Tuesday, May 29, 2012

This EDM Thing...

When someone asks me what I do, the answer out of my mouth is always "writer". But when friends introduce me to people, most of the time I'm their "DJ friend". I have some serious aversions to that, even if it's a fair label. I do DJ in Chicago every weekend, whether it's somewhere cool and fun like Whistler, Rodan, Simone's or Burlington, or an awful Lincoln Park sports bar where it's Top 40 mashed up with 90s rap. And, I often DJ weddings, and have done a few music festivals too. So fine, I can be a DJ. I'm ok with that.

The reason I have this aversion is because of the insane hugeness of EDM right now. DJs are today's rock stars. Deadmau5, Skrillex, and Calvin Harris headline summer music festivals. These are single individuals, pressing buttons and twisting knobs. But the crowd doesn't care about whatever they're doing behind the laptop, it's all about the drop. And it makes them crazy.

What I do when I DJ is nothing close to what these individuals do. I mix songs together, in whatever order I deem fit for the occasion. I don't flail my arms around like a Pete Townsend of the decks, hell I don't even scratch. And I absolutely refuse to ever take a DJ name. For me, DJing is just a supplement to my career. I'm a writer first, the DJing is just another dimension of my "music guy" persona.

I share music with people, in one sense or another. I studied communications in college, and I want to emphasize the audio aspect in what I do. When someone comes up to the booth and asks what track I'm playing, I smile big. It means I've done my job well if I've introduced someone to something they enjoy enough to ask about. People are making great art in music right now, and I am happy to be a middle man. I'm a communicator, not an entertainer.

Now the thing about these EDM guys, they are entertainers. Nobody is supposed to ask questions, everybody is just expected to "go fucking mental." These guys put on shows. I put on one show in my life, when I played bass in a last-second hardcore band with my two high school friends at the Manhattan Irish Fest. I jumped all over the stage, missing every note, while pasty white kids screamed and moshed to the noise. I wasn't sharing anything worthwhile here. I wasn't communicating anything. It was pure entertainment.

As for the reason I'm writing this blog post now, well, I'm just freaked out by EDM's intrusion into my world of communication arts. People are writing cover stories about Skrillex. Pitchfork (Ryan Schreiber himself, even) gave an Avicii song a "Best New Track" honor. The New York Times published an article about DJs who don't know how popular the song they just played is. Vocalo interviewed a panel of turntablists who bitch about how the art of DJing has been lost in technology. EDM, and DJing, is a big stupid thing right now. And I'm a DJ. So, now what?

I guess I just want to keep the distinction clear. The turntablists remind that scratching is an art, DJing is just playing songs. I have nothing to do with the former. Guys like Skrillex and Avicii are producers, not DJs. I don't make my own beats, and have no intention to. I am a DJ. I play songs. That is all.

It was years ago when Girl Talk said that he wasn't a DJ. And this might've been the floodgate. Since around the same time, I've been honing my skills on Traktor. That is, beat matching while fiddling with EQ. If a guy who mashes up 10 tracks in a minute is NOT a DJ, then hell, I can be a DJ. And I'm not the only guy who felt this way. Thousands of kids took to their laptops, asking friends if they could "spin" at their next house party. People became interested in electronic music and, more importantly, the software and hardware that makes electronic dance music possible.

When you figure out how to set a loop, kill the bass on a vocal track and lay it over the beat, it's thrilling. But right now, it is way too easy to do. It was five years ago when Hank Hill asked, "Is everyone a DJ?" and Peggy rightly answered, "yes." All of the years of compiled interest in easy mixing is paying off now, for a few lucky individuals.

The chasm really freaks me out. Skrillex is making millions of dollars, but millions of kids like me are playing songs in bars on a weekend for 100 bucks. The 99 percent are communicating great art to a crowd still, while the 1 percent are thumping nonsense to glitzed up sorority girls for football stadium concerts. And on top of this, the small/no-name DJs in the bars are sometimes expected to play the actual tracks of the Ultra DJs. Isn't that kind of weird? Just a little bit?

I was DJing in Lincoln Park a couple weeks ago and a bro came up to me and said, "how about some house music?" I asked him what he wanted to hear. I'm thinking Frankie Knuckles, or more likely something like Felix da Housecat. But of course he answers "Some fuckin' Kaskade, yo!" I blame all of this on Daft Punk. French repetitious assholes in their pyramid.

So yeah, I am a DJ. But hopefully now you can understand why I prefer to be known as a writer. I don't make dubstep, I just tell you why to stay away from it.

(post-dubstep is still ok though)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

You ask me, "what's some cool new music I should listen to this summer?" I tell you, "'like' my blog's page on facebook, download this mix, feel good about life." I promise there's less chillwave in this year's edition.


1. Star Slinger- Mornin'
2. Chairlift- I Belong In Your Arms
3. M83- Midnight City (Man Without Country remix)
4. Neon Indian- Polish Girl
5. Grimes- Oblivion
6. The Cool Kids- Get Right
7. Black Dice- Spy Vs Spy
8. AU- OJ
9. Zammuto- Too Late to Topologize
10. Here We Go Magic- How Do I Know
11. Kisses- Midnight Lover
12. Tanlines- Not the Same
13. Chromatics- At Your Door
14. Friendly Fires- Hurting (Tensnake remix)
15. Toro y Moi- Freaking Out
16. School of Seven Bells- The Night
17. Memory Tapes- Trance Sisters
18. The 2 Bears- Work

Thursday, May 10, 2012

School Of Seven Bells’ Alejandra Deheza on the art of the ghost story

(originally published at AV Club Chicago
Shoegaze-pop duo School Of Seven Bells has always wafted of a hazily numinous aesthetic, but the band goes all out dream-goth on its latest album, Ghostory. Out earlier this year, the album is just what its title says—a ghost story. In preparation for the band’s show at Lincoln Hall Saturday, April 28, The A.V. Club talked with Alejandra Deheza, one half of the ghostly duo, about what makes ghost stories so captivating, the Holy Ghost versus the Holy Spirit, and the difference between ghosts as metaphors and the ghosts you hear truckers call in to talk about at 3 a.m. on Coast To Coast AM.

The A.V. Club: What are the key elements that make up a good ghost story?

Alejandra Deheza: I think the scariest angle has always been to demonize the unknown, keeping it as faceless and as hungry as possible.

AVC: Is there any particular ghost story you remember from your childhood that has stuck? Anything that really brought the nightmares? 

AD: Two things terrified me as a kid—the devil and dark mirrors. I think I needed electroshock therapy after I watched Poltergeist III. It took me years to get over it—I kid you not. Lucky for me, I had a huge mirror right in front of my bed for most of my childhood. Good times.

AVC: School Of Seven Bells’ sound is pretty cinematic. As an adult, what are your favorite ghost story movies? 

AD: Lost Highway, Twin Peaks. Those stories, to me, epitomize the idea of “as above, so below.” No layer of existence is inaccessible. There’s no illusion of separateness, no facet that can be successfully ignored. They’re all exposed and all susceptible to the elements for better or for worse. I have a friend who had an epiphany on salvia once. The epiphany was “Popsicle.” The idea that when you bite into a Popsicle, there are all of these layers going on simultaneously. Now, this would have to be a Creamsicle maybe, but you get the idea.

AVC: Would you want to score a film? 

AD: That’s definitely something I could see us doing. I’d like to take a crack at re-scoring What About Bob? or Groundhog Day. They’re so brilliantly funny and dark, but I just don’t get what’s playing in the background.

AVC: Ghostory is about a character named Lafaye. What kind of ghosts is she dealing with in the story?

AD: There’s a quote at the beginning of The Devil’s Backbone that sums it up pretty well. It goes, “What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.”

Ghostory is about Lafaye confronting these relationships, and these experiences that continue to follow her. It’s gotten to the point where she can’t even hear herself think. They won’t leave her alone until she gives them a voice. There you have it.

AVC: Have you ever experienced a real ghost? Our favorite radio show is Coast To Coast AM, especially when people call in with ghost stories.

AD: I’ve seen ghosts plenty. A couple of my cousins grew up kind of witchy, and they were always taught to speak to ghosts. One ghost would constantly switch her ceiling fan on and off, and her mom just told her to tell the ghost to stop. The ghost behaved ever since. Who’d have thought they’d be so compliant, with nothing to lose? To any ghosts that are reading over my shoulder right now, that’s a compliment. 

AVC: Are there musical ghosts? Ghosts of bands that are no more? Is [bandmate] Benjamin [Curtis] ever haunted by the ghosts of Secret Machines or On!Air!Library!?

AD: No one’s a ghost yet. Hope it stays that way for a while.

AVC: Would you say that your music has a particularly haunting quality? 

AD: I would say it does, for the simple fact that I tend to write about things that I didn’t know were haunting me until that moment. When I begin writing lyrics for songs, that’s when the spirits come out. I realize how much they’ve been steering my life. And how much every movement and decision was influenced by experiences that I wasn’t consciously channeling, things that I had supposedly put behind me. It’s kind of like being possessed.

AVC: One of our favorite School Of Seven Bells songs is Prince Of Peace.” Speaking of Biblical allusions, what do you think of the Holy Ghost?

AD: “Prince Of Peace” is actually one of my favorites too. The Holy Ghost always seemed so morbid to me. Like something serving a sentence. Funny how you’re taught to be scared of ghosts and then something like the Holy Ghost pops up. Holy Spirit always sounded better to me. Spirit sounds inspired. That idea actually seems cool to me. Holiness equals purity plus inspiration. I can get behind that. Then again, “giving up the ghost” sounds like a sweet relief, whereas “giving up the spirit” sounds like it would be sad. I could go on for hours about this. I’ll spare you.

AVC: What are the most overrated types of ghosts? 

AD: The ones that spook you. I feel like people only think about those ghosts.

AVC: Then how about the most underrated ghosts?

AD: The pervy peeper ghosts. Being a ghost seems like it would be perv heaven. Makes sense to me. Simultaneous layers, see?

AVC: What’s so ghostly about your record label [Ghostly International] anyway?

AD: Maybe they can walk through walls? Wow. If I was a music writer, that would be a pretty killer metaphor, don’t you think? I think I’ve had too much coffee. In all seriousness, Ghostly is an amazing label. I couldn’t have thought of a better place for us to experiment and grow as a band.