DJ Alvin Bitsue on Strip Club Music, Crate Digging, the State of Phoenix's Punk Scene, and Getting into Fights Over Records
If you've attended a local punk show anytime in the last two decades, chances are good you've seen (or rubbed elbows with) Alvin Bitsue . The 36-year-old vinyl freak and punk fan has been a part of the Valley's punk scene for years -- whether working the door or hanging in the audience -- and witnessed more gigs featuring three-chord thunder than he can remember.
Bitsue, a member of the Navajo nation, also has major yen for crate digging and is constantly haunting local record stores and scoring new additions to his ample vinyl collection. Many of these platters find their way into the various DJ sets he's performed over the years at local joints, including a few Phoenix strip clubs.
We recently interviewed Bitsue on the kind of jams he's spun while ecdysiasts work the stage, as well as his greatest vinyl finds, his opinion on local punk, and several other topics.
How did you get into the DJ game?
By thinking I could mimic what I saw in Beat Street and destroying my parents' record player. I would scratch my parents' country, Motown and rock records as an early teenager. That later formed into getting a shitty paper route to buy 45s from the record store and starting my collection.
How well did you scratch in those days?
Horribly! At that age I think it was a matter of trying to impress your friends who were also just as bad. I remember my record player being some J.C. Penney's or Sears brand that wasn't made for scratching nor were my friends but we did what we could and compared to what DJs now can do we were horrible in comparison. I just watched a friends son DJ awhile back at Blunt Club and I was greatly impressed and think about the difference of technology of the era's.
How's your scratching these days?
I haven't really scratched on my turntables much these days. I work a lot. Plus, I don't like ruining my records.
What genres do you prefer?
I always find myself listening to old school hip-hop, country/western and classic rock. And by classic rock I mean '60s and '70s, not '80s or '90s. Stuff I grew up hearing around me from parents or other family members. Nowadays, [it's] a lot of the same things mixed with punk, hardcore, oi!, soul and skinhead reggae. I listen to too much stuff to be totally honest, my interests are all over the place. But I will say a lot of the stuff I listen to isn't Top 40 friendly by any means.
Where are some of the places where you've most recently performed?
Sugar 44, the bar I work at on the weekends I was DJing at on Wednesday, and more recently the Hell City Saints C.C. car show and another car show. I've been asked recently to spin records but they don't pan out or become a mere faded memory.
Have you ever gotten compliments on your selector skills at the strip club, or were patron's attentions elsewhere?
Working at the strip club was interesting. At first it was great cause I had a group of open-minded girls who actually flipped thru my collection and I found myself playing stuff I liked to hear. Stuff like Sisters of Mercy, Deee-Lite, Al Green, Pixies, The Roots...I even once played some Miles Davis, I was all over the musical spectrum.
Then what happened?
But like how fads come and go, so do girls in that industry. I went from having girls who were open-minded and liked what I played to girls who only wanted to hear Top 40 shit which I don't do. All that "blingy blangy" type stuff. As for customers, a lot of them were impressed with the fact that there was a real DJ with real turntables and real records. People get really excited when they see two turntables and vinyl and share stories of their own or want to flip thru your records.
Ever date a stripper?
Who hasn't? It's what you make of it. I really don't know how to explain it, but I will say it's not all it's cracked up to be and can be nerve wracking at times.
Local punk band Bro-Loaf.
Craziest shit you've seen at a gig?
I think that was last Halloween when I was spinning at TT Roadhouse for the Rage Cycles ride when I started playing Motorhead's "Ace of Spades." A mosh pit started right in front of me and moments later a full on brawl started. That was awesome to watch until my speakers got knocked over.
What's your opinion of the local punk scene, which seems to currently be at a low ebb?
Being that I've worked the door at a lot of bars/clubs, I've seen the punk scene dwindle to a trickle. There's not a whole lot of new blood out there but there are still an ample amount of "punk" veteran's that keep that scene somewhat going. I highly recommend checking out Bro-Loaf, the most ridiculous band around that is just a mockery of everything the "punk" culture goes against.
Best memory from the local punk history:
My favorite shows were always at any Mob 40's or Fatskins show, whether at Cannery Row, Mason Jar or the Nile. The best was in 1993, Warzone, The Business, Fatskins and Mob 40's. And if you were there you know why.
And if you're weren't there?
If you weren't, you missed out a legendary hardcore band, Warzone that if I recall never made it back out to Arizona after that due to the lead singer Raybeez passing away. Also that show ended up in a riot as well... the 90's were definitely a riot!
What's your opinion on what happened to the Clubhouse Music Venue recently?
I am torn between good riddance and being bummed out. It always sucks to hear when a music venue closes for whatever reason, but -- in my day -- I've seen many a come and go. But, in time, another [venue] will open to replace it and that place will create a new era in the local and/or national music scene in Arizona.
So what's the closed venue you miss the most?
That's either the Mason Jar or Boston's. Other honorable mentions include Club Rio, Dagobah Skatepark, Electric Ballroom and Party Gardens.
What's your opinion on house shows or underground punk venues like Meat Market Garment District?
I'm a fan of house shows. For someone to open up their homes to absolute strangers to let them enjoy new music, I'm for it. I have yet to visit the Meat Market, but if it's like underground/DIY venues of the past, it should do well for the time being
Why does punk or hard rock appeal to many Native Americans?
Growing up, I didn't know many natives that listened to punk. Personally, I didn't since I was more into rap and metal. Funny you ask this because the last time I was out and about my friend Andy Mokwa asked me this same question and my answer to him was:
On the reservation, a lot of bands don't venture there, but during the '80s and '90s a lot of metal bands played fairs. Bands like Slayer, Venom, Dark Angel, Death Angel, King Diamond. That may be a part of it -- or it may not -- but I think it's an appreciation thing.
And we all know what happened when Danzig played a reservation show.
We both know what happened to him here in Arizona, and if you don't you can find it on YouTube. Danny who is a long-time friend of mine is actually hated by younger crowd of metal fans on reservation for that incident. I have had to explain to family members before about that whole thing and their opinion wont budge no matter what I say.
The Ghost of Eastside Records in Tempe.
Where do you shop locally for music? Revolver Records, Zia, Ghost of Eastside, and antique shops.
How many records are in your vinyl collection?
At one point I was up to thousands, but I slimmed my collection down to survive after being laid off in 2008. And since then I'm more selective as to what I buy and [it] currently sits at a couple thousand. And that number grows weekly.
What's the crown jewel?
Damn, that's a good question. Original pressing of Body Count's first album Cop Killer with "Cop Killer" on the cover. This album is banned and record stores were instructed to take it off the shelves and throw them away, so not many of them exist today. Or Jimmy Eat World's first seven inch in unplayed mint condition which I've been offered $900 for from some eBay user in Japan.
If a fire broke out and you could only save five records from your collection, what would they be?
Yup, it's a really big fire.
First would be a copy of Alvin and the Chipmunks' A Chipmunk Christmas album that was my mom's. Others would be that Body Count album, my White Zombie first pressing (glow in the dark), Miles Davis' Kind of Blue first pressing and Minor Threat's first pressing. What about cassette tapes? I'm also grabbing my cassette carrying case since it's jam packed full of rare demo's or limited releases from DJ friends and/or bands.
Some of Alvin Bitsue's record store scores.
Any good stories about rare finds?
I once almost got into a fistfight with someone over a record! When I go record shopping it's an all-day adventure and involves a process of gathering, piling up, sorting and repeat many of times. Some guy decided to go thru my pile and help himself when I was a few feet away. I was like, "Hey man, I'm buying those!" He goes, "Sure you are" and tried walking away with my stuff and when I stopped him he got confrontational. Long story short, an employee who was a friend of mine wouldn't sell it to him. Those included some original pressings of Beatles records.
What's your favorite track of the moment?
Trapped Under Ice, "Pleased to Meet You." New generation hardcore band out of Baltimore on Reaper Records. Lots of energy and great lyrics.
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