By Jack Spencer
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Party people of Minneapolis, have I neglected you? Week after week, you channel the joyous life force of song, and you show up on MySpace dancing in a keffiah and American Apparel tank dress looking like the essence of youthful exuberance, and what do I do? I write about the rockers indie. Well, not this time. This week I got to know one of your clergymen, DJ Jonathan Ackerman. I think he might be the tallest DJ in town. And he intrigues me because, as part of the trio the Moon Goons, he DJs wearing a cloak (I heard). On his own, he has regular monthly nights all around town—the Kitty Cat Klub, the 331 Club; it's a full-time thing with Ackerman.
Ackerman's father was a stockroom-to-boardroom Neiman Marcus lifer, and so he was raised in the corporation's hometown of Dallas, Texas. Despite his decade-plus obsession with music, he was never the boy locked in his room noodling on a guitar; in fact, he never took up an instrument. The 25-year-old explains, "There were all these instruments I wanted to play—bass, drums, sitar. My parents were really supportive of me, but they wouldn't buy them 'cause they thought I'd lose interest."
But Dallas was rich with the pulsating sound of bass coming out of rap mixes and electronic music, and as a high schooler, Ackerman immersed himself in the two subcultures. He not only tried to find out where all the raves were, but also, "I'd go to the beeper/jewelry/sportswear store and buy chopped-and-screwed mixes, Cash Money stuff, No Limit stuff," he remembers. He spent hours on Napster assembling hodgepodge discs that had Aphex Twin rubbing elbows with weird rap songs, and he blasted them so loudly that his car's subwoofers set off alarms. After drifting though a year of post-high school bacchanalia, Ackerman set his sights northward. His mother's family was from Minnesota, and an uncle encouraged him to enroll at Augsburg College. It was through the connections he made at Augsburg, where he is still a year of credits away from his degree, that his career as a DJ began.
"I started to do a radio show, Conquest, Inc., and every week I would have on a different guest," he says. "Most shows are just friends booking each other, so I started to do shows for stuff I really liked."
Ackerman's enthusiasm is palpable as he schools me on the scene, circa 2002-03, when IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) ruled and minimal techno was ascendant. "Adam Johnson, Cepia, Mister Projectile, and Norton Fortune—he was the reason I wanted to be a DJ. These people were known all over the world!"
Yet after a while, it became apparent that there was something better out there, something with more populist appeal, more simple pleasure—perhaps more young ladies dancing? As Ackerman explains, "You're not going to an IDM show to party, you're going there to stand with your arms crossed and talk about polyrhythms." And so Ackerman embraced the style currently en vogue—a "glorified Top 40" blend of dance-rock and disco-derived music that relies less on prefab rhythms and more on organic drum sounds and live bass lines.
And it's pretty much impossible to listen to it with your arms crossed. Minneapolis DJs like Soviet Panda and Mike the 2600 King have made party rock the sound that keeps the 18-and-over set covered in sweat till dawn breaks on each weekend's afterparty. There's no greater proof of the scene's dominance than the party pics that show up afterward on MySpace and Flickr. Audubon himself never catalogued so many brightly plumaged birds. In preschool-fluorescent leggings, oversized hoodies, clownish bandanas, and purposefully ridic outfits, the revelers project an outsized spirit of fun. "It's kind of like rave culture, except people aren't into doing drugs, they're into getting drunk," he informs me. The man himself partakes of neither drugs nor alcohol.
I tagged along on Ackerman's weekly gig at Northeast's 331 Club, a night called "Hands in the Dark." Hands is a more mellow night than Honeymoon, the bash the Moon Goons throw every third Friday of the month.
As we scroll through the playlists on his laptop, Ackerman mentions that he probably listens to 50 to 100 new tracks every day. I believe these are the words of a maniac, but you can't help but celebrate the results. From a Mims Vs. Toto mashup called "This Is Why I'm Hot in Africa" to the Hot 8 Brass Band's version of "Sexual Healing" and a mix of Carly Simon's "Why," the songs are familiar enough to create a jolt of happy recognition, but feel fresh because they're souped-up and twisted. And if you want to get an even better idea, check the 'net.
"Every month we [the Moon Goons] do a mix and have it on our website," he says, "so people can figure out what kinds of music to expect." And if you go to a gig, expect to dance, expect to have your picture taken, and expect to return again the next month.
Jonathan Ackerman hosts Hands in the Dark every Thursday night at the 331 Club, 612.331.1746. The next Honeymoon will be December 21 in the VIP room at First Avenue, 612.332.1775.