Life changing Choices

Halloween night marks a very special anniversary for me. In 2007 I attended an event in Somerville, which was Halloween themed party (no big surprise) at Club Choices, which probably had some other general theme I still don’t fully understand. That place was pretty weird. The whole night was pretty weird, but the world changed, just a little, because I decided to check it out.

Earlier that evening I had a plan to see Evil Dead 2 at The Brattle theater in Cambridge, but wound up in town ahead of schedule and figured I’d grab some dinner and bum around while I tried to decide what to do with the rest of the evening. I’m in Harvard Square, the perfect place to do that sort of thing on a mild autumn evening. Since a restaurant I used to love, Casablanca, was right there and I thought it would be nice to treat myself to a nice (like, WAY nicer than I usually eat) dinner. This isn’t a food blog, but I will say that the place wasn’t what it had been in years prior, but fortunately the decline was not so tragic that I couldn’t enjoy my meal and relax with a scotch in the back lounge for a while, which was a small oasis of wicker serenity in a chaotic neighborhood. I don’t missing drinking, but holy shit, do I miss scotch.

I messaged a few people to see what was going on later that night; a party here, a party there, something in Salem (meh), something in Lowell (even more meh). I knew there was this one oddball thing happening in Somerville at a club I had never been to before, that sounded super sketchy, but at least where I knew a few people were going to be that I didn’t mind hanging around with. It wasn’t that often I’d attend a club event in New England that I wasn’t working at or involved with in some capacity at that point. Which is not to say they didn’t happen, I just kept myself very busy and very, very thoroughly scratched any club going itch with my normal routine of gigs, so I simply didn’t go as a patron all that often as a result.

I finally made my way to the theater, found some friends and got ready for some practical effects gore. The movie was fun, as it always is. Some people I knew dressed up for the Ash look-alike contest, chainsaw hand and all, plus one dude that dressed up like a pony and lost HARD. In retrospect, it’s possible he wasn’t really trying to win.


Does not represent evil, death or Bruce Campbell.

Then something very important happened, unrelated to the pony guy. I flipped a mental coin in my mind, it landed abstractly in some way that resulted in my choosing to stay local, and I was off to Club Choices! Just typing the name of that place still makes me feel a little weird, since I have no idea what “choices” people were supposed to making there. I didn’t pick up on any obvious indication of what crowd or to whom it was attempting to cater. Hipsters? Not a fucking chance. Gay? Fine, but not a choice. Swingers? Maybe, but the slice of that scene that goes in there and THEN makes a choice seems highly unsavory. They seem more like a house party crowd anyway. I know they served fried food, large sodas (choose your flavor!) and the basement was dimly lit and had fake wood paneling on the walls. Apparently important club-related moments in my life correlate with wood paneling. I have some in my house too. You’d think I’d like it, maybe, because of all this stuff, but I really don’t.


Represents evil, death and Bruce Campbell on vacation.

So, ignoring the walls, I chatted with people I knew and just kind of hung out. On my way in I had noticed a young lady in glasses and a black bob haircut that I hadn’t seen before, dancing away, not noticing me. As I made my rounds and was getting myself ready to wrap it up for the night, I ran into her again, at the bar, and introduced myself. She knew me from my DJing, but was pretty new to clubs. I was delighted to meet her. I’m confident to claim we hit it off immediately. People talk about “chemistry”, but this was a highly volatile reaction, in a good way. Whatever interactions happened for rest of that night between me and anyone else were utterly obliterated by the glorious memory of meeting my future wife and forever bestie.

Nine years later we have a little boy, a house, and two Subarus in the driveway. That’s a very important nine years of my life, the most important, the best as well, that all hinged on a fairly random decision to go to a club I would never visit again. It wound up closing in 2009 anyway. Were there not enough choices? Too many choices?

The one choice that mattered most to me was made that night. I chose wisely. I like to think she thinks she did too. Maybe the name of that place wasn’t so bad after all.

Dead bears in prison

It is very common for club events to be full of people, which is typically the primary objective of the promoter. Of course, many G/I scene promoters know that sometimes events happen that become defined by a near total absence of people, which sucks, and if you’re DJing, can leave you wondering what the hell you’re even doing there. I’ve been there,  and how. This is that story.

My very first attempt at promotion was a VERY big deal to me. I had dreamt of playing for a club crowd and eventually I convinced the manager (friend of a work acquaintance) of a club in central MA to let me hold an event at his venue, The Penitentiary. And yes, somebody really named a club that. My college radio DJ experience was to serve as my credentials, which, looking back, he definitely should not have accepted. I think I called it The Cyberflesh Conspriacy, after my UMASS radio show, which *ahem* borrowed the name from an old Industrial CD compilation.

First of all, let me remind you that virtually no success comes without failure and the invaluable lessons it forces you to learn. Secondly, if you are trying to get a Goth night going in the mid 1990s, you should avoid doing any of the following: 1) Hold the event at a Central MA club named after prison that’s nearly impossible to find, 2) Choose a Tuesday night to do it, 3) Make it 21+, which was unusual back then, and 4) promote it only with super lame hand-cut, text-only, flyers you made in MS Paint, at places that do not want you promoting there. Naturally, I did all of these things. It is also worth noting that the event space was a Country Western themed bar with knotty pine paneled walls and a seven foot tall stuffed Grizzly Bear next to the dance floor, surrounded by NASCAR posters. These things are not very Goth.



“Not Goth?!?! Can’t you feel my eternal ennui?!?!”


Somehow, by some miracle, four people showed up. One of them, if I remember correctly, was DJ Lostboy, the person who shared with me the old playlist from the last post. I didn’t know him then, but the Goth world is a small world. At any rate, it was a pretty lame time and I was not allowed to return. Ever. I think his awkward conversation with me at the end began with something like: “So… That didn’t go so well”, which was the winner of that year’s understatement contest. Never a good sign when you’re scheduled to go until 1am and you’re asked to shut down at 11:45, and also refund the $20 (total) in door cover you’ve collected.

Rather miraculously the next interesting DJ thing I did was get a job at ManRay, using my experience DJing on college radio and at an “exclusive” event in Worcester as my credentials, which they probably shouldn’t have accepted. Actually, the thing that really got me the gig there was the glowing endorsements from my friends who were working there in other capacities and were kind enough to be my advocates. I was pretty bad at first, but I think I figured it out quickly. They kept letting me back and pretty quickly gave me a regular gig on Friday nights. That job, spinning at Fantasy Factory in 1995 , is when I started the clock on my professional career as a DJ. Having that experience and seeing how hard it was for new DJs to make a name for themselves definitely guided me when I started Ceremony and eventually started bringing a lot of different perspectives into the booth with me, sometimes without  me.

The moral of the story is that no DJ should ever have to play Marilyn Manson at a taxidermied bear to get their career started. Poor guy, he smelled like Bud Light and farts. I hope he wound up somewhere more dignified when that place went belly up. I like to imagine him holding court with some other glass eyed beasts in a museum, far from Country music and aspiring DJs.


The lost scrolls of Mothra

A fellow DJ I have performed with about eleventy bazillion times over the years recently dug up some evidence that my handwriting has been terrible since at least 1998. The example I provided was a partial play list from an old set from that second to last year of the 20th century.

Wumpscut also recommends cutting loose at beach parties all summer.

It’s fascinating for me to see this since it wasn’t in my possession and I hadn’t seen it since I wrote it. If you can even call that writing, and I would understand if you did not. I was notoriously bad at keeping a record of what I would play on any given night, often to the chagrin of my fellow DJs, but on occasion I would scribble things down so we could all get along. Many DJs I know would keep very good records and post the set lists online, and still do today. Others would worry that making what they spun public would then risk themselves becoming victims of creative vampirism and have their good ideas in the grubby hands of some nefarious imitator.

Yeah, we played The Buggles along side Rammstein, it all made sense at the time.

I fell somewhere in between. I would openly share what I was playing, but had a hard time finding any reason to write anything down, since I was pretty much only concerned with what was happening in front of me. If some joker wanted to gank my hottest tacks and make a go of it, that didn’t really bother me since I was generally focused on mixing things up (no pun) and found the idea of repetition in my sets downright tedious. Don’t get me wrong, I had regular favorites and I definitely had tracks I absolutely played to death, especially Sick/Asp/Fuck by Pigface, which I was forced to publicly swear to never play again. I did, there was a Conga Line, life is complicated.

The main point was that if I’m playing something in public, especially music I didn’t create, it’s not like I can have any claim to it. If another DJ was bringing “it” more than I was, then my particular “it” needed to be more brought and I was the only “it” bringer to have any responsibility for doing any of the bringing. Good for them, keeping me on my toes. In all my years, I can think of only one or two moments where I felt that twinge of feeling like someone was copying what I was doing, which is a rotten feeling if you don’t know, but I usually just found something new and better, moved on. Seemed like the only sensible thing to do.

OK, there was this ONE time when I played some oddball set at ManRay in between bands and made a custom CD with a few tracks I wanted to keep all in one place. One of those tracks was a bizarre song I had transferred (the hard way) from vinyl to my computer, then burned along with the other stuff. After my set I somehow misplaced the CD, which in no way was a consequence of doing like five mind erasers that night.

About a week later, I’m in the basement and I hear a very distinctive beat that surprises me as I realize it’s THAT song. Keep in mind, this a rare, very hard to obtain song I found quite randomly and put some effort into transferring to CD. The DJ playing it had been working with me the night I had lost it and now here it is, thumping it through the floor and getting me all riled up. That no good, lousy, CD pilfering sack of…

Well, I don’t actually know he took  my CD. He could have found it just like I did and found the appeal of it, just like I did. A month later I had lost interest in playing it anyway and had moved on. The song wasn’t mine, playing it didn’t belong to me and nobody really cared except me. Life lessons form the basement of ManRay, who would have thought! Actually, a lot of people probably learned some major life lessons down there, but I’m willing to bet many of them were of a very different nature. If you catch my meaning. Ew.

I Things that happen when you retire from DJing

The rest of the title should have been “but then come back after a bunch of years.” It’s been a bunch of years, six or so, which is longer than most events stay in business. Shit, that’s longer than some clubs last. Nightclub timescales are somewhere between those of CPU performance and the maple/pumpkin spice flavor trend cycle. 

Should I be worried that so much has changed that I can’t relate to the clubgoers anymore? Nobody dies if I  mess up, but if doing something matters to me I certainly want to do it well. 

Thankfully,  goth kids hate change! New England, for the unacquainted, has a particularly progressive goth scene, which seems like an oxymoron. Even so, the Boston kids (who were willing to let jokers like me play Anthony Rother and Boards of Canada back in the day, along side all the industrial and gothy stuff) like a good helping of the familiar and the old school. Nothing wrong with that, not at all. Other G/I scene DJs I’ve met from elsewhere in the US had much less room to maneuver. Some wouldn’t want it any other way, which is also fine. There are definitely those who stay current, those who take chances and those who make a point to stick to the genres that are associated with these scenes, my point is that they have a harder time branching out at home, while New England welcomes it. Sort of. At least the complaints are generally creative and delivered without a lot of fuss, sometimes with a single finger. They’ll dance to it if it measures up.   Big forever hugs, you cantankerous and elegant, black clad, champions. 

So, this is encouraging. Even though I’m out of the loop, I can still get a sense for what kinds of things are being played and I recognize a lot of it. Some I didn’t, but I checked it out and now I think I get it. I’m not saying that I now have my finger on the pulse of the bleeding edge of the new hotness, or anything, but I have some data and some experience. 

The real trick will be trying to sell my style to a good number of people who have no idea, really, who I am and could probably not give the ass of a single rat anyway. Will I curb my sense of humor? Unlikely! No doubt at least one track will be evidence that even something I’m taking seriously isn’t really so serious. Will that oddball track I made work (that nobody else was playing, for some presumably good reasons) years ago still do the trick? My plan is to take my measure of the mood of the room when I’m in it and trust my judgment. If I’m wrong, so be it. What are they going to do? Fire me? Ha! I think it’s going to be fine though. 

Here’s a fun thing that happened while I was away: my mixing got better. Seriously, I can mix (that means beat matching, key matching and properly aligning the tracks I’m playing, for you muggles) better than the day I retired. Either that or I’m so out of it I’m fooling myself. Let’s go with the first one. I attribute it to all those hours listing to stuff in my car or whatever, tapping along, mixing in my imagination. Well, once I tried it for real, it’s was a breeze. Granted, this is not in a club under pressure, but I’ve got a lot of experience with practice and I noticed a difference. 

So, back to it. No matter what happens, I can say I did my best to be ready for it. 

The 2006 mix 10th anniversary

I really can’t believe it’s been ten years since I locked myself in my sketchy home studio for a few days and churned out this mix. I had a large selection of music that I wanted to represent as examples of my style and taste, so much in the end I wound up making a two part thing. Back then I burned it to CD, had cover art, the works.

Even though I was determined to make it anyway, the additional motivation to apply for gigs at five upcoming festivals didn’t hurt. I’m pleased to this day to remember that I was hired for every one of them after sending this along.

My tools were a Denon 2600f dual CD deck, basic mixer, my brain, and a digital audio recorder. I was a fan of looping, but for this I only adjusted pitch and temporary, no loops, no effects. Obviously no mixing software was used.


Oh how I miss you sometimes. 

It’s full of mistakes and a few odd pairings, but I still like this. I hope you do too.

Ode to removable media

Since retiring from DJing in 2010, I hadn’t touched a single piece of DJ gear. I quit, completely, after 15 years of clubs and a few preceding years on the radio at a few college stations. From my very first awkward pressing of a rubbery “play” button that glowed green with possibility, I had always used CDs. I came into the DJ world near the time when that was a very new thing and it felt pretty cool to think of myself as some kind of trailblazer. Of course, this was pretty ridiculous, I wasn’t blazing shit. CDs were just a gazillion times easier to deal with than 12 inch plates of vinyl and took up less space. I knew how to use a turntable, but precise cue, quick track selection and countdown timers made this an instantly popular approach.

Last week I came out of retirement for one night only for a Manray reunion Halloween party and spun with Chris Ewen, one of the New England Goth/Industrial scene original masters. He never stopped and had already been at it a long time when I started, so to have his respect is not insignificant. Though, in truth, I respect him not because he’s just lingered around for a long time, but because he’s a genuinely excellent DJ and kept his standards high the entire time I’ve known him, while also not being an egomaniacal douche-bag.

So, we spun, CDs. It all worked, even when one of the discs I burned wouldn’t read, since I had burned a backup and just chucked the bad one.

For a new DJ today, however, it’s preposterous to think of them choosing CDs as the way to go. The software and interfaces for digital media are light-years beyond anything we could have imagined in the early 90s. Aside from that, it’s generous to call the use of CDs in big mainstream clubs even passe at this point, it’s bordering unthinkable.

For those of us that honed our skills on CD decks, especially when we have experience with the older (WAY less user friendly) models, the thought of scrapping years of hard won skills and techniques is fairly unappealing. The kids learning how to use their laptops and tablets today sometimes get an unreasonable amount of grief from the previous generation, since their tools offer more functionality and potentially more assistance with the technical aspects of DJing, which I think is stupid. I’ve been at the decks, at a paid gig, in a large club full of dancing people and told with a judgmental sneer  that I’m not a real DJ because I was using CDs. I see the same attitude toward laptop users now and in 15 years the laptop guys will be complaining that the neural interface/augmented reality users aren’t real DJs either.

I heard a famous author once relay a story that when asked if she could teach someone how to write, she replied “I could teach you how to construct a sentence, I could teach you how to develop a plot, but I couldn’t teach you how to have something to say”. I don’t think DJing is any different.