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Inertia chain-smokes when he spins. He buys Marlboro reds, the sharpest of coffin nails, and furiously drives them into his lungs whenever he's behind a pair of turntables at a rave. It's the only stress fracture in a facade that's otherwise solid ice. Unlike a lot of deejays, Inertia doesn't call attention to himself. The beats can be fluttering by at 145 per minute, with glowstick tracers gliding in the air like Day-Glo fairies and a thousand kids moving so fast they blur, and Inertia will look like he could be filling out paperwork. But get close--in a dark room just look for the burning ember hovering above the turntable lights--and you'll see that he's hyperfocused, eyes flicking back and forth between his mixer and the crowd. Do they like this? Do they want it harder? Do I have them yet? Quietly, he agonizes over the answers. Where other deejays act like masters of a crowd, Inertia conducts himself as a servant, intent to please, and he's been spinning records in the Valley underground since there was one.
Born Ryan James Jeffs 25 years ago in Lebanon, Indiana, Inertia grew up in Denver (the new, adopted home of Superstar DJ Keoki). His first gig as a deejay was spinning records for KBUR, the college station for Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. He was a good deejay, he says, but a lousy student. "During my first year of college, I basically discovered the world of hallucinogens and ecstasy, and I skied a lot. I didn't get much work done. I'd party all night, then get up for class, and it would be like, 'Well, it's two o'clock. You can go to your last class, or catch a half-day on the slopes.' The choice, of course, was obvious."
Inertia learned to mix records by religiously watching a Durango club deejay called Iceman (now better known as the rave deejay Tribal Touch). "He was playing like New Order, Salt-N-Pepa, total Top 40, alternative-dance stuff. But I wasn't into the music so much as I was the technical aspects of what he was doing with two records--how he matched the beats, then mixed out of one track into the next." A Durango girlfriend who was a raver introduced Inertia to techno music, but, "as with a lot of people, it didn't take at first."
He moved to Phoenix in 1991 after he got booted out of Fort Lewis for bad grades, and was hanging out at a Tempe coffee house one day when Tall Paul, one of the founding promoters of the Valley rave scene, handed him a flier for an underground party. "They were called rooms back then--red room, green room, private room, etc.--and the fliers were just these little business cards with just a phone number." Inertia went to the party, and this time, the music took. "The scene, the music, it was just burned into my skull," he says. "And that was it. The path was clear."
Inertia's first gig was in December 1991 at a Tall Paul party called "Planet X-Mas." There have been hundreds since. Though lately, Inertia has been doing more hanging out at Valley raves than spinning records, often seen checking out the vibe with his longtime girlfriend Galxy Grl, who runs AZ Raves, the Valley underground's on-line nerve center. He says he's been out of live action for several reasons--a full-time day job at a local Internet provider, a performance slump that started with a disastrous gig in Boston last year, and a recent interest in producing his own original house music (one of Inertia's first tracks, "Sunshine Trip," made the U.K. dance charts this summer, and was a fleeting favorite of demigod British techno DJ Sasha).
"Producing music is like making a movie--you create the best work you can, it's done, and you release it to the public. But spinning records is more like being in a play--you get audience reaction as you create. I miss that immediate connection . . . and I want to start playing gigs again."
Among the founding deejays of the Valley's rave scene, Inertia is perhaps the most eloquent in discussing the creative process and strategy of spinning records, and the politics of the Valley underground. Last month, New Times spoke with Inertia for several hours. What follows are choice excerpts from that conversation.
New Times: What's your style?
Inertia: That's a tough one. When I'm really vibing with the crowd, and I can play anything I want, I usually spin progressive house. Nothing over 145 [beats per minute], and easily nothing under 125. But it varies. You can go to a party and hear me spin a ton of breakbeat, or some really hard, stompy trance stuff. And the reason for that is, contrary to what a lot of people think about deejays and how to deejay, when I'm playing a party, the crowd dictates what I play.
NT: As opposed to what?
Inertia: As opposed to me trying to impose my will upon the crowd. I don't get caught up in the deejay-ego thing. I don't look at it like, "This crowd came here for me." It's the other way around: I'm there for them. My job is to get that crowd off, and the only way to do that is to put myself on their level first, then take off from wherever that may be.