Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Lo-Fi DJ

The Vinyl Vagabonds wound up with some side projects this summer: Artist Nights and DJing.  When the two coincide, VVer #1 puts on his art pants (pantalones de arte) and VVer #2 puts on her DJ hat (sombrero de la musica) and comienza la fiesta de los vagabundos!  Here's the thing, the VVers don't have traditional DJ gear (yet), mainly because they have done DJ sets at an awesome coffee shop that has a permanent set-up (thanks Bump N' Grind!) and DJ gear takes up a lot of space (the VVers live small).  However, what our heroes do have are two, old, sweet, lo-fi, portable record players that perfectly fit the bill.  Player one is an early 70's Rheem Califone suitcase player that has decent sound thanks to a tune-up and recent needle upgrade.  Player two, also picked up at an estate sale, is a plastic "toy."  This Realistic brand plastic player doesn't have much for sound, but given the circumstances, it would work.  The first Artist Night, a gathering of locals sketching and working on their current projects, was hosted by VVer #1, aka DC Creeper, at the cozy back-bar of Olive Lounge in Takoma Park.  The small room is just right for the warm vinyl sound of a portable player.

Since it was an arty event hosted by VVer #1, he pitched in some ideas for the tunes of the night, one which stuck with Madam DJ Hat: play full sides of records as opposed to singles.  This would be more relaxing and help the creative juices flow.  A strategy was formed that sides of albums would be played in full on the larger player since it had better sound.  These would be buffered with 45s from the toy player.  Which records would and wouldn't sound good on these particular mini-players was an added restriction in choosing music for the night.  Records were picked and tested for optimal audio quality.  An example, the toy player couldn't handle vocals very well, the tinny sound distortion was just too much.  Another example, the larger player had a history of being too weak to turn those modern heavy records--the turntable was built pre-180-gram vinyl and those don't really play at speed--it's like the motor just poops out.  It's the saddest thing you will ever hear.  Little did VVer #2 know that the Califone also didn't like the thin, lightweight sounds of Dynaflex (cheap, floppy records that RCA was producing in the late 60s).  For the first album of the night she popped on Benny Goodman B.G., The Small Groups, for which the vinyl felt pretty flimsy (great, right?! total opposite of 180-gram).  Au contraire, after about three minutes playing VVer #2 was dragged down by the drunken slur of the sound.  Was the turntable dying before it could even get going for the night?  This left Madam DJ Hat mighty nervous.  She didn't want to just rely on the tinny toy player and the digital iPod set-up that she brought as plan-C.  Fortunately, a switch to a standard weight LP and everything was back to normal.

Tunes were flowing, the event got crowded, noise levels were on the rise, and volumes of the little players struggled to compete.  WARNING: Turning a lo-fi player up to its max just doesn't cut it and should only be done in emergency circumstances.  Total tin-iness.  Unless the visiting artists were super aware of the music or were sitting adjacent to the turntable, it could barely be heard.  Not that it mattered, those artists were having a great old time socializing, as was our heroic DJ.  By the close of the night (this was a Sunday, mind you), only a few friends and some stragglers were left so Madam DJ Hat played whatever the hell she wanted.  On went the full side of Isaac Hayes "Do Your Thing" from Shaft followed by the bluesy side-B of Judas Priest's debut album Rocka Rolla.  With the thinned out crowd, the suitcase player perfectly resonated through the confines of the small space.  In the immortal howling of our closing musician, Rob Halford, the lo-fi art event was fully satissssfiiiiieeeed!

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