This year has marked some major changes for me. At the macro level, there has been the shift from working in a workforce development non-profit to going out on my own to explore my love of music. There is something incredibly special about the first year pursuing a new endeavor. The level of discovery and development is unmatched by later stages. The number of small wins and disproportionate excitement that follows; the constant stumbling and self-questioning; the endless flow of encouragement and advice. Many times this past year, I have stopped in the midst of the journey to question myself and take stock. Sometimes I see progress, sometimes I see stagnation. I have been alternately thrilled, terrified, and devastated more times than in any previous year of my life. The good news, I tell myself, is that, however muddy, I cannot imagine a better path for myself.
Music is better than anything. It’s better than sex, it’s better than food, it’s better than the cleanest LSD or MDMA…better than any combination of these, with any and all exceptions including the addition of music and, secondarily, good company.
The transition away from humanitarian work, which had been my life since joining the Peace Corps in 2009, began in late-April. I gave notice at work and booked a trip to see my family in Detroit a few weeks later – a trip that coincided with Movement, which I had heard of but never been to – and enlisted a friend to plan our musical itinerary.
Until this past Memorial Day weekend, my knowledge of dance music could be credited almost entirely to a DJ I dated for a few months early in my New York life. Most notably, he exposed me to Booka Shade (and other Get Physical artists) and to Dirtybird, whose parties were held in the dim and unpretentious basement of APT. Dirtybird parties were downright addictive. When the DJ and I stopped seeing each other, I continued going on my own.
When Dirtybird stopped coming to New York, I foundered. I didn’t know where to find good tunes and none of my friends were particularly interested. I turned to Pandora and last.fm for guidance and listened at work whenever possible, but these quickly became repetitive. I often went out alone in an an attempt to track the bread crumbs that would lead me to the motherlode of great underground dance music, but had little luck there too.
In 2013, after a hard break-up with my Peace Corps boyfriend, I rediscovered my love for dancing. At the recommendation of a friend I ran into at MoMA PS1 WarmUP, I checked out Mister Sunday, a long-running party and institution then held in Industry City. The DJs (Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin) enforced a very strict no-phone policy on the dance floor that I’ve come to view as good practice for maintaining a proper party vibe. Every Sunday that summer, I met new people and made new friends. I found out that one of my closest cousins had met her husband there. Soon, I started seeing the same faces and was mesmerized by them. They wore sequins and bizarrely decorated glasses and hats, and strangely, they still looked like adults. I wondered to myself if these were my people and, the following summer, they adopted me as a friend, collaborator, and fellow weirdo – not necessarily in that order.
And a lot more stuff happened. (You’ll hear about it another time if you haven’t already.)
By the time Monday came around, the closing morning of Movement this past May, I was out of my mind. I had never felt such exhaustion in my life, or such joy. It was 10 am and I was at my fourth party of the morning, standing directly in front of the DJ booth at Marble Bar, 4 feet from the selector I would come to know as “Harvey”, and already posting memories from the weekend on Facebook. One of my new Mister Sunday friends, a long-time Harvey fan/admirer/paramour tapped me gently: “Think about this like Mister Sunday,” he said. “DJ Harvey also doesn’t like when people are on their phones.” I got it instantly.
Like the 6-hour weekly party, Harvey’s selections that morning engaged more than the ears and hips. Drawing broadly – as he is known to do – from a collection ranging from the faintly recognizable to the nearly unclassifiable, it was like being bound and dragged through a field of silk and velvet. It was both bizarre and comforting, like José Andrés’s Charcoal, Ashes and a 64º Egg dish. I don’t honestly know if one could say that a Harvey set is the molecular gastronomy of the dance music world, but it might be. Despite my friend’s chiding, I continued checking my phone. But I was checking the time: 20 minutes left…14 minutes left…6 minutes left. I could not conceive of how the set would or could end, let alone how poor Carl Craig – slated for #2 in the morning’s lineup – would manage to take the reigns from there. Due perhaps to a combination of physiological factors, I found myself grieving the end of a song that I have described to others as “space cowboy porn” music and was unable to conceive of the world’s ongoing existence beyond that moment. It was absolutely nerve-wracking.
When Carl Craig finally did take over, it was simple and calculating without being cautious. The transition was smooth and confident, like waking up from a dream or rolling your mouse to dismiss a screensaver or Captain Picard handing off control to Captain Sisko. Overcoming the devastation of the previous hours, I moved on to pitying DJ Tennis, who was next in the lineup. Although I almost certainly could not have spoken a coherent sentence at the time, after 15 straight hours of partying, Carl Craig somehow got my sore legs moving again.
And that’s how I got hooked.
So, this first year of the rest of my life, I have been fortunate enough to gain exposure to some of the finest music and some of the greatest talent that exists in the world of dance music today. Since lists are one of the easiest ways to summarize vast quantities of things, I will share a list of 25 favorite musical moments (songs, sets, other) from this past year, in no particular order:
- BIS Radio Show #745 with The Black Madonna
- “Tell You No Lie” by Floorplan
- DJ Harvey followed by Carl Craig at The Something Different Official Movement Afterparty (Marble Bar in Detroit)
- Moodymann at The Electric Pickle’s “Where Are My Keys” (Art Basel in Miami)
- Danny Thrax, Dio Garcia, and Kristen Zwicker at Retreat 3 (Ontario, CA)
- Matthew Dear at Mysteryland (Woodstock, NY)
- Jay Daniel at “Jerk x Jollof: Detroit” (Marble Bar in Detroit)
- Soul Clap at “RBMA Presents: Soul Clap’s House of EFUNK” (TV Lounge in Detroit)
- Doc Martin at “OK, Cool! with Seth Troxler” (TV Lounge in Detroit)
- Teddy Roosevelt and Gene Farris at “Treetops: Game of Life” (House of Yes in Brooklyn)
- Treetops: Organ Party with Moodymann, Andres, Doorly, PONY, and Teddy Roosevelt (House of Yes in Brooklyn)
- Turtle Bugg at “Sublimate Presents: Hunee” (Sublimate in Brooklyn)
- Be Svendsen at White Ocean (Burning Man)
- Wizardry at “Life and Death” (Art Basel in Miami)
- JOY (Brooklyn)
- Nikola Baytala at “Resolute with Mandar Live, Lazare Hoche, Malin Genie, & SAM, Topper, & Nikola Baytala” (Resolute in Brooklyn)
- Phase Fatale at “Etheric X Nothing Changes: Phase Fatale / Vereker / Grebenstein / L Lewis / Auspex” (Trans Pecos in Brooklyn)
- “Hydrazine Dreams” by Kristen Zwicker
- BYOOSIK at “VAULT with XOOL, 2HR Live Set” (Middlesex in Cambridge)
- “The Mechanical Fair (Todd Terje Remix)” by Ola Kvernberg
- Honey Dijon at “BEMF Presents: We Still Believe feat. The Black Madonna b2b Mike Servito, Honey Dijon, Turtle Bugg”
- Gig at The Treehouse (Brooklyn)
- Gig at Wynwood Cafe (Art Basel in Miami)
- Air A Danser (Battery Harris in Brooklyn)
- EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING at Starvue (Brooklyn)