Newbie DJs Hit The Decks At A DJ Lab in Bali

This summer I decided to become a DJ. Being a hip and sexy young person living in New York City in 2012, you’re probably a DJ, too. I’d encourage you to put your petty professional jealousies aside for the sake of this story. In any case, there’s no need to sweat just yet: I’ve never actually played a set, or even decided on a DJ name, the perfect brand for my peculiar lack of talent. But it’ll come, and when it does it’ll be appropriately exotic sounding and hard to pronounce so that you’re afraid to say it out loud without sounding like an asshole. Something like Posso, perhaps, which is sort of like posse, but with an “o” at the end that would benefit from an umlaut. Posso means “I can” in Italian and—goddammit—has already been taken by two designer-slash-DJs from Los Angeles named Marylouise Pels and Vanessa Giovacchini, who used to have a line of spats that never quite took off, but was, Pels assures me, copied by all the best designers.

It’s late July and the sun is still blazing when Posso begins bobbing its heads and pumping its arms atop an improvised wooden stage on the “wet deck” of the W Hotel in Bali, Indonesia. There’s only about a dozen people dancing, but the ladies look ecstatic. On the giant screen behind them you can even see them mouthing the words: “She’s homeless. She’s homeless. Da dadee, da dum, da dadee, da dum...”

Pels and Giovacchini are two of the eight lucky DJs who’ve made the 24-hour journey to this off-season paradise to take part in the 2nd annual W Hotels & Burn Studios DJ Lab, a nonprofit boot camp where a team of veteran knob-twisters would teach a class of newbies how to become the next Skrillex. They’d learn how to dress, how to Tweet, and how to mix and scratch.

There’s a bit of that, but there’s also a multi- million-dollar marketing extravaganza aimed primarily at the Asian market where the W is opening five new hotels by 2014. Needless to say, everyone is extremely nice and very happy to be here, and the food is fantastic.

This year’s mentors include Rob Garza from Thievery Corporation, Paul Nolan, a big-deal sound engineer, and Jason Bentley, the music director of L.A. public music station KCRW, who the assembled journos interview as a group.

With electronic dance music back in vogue, the timing couldn’t be better for W, which has always had a thing for DJ booths and plays music throughout its hotels 24/7. The aim of the summit is to help some of the younger artists who play its various venues gain a foothold in the actual music industry, says veteran DJ-turned-producer Michaelangelo L’Acqua, W’s global music director and the man leading the charge. He is wearing wooden prayer beads around his wrist.

“For us as mentors to sit and share these intimate stories about our careers, about our failures, about our successes—it’s amazing,” he says from behind green-tinted aviators. “When I’m done with each session, I sit back and realize how much I’m learning from them. It’s been very symbiotic—it’s give-and-take and give-and-take.”

Two exemplary graduates of last year’s lab in Ibiza—a dandy DJ named Angus Wong from Hong Kong and a model-pretty DJ out of Tokyo named Eiko—have even returned as mentors.

“They represent the aesthetic values of W,” says L’Acqua, proudly. “We have a position in fashion—it’s one of our passion points—and these two represent cutting-edge fashion everytime they walk out the door or get behind a DJ booth. This is a beautiful thing and why it’s worked so well for us. It’s magical.”

The bow-tied and blazered Wong, who has spent the last year on the “wet deck” circuit, would hardly disagree: “They’ve given us a great opportunity to present ourselves to different countries all over the world,” he says, cheerily. “I’ve learned so much not only from the mentors but from the other DJs.”

After learning a bit more about the marketing strategy behind burn (lower-case b), a new energy drink for the Asian market put out by Coca-Cola that has partnered with W on this and other music-related projects, it’s time for a tutorial in actual DJing by Liverpudlian sound engineer Paul Nolan who makes tracks, on the sly, for David Guetta and everyone else you’ve ever heard of.

“You don’t have to be a great musician in order to make good music,” he says, reassuringly, as he sets up his decks. “If you can count to four, you can DJ.”

True to his word, in less than an hour of dragging and dropping, he builds a track that would be recognizable to anyone who has ever been to a club. I can’t wait to get back to the city to start my new career. Posso out.

Thieves Like Us: Eric Hilton Makes Miami Bounce

The cat’s co-head of one of the coolest – and coolest named – collectives in the music biz. He co-owns one of the hippest joints in our nation’s capital, the Eighteenth Street Lounge, where his band and label were birthed. He’s mined some of the most sublime strains in the history of sound, and he’s done so accompanied by some of the most sublime singers and soundslingers ever to make a racket. His name is Eric Hilton, and along with Rob Garza, he is Thievery Corporation. And he just made Miami stir.

It all began on Monday night when Hilton and his merry band of music-makers occupied the lobby of the fabled Eden Roc Renaissance. The Roc has undergone a bit of a resurgence of late, what with the new 1500º eatery and Peter Tunney‘s image-racked entranceway. There may be no inn more deserving of the uptick in uproariousness. After all, when Lapidus first built the place back in 1956, it caused a bit of a scandal with its ‘bleau neighbor to the south, so it’s only fitting the venue continue the tradition. Besides, this is where Lucy and Ricky stayed when they made their way to Miami Beach, and you don’t get more fabled than that.

Coming along to fast-forward us to the present was Thievery Corporation, who shook the opulent lobby from proverbial floor to ceiling. Was it a little odd to see hula-hooping chicks spiral out of self-control in a place better known for swank and circumstance? You betcha. But odd is what we do best.

Adjourning to the patio where the beat became but a throb, Hilton and I charged into a chat befitting his status as world-wide ambassador to groove. We spoke of Thievery’s current tour supporting Massive Attack (“there’s a big crowd and they’re loving it”) and the band’s latest LP, It Takes a Thief. And though Hilton didn’t yet know about the old same-named television show starring Robert Wagner, after I told him about the series, he was “intrigued” and vowed “to check it out.”

Hilton and I also touched upon some of the storied figures he and Thievery have encountered over the years, such as Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso (“He took us through the favelas in Rio;” where he’s like a “total God.” “He has that je ne sais quoi“), as well as former Beatle Paul McCartney, for whom Thievery opened a few years ago.

“That got blown a little outta proportion,” said Hilton. “Basically, McCartney makes electronic music, he knew about Thievery, and he said ‘I want them to be the DC DJ opener,’ which was awesome. He paid us a decent amount of money, and we got to hang out with him a few hours during soundcheck, which was the coolest. He’s a gent, and a really impressive musician.”

image

Then there’s French singer (and one-time label-mate of mine) Isabelle Antena, whose track “Nothing to Lose” appeared on Thievery’s 2006 remix album, Versions.

“I’ve been a fan of Isabelle since her first record, Camino del Sol. I love her so much. And actually we have a new record coming up that has two songs with her on it. She’s a close personal friend of mine — a lovely woman.”

That “next record is called Saudade,” he continued, “which is a Brazilian saying that means ‘contented melancholy.’ It’s super easy listening, a mix of Brazilian and French — more of a jazz record really.”

We spoke of Thievery’s history (“we’re closing in on 15 years now”), and their road-worthiness (“we do about 40-50 dates a year, and they’re definitely far-flung”), and, noting the beautiful disparity in his the music he makes, I suggest that Thievery could be the official soundtrack for Madagascar, since that African island nation reportedly has the most diverse plant and animal life on the planet. (“I love it!”)

To close I asked Hilton about his movie, Babylon Central, which came out in July and which I, sad to say, had only just learned about.

“I wrote, directed, wardrobed, everything,” he tells me. “It was insane. We did it in 2006, with all amateur actors from our neighborhood, and it was a blast.”

What’s the big idea behind it anyway?

“The movie is about many things, but it’s mostly about trying to survive in your own independent way, and not lose yourself to culture, to corporatism, to what’s expected of you. It’s about people trying to carve out their own path in life and do something that’s true to their hearts.”

The next night, at the foot of Bayfront Park’s stage, with thousands upon thousands of thieving souls behind me, I again got to witness just what Hilton meant about carving one’s own path. It’s a path that has kept him and Thievery Corporation in good stead for a good long time. And it’s a cinch it’ll continue to do so for many a year to come.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Delannoy

Our Man in Miami: Battling the Banal with Bassnectar

For such a riotous soundslinger, Lorin Ashton is a relatively laid-back cat. He’s not all mellow, mind you—far from it. But the man known as Bassnectar is pretty much low-key. Offstage, anyway. Perhaps it’s his San Francisco heritage, or maybe he’s just cool like that. Whatever it is, his confidence—and his keen—comes naturally, and without any of the affectations you find in most 21st century pop phenomenons. Make no mistake: Bassnectar is an unequivocal electronic music phenomenon. When Ashton hit Miami last year, he brought down the walls at White Room; last Friday night he did likewise at The Fillmore Gleason, a joint that’s nearly 10 times the size. Really. And if that doesn’t signal a certain phenomenal popularity, well, then there’s no such thing. I had the distinct pleasure not just of catching the first three songs in his slam-happy set from the pit, but I got to get with him backstage before the onslaught even began.

This summer, in addition to Outside Lands, you staged at Burning Man, Electric Zoo, and Nocturnal—first time for all three? Thirteenth year for Burning Man, first time for Electric Zoo, and first time for Nocturnal, too, but we had rocked with them at various places on the West Coast before this.

It’s the Electric Daisy folks, right? Yeah.

Thirteen years at Burning Man—that’s some run. Did you do something special to mark the occasion? Not special in a good way. It was only 20 hours, basically. I’ve kind of outgrown it—no disrespect—but it was sick in ’97. It’s now 2010 and I’m like ‘oh, yeah, it’s cool…”

How many people? Sixty thousand, I think. So it’s about the same size [as recent years], and they’re keeping it cool. Anything you’re really familiar with you can kinda roll your eyes at, but actually leaving prematurely like that did give me a deep moment of gratitude. It’s an impeccably amazing experience, to build a city like that in the middle of the desert…

How long does it last, a week? Yeah, 10 days if you’re hardcore.

What’s the longest you’ve ever stayed? I think eight days.

Eight days?! Did you spin every night? Back then I used to do five sets a night.

Was it set up in camps then, too? Yeah, it’s its own kinda anarchy. But I was playing CDs so it was really easy to just rock it.

Is this your first time back to Miami since White Room? We did Ultra last year too.

I missed that. But the White Room show was sick. I had a blast. Right on. It’s great to take 1100 people and put ‘em in a 300 person room.

Well, word-of-mouth from that show is still strong. I just left Vagabond and everybody’s telling me they’d be here if it wasn’t sold out. And I get to The Fillmore and it is almost sold out. Congrats! Thanks. The last three nights we did Jacksonville, Gainesville, Tallahassee, all sold out, all places I’ve never been. It’s just blowing my mind. I did this NWA song and the kids from FSU started doing their tomahawk chant—it was amazing!

What? A tomahawk chant to “Fuck tha Police”? Yeah, it was kinda strange, but they were all so into it…

image

That was your first time in North Florida? Yeah, I’d never been there before in my life.

Now you’re back in Miami. What do you think of The Fillmore? I walked in and it was just jaw-dropping.

You know this is Jackie Gleason’s old place? Oh, really?

Yeah, built for him in the ‘60s. I actually saw my first concert here, The Jackson 5. Wow! That’s amazing.

Speaking of shows, Massive Attack is coming next month with Thievery Corporation. You recently released a remix of Massive Attack’s “Rising Sun.” How’d that come about? That was totally unofficial. I’d been doing that with that song for like 10 years and finally I said, “fuck it, let’s just put it out.”

I wanna get the chronology of your other releases straight. You’ve got the IDJ Mixtape That was a podcast that came out in January. Since then we’ve had the Timestretch EP, a buncha bootlegs—Seek & Destroy, the Massive Attack, the next one is a Deftones remix—and then we’ve got another EP called Wildstyle coming out in a month or so. Actually, the first track I’m opening with tonight is off that and it’s something I’ve never played live before.

This might be a moot question, but if you had a dream remix, what band, what song would you do? It’s hard to pinpoint it down to just one song, but the one I always put off is The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” That’s something I’ve been thinking about remixing since the mid ‘90s, even before I knew how to remix.

What happened? The things you really wanna do, you wanna take your time doing.

What about a dream accomplice? I’m actually getting to interview Noam Chomsky.

Really? Yeah, I’m really excited. It’s for a movie my friend’s doing about the tunnels they’ve dug in the Gaza Strip.

How did that happen? The director knows my music and my politics, and I’ve sampled Noam Chomsky a lot, and she just came along and made my day.

Before we go, here’s a quote of mine from a preview of last year’s White Room show: “If Adbusters made music or Negativland veered more toward the dance floor, the result might come off booming like Bassnectar.” Agree? Wow, that’s amazing. I do agree, mostly because I’m so committed to speaking my mind and encouraging other people to do so too. But I have become genuinely less political, probably in the last two years. I mean, the Bush Administration—Cheney, Halliburton, McCain—all of that made me so angry that I actually wanted to rise up against it. I’m not fooled, I know Obama is just as much of a problem, and the whole government, corporate mess is a problem, but I’m not as antagonized by it. Frankly I feel more humanistic. They’ve got the good cop/bad cop, and when the bad cop’s in I’m like “fuck you, government!” And when the good cop’s in it’s more “I know you’re a cop, but I’ll trust you.”

For now. Yeah, for now.