In the world of popular music, deejays are different. The way they think about music seems remarkably distinct from the way that people who play in bands or who just love to listen to music -- people like me -- enjoy sounds. They are master collage-makers, historians and futurists all in one, calculating the impact they want to have and managing the mood of a room. They typically have an understanding of a specific genre that rivals the finest research librarian's memory, coupled with the ability to suss out the right beats per minute for any occasion.
They are a breed apart, especially when they are good. Maybe that's why I have a harder time talking with most deejays than other music folk. I feel my way through things, and deejays are kind of like the science whiz in physics class who knows all the answers before they're asked. They've dissected everything by track names, album orders, bridges, structures, beats per minute, tones and keys, like human music indexes, and it can be a bit overwhelming to go toe-to-toe with that kind of knowledge base.
But the jobs they do are essential to our local music scene -- they make really good parties, events and music discoveries possible. In an effort to learn more, I talked with three Indianapolis standouts, each representing disparate sounds and places in the local scene, about their favorite songs, setups and compatriots.
DJ Kyle Long blends traditional and modern rhythms from around the world, spotlighting music from Africa, Latin America and Asia, but filtered through a love of American hip-hop music and deejay culture. And he does all that not just for love of music, but to build cultural bridges and bring people together.
DJ Indiana Jones, otherwise known as Ron Miner, will motivate nearly any crowd to dance until more than a little sweaty. He's an amazing party deejay with 30 years in the business and a pedigree that would eat up the rest of this post if I included just half of it.
Jackola (Jack Shepler) is energy and enthusiasm in human form. He loves house music, and typically employing his skills getting dance floors to match his level of energy.
Sky Blue Window: What is the most over-requested song or even better, what song is overdue to retire?
Kyle Long: What I typically play is outside the spectrum of American popular music -- but I'm not immune to getting requests for the type of material you're asking about. While those songs aren't my preference, you have to respect the power songs that have the ability to move a large body of people to the dance floor. These over-requested songs can function as a bridge to carry people over to what I want them to experience.
Ron Miner: That song changes each six months. About a month ago it was Happy.
Jack Shepler: There are a ton of overrated and overplayed songs. By far the most over-requested and overplayed are what I call "Instructional Dance Music" (Cha Cha Slide, Electric Slide, Wobble, etc. ), but I'm also over all of the recent Trance [music] with strangely whiney vocals and long breakdowns.
SBW: Which track would you call your (not-so) secret dance floor filler?
KL: Without a doubt that would be the 1999 release "1er Gaou" by Magic System, a pop group from Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. This song was a massive hit all around the world. Dropping this tune at an African party is the equivalent of playing MJ's Billie Jean or Salt N Pepa'sPush It in the U.S.
JS: That changes often. At the moment? When Will The Bass Drop?
SBW: What are the best tracks out so far this year, for dance floors?
KL: I have two favorite tracks this year. The first is tUnE-yArDs' Water Fountain. I love the joyous energy and uplifting rhythms in this tune. Water Fountain epitomizes the type of sound I transmit in my deejay sets. My other favorite is Quantic's Duvidó.
JS: My favorite tracks come out on the Dirty Bird label. Slick tech house beats with deeper bass than most house music.
SBW: Vinyl versus digital or laptop versus CD or vinyl is a VERY heated issue for some people. Do you have any strong feelings on the subject?
KL: I have a massive collection of tens of thousands of LPs, 45s and 78s; and I started out spinning exclusively with vinyl. But for me the message is more important than the medium, and I think an artist should use all the tools at their disposal to tell their story. Switching to digital has allowed me to be far more creative and expand the palette of sounds I use.
RM: I was one of the very first deejays in Indiana -- and the country -- that switched to digital back in 2005. I am all about using technology to your advantage. Overall the interest in deejaying is a good thing for the culture. It's just that now I have to do a little more on the mix to differentiate myself from other deejays. I don't care what people use, if their heart is in the music then that's good with me. If they are doing it for fame or money, then good luck, 'cause the OG's will see through that!
JS: There's really four types of deejays out there now: vinyl, CD, vinyl-or-CD with laptop and controller with laptop. They all have their pluses and negatives. I have performed using all of these, but I prefer to play vinyl with laptop. The lightweight, easily searchable, portable library on my computer matched up with the real-time tactile interface of a vinyl record on a Technics 1200.
SBW: As a deejay, who's your favorite local deejay?
KL: I can't pick just one! Certainly Topspeed in terms of technique and his overall devotion to deejay culture. I also admire DJ Stephan, he's originally from the Central African Republic, and he's been spreading the sound of African dance music through Indy for over a decade. I also have great respect for deejays like Rasul or Akhenaten, who follow their own sound regardless of popular taste.
RM: I love to listen to a lot of local deejays. Some of my faves include Topspeed, Lockstar, Gabby, Action Jackson and there are so many others that are really good!
JS: I hate answering this, because there are so many talented deejays in Indy -- like a lot. Like I would put this city up against any bigger city and the amount of talent here can match up with or be better than any of them. But if I had to pick one, it's because the man is absolutely incredible on the turntables. You won't see another deejay quite like Topspeed. House, breaks, hip-hop, soul -- you name it -- he scratches like a boss. Also a big shout-out to DJ Steady B and Indiana Jones, who rock the hip-hop and booty-bouncing music; Slater Hogan and Brandon Patr!k on the house tip and Chachi Guerrero and Shiva for solid techno.