A flyer found. A map point located. A warehouse discovered. A threshold crossed. One night. One moment. For me, nothing would ever be the same again.
What is it about electronic music that captures us so? Why is it that, once found, it grabs hold and refuses to let go? And why is it that nearly all of us can name the exact moment when it made everything change.
For me, December 31, 1991 is that moment. Before, the path of my life had been headed one way. After, well....
In the beginning, I was nothing more than a dedicated punter, one of the East Coast faithful, traveling hundreds of miles each weekend in pursuit of the perfect beat. Thursdays at Baltimore's legendary Fever. Fridays at DC's immortal Buzz. Saturdays at one-off's with names like Catastrophic, Storm, Ultraworld, or Primary. We were in the right place at the right time - the birth of a scene, a music, a movement.
Along with the flyers I collected the music. Guerrilla. FSOL. Limbo. Cosmic Baby. Stress. Leftfield. Platipus. The soundtrack of the weekend became the soundtrack of my life. At first, it was enough to let others arrange it, but then...
This was the era of the mixtape, a time before the Pro Tools perfect, studio session solid CD. Sets were played, recorded, and traded, passed hand to hand among the faithful, with no DJ too big or small to be worth a listen.
Although I loved the dancefloor, I started someplace that might surprise you - downtempo. Yes, downtempo. Back then, no event was complete without the "Chill Room", and it was there I found my first source of DJing inspiration. One tape, two tapes, three tapes, more... I only gave them to a few friends, but these things, well, they have a life of their own. It started small - gigs in Richmond VA, Washington DC, Baltimore, New York. I was paying my dues. And then....
April 16, 1996
Washington D.C.'s Buzz presents Supersting. The greatest collection of talent that had ever been assembled on a single night in the States. Sasha. Carl Cox. Scott Henry. BT. Laurent Garnier. LTJ Bukem. And in the Cloudwatch Chill Out Tent, among others, Babylon - a.k.a. Alex Whalen. I wasn't on the main stage. Far from it. And yet, I had to ask myself, "is this DJing thing for real? Could it become my life?"
Truth is, if you ask anyone who knew me, it already was my life. From that first night in '91, sharing this music with others had been the thing that mattered most. Whether it was making mix tapes, opening my own mail order record shop, or spending countless hours trainspotting tracks, nothing mattered more. But somehow, until that summer night in '96, the idea that it could happen to me, well...
Newly inspired, I poured myself deeper still into the music, shifting focus from the chill room to the main room. The scene grew, expanded. Nightclubs were becoming superclubs, DJ's superstars. The underground was going global.
With my turn towards the dancefloor I knew there would be yet more dues to pay, and pay them I did. More tapes changed hands, more connections made, more sets played, and then...
July 30, 1999
A return to Washington, D.C.'s Buzz. Only this time it was the main floor. Me, my records, and 2000 of DC's most devoted. Eight years chasing the beat and it was here.
And then, an amazing thing happened. What was an opening set became much more. The headliner's records were lost en route, and I was asked to stand in their stead. Sounds like the stuff of legend, I know, but it's true. 4 hours later and my career had begun.
Offers to DJ came fast and furious - from Buzz and beyond. And then, soon after, an offer that would once again change everything. The Deep Dish boys were looking for someone to manage their new record shop and web site, and my name was on the short list. The dream of living this music full time suddenly became a reality.
Over the next three years I spent all of my days and nights working to build The Yoshitoshi Shop and Yoshitoshi.com. In Washington D.C., together with the seemingly unstoppable Buzz, our shop became synonymous with everything dance. On the Web, our shop went global - and I went along for the ride...
East Coast. West Coast. Hawaii. Ibiza. A residency was offered, and then a second.
The first came from D.C.'s Club Five, a new purpose built venue looking to build a night. Together with DJ Buster I took over Saturday nights, for over a year playing to the faithful, a thousand strong and up for anything. As a DJ, it was my chance to stretch my wings, to make a night my own, to define my sound. Club Five was a turning point, one that prepared me for...
...the second offer. Buzz was offering a monthly residency to Dave Ralph, and they were looking for someone to share the bill. A DJ who could set the night, establish the sound, prime the crowd. Dave had his list of names, Buzz had theirs. In the end I was offered the slot, and for the next two years our monthly was one of the highlights of the DC clubbing calendar.
More importantly, perhaps, it also became the launching pad for a close musical partnership, one that lasts right up to today. With the success of our night at Buzz firmly established, we took to the road, touring North America in support of Dave's 'Naturalized' CD. Soon after we hit the studio, producing several tracks under the Ralph + Whalen moniker. Check his 'Resident Alien' CD for some of the results. And watch for more to come on Dave's R-Factor Recordings shortly.
April 29, 2002
It was time for a change. DC, Buzz, Yoshi - they'd been great to me - more than I'd ever hoped for, in fact - but it was time to go. 100 boxes of records and 3000 miles later I found myself setting up shop deep in the heart of San Francisco. Throughout my travels I'd been blessed to meet a number of amazing people, but SF has more than its fair share. It was the only choice.
Over the next two years I added syndicated radio to my arsenal as a resident for Thump Radio, helped launch a new house music venue for Blowfish Music, and headlined for both Spundae and Release - quite an accomplishment if you know the SF scene. With two like-minded musical souls, Kramer and Nicholas Baker, I started a new monthly called Arrival, an ongoing night dedicated to breaking new talent in SF's progressive house scene. And of course, throughout the world, I continued to travel and spread my brand of progressive house.
June 3, 2004
Us DJs, we're nomads, never content to stay any one place very long. SF had been great, but it was time to move on. The legendary Avalon in Boston was calling with a new offer. A new residency. A new dancefloor. A new sound.
Boston does clubbing differently: Open at 10, close at 2. Bring it early, bring it often, and above all else, bring it hard. Open right and they'll reward you. Make one false move and you may never live it down. But Avalon wasn't my only home in Boston. In a twist for a DJ, I decided to take on a new role - a PhD candidate in Boston University's Department of Political Science. What can I say? I'm a kid fom DC. Politics must be in my blood.
For three years I tried to keep things in balance, but eventually something had to give way. And then...
October 1, 2007
Everything changes. Everything comes to an end. For Boston and for Avalon, that day had finally come. After a 15 year run the club had been sold, its doors closed for good. What now? What's next?
Every challenege presents an opportunity, and for me it meant a chance to find balance. That's right, the unthinkable happened. The DJ chose to put books before choons. I passed my classes. I aced my comprehensive exams. And now I'm knee deep into my own research, working hard to determine how and why communications technologies drive change in the political world.
That itch. It's back. Time to deliver a new sound. Is Drum & Bass the new progressive? Is progressive the progressive? And woah... check out what the downtempo world was doing while I was looking the other way. I may not be playing out as much these days, but what with this magical Internet thing, that doesn't mean I have to go silent. And thank god for that. Because I'll stop DJing just after I stop breathing. And no, not a moment before that.