Friday, 7 p.m. Inside the venue, Sege's, for sound check, and Z-Trip is as hands-on as they come. He's standing in the middle of the room listening to the system, directing the sound guys, scratching his records from the front side of the tables. This approach extends to every aspect of his career; Z-Trip books his own shows, handles his own PR, and acts as his own tour manager. While he sound-checks, the promoter, Ron Enright, tells me that in his opinion Z-Trip is the finest experimental DJ working today. This from a guy who regularly deals with artists like Biz Markie, Mixmaster Mike, and the X-ecutioners.
After cruising the streets of downtown Portland to kill some time, we return to Sege's, and Z-Trip takes the stage a little before midnight. The club is primarily a dance hall and reggae venue, and Z-Trip spins accordingly. Alongside the Jamaican strains, Z-Trip throws on tracks like "Dust in the Wind," Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle," some AC/DC and a little Van Halen. A crew of hard-core reggae/dance-hall heads in the audience repeatedly request the same songs, causing Z-Trip to turn the music down and take the microphone. "Listen, I play what the fuck I want to play; if you don't like it, there's the door. Feel free to use it." The majority of the crowd roars its approval, while a handful of patrons leave the venue, one girl flipping off Z-Trip as she leaves. He smiles and raises his finger to return the salute. The show's not overwhelmingly packed -- there are about 200 people in attendance -- but the crowd is dancing furiously, and Z-Trip's working the room with a steady stream of smooth segues.
We finally leave the club and get back to the hotel at 4 a.m. Our wake-up call is for 6 in the morning, at which point we haul our exhausted asses and increasingly cumbersome gear back to the Portland airport and board a flight to Ontario, California.
Saturday, 12 noon We arrive at the Ontario airport, but there's no one to pick us up and drive us to the venue in San Bernardino, some 40 miles away. Z-Trip is frantically calling the promoters. He walks out of the terminal and looks at his watch, realizing he'll soon be due on the second stage of the Smokeout. Eventually, an obliging promoter rings back and tells us to call the Radisson Hotel in San Bernardino who'll send a van to get us. We end up at the airport for two hours waiting for the ride. On the drive over, we pass a highway billboard for Starburst candy that depicts a young DJ spinning large slices of fruit -- the turntablist's place in pop culture cemented in a single capitalistic snapshot.
At the hotel, we wait impatiently for another ride, this one to the venue. Z-Trip is supposed to play in between the main stage acts for the first third of the day, but by the time we've made it to the hotel, the show's been going on for a couple hours. Z-Trip assumes that the slots have been switched, with DJ Swamp (Beck's DJ) holding the early shift and Tony Touch, the third main-stage DJ, taking the evening shift. Eventually, a Chevy Rambler stretch limousine shows up, and we're carted off to DJ Hell.
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Inside the backstage gate of the National Orange Show Fairgrounds, no one knows where we're supposed to go, and it's not easy to go anywhere while carting around several hundred pounds of records and equipment. We're told the DJs are playing in the sound tower situated in the middle of the 50,000-plus crowd. Enlisting a couple workers to grab record crates, we head down a narrow cable-strewn corridor in the center of the crowd, blocked off by barricades and guarded by security hacks every five feet. When we reach the tower, we're directed to an empty plank one level off the ground. The space is completely empty. There's nothing in it except for a bit of leftover pyrotechnic equipment -- no power, no turntables, no monitors, nothing. Apparently, there's been no main-stage DJ thus far, no sign of Swamp anywhere.
Immediately, Z-Trip decides the location won't work and directs one of the staff members to call the stage manager and tell him "no fucking way, it's gotta be on the main stage." This time there's no one to help haul the gear back through the crowd, so Z-Trip loads the two record crates and mixer onto his mini-dolly, I hoist a record bag on each shoulder, plus backpack, with my hands clutching the shoebox containing the sub-mixer as we navigate back toward the main stage. Z-Trip's pulling the dolly, but since we're going over cables and the legs of the barricades, I've gotta keep one hand on the crates as they wobble back and forth. We're almost to the stage stairs when the inevitable happens -- the crates tip and crash. They're heavy duty, so it's not disastrous, but it draws a frustrated "Fuck!" from Z-Trip. We carry the gear up the stairs up onto the main stage and pile them up behind a stack of monitors. I'm asked to guard the items with my life while Z-Trip finds the stage manager and attempts to figure out what's going on.