions of rigamarole and . These two songs have prompted my willie bryant passion… unrequited passion.
Cab Calloway (vol2) 1935-1940 on JSP
That’s some hot shit. 4 discs of Cab goodness. Almost every single song I’ve listened to so far (starting in 1940 and working backwards, for a change) is danceable, and every song rocks. I love this man. I love his kick-arse band during this period. Oh, this is SWEET.
…this is the second set from Cab on the JSP label, which is cheap, but better quality than the Proper stuff. I also adored the first one, Cab Calloway the early years, 1930-1934.