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Q+A with DJ Jonathan Toubin



How did you find that the format of using 45 RPM/7" records was your bag? Was it the genres of music (and the format limited to 45's) that attracted you?

Good question Mark. I've always loved the sound, feel, and look of 7" records, but I didn't really become an exclusively 45 DJ until the last year. When I started out, I didn't only play [vinyl] 12"'s, but also CDs and MP3s. I didn't want the format to dictate the music I played because, as you know, so much good stuff out there is exclusive to one format or another. Anyway, as I began taking my work seriously, I drifted to exclusively vinyl DJ'ing both for sound and aesthetic purposes and, as I moved from bar DJ to professional dance party/club DJ, I couldn't help but notice that no matter how I EQ-ed it, the 33 RPM tracks rarely packed the same punch as the 45 RPM and made for uneven sonic transitioning. I also liked that 45's were easier to transport, quicker to cue, and, eventually, I learned that it gave me a bit of a niche to boot! I was almost immediately addicted and have since spent most of my time and money obtaining the "black gold."

With the constant gigging, do you find it difficult to "crate dig" and find new material?

Actually, quite the opposite. I still make the rounds all the time and, because I've been on the road a lot lately (thanks to my booking agent - Arcata's own Michelle Cable of Panache), I have many more places to dig. Also, DJ'ing almost every day provides a rare opportunity to find out which tracks work and how I will use them - something that's difficult to effectively do at home after you dig up something you think may be useful.

What do you look for when you do have time? How much of finding that "gem" pure chance?

Right now I look for any music that most people aren't familiar with yet rocks really hard and is also danceable - "where has this song been all my life" stuff - primarily mid-1960's music as the records are mastered loud, the beats are wild, the riffs are catchy, the structure is economical, the musicianship is typically impeccable, and so much of it is out there to discover - American soul and garage, European and Asian freakbeat, Latin American stuff, and a bit of punk, glam, psych, funk, r&b, rockabilly, and, believe it or not, I still buy roughly a dozen new 45's a month. As for the digging for gems, when I started, most of the records I found were from definitely earned the hard way at thrift stores and junk shops but, as my art has become more specialized, I sadly have to pay Europeans large sums of money on Ebay for many of the things I'm looking for, or pay top dollar at record stores - though I must say I had some of my best record shopping experiences lately at domestic stores like People's Records in Detroit or Rooky Ricardo's in San Francisco.

Are there some singles that you've always wanted to find that you don't already have?

You bet there are! I keep a running list and it's in the hundreds. Some of these records are totally unavailable anywhere and you have to keep a constant search and wait for your record to pop up somewhere in the world. I just won King Coleman's "Down In the Basement" this week (a record I haven't seen pop up in over a year) but recently lost auctions for two of my all-time favorites, The Renegades' "Thirteen Women" (a heavy duty garage Bill Haley cover) and The Groupies' "Primitive" (yeah the one the Cramps cover on "Psychedelic Jungle") as both went for over my sadly flexible $100 ceiling.

How much of your DJ'ing is purely improvised on-site?

The entire set is improvised; I let the dancers determine what I play! That doesn't mean I take requests or whatever. But I bring a huge crate of 45s and feel everybody out. On a particularly good night where people start out ready, like at my Soul Clap parties, I start out throwing down a whole bunch of left-field choices and see what people can do with them and then streamline it a bit if I feel them having trouble keeping up. But, typically, when I get going at 10:00 pm or whenever, people are still sober and not yet ready to dance, and, in the case of some of these weekend spots where I make much of my money, they're none too thrilled to learn that they won't be hearing New Order, or Young Jeezy, or Justice, or MIA or whatever their bag is. So I have the unenviable, yet heroic, task of getting them to dance not only to tracks they would never in a million years encounter, but often to entire genres that they're either indifferent or hostile towards. So I've grown very good at poking around in the darkness and, for example, if I find that I'm moving them with Isley Brothers style Animal House/Dirty Dancing music (their DNA! the original frat music), I'll start working away in that corner and then gradually chip my way out of it and lead them elsewhere.

Do you also display any moves, like Old School hip hop DJ's?

I have a couple of songs that I mix into one another but I don't scratch (my records aren't easy to come by and I can't mess'em up!) and I rarely go back and forth between the two - but rather mix them in a fairly linear style that doesn't really call much attention to itself - as mixing and mashing and all of that doesn't appeal to my aesthetics even in the least. I'm a rare DJ who is as song-oriented as beat-oriented and don't like to mess with the song's structure if it's already to my liking.

You also segue from one song into the next, before the song naturally ends (sometimes cutting in the middle), which means you have to know each song, inside and out. Must be exhausting. (By the way, I think your segue-ways are killer)

Awww, thanks Mark. I do beat match every now and then when I think it will be cool or effective in keeping people moving - but there isn't typically a lot of time between selecting the song, EQ-ing it, and cueing it up in the world of the two-minute 45 single. I've been in general trying to start a revolution against the infinite beat on the dancefloor, preferring to change the beat and tempo every couple of minutes, often before the end of the song for our shared short attention span and love of variety. Ha! And, as you mentioned, I tend to abandon the song before the fade-out as, despite their short duration, most of these 45's have between 10 and 30 seconds of slack at the end before they fade, some have embarrassing fades as well. I also occasionally perform the ultimate DJ faux pas: stopping entirely between songs for dramatic effect, something that started out as a mistake but now typically results in applause. I later found out that the father of disco, the Loft's David Mancuso, stopped between every song and people would applaud after as if he were a band or whatever. I can't see why everyone can't have a couple of seconds to catch their breath every now and then - particularly as I play so fast.

What do you listen to when you're at home?

I mostly try and familiarize myself with newer 45's. But if you mean, what do I listen to for leisure, I get ready or clean up to 1970s/1980s punk, post-punk, and noise and a lot of the other energetic underground stuff I grew up with. But I mellow out to Alice Coltrane/Pharoah Sanders-ish post-free jazz, or pre-1980s Jamaican stuff, or John's Children-ish psychedelia or early downhome blues...

What should the audience in the Humboldt area expect from this upcoming extravaganza?

In terms of the contest (the Dance-Off) we issue each dancer a number and divide them into roughly five groups which we call out separately. Anyone can enter. The judges pick a winner from each group and those all go up against one another at the end. The winner gets a $100, but really everybody is a winner because they will get the opportunity to get down all night to the most exciting soul sides they've ever heard at the dance party (the Soul Clap).

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