Hipshaker's Brian Engel on ten years of spinning soul on 45s

Engel can't resist a little digging for new jams.
Engel can't resist a little digging for new jams.
Photo by Dave Hoenack

The only thing standing between you and a new career as a DJ is two turntables and a microphone. Yeah, a mixer too. Don't have 'em? Don't worry, you've got a friend who's got it all in his basement, and it's not getting used anymore.

That's what's so incredible about Hipshaker's tenth anniversary, which will be celebrated this weekend at the Kitty Kat Club. They've got staying power. Hipshaker even survived a change of venue a few years back, and this weekend they will even feature all three original members.

This week Gimme Noise met DJ Brian Engel at -- where else -- a record store to talk about how Hipshaker got started, how it's changed and what to expect from their tenth anniversary this weekend.

Gimme Noise: Ten years! Take us back to the beginning.

Brian Engel: Greg [Waletski] and I had heard about each other before we met. There was a dig that my buddy Fred and I were gonna go on. Greg's a dancer and Fred's wife's a dancer, so they knew each other. We didn't meet then, though. It was a while later that I met him at Brit's Pub on accident. A guy named Marc Mueller used to do his thing there and that's where we started gathering for a while until he moved on. Ron [Wade] just popped up outta nowhere. He was a record nerd. We'd see him at Hymie's and at record shows, and we're all buying the same shit. We became friendly that way.

It's as simple as that. (Snaps) The three of us had got piles of the best records. We'd all been scouring, finding 'em cheap and dropping loot, too, as we can. It was not a question of should we DJ but where we should do it.

GN: Where was the first show?

BE: Our first work together was at King and I Thai. We weren't Hipshaker yet. Ron landed a regular spot there. I think that was one of their first regular things, since they were just figuring out what they're doing today.

He'd have me and Greg show up. We were the only people in town who had the sort of records he wanted. (Snaps) It was just like the Beatles.

So Greg and Ron walk downstairs at Jitters, which is now Honey over there on East Hennepin, and walked out with a gig. It was a Wednesday night. We all made flyers but we all kinda did our own thing. Ron had computer skills, and I would just draw them.

GN: Here it is ten years later and you guys really ignited a scene here in Minneapolis. You probably inspired some of the people who are now your competition.

BE: I don't see it as a competition. It's all understated, like "check out my new records." We're all growing together, as individual people and collectors.

GN: What has changed over 10 years?

BE: The internet has changed the way people buy 45s for sure. It's gotten easier and really broadened the availability of anything you're looking for.

GN: So is it easier for someone to come out of nowhere and do what used to take a lot of work.

BE: It's easier if you've got money. There's a guy in New York City who's pieced together the best funk and soul collection I've ever seen, but he's obviously got money and he's been able to do that in just a couple years. We've only scratched the surface, in terms of ownership of the actual records. We know about a lot of the jams he plays but we don't have them.

The internet has changed everything - advertising, marketing, PR. I sit and Facebook every morning and shop for customers. And I tell them about our jams. I haven't walked around and put a flyer on the wall in I don't know how many years.

GN: Someone does.

BE: Greg still does. I don't. I used to walk around in January with a pocket full of flyers and a roll of tape and put them every ten feet down Hennepin. When you started out, that's how you did it - We were punk rock then.

We started it right on time here. Hip hop had already become a form of pop music, and kids were hearing stuff - samples they recognize - and they liked it.

Thinking about how our fan base changes, there's a cycle to it. When we were at Jitter's we would develop over a year or so a really nice sized crowd of regulars, and after a while they'd disappear.

A new crowd would come every year and a half or two and they'd love it so much they'd call it church, but then they'd disappear. I think they'd finish school.

GN: Is your crowd college kids?

BE: Yeah, at Jitter's. They were college-aged people. Were they in college I don't know. Twenty-one to thirty-something. Primarily white, primarily female.

GN: Yeah, Hipshaker has been named "best place to meet single women" by City Pages twice. [2003 and 2012] I remember you had a lot of new men in the crowd this past May.

BE: Of course we did. We were all on our toes because it was crowded and there were all kinds of meatheads trollin'. After a couple hours they were like, 'this music sucks,' and they left. They don't like the music but the girls do, and they like to feel pretty and Greg plays to that.

GN: How?

BE: Because his interest lies in the girl groups from the 60s, and women dig it. They love it and they can relate to it.

GN: So it's performance more than playing records?

BE: I'm a performer. Ask anyone - I'm the guy with the worst air-guitar, air-horn, air-drum habit in town. It's perfect for me. But I know my records and I know how to play drums so when I do it I'm on. It's small stuff, like a tick I have. That's my schtick. Greg's always happy, that's his thing. He's a beam of light. And we've been doing it together consistently for ten years. Ron left a few years ago, but he's coming back for the anniversary.

GN: Any special stuff stashed away?

BE: Naw, I wish. Nothing I've saved on purpose. I have lots I don't play regularly, and some that were smash hits for us for a long time that have been retired. Those will come back - Classic Hipshaker, I guess. Like "What Do You See in Her" by Inell Young. I used to drop that record and in three drum kicks everyone would scream for joy. They wanted it - It was huge!

Hipshaker's Brian Engel on ten years of spinning soul on 45s

Hipshaker's tenth anniversary will take place over two nights at the Kitty Kat Club. On Friday, August 17 the original DJs - Greg Waletski, Brian Engel and Ron Wade will revisit past Hipshaker favorites and spin some of their current finds. On Saturday, August 18 they'll be joined by several soul and funk DJs from around the US, including Andy Noble from Milwakee's Get Down, Nick Soule from Chicago's Windy City Soul Club and the awesome Ben Mena from our own Hotpants. Music and dancing start at 9pm each night. $5 cover.

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