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The mainroom in First Avenue is packed with dancing hipsters. Girls in mini-skirts and cowboy boots thrash about onstage, grinding against the thin metal fence that saves them from faceplants down below. Guys with ironic mustaches and skinny ties clutch bottles of Red Stripe and bob their heads to the thumping beats of Hot Chip, Basement Jaxx, and the Knife. DJ SovietPanda is smack in the middle of it all. He stands on an elevated platform under a hot white spotlight, clicking on his laptop, as hundreds of sweaty kids writhe all around.
To SovietPanda, otherwise known as Peter Lansky, Minneapolis is a small town. A smart, brown-haired 21-year-old from Deerfield, Illinois, Lansky moved here to study journalism at the University of Minnesota. When I met him for coffee at the Hard Times Cafe, near his part-time job in the campus library, he told me that it was difficult for him to relocate to a city smaller than Chicago (his old stomping grounds), and that he finds it hard to relate to his Midwest friends. "I wanted to go to New York," he confessed. "Coming here was like a step down for me in terms of city size, whereas pretty much everyone else here is coming from small towns in the Midwest and this is, like, huge for them."
Four years later, instead of a college diploma, Lansky has a weekly gig mixing beats for Too Much Love, First Avenue's new 18-plus indie-rock dance night. I assumed that he would be psyched to talk about the music scene that spawned his DJ career, but he claims not to understand it. "Since I've gotten here," he explains, "I've felt like most people are tuned in to some kind of idea of what's cool, or set of values for music and stuff that I do not associate with at all." In fact, Lansky seems to dislike many of the Twin Cities' musical icons; he won't play Prince during his sets, doesn't like P.O.S., and thinks the Turf Club scene feels like "an aging hipster convention."
Lansky has self-proclaimed "weird taste in music." He cites LCD Soundsystem, Daft Punk, and Talking Heads as influences, but also likes British girl pop and has a "13-year-old-girl-obsession with My Chemical Romance." As the DJ for Too Much Love, Lansky tries to keep on top of indie trends, but he never lets popular opinion trump his own preferences. "It is not cool to play Prince at First Avenue," he declares. "It's really corny and cheesy." He also can't stand the radio. "Personally, I do not like the Current at all," he says of the popular local station that specializes in showcasing lesser-known talent. "I really don't. I think it's really bland and it homogenizes indie music like crazy," he says. Ironically, it was Lansky's idea to ask the Current to sponsor Too Much Love.
February 2006 marked the end of First Avenue's previous Saturday dance night, Downtown Danceteria. After it fizzled out, Lansky saw his chance to propose a new dance night, one that would focus less on techno music and more on indie-rock hits. "I knew a bunch of people in New York who were doing nights like that," he says, "and you'd read about it in other places, too, but not here."
Lansky became friendly with First Avenue staff members during his years working for Radio K, and had unsuccessfully tried to score an internship with the club a year ago. Despite having only played one professional DJ gig, Lansky pitched them his idea. "I brought a CD of a mix because I thought they were going to want to hear it," he remembers, but "they didn't care. They trusted me, I guess." Part of the reason for their faith might have been his willingness to do all the work. In addition to his set on Saturday night, Lanksy also books the additional DJs, designs the promo flyers, and manages Too Much Love's MySpace profile.
"I was scared shitless," he says of the sudden responsibilities. Too Much Love began in mid-September of 2006 as a monthly event in the small upstairs VIP room. Because of its infrequency, it felt "like a special occasion." Hundreds of kids filled the room, dancing, drinking, and cheering when their favorite songs came on. Lansky and his fellow DJs mixed up the mood with post-punk tracks, new-wave songs, and indie-rock remixes, satisfying techno purists and Current fans alike. By late February, Too Much Love had outgrown the VIP room, and moved into the mainroom.
The increase in attendance has led to an increase in song requests, which irks Lansky no end. "It's like, 'Oh, that's really cool,'" he says sarcastically. "'You should be a DJ, you should start your own dance night in the mainroom. Because you have such good taste, I should just listen to you.'"
Despite the stress of pleas for more "ecstasy music," Lansky seems to be holding up well. "I get to go to a big party with a lot of people," he smiles. "I get to choose all the music, I get free drinks, and at the end of the night I get paid in cash. It pretty much couldn't be better."