First off, I am grateful that this recording actually exists! I have a feeling that Digweed may have been playing a joke on me...but more on that later.
Although this set marks my third time behind the decks on the main floor, this is my first live mix from Output that I have decided to share publicly. It is always an honor to play this room, which boasts a peerless Funktion One sound system that many consider to be one of the best on the planet. To make the occasion even more significant, the club gave me a 4-hour set on a huge night: Saturday on Memorial Day Weekend, at an official EDC after party, opening for one of the most respected DJs in the world.
John Digweed is one of the masters...and I don't use that term lightly. His highly technical mixing style - precise, extended, and harmonic layering that is at once hypnotic and driving - has greatly influenced me over the years. I have been a fan and student of John ever since he first blew my mind at Twilo in NYC back in the late 90s (where I used to go every month to hear him and Sasha play their legendary marathon sets). All these years later, it felt incredible to be honored by playing alongside not only such a revered artist, but also someone whom I had respected for so many years.
I was clearly the underdog of the weekend @ Output, which had booked a weekend all-star lineup of Adam Beyer, Tale Of Us, Art Department, Francois K, Francis Harris, Frankie Bones, Lenny Dee, Chus & Ceballos, Justin Miller, Nicolas Matar, Chymera, and.....me :) It kind of reminded me of when I used to play huge warehouse parties when I was 16 in Honolulu alongside people like the Chemical Brothers, Doc Martin, and Sandra Collins...I didn't have a huge name, but had been included in the lineup because I can deliver. It felt as good last weekend as it did 20 years ago....better, even.
In this program, you will notice a multitude of genres, hear songs in just about every key (from each of the last 4 decades), and feel an energy that steadily rises, yet never quite crescendoes for a sustained period of time. Playing a proper opening set is uniquely challenging, in that you have to welcome and engage your audience, whilst simultaneously respecting your headliner by not playing too aggressively...it's an elegant invitation to dance which, when executed properly, coincides mystery with purpose.
Although I had spent several days prior picking out countless tracks for the night, I really had no idea what I would end up playing. I knew that I wanted to begin slow and dubby (this mix begins at around 108 BPM), then slowly take my time building things up over the next few hours...paying careful attention to creating atmosphere with melody, textured bass, percussion, and an appropriate amalgam of darkness and euphoria.
And vocals! A lot of DJs these days shy away from vocals...and I am not one of them. For all those years that I listened to Sasha & John @ Twilo, I also danced to Danny T @ Vinyl, and Joe, Danny, and Francois @ Body & Soul...I play all types of house and techno, and you can hear it in the way that I play. I am forever a student of those I respect; always eager to share what I have learned with people who love music like I do.
A friend of mine who was on the dance floor the whole time (and who has been listening to some of the world's best DJs, including Digweed, for many years) later told me that I set the tone perfectly, and had done John a great service. I was very touched to hear her words, and I hope that everyone there that night felt the same way.
I had an absolute blast playing this set...everything just felt right. I never second-guessed myself, fed off the energy of the crowd continuously, and stayed true to the moment for the entire 4 hours. I also took a lot of risks, which was quite thrilling. What you are listening to right now is 100% unedited, from start to finish. You will hear some slight adjustments, and perhaps a momentary imperfection here and there. To me, these types of elements make DJ mixes even more human and enjoyable to listen to - especially live ones. Everything was selected, programmed, and mixed live and on the fly...no post-production polish in the studio, and definitely no auto-syncing.
Although I do enjoy Traktor and think it is a fantastic performance tool, on this night I chose to work w/ 3 CDJs, 2 turntables, and an Allen & Heath DB4 mixer. Digweed is the only DJ I know who requests this mixer, and I just love it...the extra 10Hz allowance over the Xone 92 on the high-pass filter cut is perfect for the mighty subs of Output....you get to enjoy the feeling of linear and rotary faders all at once! Bonus points to the DJ nerds out there who feel me on that one ;)
Ah, so back to what I mentioned in the beginning. About 20 minutes after Digweed went on, his agent (whom I have known for years) pulled me aside and said that John told him that the recording I had made of my set may not come out ok. Apparently, there was some vague -15db setting within the DB4 that had not been properly calibrated. I tried not to think about it while all my friends were asking me if I had recorded my set. Instead, I just listened to John crush it for the next 4 hours, and had a blast.
At around 6:30am, after taking pics with fans, signing autographs, and packing up his gear, John came walking down the steps from the booth. I shook his hand, told him that it was an honor to open for him, and that I really enjoyed his set. He replied with: "thanks mate - what I heard of your set was great too...unfortunately, I'm afraid your mix may not come out ok. In my experience, whenever that mixer's settings are set up the way they were, the recording pretty much always sounds like...." (and then he made a fart noise). It caught me off guard, made me laugh, and is a moment I will not soon forget.
3 hours later, I was on a flight headed to Detroit for the Movement Festival (which ended up being an amazing experience in its own right). I popped the SD card from the recorder into my laptop, and fired up iTunes....and everything sounded fantastic. Had Digweed been serious and I had simply gotten lucky, or was he pulling my leg? Who knows...
One thing is for certain - shortly after 1am (at around the 3hr, 22min mark of this mix), I dropped one of my favorite early Innervisions records called "Where We At?" by Dixon, Ame, and Henrik Schwarz....and I had what you might call a "moment". There's two verses of poetry written and spoken by Derrick Carter (one of my early Chicago house heroes) that are prominently featured in the track. I've played this song many times over the years, but something about hearing these words, in that moment, in that place....first gave me the chills, then felt like an affirmation.
I find these words (which I have posted below) to be beautiful, timeless, and a mantra for anyone seeking to find their place in the universe. To me, this song is a spiritual call to arms against self-doubt, and the belief that light cannot emerge out of darkness...it is a mandate to define and create your own substance in life. And it sounds fucking amazing on Output's stacks!
We have all experienced our own joys and struggles throughout our years. One of the reasons I have always loved underground dance music is its courage. It often takes courage to share your experiences and your emotions, whatever they may be...and dance music is, among other things, an embrace of the entire spectrum of the human condition. It is global music, for global people.
Alright friends, that's enough for now...enjoy!
NYC, May 2014
Where We At?
(Lyrics by Derrick L. Carter)
As I stop, and take the time
To inventory, the inside of my mind
I realize, it's not as full as it used to be
With images of justice, or designs of liberty
The world has changed, or is it me that's new?
A different set of morals from a different set of clues
So still I wonder, is this all there is to life?
The ever changing cycles, of a world that's damp and ripe
THERE MUST BE MORE, yeah in my heart I hold to this
I've known the joy of love and I've seen the peace and bliss
But as you know, all things must end, except the need for faith
And the spirit that's within to keep you strong
MOVE FORWARD WITH POWER, program yourself to feel
With depth enough to know what's up and heart to sense the real
Where you at?
And now we stop for the frame we set aside
Below the baseline a secret place awaits for us to hide
To pass the time as the war goes on-and-on
Post-apocalyptic sunset, Post-apocalyptic dawn
But just the thought of the world we once possessed
A place that wasn't ours is just a house with an address
A false existence, wrought with fear and mistrust, a life inside a box
No life inside of us.
FIND YOUR SOUL, and use your inner voice,
The road less traveled, is now the path of choice.
Realize with time comes change
New attitudes, new values, priorities rearranged
Move forward with power, program yourself to feel
With depth enough to know what's up and heart to sense the real
Where you at?