Saturday, December 06, 2008

the real dj spun interview

The Real DJ Spun has been a real heavy on dance culture in NY since relocating here in early 2002 to curate PS1's crucial Summer Warm-Up series. Spun also keeps up the cheeky, shadowy, under-the-radar series of "Promo Only" edits released on his Rong label. Rub-N-Tug's drum circle drubbing of Chicago's "I'm a Man" remains a classic fulcrum of 21st century disco, wherein classic rock re-established its place in "party music" crates. Man cannot live by disco alone.

So I saw some flier for Ben Cook with the Rong logo the other night. And then later on that same night, a friend and I watched The Phantom of the Paradise for the first time and we went, “Oh, riiight...”

HAHAHA! Yeah, Doug Lee did that. I saw it in the theater when it came out.

There’s a lot of fantastic shit in that movie. I can’t wait to watch it again. Okay, so just some bio stuff.

I’m from San Jose, CA. I moved here in Spring 2002 to curate the PS1 Summer Warm-Up series. I’ve been DJing since 1987, since I graduated high school. I played in punk rock bands before that.

It seems like everyone has a punk rock background. I’m curious as to why. Definitely punk rock taught me to hate disco originally. So why are there so many punk rock disco heads?

It’s good vibes, it’s about energy.

I mused on the communal aspect of it. When I found out about Mancuso I wished I had known about what he was up to during the punk rock days.

The big part of the punk rock spirit is individuality. There’s an anti-social and sarcastic and comedic aspect as well. As punk rock became more mainstream and after the backlash against disco. By the mid-80s, being into disco was as anti-establishment as you could get.

Talking to Harvey, he said of course you liked disco because you were supposed to hate it and be contrarian.

I was mostly into hip-hop but I’ve always been a fan of music, good music. That’s the trip, playing good tunes, good music, trying to express a feeling. I was into funk and soul. People get into punk and from there get into rockabilly and blues. With hip-hop, you get into the original breaks. House has its roots in disco. It’s a roots thing. For DJing, disco is the essence of where that all came from.

It doesn’t go back before disco, really. Northern soul maybe…

There have been a lot of people with that sort of dancing spirit, wanting to dance all night. From the 20’s or ancient pagan rituals. Hitting a drum, dancing around the fire. I’ve always kept all my interests. I’ve never let any of them go. I’ve liked the same things I liked as a teenager. I’ve always tried to do my own thing.

So how did you come to learn about edits?

There were already DJs doing their own special mixes on reel tape. That’s always been part of it, making special mixes for yourself. That’s where a lot of DJ edits come from making a special version for yourself. There have always been special DJ services. Since I started DJing, there were already people doing it. It got trendy again in the last few years.

In SF, were you aware of Harvey and Thom.

I met Thom the day after he came to the US. We got into house, early techno. In 1991, these English house ravers came out and they wanted to throw full moon parties on the beach. It was a party called Wicked. I was one of the few DJs in the Bay Area so we kinda gravitated towards each other. Then Thom moved to New York and I came out a few years later, but we show the same ideas and spirit.

We started Rong in 2003 with Ben Cook, who was a friend of a friend. We weren’t really that good a friend, but we’re both friends with Idjut Boys. I had moved to Seattle, then back to San Fran, then Idjut Boys asked to do a record. At that time, Ben and I were the only people into disco, so it made sense to work together. We did an album called Thick as Thieves for Noid, all disco edits. We did disco edits together. We collaborated on an original project as well. That went well as production partners. We started the label as a bi-coastal thing, repping New York and holding onto our west coast roots.

Were you thrilled about coming out here?

For me, I was excited to hear people with a little more creative approach to DJing. Things had gotten stale out west, very pedestrian house music was the way of the walk. So it was good to reconnect with Thomas and become friends with Eric. I enjoyed the Rub’n’Tug parties. Danny Wang, Metro Area, there was a cool scene with nice parties. It was nice to see people embracing a more eclectic sound, open to hearing disco and rock, anything goes. It was pretty refreshing.

It’s funny for me, knowing how disco comes up through gay, black, Latino cultures, that it’s no longer the province of gay culture.

It’s kinda sad. I know some people see it as the gentrification of this music. But it also makes sense. When you were talking about punk rock as an influence. Back in the 80’s, nobody was more disenfranchised than punk rockers. As we get older and more in-tune with that, we continue to listen to the music of a disenfranchised culture.

Is it odd that it’s so…white? Or these tight rings of people, not mingling.

New York is so cliquey. Some parties are all nerdy white kids. But you go to Santo’s for Nicky Sciano and different people come out and dance together. You can go to the Loft and there are all different kinds of people dancing. It’s a special party for sure.

What are your thoughts on the recent up tick in disco edits?

I just love music. I appreciate that people are getting into it for the music. It’s nice when I travel that people are a lot more aware of what we’re doing. That side of it is good. But it hasn’t affected me too much. It’s positive if it can help regain some glory for this great music of the past.

Does it make a difference between obscurity/ popularity?

There’s a lot of stuff I’ve seen people edit that doesn’t need editing. There’s already a masterpiece. There’s no need. I prefer to just leave it at that. I won’t point fingers. Some songs don’t need an edit, you don’t need to edit it. Covers are the new edits.

For me, having a record label, putting out original music is what that’s all about. Doing disco edits, that’s just a fun little thing on the side for us to play. It’s fun for us as DJs, but that’s not really what Rong Music is about. Right now, we’re doing some nostalgia things, but on a more original angle. We’re doing a new James Chance with some remixes. (Mentions Cody Mooney, Gary Davis).

Have there ever been copyright issues with the edits?

It’s small, we don’t make that many.

So it’s not like Chicago would ever find out. Much less Gloria Taylor.

That’s the most obvious, mainstream one we did. We want to promote the tunes, but when we do them, we don’t use any names. We want it to be for the music. We’re not promoting the artists name or hype ourselves up. The disco edits are for us and our friends, for the heads to be able to play. We don’t make very many of those. They’re limited edition. It’s just for fun.

Is it weird that it’s become more of a fetish?

It’s flattering. I’d much rather see people get into good music than shitty music. It’s refreshing. But too many people these days just look to the internet to learn about music. If you’re a DJ, you don’t learn on the internet. It’s about interacting with people on a personal level, in-person. It’s about paying attention. I have a different view than other people. It’s more about the vibe. It’s about how it feels, in the end. A lot of people get into just having the most obscure things. Original style is really important, making a statement of your own, it’s a huge part of it. That’s what moves me.

Do you think disco will move along?

I do believe in too much of a good thing. I love disco and house and techno. But I don’t want to hear any of it exclusively. It’s that punk rock contrarian spirit. Variety is the spice of life.