Wheezing their way through New York City's top venues, Alex Pall and Rhett Bixler have proven that vodka and cigarettes aren't as sinful as we thought. A slow night at Marquee in winter 2007 brought the dynamic duo together, and ever since they've been rocking parties, blackening lungs, and "bringing a rage room dance energy" to NYC's hottest venues. Now if only they could land that Phillip Morris sponsorship...
Going into a set, do you mix according to the crowd, or do you have pre-mixed sets that you play?
Sometimes we have brief outlines of songs in different genres (i.e. classic house, funk, chill out), but it all matters on what the crowd reacts to. Therefore, we just go with the flow of the crowd.
Can you tell by the venue alone what type of crowd you'll be mixing to?
For the most part. We usually have been to venues as patrons before we have been to them as DJs. We end up knowing what crowds will be more tolerant of music off the beaten path. However, like in Los Angeles, we are sometimes pleasantly surprised.
What's been the most surprising show you've played, where you thought it was going to be dead but it ended up having a lot of energy?
The Hudson Terrace was a show that we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We had done a gig there in the summer where everyone was outside on the "Hudson Terrace," and it was very chill and laid back. Naturally, we thought it was going to be the same vibe when we played there again in the fall. When we got there, the place was packed and actually a crazy party. We took a quick breath and got to rock out till 4am. Now that was a pleasant surprise.
What are some different music trends that you see going on right now in DJing? Does Europe have a different scene going there than we do in America?
Europe is very up on their electronic music game. We were able to spin in Spain recently to the most international crowd we've ever been in front of. With that mix, people are just dancing to what sounds good, something that we think should always happen when you go to a club. That said, the hip hop music is very strange in Europe. In the states, DJs are used to quick cuts and scratches, but in Europe, songs get completely played out, and are mixed on cd-js.
Other trends that we notice are dubstep and house music becoming more popular in the states, but it usually happens when it's mixed with a mainstream artist. Also, as much as we love dubstep, the genre is becoming saturated with remixes that are quite annoying. The Beatles and dubstep seems to be too far of a reach for us. There's amazing electronic music that is created by people who are under the radar.
DJing has changed over the years as technology has improved, since music has now become mostly digital, is there a difference from scratching an actual record as opposed to mp3s?
Actual records are incredible, and building a collection of vinyl is unlike anything else. Everything about record sleeve art, and the vinyl itself just feels so perfect. Unfortunately, we can't go and buy every song that we want to play printed on vinyl, and that is why we use Serato. We use the vinyl on Serato, and the program does a great job of being very close to replicating a record. Lugging around crates of records is just not realistic for most of the gigs we do. There are amazing djs who play only straight vinyl (like Akalepse, a Brookyln based DJ who spins a lot with Rich Medina), and we'll always respect that approach to DJing.
Has the technology made it easier to mix and which do you prefer?
Technology has made it easier to attain music. As for mixing, there are some programs that beatmatch for you, but you still have to know about song structure and keys for it to sound any good. We use Serato, so we still have to match up and study songs by ear. You won't see us djing without headphones. We still need to hear the track that is cued up, and make sure it comes in at the perfect time. We prefer to use computer based music programs, because you can take your mixing game to a level that is impossible with just straight vinyl. As for just listening to music, vinyl is the way to go.
When a crowd just isn't feeling it and the energy is low, do you have a certain mix or song that you'll go to?
That happens sometimes at the clubs where people ONLY want to hear top 40 mainstream music. There are always the chart toppers that you can throw on that make people go nuts. We're not opposed to playing mainstream music, but we like to mix it in a creative way so that we don't just sound like a radio DJ spinning the same 10 song setlist.
Good music is good music. It comes from all genres. Whenever we hear a song that is amazing, and will go well in one of our mixes, we use it. We love to play lesser known songs as well, because it's nice to teach (in a sense) a crowd about music.
Besides the models, what's the difference in DJ'ing clubs as opposed to events such as fashion shows?
Fashion shows and events usually are less about people wanting to hear the most popular music. We love events and shows because we get to play exactly what we want to play, and will not (usually) have people come up and try to request a song every 5 minutes. People at clubs though are there to party, so it is nice to have a crowd going crazy. We just love to DJ, so wherever we get to play music is where we have the most fun.
When you ask regular music listeners about DJs, they usually bring up Daft Punk. Why do you think they're always mentioned and what do you think about their style? Do you think it's deserved or do they have more of a mainstream sound?
Daft Punk did so much to bring electronic music to the mainstream. They crossed musical boundaries which are not easy to cross. We absolutely love and respect them as a duo. The French electronic game would not be the same if it weren't for Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. We salute them, because, to us, they made/make intelligent music with a mass appeal. Something that is very hard to do. It's like The Simpsons. Everyone likes The Simpsons.
What's the last record you've bought for yourself, not for DJing?
Alex: Deer Tick's Born on Flag Day
What's the last concert or show you've been to and what did you think?
We saw Au Revoir Simone recently. We thought they were good, but definitely sounded better on the recording. It was cool to hear them sing Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head" a capella though. We also thought that the cutest girls go to concerts. We gotta go to more concerts.
When it comes to requests, what would be considered "shitty"?
Anything that kills the flow of the music. When we've honored a request right away, it usually is not a good idea. People have to realize there is more to DJing than just throwing on random songs whenever you please.
Being big fans of LCD Soundsystem, how have you taken the news that this may be their last record, according to James Murphy?
We love LCD Soundsystem, and look up to James Murphy (the creator of LCD and also someone who spins straight vinyl). If this album is their last, we'll be a tad sad, but know James and the other members will continue to make brilliant and inspiring music. Whether it be DJ sets as "Special Disco Version" or various side projects, we know it's not the end of creativity from the gang.
What is it about mixing and spinning that made you want to be a DJ?
A love of music, and the opportunity to make people's night turn from "blah" to "wow." DJing has no limits, and there is always room to progress. To get paid to be creative with the music you love is amazing.
What type of style would you guys classify yourselves as?
We're all over the place. We'd like to be able to rock a party playing only old school hip hop, funk, house, and disco, but also be able to rock somewhere like Vegas where open format is key, and also rock an underground dubstep party where the musical knowledge of the audience is superb. But, we won't play reggaeton. That shit hurts our ears.
Have you guys ever produced your own music and mixed it into your sets?
Yes. Our manager owns a major recording studio uptown called Stadiumred and we love to go up there and work with the equipment we can't afford. Nothing feels better than a crowd really loving the music that you created. Nothing.
Would creating your own music be something you'd consider doing in the future?
Yes, and we already are. At the end of the day, we don't just want to play other people's music. We have to put our own music and voice out there for people to hear. With consistent DJ gigs, it helps with promoting your music too.
I've read an interview with Martin Scorsese and he said that it was tough for him to watch films and not look at them with a critical eye; he couldn't help but think how it could have been done differently or artistically. Does that happen to you - to an effect where when you hear a song with an appealing beat, you can't just enjoy the song for what it is but have to think of how you can mix it and turn it into something else?
It happens. You become a critic and listen to music differently. It's not that annoying though if we don't tell other people what we're thinking (they probably could care less that it's at the same bpm and key as another tune, and then we sound like douche bags). Having a critical mindset helps gather new songs for sets, and keeps things fresh. It's horrible that DJs play the same set for months and months and months. We always try to keep it fresh.
By being DJ's does it effect how you listen to music in general? Do you listen for certain qualities in a song?
We listen to beats, breaks, and sounds. We listen to songs and think how we can dissect them to bring them into a set.
If music didn't exist, what could you see yourself doing professionally?
Rhett: I would write comedy for film and television, and probably do more stand-up comedy.
Alex: I would be an art dealer/ male prostitute. Women with money for a gigolo will definitely want to buy some art.