Good Night & Good Luck

State Street After Dark

Dance floors, deejay booths,
cover charges, and cocktails.
After the sun has done its daily dance into the Pacific and the
moon has begun its nocturnal climb high above the twinkling lights
of the Riviera, downtown Santa Barbara transforms itself from a
tourist-riddled shopper haven to a certified Shangri-La of libation
lovers and nightlife prowlers. Say what you will about going out in
Santa Barbara, the bottom line is that there is always a ton of
things to do on any given night and at least half of these will
involve music.

Welcome to The Independent’s 2006 tribute to
S.B. nightlife and the annual Spring Fashion issue.
We
figured a marriage of these parties was anything but a stretch, if
not long overdue. Inside, Shannon Kelley Gould takes an
up-close-and-personal look at the deejays of Santa Barbara; Sarah
Hammill searches for love on State Street and a sober first kiss;
and Ethan Stewart tries to find an answer to the question, “Do you
dance?” The faces and figures pictured throughout will no doubt
look familiar as local photography wizard Kenji snapped some of
S.B.’s more recognizable deejays, bartenders, and dancers doing
their thing for our fashion spread. So relax and enjoy — after all,
there is no dress code or velvet rope for this party.

Two Turntables and a Microphone

Getting in the Booth with Santa Barbara
Deejays

by Shannon Kelley Gould

The deejay is the life of the party, the driving force behind
the club experience. Like an artist with a blank canvas, the deejay
paints the picture in the nightclub. While there’s little that’s
delicate about the scene on a club’s dance floor, the art of
deejaying is a delicate science, as much about reading the crowd
and creating a vibe as it is about mixing songs and matching
beats.

Gone are the days of the raves — all-night underground parties
characterized by their secretive locations, enormous crowds (often
sporting enormously dilated pupils and, frequently, enormous
pants), and thundering electronic music — when big-name deejays
were stars in their own right. But the early- to mid-1990s cultural
phenomenon did more than give 18-year-olds reason to suck on
pacifiers in public; it exposed people to that form of music at an
early age and cemented the concept of the deejay as a draw, laying
the groundwork for a late-’90s, deejay-driven electronica heyday in
legitimate nightclubs that wasn’t limited to big cities.

When Mike Winner, a self-described “ska punk kid from O.C.,”
arrived at UC Santa Barbara’s Anacapa dorm in fall 1996, he heard
some music coming from across the hall. “I was like, ‘What is that
music?’ So I went across the hallway and we became good friends,”
he said of Pat Sullivan (who now goes by the moniker DJ Pat), the
guy in the room from which the music blared, who’d lugged his setup
all the way from home. “Basically, just immediately, that was my
life,” Winner said.

Getting hooked was easy — “It combined my two loves,” said
Winner, “music and video games” — but learning was another story.
“Deejays don’t like to teach other deejays, typically; it’s kind of
like a secret trade,” Winner said. “Pat, who I basically credit as
far as learning how to deejay, never really showed me; he gave me
like 10 records and said, ‘just learn.’” Winner spent about two
years putting in his time, and admitted, “You don’t want to be
around someone who’s learning how to deejay — it’s like, you don’t
want to be around someone who’s learning to play the drums, you
know? It’s torturous, to say the least.” Winner was schooled in the
ways of the deejay while doing time at UCSB, and, in the late ’90s,
became a player in Santa Barbara’s burgeoning electronic music
scene, playing house music at private parties in I.V. and the “For
the People” outdoor rave-style parties that took place in the
mountains.

By the end of that decade, the ranks of the ravers were legal,
and the underground electronic music scene began making its grand
debut into the nightclubs of State Street. In 1999, DJ Pat, along
with Winner, put together an all-ages night at Zelo, called the
Zoo, which took place on Thursdays and focused on bringing large
electronic music acts and deejays to town; the Madhouse, featuring
electronic music on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights,
succeeded in developing a big following, and almost every club in
town suddenly had an electronic music night; the Wildcat expanded,
opening a new dance floor; and both the Wildcat and Q’s invested in
new deejay booths.

While all this was going on, Gavin Roy, a self-taught deejay
from Singapore then living and working in Boston, heard about the
scene in sunny Santa Barbara and mailed out some demo tapes. By the
end of his first week in town, he’d landed three nights: one at
Wildcat, one at Q’s, and one at Fathom. And Josh Stanford, an
18-year-old scratch-artist from Carpinteria who called himself DJ
Hecktik, began making a name for himself at Alex’s Cantina in
Goleta.

Chris Dixon, then managing a booming Q’s, was loving the music
he’d begun hearing around town and was looking for a way to
showcase it. In 2000, Dixon started a Saturday night promotion at
Velvet Jones, newly opened in the space formerly occupied by
Fathom. Called Therapy, the theme night drew massive crowds, and
featured deejays who were often accompanied onstage by dancers,
percussionists, saxophone players, and female vocalists. About a
year later, DJ Pat relocated to San Francisco, and Therapy and the
Zoo joined forces.

“[Chris Dixon] kind of merged the underground with the popular,
and it actually all of a sudden became the mainstream music in town
for a couple of years,” said Winner. It was a good time to be a
deejay in Santa Barbara: Gigs were plentiful, and most deejays were
working enough to forego day jobs, which is definitely a good thing
when one is treated to free drinks all night, doesn’t get off until
2 a.m., and then has to wind down from the high earned by being the
life of the party.

Mixing It Up

The potent combination of creative and savvy promotion, young
talent, and enthusiastic crowds created a bona fide shift in the
landscape of Santa Barbara’s nightlife, and the city developed a
sound of its own. The sound reflected the influences of its
big-city neighbors to the north and the south — a psychedelic,
funky house sound from San Francisco, and a poppy, techno sound
from Los Angeles — but Santa Barbara’s sound has always been
characterized by being a little more accessible to the masses. A
Madonna vocal here, a Beastie Boys track there. Deejays and
electronic music promoters rode electronica’s immense wave of
popularity for a couple years, and then it sank back underground.
Rave culture died out; newly minted 21-year-olds were too young to
really have been a part of that rave experience. Several local
deejays moved away, and hip-hop was the hot new sound that college
students wanted to hear. But club owners, promoters, and deejays
had learned some tricks of the trade along the way, and, as DJ
Gavin Roy likes to say, nightclubbing culture in Santa Barbara
continued growing up.

While electronic “house” music no longer dominates, several
clubs continued to feature house music nights, and the idea of a
theme night as a promotional tool really took hold. Nearly any
night of the week, clubs offer several theme nights to choose from.
“There’s not only one place to go,” said Roy, “there’s like five
options on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. Those used to be bad
nights. More nights have been promoted as different music styles or
to different groups of people, like a college night or a gay night,
and it’s great.” He should know; he works six nights per week, and
is the only deejay in town able to make his living doing it; he
does a gay night, a college night, an ’80s night, even a ’90s
night. “The ’90s night — you know, because we keep getting older,
but they all stay 21,” Roy said, laughing. “ ’90s is silly, silly,
silly, because I’m playing the Macarena and Hanson and the Spice
Girls, and people are loving it. It takes a lot of guts to play the
music I play on Wednesday nights.” A lot of guts and a lot of
music. Roy has the most-envied music collection in town, and can
recite what’s on the charts not just in the U.S., but in the U.K.,
Europe, and Australia, as well. He has a garage full of records,
and claims that he could play four hours straight of Madonna,
without repeating a single song. “And I’m proud of that,” he said
with a laugh.

While theme nights are good for drawing a crowd and a crowd is
good for club owners and promoters, one has to wonder what sticking
to a theme means for the deejay. Do they wish they could just play
what they wanted to play? “No. It’s a good thing,” said Roy. “It’s
like feeding your dog vitamins. You have the Top 40 or whatever in
there, but in there you can also play the stuff that you want them
to hear, and they’ll eat that up too, they’ll eat it up like
chocolate cake.”

Surprisingly, deejays say they’re able to be as creative as
ever. DJ AM, based in Los Angeles, is one of the biggest names of
the moment, and his style — an eclectic mix of anything and
everything — is a heavy influence on the current mashup sound
you’ll hear in most clubs. “It’s The Price is Right theme, into
Neneh Cherry’s ‘Buffalo Stance,’ into ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,’
into Sly and the Family Stone. And it’s not only DJ AM, he’s just
representative of what’s out there,” said Dixon, currently the
general manager at the Wildcat, which now plays host to Therapy
nights. “It means that any deejay in any club, if they’ve got the
breadth of knowledge about music, can be a little bit more of a
risk-taker and mix things that they previously might not have
thought about playing.”

Even Winner, now a resident deejay at Tonic, whose heart still
belongs to the house music that inspired him to become a deejay in
the first place, agreed that he’s able to be as creative as he ever
was. “Now it’s all about doing the rock into hip-hop into house
thing, bringing it all together, which is really cool; it’s
actually a total new school using the old school, and I think
that’s pretty challenging,” he said. “I’ll bring a house remix of
‘Do You Wanna’ by Franz Ferdinand and then match like an AC/DC
track into that and then drop ‘In Da Club.’ It’s definitely fun and
challenging and creative, and it’s what they want to hear, so it
satisfies everybody.”

Reading the Crowd

Mastering the mechanics of spinning isn’t easy, but it is in no
way the most difficult part of learning how to deejay. The most
difficult — and arguably, the most important — part is learning how
to read a crowd. And in a place like Santa Barbara, where a typical
night out on the town involves a crawl that starts out at one club
and winds down at another, being able to keep the crowd interested
is critical, and it’s up to the deejay to do it.

DJ Hecktik learned that the hard way. When the 26-year-old was
just 13, he began messing around with his parents’ turntable — and
their records. (They were less than thrilled.) He started getting
in a bit of trouble at school, and his mom, a custodian at El
Montecito Presbyterian Church, mentioned it to Chris Dixon, one of
the church’s caretakers, who was also the leader of the church’s
youth group. “Chris invited me to the group, but I wasn’t really
into it,” said Hecktik. “But then, we got to talking about music,
and he said, ‘I’ll make you a deal: You come to youth group, and
I’ll let you use my turntables.’” Hecktik was stoked; when he
turned 17, he bought Dixon’s turntables, and raced home every day
after school to practice scratching. His first club gig at Alex’s,
though, was a rude awakening. “I didn’t even know there was
‘reading a crowd,’” he said. He worried when no one was dancing,
and another deejay came over, offered to help him out, and dropped
a song that got the crowd back on the dance floor. “I never would
have thought of playing that song, but it worked,” Hecktik said.
Now, though, he has the hang of it, and deejays downtown four
nights a week. “I’ve grown to like playing the Top 40 songs, and
now I’m excited to see what the crowd will do when I play a certain
song,” he said. “That feeling is so hard to describe — it’s like,
being able to express my artistic mind to people listening and
having some connection; I’m excited, and then when they’re excited,
it’s awesome.”

Gavin Roy agreed, saying that it takes years to master the
juggling involved in managing both the technical aspects with the
social aspects — taking requests and then working them in at
precisely the right time, teasing the crowd, evaluating where the
energy level is and taking it up or down, or “cleansing” the dance
floor. “If there’s too many gang bangers on the dance floor, that’s
kind of a negative vibe, so you play something they don’t like and
bring in a whole different crowd. Like Kelly Clarkson, and all the
girls will come and the gang bangers leave. It’s changing the mood
with just music; it’s all about the music. It’s not what you play
or how you play it. It’s when you play it — when is the right time
to play that song that will make the people go crazy. It’s all
about the music. I love music; I love music.”

And that sentiment is echoed over and over by the guys behind
the turntables. Clubs shut down and new ones open; what’s hot one
day is not the next. Times change, music changes, but it really
doesn’t matter what they’re playing — these guys love the view from
the booth, and they love music.

Moving to the Music

Getting into the Groove on S.B.’s Dance
Floors

by Ethan Stewart

It usually starts with a slight head nod, maybe while waiting at
the bar to order a drink or as you survey the state of the dance
floor. From there — if the music feels good — it quickly spreads to
your waist and perhaps creates a little side-to-side swaying
action. Then, if you have your drink already, you might take a sip
and up your tempo as you swallow it down, your head and hips
working together in bass-driven tempo. On some nights, that may be
the furthest your boogey barometer goes, but on others (without
consciously thinking about it) you may ascend into bliss. With each
new song that hits the speakers, with each twist of the deejay’s
turntables, your body lightens and you embrace the energy of the
night. The drinks flow into a sweaty sea of undulating bodies, and
you are lost into the masses. The running man becomes the robot,
becomes a slow-paced monkey grind, becomes the moonwalk, becomes a
twirling jump, becomes some weird kung-fu gyration, becomes the
worm. You are dancing and for the first time in days, you are
free.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a deejay, a band, or some guy
with a pocket full of quarters posted next to the juke box — when
the music is right, the quality of your night out instantly
improves. “When the deejay is doing his job you don’t even realize
you are dancing. You are just lost in the moment enjoying
yourself,” said 23-year-old Alyson Matton. As a part-time,
partially clothed go-go dancer at the Wildcat and a full-time
world-class member of the State Street Ballet, the stunningly
beautiful Matton knows a thing or two about what makes a good dance
floor. “The point is to have fun and the music really decides that.
If it isn’t right, it’s like being stuck at a bad movie in an
uncomfortable seat for three hours.”

A recent Saturday night survey of States Street’s varied dance
emporiums showed a bevy of comfy seats — albeit thoroughly
alcohol-soaked seats — but comfy nonetheless. From the salsa and
tango of Ruby’s down to the strobe-light hump motions of Q’s, Santa
Barbara’s main artery of night life was ablaze with ass-shakin’,
arm-wavin’ good times. The line outside the Wildcat on Ortega
Street snaked 25 people deep at about 10:30 p.m. with the thump of
the dance floor easily heard on the sidewalk. Already a
music-driven shuffle of the feet had taken hold of many of those
waiting to go in. A casual canvas of a waiting group: “You guys
gonna dance tonight?” The response from a serious guy with gel in
his hair and freshly bought faded jeans, “We’ll see … depends on
the music and the ladies.” A young lady two places behind him
shrieked in chorus with her friends that they were going to dance
no matter what. “It’s Saturday night!” she shouted.

Two minutes away and across State Street, S.B.’s newest
pretty-person gathering place, Tonic, was packed. A decidedly
college-aged crowd worked off their collective Red Bull and Vodka
buzzes on a dance floor that left little room for breathing.
Whirling lights and standard issue Top 40 dance music dominated the
scene. Hot-and-sweaty sexually flavored dance moves seemed par for
this course with a majority of the near-midnight crowd no doubt
considering their boogey exploits as some sort of foreplay.
However, Alyson’s words rang true as the deejay segued into a
slightly slower current hip-hop hit. The pressure on the dance
floor eased as people retreated to the bar or outside for a smoke,
their migration no doubt spurred by a more-than-questionable music
selection.

Further down State Street at the James Joyce — a place better
known for its casual fireplace atmosphere than its high-octane
dance moves — the band took a break and the juke box provided the
soundtrack. After a short run of U2 and a Bob Marley song, the pace
took a turn and the peanut-munching-and-mingling crowd began to
come to life. The fast-paced fiddle of “The Devil Went to Georgia”
got the crowd moving as a few isolated pockets of dancing broke
out. Then, after two-and-a-half minutes of Mötley Crüe,
Guns’n’Roses’ “Paradise City” ripped onto the scene. Hands
immediately went up in the air as more than a few people started to
sing along and dance; the energy of the place essentially doubled
in a matter of seconds. The progression was beautiful and
organic — no doubt the untraditional work of an amateur, but
effective nonetheless.

Alyson opined about the nature of deejaying. “It’s hard to do,
but when it comes together and everyone is feeling it, there is
nothing like it.” Just then a guy named Travis busted into not one,
but two full-force knee slides across the peanut shell-strewn
floor. Far from the glitz of our more famous dance spots, this bold
maneuver was a testament to the power of music and the
unpredictable nature of a Saturday night. As the old African adage
goes, “If you can talk you can sing, and if you can walk you can
dance.” But without some good music you may never even get up out
of your seat. Rubbing his knees and sipping from an ice cold beer,
Travis perhaps said it best: “The Saturday night you are looking
for is really just one good song away.”

Singled Out

Recovering the Dating Culture

by Sarah Hammill

There seems to be a disturbing pattern in my love life these
days and it regularly involves three main ingredients: nighttime,
alcohol, and my bed. Oh, and of course, my paramour of the moment.
But before you jump to conclusions, allow me to clarify. I’m not
talking about one-night stands. That would be easy enough to figure
out. No, the circumstances at hand are more complicated than a bed
’n’ run situation.

Let’s take the other night, for example. My friend Sean and I
have been dancing around the topic of dating for months. The crush
was there, but circumstances were never quite right. And then,
suddenly, we were both single. What we had planned to be a friendly
dinner turned into a quasi-date and four large Sapporos later, we
found ourselves back at my house with Sean too drunk to drive home.
I, ever the gracious host, offered to let him stay over as long as
he promised to be a gentleman. Surprisingly enough, he was. We
drifted off to the tunes of Her Space Holiday and in the morning he
gave me a big hug and was off to work.

It’s been a while since that night and what was once a whimsical
mistake-turned-romantic-evening has become an obnoxious holding
pattern. The last two times I’ve seen Sean, the exact same thing
has happened. Four drinks and he can’t drive home. We find
ourselves in my bed, cuddle ’til morning — upping the physical ante
each time — and then off he goes, only to arrive again a few nights
later, bottle in hand.

Last night I hit my limit. There we were in bed; he’s holding my
hand and nuzzling the back of my neck. I should be enjoying it all,
but this voice in my head wouldn’t quiet down. Over and over it
kept playing: This is not dating.

Now I’m no dating expert, and it’s not like I’ve been doing it
long enough to know how things “used to be,” but something about
this entire scenario seems off to me. And it’s not just me. All of
my friends fall into one of two categories: those who are casually
bringing people into their beds and those who are now in
relationships with people who were once casually visiting their
beds.

If we were to play the blame game here, the culprit would
obviously seem to be the booze. I asked another friend of mine, a
25-year-old college-educated guy, when was the last time he had a
sober first kiss. A long, head-scratching pause ensued, after which
he simply muttered, “years.” The drinking is certainly the first
foot through the door, but the point of it isn’t the drinking, it’s
the aftermath. We all have different definitions of what hooking up
is, and how far we go. I tend to be pretty conservative, but even
so, it seems strange to me to invite male friends into my bed,
dirty deeds done or not. What are we hoping to gain from it?

If we wanted sex, we’d be having it, most likely with someone we
met downtown whom we’ll never see again. Musical beds is a game my
generation of twenty-somethings is still playing, though I suspect
we’ve become more doubtful of the benefits of no-strings-attached
sex. We’ve been schooled by Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the
City
, but life experience seems to teach differently. Even
Cosmopolitan, one of the forerunners in the promotion of sexual
freedom, alludes to a recent change in thinking. In her article
“The New Chastity,” Carolyn See wrote: “… despite the pill,
legalized abortion, and economic freedom, our bodies are trying to
tell us something: They don’t necessarily want to be tossed around
like lost luggage on a ’round-the-world plane trip. That’s why,
maybe, after a long night of good times … with a Nick Nolte
look-alike … you go out for coffee in the kitchen, and something,
someplace in your body feels like if it could cry, it would
cry.”

No, these encounters I’m describing aren’t about sex. We’ve cut
that part out after a few of those mornings See described. And yet,
they aren’t about dating, either. Call me crazy, but I don’t think
it’s preposterous to assume that if a guy is really interested in
me, he can suck it up and try to kiss me for the first time without
first having to pound three Newcastles. It’s happened before, and
many times afterward an actual relationship developed. But that’s
just the thing — sobriety implies intentionality and in these
commitment-phobic times, none of us are willing to embrace
clear-headedness when it’s pulling the cart of responsibility.

So we have built a world in between, where no one’s made any
promises, but since we’re not actually having sex, no one gets
hurt. Maybe we’re just killing time while between relationships,
getting our skin-fix when we can, with whom we choose, all while
preserving our personal freedom.

In any case, it’s getting old. I decided that night, laying
there with Sean, that I want more than that. I’m not saying I’m
ready to settle down yet. In the next year alone I could be living
in Panama or Sacramento, Nebraska or San Francisco. But I don’t
feel much like being someone’s temporary hold-over in the meantime,
even if I’m using them for the same reasons. I won’t be making
Carrie Bradshaw proud. I guess my own self-respect will have to
do.

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