Hey Mr. DJ
In the middle of the stage, tangles of plugs and cords and wiring extend from a couple of separate power strips. These hook into mixers, switchboards, microphones, A/V jacks, and record players. Seemingly attached to the turntables are Kevin Beacham's fingers. It's less like he is spinning records than melting them together. One is tempted to say that, beyond tweaking and scratching, a DJ's job is like that of a point guard—to keep a beat moving, never letting it stop, lest one should be called for an arrhythmic double dribble. Beacham keeps the beat bouncing.
A group of peers bob their angle-hatted heads in unison. At the beginning of the night, they'd signed up for their own three minutes on stage. Now they are waiting to show off the beats they've made in their various studios or garages, basements or bedrooms—where, no doubt, the electrical outlets are similarly exploited. It's the third Thursday of September, which means these producers are in attendance for "Last of the Record Buyers"—a monthly series at the Dinkytowner, hosted by Big Quarters and Fifth Element, that serves as a breeding ground for local beatmasters.
"Anybody can come," Beacham says after he finishes his set. Along with Brandon Allday and Medium Zach from Big Quarters, Beacham—who does work for the Current and Rhymesayers—was a cofounder of the LOTRB series. Their aim is to foster a local community for producers, a platform where people can share feedback and ideas with each other, and expose themselves to new audiences.
"A lot of producers are bedroom producers and don't get out," said Brandon. "And the Twin Cities has a strong scene as far as hip hop. But a lot of rappers will just go to a producer's house, get the beats, and then go perform by themselves—you see a lot of one-man rap shows where the producers aren't involved. With Last of the Record Buyers, we're bringing people out. It allows them to network and get their own name out."
The prototype seems to be working. There is no shortage of producers, and much of the work is remarkably good. Throughout the night a steady pulse plays against the basement bar's walls, resonating with samples of funk and soul and even a couple of classical riffs. Some DJs stand still during their allotted time; others nod along with their music, as if agreeing with it. During the sets, it seems everyone pays attention, and in the breaks quick patches of congratulatory conversation take place.
"That's what's different about Minneapolis," says a DJ named Baby Gracious. "It's a sort of community."
Several of the performers sit together around a large round table in view of the stage, alternately listening and talking shop. Elaborate handshakes and MySpace URLs are dispensed like loose change.
"It's kind of an open mic for producers," says Medium Zach. "The same reason why any artist would go to an open mic—it's an opportunity to get heard. When we moved here in 2000, there weren't a lot of producers, and so we and the friends we made became some of the people to start organizing."
Still, the title of the series may seem curious. According to SoundScan, sales of new vinyl actually increased 15 percent in 2007, and local record shops are expanding their inventory. Moreover, in terms of music production, records seem to be used less and less, as computer programs like GarageBand begin to replace traditional methods of sampling—it appears DJs may not be the ones fueling the sales. Beacham describes an event earlier this spring where he'd shown up with a crate full of albums, only to find that, while the show had live DJs, there weren't any turntables for him to use.
"I was the only one with vinyl," he says. "I was in shock."
"A lot of producers use drum machines and sample records," says Brandon Allday. "And now a lot of people are using software, too."
At LOTRB, very few actual records are being spun. Rather, the producers share CD compilations they make at home, playing them on a device called a CDJ, which can simulate turntable scratching on compact discs.
"The focus is on them bringing in their own material," Zach says. "If they have their own material pressed on vinyl, they can play it. But that's not usually the case for up-and-coming producers. Most of them have access to a computer, and put their work on a CD."
Nevertheless, the series does draw its target audience after all: When asked what his last production equipment purchase was, DJ Dimitry Killstorm answers, "Three thousand records."
"Damn," Brandon says. "That's a lot of vinyl."
"Yeah," says Killstorm. Later on, he extrapolates: "I met this dude at the Bastille Day block party who was selling records, and eventually I went over to his place to check out his collection. He said he'd sell me everything in the corner of his garage for 90 bucks. There were six stacks of albums taller than me. We filled up my buddy's car until the brakes didn't work, and still only fit half. And he drives a Cutlass."
It would seem he'll have plenty of material to work with for next month's show.
ANATOMY of Kill the Vultures will perform at this month's LAST OF THE RECORD BUYERS on THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, at the DINKYTOWNER; 612.362.0437
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