DJ Rock

Non-dance turntablists come to the fore; Smog puzzles; GbV rules; and more

Much of the discussion surrounding the growth of DJ culture had focused on the myriad subgenres and styles that have exploded in recent years. From drum 'n' bass, house and jungle to techno, trance and acid jazz, it seems that each season brings with it a new prevailing trend.

But here in the Valley, one of the fastest growing (and largely unheralded) segments of the DJ population are those turntablists who spin non-dance-oriented vinyl. Among the most notable up-and-comers are a phalanx of East Valley retro and trash-rock exponents like the Destroy Your Generation DJ, Vil Vodka, and DJs Chad and No Cover. While these folks don't claim to be masters of body tricks or beat juggling, they have managed to carve out a respectable niche within the local club circuit -- especially at venues like Cannery Row and Jugheads.

The latest among these new names is a decidedly more indie-rocking collective known as Signal/Noise.

Ride 'em, Smog boy: Bill Callahan hits the Valley on Monday.
Ride 'em, Smog boy: Bill Callahan hits the Valley on Monday.
Guided by Voices: Oh yeah, they're the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world.
Clay Patrick McBride
Guided by Voices: Oh yeah, they're the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world.

This week the group began a Tuesday night residency at Mickey's Hangover, located in the nightclub district of Scottsdale's Fifth Street. (Don't let the address put you off; Mickey's offers a far more laid-back and less testosterone-dominated environment than the neighboring meat market watering holes).

Signal/Noise features a quartet of record spinners led by Modified impresario and former Half Visconte front man Scott Tennent, as well as . . . and guppies eat their young bassist Lindsay Cates (see the story on page 92). Rounding out the lineup are King of the Monsters label honcho Mike Genz and former Tellers guitarist Brandon Capps.

The crew is expected to carry crates filled with a diverse selection of material that will bounce between a variety of styles. Though focused primarily on indie and post-rock, the sets will also include liberal doses of post-punk, New Wave and pop as well as some electronic and i.d.m.

Signal/Noise happens every Tuesday at Mickey's Hangover in Scottsdale from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Wild Bill: We had originally anticipated leading this week's music section with a feature on Smog and its leader (and only permanent member) Bill Callahan. Over the course of a dozen years, 10 albums and a handful of EPs, the Chicago-based Callahan has helped define underground rock with a succession of home-recorded masterpieces. Based on his work, we expected Callahan's personality to be much like his music -- quiet, gloomy and shot through with an understated sense of humor and irony.

Instead of the usual telephone interview, Callahan's publicist at Drag City Records suggested we contact him via e-mail because "he prefers it like that." Fair enough. After all, if he's more comfortable doing it that way, he'll probably be more responsive -- or so we mistakenly thought.

While our questions were both brilliantly penetrating and supremely well-researched, the bulk of Callahan's responses were, um, weird, to say the least. Replies ranged from a curt "I can't answer this" to similarly uninsightful explanations on how his work has evolved over the years, such as: "The songs start and end in the same way as ever before, that is: they just appear without thought."

More peculiar highlights from our conversation included Callahan playing possum in response to a query about his role as a pioneer of "lo-fi" recording: "I don't know what lo-fi is. You seem to be saying it's converse to being 'instrumentally involved,' so that would mean that the early records were not instrumentally involved. But instruments were definitely involved in the early records. I distinctly remember holding a guitar at one point, and I'm almost positive I pressed a piano key."

Taking the point about "lo-fi" music even further, Callahan noted his disdain for the way people tend to label things: "I don't embrace any terms. Terms are what has ruined us. Naming things is bad. Animals, bands, penises."

Though we assured Callahan that we had no intention of naming his penis (or anybody else's, for that matter), the songwriter still refused to open up, preferring to keep tongue planted firmly in cheek with each successive answer.

Asked for his impression of Smog's most recent release, 2000's sprawling double disc Dongs of Sevotion, he came up with this nugget: "The last record reminded me of a press kit that talked about Dylan. I like Benny Hill's impersonation of Dylan. But I'm no Benny Hill."

Um, okay.

Questioned about the sometimes humorous quality of his lyrics, Callahan once again demurred in his own inimitable fashion. "I don't know that there is much to say about humor. Explaining a joke ruins it, etc. Much time in the studio is spent laughing. A chuckle mostly. The best music makes me laugh, but not in an expected way necessarily. In the studio it's the laughter of Steve McQueen in his bathrobe after a brisk cash bath in The Thomas Crown Affair."

Uh, of course.

Sensing that things had already gone horribly awry, we figured we had nothing to lose and decided to lob Callahan a Baba Wawa-type softball, asking him about his "connection" to his audience. "I'm not sure what a connection to the audience is. Music is heard in all different ways. So it is not just one thing, like 'this is confessional' or 'attention: this is black humor.' Everyone focuses on different aspects, and interprets them further based on their own experience. This is how music is like silence. It gives you the space to think, and the hook to hang something on. Sometimes your self."

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