When guitars called me back, I learned that there was much more to rocking a party than mad skillz behind the decks. Just like in dance music culture, in indie rock there is a fine line between production skills and product, between following a trend and setting one, and between just playing records or being a selector. The selectors that I'd mocked? Honestly, they were more interesting than anyone who could play 2 hours of bangin' techno or chugging progressive house without a single break or the ghost of a trainwreck. The parties where five people showed up with 45 cases and odds and ends from their parents’ record collections were the best, because making a party happen from some soul, a few indie label records, some 80s standards, and weird stuff from thrift stores showed that indie rock DJing is non-genre-specific cut and paste that works. The dance party (rather than a night at the club) was back, for a whole new audience of kids who benefit daily from the of ease of purchasing their place in a scene through the right easily accessible clothes, downloads, and “friends.” And the kids without American Bandstand, Dance Fever, or SoulTrain context, without record-buying context, eat it up. With a spoon.
Those years when guitar and drums called me back were also the years of disco and italodisco, when I became impressed with the musicianship of the foundations of house and techno, with funk and Northern Soul, when I learned about DJs like David Mancuso and Larry Levan who don't (and in the case of Levan didn’t) beatmatch. When I learned that parties like the Loft were about the message and the people, more than expertise. Anyone can DJ, it’s about learning technology. Selecting is about craftsmanship.
Indie rock can be credited with the rise of the loathsome celebrity DJ. James Iha, Nick Zinner, Carlos D., and Kit Chaps (AKA VHS or Beta) are the first that come to mind, and interestingly, all have histories of DJing that go back as far or as or further than their careers as known musicians. (And some of them are quite good when they relax, go with what they’re doing, and become just a DJ instead of so-and-so from such-and-such band.) But I’m not sure that particular variety is any more loathsome than the chav that began to “infect” house and techno in the late 90s—sports stars, pop singers, actors who thought that if they put on a pair of Sonys or Sens and stood behind the decks, they were DJing. (I realize that this could be construed as an insult to Madonna’s appearance at Misshapes, but Madonna got her start at the Danceteria, so far be it for me to lay criticism there.) And the analogue to this in indie rock is the loathsome blogger who shows up to “DJ” armed with an iPod, a laptop, a CD library, and personal musical history that began with The Killers or college. Some have potential to be very, very good, especially if they develop an identity or a standard of taste for the brand that they become: e.g. Queens of Noize and Tarts of Pleasure. Sure, most of their audience is there for the party, but when New York magazine said that Sarah Lewitinn has spent the last couple of years with more popular pull than any professional music journalist, they were telling the truth. The kids want her friends, and they want her lifestyle, but what they’re getting in being close to it by coming out to Stolen Transmission events is a window on what it takes to become a tastemaker, even if one’s taste is suspect to a portion of the audience. Consistency of voice, schedule, and interest is what works in blogging and in playing records.
So Cindy and I have an event on Friday that we’re both excited about. We’re doing our best to get another installment of Love & a .45 scheduled. That’s not say we’re not nervous. But we know we’ve got good records, musical interests and acquisitions that span decades, and friends who are supportive. Don’t pass judgment until you’ve been in our (fabulous) shoes, stepped out of your own shell, and taken a chance at doing something that you value as an art form, even if you can only hope to be a craftsperson instead of an architect.