Craig Citizen on the Days of Playing to Trannies, People Getting Stabbed in the Face, and Sharks and Minnows
Craig Citizen is always ready to party.
Craig Citizen is the sort of dude you only wish you could be. He's an enigmatic lothario with a certain renown as a hipster DJ, and has been behind some of the more infamous dance nights in the Valley like the old Party Foul!
While he used to be a regular fixture at dive bars and dance clubs, Citizen doesn't spin as much as he used to, saving his skills and song selections for the occasional one-off event, like tomorrow's Sharks and Minnows pool party.
He's also a well-spoken cat who was happy to dish about his feelings about the local dance scene, people who flee Phoenix for bigger cities, why he thinks hipster parties at dive bars are in decline, and what he has planned for Sharks and Minnows.
Name: Craig Citizen
Are you only doing the guest DJ/one-off thing these days? I've slowed down a bit in my old age but I still do the paying stuff. Again, I'm really dissatisfied with a lot of what I see, so I'd rather not be a part of something I actually talk shit about than go out and do it just to keep my name relevant.
How did you get into the DJ game? I had been playing in bands ever since I was in high school and after a host of missing drummers, army runaways, alcoholics, and a gang of Yokos, I really just wanted an experience in music that relied only on my efforts and endeavors. I met Jared (Stevens) through a mutual friend, and he and I, and our friend Matt Helend began working on a night they had been planning for a while. I booked us the gig at Hollywood Alley, and I guess the rest of the story is being lucky of enough to be at the right place at the right time, and being willing to play the first set of the night for an awfully goddamned long time.
What genres do you specialize in? It depends a lot on where I'm playing, the last few years I've been lucky enough to be out of the bars and in more private party sort of settings. When I do those events, like the "Lunch and Learn" series with Beau MacMillan at Sanctuary, I pretty much play whatever I like, so it floats anywhere from Led Zep to Peter Gabriel to Minitel Rose to Depeche Mode. I really like to get into the heads of the crowd and try to play directly to the experience I would want to have if the roles were reversed.
How do you chose songs for your set? Generally I like songs with words, alt-dance, and all the late night hip-hop party ragers. I'm not really an elitist when it comes to a dance floor. I just want to see people lose their minds and make out and shit. I try to avoid click-clock-blorp techno as much as possible and I'm pretty sure I've never played a dubstep track to date. But I play hella drunk sometimes so I may be mistaken.
What's your favorite track of the moment? Grinderman's "Heathen Child" and John Maus' "Cop Killer." Neither of which I'll be playing on Saturday.
Do you have a mantra or philosophy when it comes to DJing? Yeah, I really love being up there alone because when you fail, it's all yours. There's no one to look to or blame despite all of our best efforts. There's something very freeing about just being in your zone, looking out on a bunch of people in their zone, and the people who made the music were in their zone and all of a sudden it's like all those MTV summer break shows you saw as a kid where you were like, "Holy shit, the world isn't just fuckered and bullshit and corporations and war, it's all this wildness and I'm a part of it." So my mantra is don't fuck up, and don't play shit no one wants to hear, no matter how good looking the person who asks for it is.
Why are you so enigmatic? I never tried to make it my living so I felt I could get a way with a lot more, because I usually wasn't taking dollars and I didn't need to worry about kissing everyone's ass or paying my phone bill. I remember playing "Paradise City" at Glam and having everyone give me dirty looks 'cause GnR was passé, which it was, but at the same time I was like, "I gave half of you free shots, and the other half were on the guest list, so y'all can suck it, I wanna hear Axl."
I like to be enigmatic because I'm writing this exactly how I would say it, aloud it sounds like I tell too much truth, but in text I think it sounds like hyperbole or whatever, I think Phoenix has always had a really good chance at being incredible, I'm just coaxing her into action, even if it means not being a part of whatever new night is happening, the old have trees gotta go before the new ones can grow, you know?
What was your role with Party Foul back in the day? Were you behind other nights at Glam as well? In the beginning it was 75 percent business and 15 percent host and 10 percent drunk. And it turned to about 50 percent DJ and 50percent business by the end. Same is true at glam but only with fauxShow.
What's the deal with Party Foul these days? Has it died off again? It was never really reborn. It was kind of like Syd Barret, people had collisions with the new Party Foul, and a few collected heads may even remember it, but for now it's prancing around Africa, doing acid and getting really legit.
So were the two Party Foul events held this past year ultimately one-offs? They weren't even one offs, they were a series of questions to an ex to see if we were ready to be friends again, turns out both are still a little hesitant, so yes, hiatus is the shortest word to say about it.
Craziest shit you've seen at a DJ gig? While playing? And not including myself? Probably a guy getting a BJ on the dance floor at Party Foul. Or the million girls I've seen throw up in the corner and pretend nothing happened.
Do you miss Glam? God, I miss Glam every single day. There will never be a place as awesome as that place was and thank God for that. Lest I never spend a sober day or a night without dancing to Mark play "Fish Heads" by Barnes and Barnes, and having an arm wrestling match with a 7-foot shemale from Mars. They should burn that place because that's the only way the spirits will ever rest. God bless Glam. Rest in Peace.
How do you create an effective set, in your opinion? You keep a library of only good music, and just go for what the night demands. I always listen to the news and try to play stuff that reflects what's going on in the world. If the news was mighty political I might do the "Killing in the Name Of" remix. If it was a holiday, then we was doing "Come on Eileen" or some shit.
Hell, at Phil's I played Usher's "OMG" for like a year straight because the first time I heard it, I knew it was a banger and everyone went nuts for it every week. Then again, we were playing on 16th and Thomas and the whole thing went to shit because someone stabbed a guy in the face
Really? Fuck. Fuck is exactly what I said. Randomly, people got shot across the street from Party Foul [at Homme] towards the end. It's that kind of velocity and entropy that coincides and let you know the end of the night is soon. It's stupid to push against the great magnet. Gotta just go with the flow.
Are hipster dance nights at dive bars a dying trend? In one word, yes. It'll come back when we're all -- and I mean all -- old and have kids, and our 22-year-old sons will never leave the garage and our daughters will have hickies and coke problems and the wheel of karma will be complete. But as of now, I'm still waiting to be impressed. Even what I saw in Europe was a let down.
What are some of the drawbacks of being considered a hipster DJ? I think four years ago there was a lot of benefit to the term and the image. And I guess in a certain way, beyond earning the title and selling our souls to a certain extent to be the title, it was really helpful in identifying what music we were playing to the right audience. Back in the O.G. fauxShow days, or even at Party Foul, we were really representing a crowd of people that felt horrible and ostracized and cast out when they went to any other club in the city.
What do you mean? I look fondly on the days when our crowds were mostly the wallflowers, trannies, rockers, punks, music nerds, and "disenfranchised." We really owned our crowd a lot, William [Reed], Jared [Alan], Kevin [M.O.B.], and myself. To the point that we fought the drunken college kids and bigots that would stumble in on our lit up dance floor. Now the whole lot of that music is marginalized, sterilized, commercialized, and what's worse is every bit of it is inauthentic. So now the term is a curse, it's a curse of the past and it's exactly why the scene in Phoenix hasn't changed from the time I first heard the word Serato.
What do you have planned for your set at Sharks and Minnows this weekend? The sun will still be up so I'll do a little MJ in [his] honor, a little KC and the Sunshine Band "Keep it Comin' Love," some Eden Abez and some chill stuff to respond to the Nazi sun.
How long will each DJ set last? Forty-five minutes roundish, but there's always a whole bunch of craziness that can sway that in any direction
Besides your song selection in defiance of the oppressive sun, what else can people look forward at Sharks and Minnows? I feel like this Saturday is realistically going to be the coolest thing that's happened in the last few summers here. It's going to be chaos, and wildness, and everyone is going to be there, and it will be the closest thing to a Phoenician Coachella that I can think of. Shit...Black Carl?! It'll be mayhem at it's best.
Do you prefer performing at a pool party or at a club? Honestly, the pool because it's all bikini time.
A few summers ago, it seemed like hipster-friendly pool parties were happening almost every weekend. Why have things trickled off to only one or two a year? Everyone left this city. We can't support any more than this until our best and brightest stop fleeing ship and stick around to make this scene awesome again. I don't think I'll hold my breath for that, but then again, I don't have any plane tickets booked either.
So are Phoenix expats who flee to Brooklyn, Portland, or L.A. doomed to be minnows in gigantic ponds then? No. Hell, half of them come back 8 months later, but it's just an ethic here that "I can go be a part of something" as opposed to [doing] the work to make something here. The conflict is that the people of all our great cities decided to do things where they were, not just chasing the dream of a city that had it's heyday 15 years ago.
Why are you such a handsome bastard? I was raised by wolves, and I tried to look like Jared [Alan] but with bigger arms and curlier hair. I think it worked well.
Craig Citizen is scheduled to perform at the Sharks and Minnows pool party on Saturday, June 30, at Phoenix Place Hotel & Suites.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.