Full disclosure: For four years, Hans and I played together in End of a Year. We’ve got history; we’ve got memories. As that band evolved into Self Defense Family, Hans left to explore other interests he’d neglected—among them, DJing. Lately, he’s been shaking up the Fuze Box’s weekend playlists; if you’ve heard 1000 Ohm’s “Love in Motion,” Malcolm and the Bad Girls’ “Shoot Me,” or countless other great obscure tracks as Saturday night becomes Sunday morning (anything that makes you pause to ask, “What is this?”) you can be sure Hans was manning the booth. But he’s also begun hosting a few events of his own.
Billed as “a night of unknown champions,” NO DJ is the latest of these—a chance for people to share their favorite tunes in public without worrying about their skills. It’s a cool concept that debuts next Thursday; hopefully, it’ll prove to be the first of many such get-togethers. On a recent brisk Sunday, Hans and I chatted for an hour about NO DJ, his recent accomplishments, and his wish to use art to encourage a renewed sense of community in Albany.
You’ve been pretty busy over the past couple of months: DJing Eighties Night at the Fuze Box, hosting a couple of movie nights, and so on. Any of these you want to talk about? Am I missing anything?
Sure. Eighties Night is just a fun thing where I can be a human jukebox for a night. I guess I’m a club DJ, if you will, but I don’t do anything flashy or acrobatic. I just fade songs into songs. I think that’s where I’m more of a selector than anything else. I lean on my rather robust knowledge of 1980s music to sort of lay the path for the evening. I don’t have a predetermined set or anything like that; I just play whatever people seem to be enjoying, then I collect money and go to sleep at 5:00 AM.
I’m also slowly getting involved with public access television via Channel Albany. I’m developing a show where couples resolve, or further screw up, their disputes in front of a camera and green screen backdrop of my choosing. Compelling TV, I think. I’ve made more progress on my homage to the Night Walk and Night Drive programs that used to air on Global TV in Toronto back in the eighties. I just walk or drive at night with my VHS camera, documenting whatever happens. Usually nothing.
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That’s a pretty interesting project—well, both are. So how are people responding to what you do? I know you’ve got some pretty eclectic tastes.
In terms of the Eighties Night thing, people respond well, to a point. After 2:00 AM, I generally play whatever I want, which invariably leads to a lot of sourpusses. Other than that, I think we both know that I’ve lived a lot of my life not really knowing how people respond to what I do. I mean, I guess people show up, [or] sometimes they don’t. I showed one movie and a bunch of people showed up; showed another and nobody came. I do a project named Casa Sleep that is 100 percent offensive samples played on a cassette deck through a guitar amp. People seem to bum out on it, but it’s a joy to do. I think the nice thing about having achieved personal goals in my life is that I have that feeling to fall back on when I’m playing Italodisco to an empty room at 3:00 AM.
I booked a couple of successful shows at Fuze Box over the summer, a few nice events. The downfall of booking or promoting, like anything else, is the politics and, like, wrangling you have to do. I come from a pretty simple background when it comes to shows: “Hey, wanna play?” But there’s a lot of places to play in this town for the relatively few good bands that exist. It’s like that Billy Squier song: “Everybody Wants You.” I give up easily, I’m not persistent, and I’m not professional. The reason I fail in love is the same reason I fail in music. I’m okay with that.
You wrote something similar back in July when you put together a listener playlist for WEXT. “I also DJ, but I really just push buttons. I like to turn people on to strange new music.” I mean, on the one hand, I’m sure that’s literal—
Ha, but I also definitely “push some buttons.” I take great pleasure in seeing the immediate reaction to my choices in music. There’s a point in the night where it’s pretty packed, so I’ll play something that will solicit a reaction in a positive sense. Yeah, art, but I really want to sort of facilitate everyone’s good time—at least for a while, anyway. By 3:30, I play a string of slow, depressing songs that clear out the place—sort of an implied last-call announcement without having to say anything. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinead O’Connor has made people cry at times. Drunk tears, but tears nonetheless.
So you definitely get some creative satisfaction out of it.
I mean, as much creative satisfaction as one can get whilst playing other people’s songs. It’s always been about the songs themselves, not what I can do to make them somehow up to date or cooler for whomever I’m playing for. In that sense, I’m certainly not a DJ at all.
Or more of a DJ in the broadcasting sense, anyway.
I was briefly very much into DJ culture, but my kindling burned out quick and I had nothing to cling to. I played a traditional New Orleans Bounce set once or twice. That was really fun, but I guess I meekly entered the DJ scene expecting an exchange of ideas and music like I experienced with playing in a band. But I found a lot of it was just playing for playing’s sake. There wasn’t a lot of talking about the music that was actually being played. DJing is a very event-driven thing. The party. Sure, there’s DJs, but it’s more about the vibe. That’s fine, but I guess I was expecting more of a curatorial thing, nods to music that was being played and not played, who was being played—“oh man, if you like this, you’ll love this.”
I guess I’ll always be from a background that is always just a bunch of nerds in a room, listening to nerds play guitars and drums, usually poorly. It’s what happens between bands, before the show, where people get together and talk about music, ideas… that’s what I’ve always loved. I guess I missed that when trying and failing to DJ. The music is always on, so you can’t really talk or meet anyone, at least to me.
Is that the drive behind NO DJ—to inspire that kind of exchange? Or is it more to demystify what it is to be a DJ?
NO DJ [is] definitely both. To encourage a bit of musical curating and exchange of what you think is cool, and definitely to demystify things a bit. Anyone can select songs and play them. It’s just like life: if you’re lousy at it, you’ll know, [and] they’ll know. However, you could be really enjoying yourself, regardless. I think that’s the beauty of it. There are a lot of people in this town with amazing tastes in music—all kinds.
I’ve lived in a few different places, but Albany takes the cake for being almost proudly insular at times.
I certainly know it’s a silly idea. I hope my friends come and play Ginuwine songs all night. Point is, they came out and played some music. Maybe they’ll catch the bug and want to do it again.
I wouldn’t call it silly. You’re right—Albany can feel really isolating at times. There are tons of creative people, but it often feels like they’re all hermits.
Precisely. It’s that insularity that really keeps everything a dull shade sometimes. But let’s not make this an Albany pee-pee session. We both know we’d be here all day, ha-ha.
Well, I mean, it sounds like NO DJ is your attempt to draw people out to hopefully make some new connections.
100 percent. That’s the only reason, really. I’ve just met a lot of different people with a wide range of interesting tastes; the common thread that connects all of them is that they never exhibit that great taste to anyone or anywhere.
How many artists and musicians come together over loving a particular song, you know? You could never keep track. It’s an ancient story.
Definitely. It’s always that one spark that gets things happening with people. I guess the main line in anything I’ve been doing is to get people together, but not for the same old reasons. When I showed the movie Heathers last month, people from every social construct came. College students, punks, goths, a middle-aged couple, a soldier… it was great.
I’m thinking of perhaps showing more movies at revolving locations. Always free, always interesting.
I recently met a fellow who’s really into Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento movies, lots of Italian cinema. I’d love to provide a forum for that.
That sounds great. I remember seeing Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo at the U-Albany downtown campus several years ago, and I definitely got a lot more out of it seeing it in public on a big screen than I would have watching the DVD.
Absolutely. I think I remember that, actually. I have a screen; I’d show movies in the street if I could.
I guess it comes from seeing the world. I just want more from people at times. Don’t tell me, “I played a great set last night.” Tell me what you played. I just want more.
For sure. Final question, then: any notions of playing live music in the future?
I miss it. I’d love to play in a band again—guitar, singing, anything. I think my brief sojourn into DJing made me realize that in order to really play for people, I need to be playing. Nothing really trumps the live playing experience. To sound typical, I have few regrets, but a major one is that I took playing live for granted when I had an endless opportunity to do so. So, hopefully I’ll play again, but it’s not a daily obsession. I’m semi-retired, but if you need be to come in for a game, I’ll play.
Sounds good. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this.
Anything for you, pal. Go Seahawks.
NO DJ kicks off Thursday, October 4, at the Fuze Box. 12 Central Avenue, Albany. 9:00 PM; no cover charge. Bring music.