Monday, 17 June 2013

Balearic DJing

I love all kinds of dance music in rhythm, style and tempo. The problem is that most clubs, understandably work under something of a beats per minute (bpm) tyranny. In order for people to be able to join the dancing throng there needs to be an element of predictability. Generally this means that a bmp of around 130 which is often maintain throughout the evening as DJ's mix seamlessly from one track to another. The objective of clubs is to get people dancing and keep them on the dance floor. That's what clubs are for. 

Maybe my problem is that I have a short attention span. I first noticed this some years ago playing in a small but rammed bar in Camden Market, London. the dance floor was bouncing when I began to notice that after about 5 house tunes many of the dancers were starting to use the same movements. I thought they might get bored if they carried on much longer (though it might have been me that was getting bored with their repetitive movements) so I decided that I was going to radically change style and tempo. There's no gentle way to move from House music to Reggae so I waited for the break in a track where the beat was less obvious and with a quick zip on the EQ and slid into reggae. There was a moments confusion on the dance floor but then a whoop went up as everyone immediately adapted and started to enjoy the different movements which the music encouraged. From that moment the spirit of Eclectika Sessions was born and I've continued to embrace diversity in my sets. Obviously that rules me out for most mainstream clubs but fortunately I have found my flavour and favour playing private parties, cocktail bars and daytime sun drenched venues.

For cocktail bars or private parties the criteria of engagement are quite different to clubs. If it's a private party I understand that the first couple of hours are going to be taken up with conversation and canap├ęs. That doesn't mean you can't engage people. During the canapes and conversation stage of a party I have even had people approach me to apologise for not dancing, as if that is the only way they can show their approval. I reassure them. My objective is to stimulate and entertain and as I look across a crowded room I can see the head nodders and compulsive feet tapping unseen under the tables. I know when people are engaged. Of course as the evening progresses so do the beats and before they know it the food will have been cleared away and the dance floor fills up according to my party plan.

Daytime on beaches is a whole different arena. If I start playing round lunch time it will be breakfast for many of those who have dragged themselves to the beach after a hard nights clubbing. Some will have fragile heads and the cool beer they are clutching will be the hair of the dog. So for me Balearic lush beats are usually the order of the day, at least for starters. I think I first learned from my mate and fellow dj, Jon Sa Trinxa, that what some people might regard as chilled music can take you head off when played at volume. I would hate to be regarded as a chilled DJ as for me that often translates as bland and I certainly don't do bland. Some people refer to it as Downbeat but then again while I love a lot of downbeat stuff I would hate to feel confined and so regularly take off uptempo. For me it's about light and shade. Downbeat offsets uptempo just as a haunting melody in a minor key highlights the exuberance of an uplifting major key track to follow. What I would term Balearic beats are usually between 100 and 110 bpm with the kick of the beat softened by the lush overlays of the track. Even thought the music appears pretty chilled the volition of the music is still progressive. Here are a couple of examples of what I'm talking about.

Escape from New York by Filippson & Ulysses

Violet Morning Moon by Bubble Club

By a wonderful coicidence this same this same bpm is also the defining tempo of the Nu Disco genre which I have come to champion in recent years. Nu Disco is often made up of old disco tracks which have been slowed down and stretched with a hypnotic and heavy kick beat added. Consequently my sets tend to be interspersed with a healthy dose of Nu Disco. Here are a couple of examples.

Barry & Marvin by The Players Union

Hang On (Sade) by Get Down Edits

However as I said, I have a short attention span so it wont be too long before I start to drop in Minimal Techno tunes. Ah minimal techno. An evening of it would drive me to distraction because not a lot happens with Minimal. However, to my mind, in some cases it sounds as each tone has been hand crafted and shaped for precision and beauty - actually some Minimal is clangy and unpleasant but I tend not to buy that stuff ;-)

Dangly Panther by Jimpster

Unfortunately it seems that many beach bars on the island have been infected with the tyranny of the club music. I regularly encounter DJ's pumping an incessant diet of high volume techno or deep house to bemused looking sun worshippers.  Why I wonder? Maybe they don't really want to be playing on a beach and live in hope that a promoter from one of the big clubs is going to hear them and rescue them from their place of exile on the beach. Maybe it's because they can really only play what they like and just happen to have landed a poorly paid residency in a beach bar. Another DJ mate, George Solar, takes a more strident approach and maintains a strictly low bpm with his self named Comfy dub sessions. When asked recently why he didn't play techno in the very successful Babylon Beach bar he simply said, "Because I can." And who is to argue that his sets are anything but appropriate as he envelopes his audience with warm dubby tones while they soak up the rays or become engaged in beachside dinner conversations.

My own approach is somewhat more eclectic. Nothing is outlawed based on tempo or genre but I try to play with a degree of sensitivity to those present and a typical several hours set will see me visit most genres as I seek to actively engage everyone. When the whole Ibiza scene kicked off nearly 30 years ago the musical choices played in the clubs and terraces where decidedly eclectic. Over the years this inclusive eclecticism seems to have been narrowed so that people wrongly think that the Ibiza sound is techno or house. To my mind, by designating myself as a Balearic DJ means that I am aligning myself with the inclusive spirit on which the original scene was based. Some years back, for one of my Frisky Radio broadcasts I tried to roughly define what I mean by Balearic music. In some ways its very eclectic nature means that it defies definition but if you listen to the start of this mix you will hear my voice trying to explain my personal perspective on it. As I said this mix was produced a couple of years back but looking through it now I see that it was a valiant attempt to define Balearic and within a two hour mix which features a wide range of genres. (for convenience I have split the two hour mix into two parts which you can download if you wish)

What is Balearic? Part 1.

What is Balearic? Part 2

Monday, 10 June 2013

The View From The Booth

In most venues where I play if the DJ booth if not on a raised plinth then at the very least it is usually in a pretty good vantage point to see everything that is going on in the club or bar. And what a view it is. I can usually see who is going to make a move on who quite sometime before they build up the courage to do so, I see prostitutes identifying and then zone in on new engagements, illicit office affairs and young loves on their first nervous dates, and holidaying couples who, shell shocked by two weeks together 24 x7 realising sadly that they have run out of things to say to each other and oddly mismatched couples brought together by the attraction of excess wealth to youthful beauty. Recently I saw a group of three women, who sadly, I realised too late, had come into the bar with the express reason of creating a flirty wall of distraction while one of the group focused on lifting and emptying someone bag. I have often been the first person to note when someone in the bar is getting troublesome usually because of over consumption and have, on a number of occasions been able to notify the security to rescue a girl who had become the unwilling focus of increasingly agressive attention from some dope who could not understand why anyone could resist his alcohol and coke fuelled charms. In fact I made one noted rescue myself. A teenage girl had been flirting with me by the booth. I recognised immediately that it wasn't because she fancied me but because she hoped to get me to play her favourite selection of tunes. Whatever, it was fun to chat. Part way through the evening she returned and apologised for troubling me but, "There's this guy on the dance floor and his hands are everywhere." What to do? "Tell him I'm your Dad." She looked at me shocked for a moment but then realised it was very plausible so she went away armed with me as very virtual cool Dad the DJ. That night I realised that I was getting older.

Because of my vantage point I have always made a point of introducing myself to and get to know the security. A quick nod to them means that distressing incidents on the dance floor can usually be avoided. In the main they are a decent bunch of guys and I am quite happy that someone is making sure that no guns or knives are finding their way onto dance floors. To my mind it is one of those jobs where contrary to popular opinion, brain and psychology are much more effective than brawn. One guy I met told me that his main strategy was to simply say hello to everyone who walked past him on the way into the bar. If they returned his greeting they were generally let in but if they ignored him he would then stop them and take it from there. Maybe they hadn't heard him or thought he was talking to someone else but more often than not he found that when challenged he would discover a person with an attitude.

Sadly many security guys seem to be more intent on intimidation than protection. The last time I visited London's Ministry of Sound (and it will be the last time) it felt as though I was in a concentration camp policed by over aggressive guards with torches which they used to like search lights scanning the dancers below them. When they were really needed the were useless. It was in the early hours of the morning and a mate was taking over the decks in half an hour when somewhere on the dance floor one of the punters threw up. A horrid acrid smell of vomit began to fill the dance floor and people gradually moved into one of the other dance areas. We tried to alert the security who seemed totally uninterested in doing or requesting anything be done about it. Our team of friends then sent out our own patrol to sniff out the location so that we could lead someone there to clean it up which they did ineffectually. Half an hour into my mates set I had to make my excuses and leave before I added to heaving stench.

In some of the larger clubs the DJ booth is set so high above the crowd that it can be quite isolating. Yes its great to feel the roar and response of thousands of clubbers but it can also be quite lonely which is why many of the big name DJ's arrive with an entourage. Its good to have people within talking distance who can shout encouragement and, occasionally take the piss if something goes wrong and you produce a train crash mix.

On a number of occasions I've played the wonderful Atzaro Spa hotel in Ibiza where its not so much a dance floor as a fairytale garden. The objective is not to get everyone dancing but rather to entertain with an eclectic set. Even when it's quite busy there are times when many of the people are concealed in small groups on fabric strewn day beds. Periodically I would leave the booth and wander round the garden to see who was still listening. One evening around 1am I realised that there were only two couples left, both oblivious to each other but loved up and drifting with the music. For the next half and hour I played an unapologetically romantic and suggestive set directed specifically at these two couple until they could constrain themselves no more and hurried off to their hotel rooms to consummate the evening. Mission accomplished.