By David Branigan
Last week we talked about technique; the previous week we spoke of the indigenous background conducive to nurturing such a mentality. This week (enough about DJs, already!) we come to town to dance with the sound gods or the bar dogs, depending on your perspective.
My name is DNA, which stands for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid. This is what I'm made of and there are rumours that you and I are not so dissimilar. I left TO in ’88 to help my father attempt to win the Yukon MP seat left vacant by Erik Nielson. We were upset in that attempt by an upstart named Audrey MacLaughlin.
Moving down to B.C., work came quickly in the form of the true garden of temptation. I introduced Exotic Dancers and pretended not to watch while they tore down in very stylish fashion. My girlfriend quickly found an ad in the Province for the Longhorn, where I was first hired by two of my favourite Whistlerites: Len Van Leeuwen and Doug Nicholson. I was clean cut with a killer resume — and now look at me, jugular boy.
Nonetheless, many of the jocks who spin this crazy top in ’96 have been in the booth since I arrived. Some say it's a closed shop. I say that Scott Elliot, Scott Irwin, moi, Michel Chartrand, Jerry Dick, and more recently Spincat, Stoli and Ron Oliver, have been working hard in the toxic trenches for over a decade of the wildest partying this country has seen. Try putting a wannabe into that fire and you'll find central nervous meltdown. So let me introduce to you, the one and only all-star round of Whistler's Peppered Lonely Beat Jock's Clan.
In this corner weighing who-knows-how-many pounds, the Spincat. Scott Arkwell got his start back in Nova Scotia hanging with his crew. The boys were basically into hard-core shit, and that's all there really was to talk about. One night in town Scott got to messing around with some mixing board and the song was never quite the same. After moving over to the sexier side of Canada he found himself with an opportunity to pick up a shift being Jack Commercial at the Beagle which Jack Evrensel had running in the prime time slot for a decade.
"Which would you like first, the AC/DC or the BTO?"
While still learning the basics, Scott realized that his natural instinct, borne of anti-establishment edge and street pedigree, didn't serve him well in the record-waiter environment. The fact was that Monie Monie didn't rock his world for the 14th time that week. After being raised in a rock world, the rhythm of old R&B and some of the cool jazz being cut in the be-bop era attracted his ear to the sounds that every one seemed to love but no one was playing. Scouring the collectors shops he found some serious funky black groove stuff, like King Curtis's Memphis Soul Stew, blue funksters like Grant Green, Donald Byrd and the ever-nasty Miles. He was also drawn to people like Guru and Ronnie Jordan, who were taking old vibes and making them fresh for the ’90s. This combo created a sensibility that could no longer perform in the jukebox arena. He looked at the funk, he looked at the fusion and he looked for the future.
Trying to find a niche he could live with he suggested to Jack that the sophisticated clientele the Beagle has always desired might be hip to some postmodern jazzy grooves, especially on a night like Tuesday when there wasn't much happening, anyway. From that time on the old Spun-K could name his price, as Acid Jazz Tuesday took off at the Beagle. From there he hooked up with DJ Czech, who started at Tommy's before moving to Vancouver's Big Daddy Luv-A-Fair, (although he still books and occasionally spins at Soul Kitchen). They headline Zoo Boogaloo Monday night's in Vancouver's Starfish Room.
Out of that progression from neophyte to pioneer came live performances with bands like One and Rumplesteelskin, where the Cat would spin live drumming on vinyl with live drumming on stage, using riffs and rhythms like an instrument, soloing or doubling up on the bass and drum's percussive beat groove. With those groundbreaking live performances, Scott became aware of the possibilities of recorded music in a live setting and how slippery real time can be. He now considers himself a turntable instrumentalist, which is a position that will become a mainstay on live stages in the next funk-filled century.
Tommy Africa's is the Whistler capital of serious jocks. They run strictly vinyl, a DJ attitude and identity icon. On Sunday night they bring touring hot shots from around North America to spin Soul Kitchen, and with a young, hip clientele and slamming go go dancers pumping the party, TA's goes off like the big town.
The digital versus analog, or CD versus vinyl, argument is the most explosive one amongst DJs. With the new CD technology — provided most notably by Denon's dual DJ mixing CD decks which allow you to computer cue the one beat and adjust the tempo just like on the old warhorse Technics 1200 turntables. The only thing you can't do with a CD is scratch; they've attempted simulation but it's just not Heinz. Nonetheless serious DJ's have a vinyl addiction. Here's Spincat's view:
"To me static on a record adds character. I like the way the vinyl sounds. I like the way it feels and when it skips you just pick up the needle, which beats when the CD locks into a machinegun. I'm from the old school. I don't even like pre-programmed drum beats. My attitude is throw the digital samplers out and work with three turntables and some warm vinyl that I can feel with my hands. That's real. That's the shit I love."
That's the shit Scott Elliot has taught himself. Scott mans the booth at Tommy's on the weekend and has been a big part of the success of the club since it opened in 1989. Elliot, hailing from Vancouver Island, started in the right-place-at-the-right-time school. Working construction in Whistler he auditioned for Evrensel at high noon playing rock ’n’ roll classics. Using the two key DJ tools, attitude and energy, Scott found himself in the booth of Whistler's number one nightclub.
After learning live, Scott got into a discussion with Lorne and Warren, who had run a club called Tommy Africa's in Vangroovy. They had recently seen their room in the West End burn down and were looking to relocate in Whistler. They had a young university crowd in town and were interested in running a musically more progressive nightclub than what was then offered in Whistler. Due to the enthusiasm of the managers, Scotty signed on for an incredible run in which he's been arguably Whistler's number one nightclub jock of the ’90s.
Right there with Elliot in shifts is Scott Irwin. Spinning under the tag of DJ Dawg at the Longhorn Saloon, (Irwin, like Arkwell, is another Nova Scotian), Scotty Dawg actually DJed before he emigrated west. He worked on the technical side with theatre groups and played the party evolution game. Irwin spent forever at Buffalo Bill's in a million crazy, hazy nights. He partied with all the great bands from the Hip, to Bootsauce to the union crew headed by Larry LaPorte that took the word "hospitality" seriously for band and bar alike. Scott spun at the late Club 10 when J.J. Aaron had it purring along nicely. He served under Evrensel at the Beagle (and is rumoured to be heading back for the second Phoenix act of the season). Scott’s been a big part of kicking the Longhorn into the prime time of Whistler nightlife with his I-never-met-a-beat-I-didn't-like attitude and I've-seen-the-end-of-the-universe-and-compared-to-that-this-is-mild, calmness in the fire of battle.
Michel Chartrand spent many a season at Bill's and some at the Beagle and the Longhorn.. This Quebec native learned the trade as a lightboy at the Metro in Montreal. After watching the jocks he quickly picked up the beat and soon found himself spinning for 5,000. Michel moved to Whistler in the ’80s and became a mainstay at Buffalo Bill's. The stories Michel and Scott tell of Bill's in its heyday are not suitable for family viewing. His Quebec instinct for verve makes him the finest pure mixer in town, even though he, like me, questions the validity of the profession and professes no great desire to get back in the booth because you cannot run a commercial club with his eclectic and industrial taste.
Jerry Dick is the Longhorn veteran who started spinning rock down at the Cariboo in the early ’70s. He has been at the Horn since it opened, with the exception of a brief stay at Bill's. Jerry was the king of boogie woogie with his real deal record collection, until he discovered the fountain of youth in the grunge explosion that came out of Seattle earlier this decade. Now he schwings his hard rock hammer down Tuesday nights with a collection of hard rock and alternative.
Ron Oliver is the latest entry into the DJs R Us sweepstakes. Out of New Brunswick, Ron started off with mobile DJ work simply by being a music aficionado and record collector. He moved west to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and by the age of 18 was working full time in the nightclubs. In 1992, he moved to Whistler, where he was hired by old prairie pal Dave Roberts to take over the new urban-country booth at the newly dubbed Longhorn Saloon & Grill. The Longhorn, being primarily an apres ski bar which played classic and current rock, never really did go full on country but for a time it was marketed that way, with the help of the Durango Girls line dancing lessons and local entrepreneur Rick Flebbe. So Ron found himself playing rock in the day, country at night and top 40 on the weekends. But his professionalism soon hooked him into the Beagle and now Buffalo Bill's, where he currently headlines. He sometimes works under the tag DJ Rip and though he is the straightest looking jock in town, he too loves vinyl and prefers to mix funk, which he will back in his cosy new digs at the much-anticipated Beagle ’96.
The fact is that outside of Spincat, the other locals are commercial jocks who play either beatmixed dancetracks (if you can't mix you're not a dance DJ) and rock or alternative requests. Scott Elliot mixes a hipper collection due to the youth of his crowd. Ron Oliver plays the classics because he's a professional and that's the format he's mandated to play at Bill's, where by design each song has a start and finish. DJ Sultan is Monday night's dance champion. He plays retro because that is what Magnum Opus is and kids today are ’70s fixated, probably because their parents hate disco.
I play dance, alternative and burnt out classics on Saturday night because that is what the smorgasbord cross section crowd at the Horn wants to hear. DJ Stoli is down at BCIT right now because he, like me, is wondering how long a grown adult can carry on such a juvenile occupation.
The fact is that the major players in the booth in this town have been around at least since 1988. We're well paid professionals who may get a little jaded and cynical on slow nights after seeing 1,000 drunken goombahs rage in a warped and seemingly eternal parade. It's a twilight reality with the strange addictions and afflictions of man multiplied tenfold. But when this town gets all cranked up you'll find the reason that no fresh blood has broken into these ranks is simply because we've been throwing the best parties in North America for almost a decade. Most of us are on the cusp of 30, with plenty of cut-rate wannabe's gunning, so it's still a case of What Have You Done For Us Lately? The fact is you better get the party off or get out of town.
Speaking just for DNA, you know what they say — It's better to burn out than to fade away. I'd rather get the party off. I was born a rebel and old habits die hard, besides I'm too vampirish for the workaday. Maybe I have a hole in my soul — I haven't seen it lately, in fact to be painfully honest with you, my soul is reunited with me only when my son is here or when I'm with my family up north. I tuck it away here so as not to get smoke on it. Hence the tag — DNA — simply matter, a terminator with one goal.
But if you really want to know why we keep spinning ask Scott Elliot, for him it's simple: "I just love to see the people happy. If I can rock the whole club and send them home smiling that's perfect, and I get my days free."
Yes from the outside it's a fantasy job in a fantasy world, but inside there's a deafening sameness. On the outside is has the rock ’n’ roll mystique, which means chixdiggit. On the inside I'll drive a Festiva to Winnipeg for my wedding and by ’97 little Irish/Indian babies should be meeting their half-brother. On the outside we get paid to party, on the inside Scott is 140. It's all relative — in darts we're excellent.