When it comes to DJing, vinyl is not what it used to be. Except for staunch old-schoolers like JJ. López, DJ Plata, and Ras Gilbert, most vinyl DJs today use a combination of digital means (via laptop) and special blank timecode vinyls such as those put out by Serato since 2004. This allows the DJs to scratch on music not available on vinyl, to use duplicates without having to buy the same record twice, and to mix more styles in a faster way, without changing records. Needless to say, DJs today don’t have the need to carry thousands of vinyls in a box.
“I prefer vinyl, and I’m the type of guy who thinks even a cassette tape sounds better than a CD,” said Donnie Dee (see page 57 for more on Dee). “But I thank digital, because it has made my life much easier.”
“Technology is moving and you have to keep up, or else you’re going to be left behind,” said DJ Tone. “[Serato] allows us to be more creative and brings lots more music.”
J.D. Swerzenski interviews some of the hottest local DJS about their vinyl fetish. — E.L.
Style: Heavyweight dub and roots reggae
Years spinning: 15*
Turning point: I took a trip out to Holland and the UK, where I was exposed to a whole different brand of reggae music, stuff that wasn’t happening in the States or even in Jamaica. I started paying these extravagant overseas shipping costs to get those records back to SA and expose that sound.
Regular gig: Fourth Friday* at Black Note Gallery
Why vinyl: I just love vinyl. I love the way it feels, how I can work and connect with it. I do own Serato (digital mixing software), but I’ve never opened it.
DJ SMARTYPANTS (CHRISTOPHER SMART)
Style: Soul, surf, swing & rockabilly, spy-movie soundtracks
Years spinning: 9
Regular gig: Voodoo Vinyl Mon at the Mix.
Other gigs: Bassist for Chrysta Bell and local band Masters of Love
Turning point: I would keep going to these shows with a bunch of punk rock bands on the bill, and the DJ would be playing house [music] in between sets. And I was like, “What would make you think that a bunch of garage rockers want to listen to house?” I wanted to do something about that, because DJs need to pay attention to who they’re playing music for.
Why vinyl: Unlike a lot of younger DJs, I was buying vinyl back when that’s all there was. And I’ve got a lot of stuff on vinyl that you’re not going to find online or on CD, stuff like Chester the Hamster Tours the Holy Land. Where would you find stupid stuff like that? Nobody is putting that on CD any time soon.
DJ TONE (ANTONIO GUERRA)
Style: Adaptable to the crowd
Years spinning: 11
Regular gig: Tue @ Revolution Room
Most annoying request you’ve received: When someone tries to sing me a song whose name they don’t remember. Like I’m gonna figure it out.
Currently in your crate: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony – First of tha Month, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch – Music for the People, A lot of Perfecto White Label hip-hop
Why vinyl: You have to go through some work to get all those records, those aren’t cheap. So I don’t want to let them go.
Other favorite DJ in town: Donnie Dee, DJ Rudy, John tha Bomb
Most prized record: Mia T– Tremble
Style: Soul, disco (i.e. music for dancing)
Years spinning: 17
Regular gig: The Soul Spot @ First & Third Fri at Tucker’s Kozy Korner
Turning point: When I went to my first club, I fell in love with the scene. Really I wanted to know where’s the music man, where’s the guy making it happen. And when the rave scene started to hit, and DJ kind of took a more prominent role, that’s when I said, “I want in.”
Worst request: Turn down the music.
Other favorite DJ in town: To dance to, DJ Rise, DJ Chorizo Funk, DJ Cortez. I can get down to their sets anytime.
DJ PLATA (EDDIE HERNÁNDEZ)
Style: Classic soul and R&B with a local flair
Years spinning: 10
Other gigs: Guitarist for Sexto Sol
Regular gig: Acapulco Gold, Sun 7-11 p.m. at Alamo Street Eats.
Why vinyl: It’s the real deal. It’s a cool aesthetic, and there’s something to actually handling the vinyl.
Style: Soul, indie rock, hip-hop, eclectic.
Years spinning: 12.
Turning point: Many years back I just happened into a party where JJ [López] was playing. He was playing dance music, but not trance or anything like that. He was playing this real soulful, jazzy blend. I really started looking into it from there.
Why vinyl: DJing is really an outlet to share my records with people. Even if I wasn’t DJing, I’d still be collecting.
* Reflect changes from original story, which wrongly stated Ras Gilbert has been spinning vinyl for 18 years and that his other gig is on First Friday.