The Big E

Emile Ananian is a gifted DJ, and he'll be the first to tell you so.
Last February at an underground party called Icee, I walked into a trailer to buy water and found Emile, obviously out of his head, ranting to no one and everyone in a line of 25 people about how much the rave kids worship him. One quote clearly etched in memory: "It's hard to come back to Earth when you're treated like such a god!"

Even before I witnessed that scene, Emile's reputation preceded him--in particular a story about how he booted ex-porn star turned celebrity DJ Traci Lords off the tables at the Enit festival in August of '95, because, as Emile told me in a later interview, ". . . that bitch couldn't spin a top, let alone a record."

Before the Icee water line, I'd only run across Emile once--at a full-moon party on a mesa in the Superstition Mountains, where he declared himself the "king of break-beat, master of all forms." I wrote him off as a punk. Then I heard him spin.

It was last October, at one of the local DJ talent showcase Unity parties at the Icehouse. Emile was outside in the 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. slot, pissed that he wasn't in the main room--"they had me and the reggae DJs out there in Ted Kaczinsky's love shack," he said later--but he still played a gorgeous set. I was there when he took over the tables, and my attention was riveted until he nodded goodbye to the crowd two hours later. Emile's a freestyle DJ. His record crates are full of wax ranging from old-school hip-hop to hard-core, with jungle, trip-hop, electro, break-beat, drum 'n' bass and plain old techno in between. And in those two hours at Unity, he wove a phenomenal sonic web, elegantly linking and interlinking different forms, referencing old stuff as introduction to new, bringing logical connections between different forms of underground dance and hip-hop music into clear relief. In short, it was deep. Once he was finished, Emile walked around a party of 800 people crowing about what a great fucking set he'd just had.

Thing is, though, you can talk all the smack about Emile you want--and go ahead, because he'll talk it about you--but you can't disrespect his skills, except to say that he's wildly inconsistent, which Emile freely admits. "I either suck or I'm amazing," he says. "So what? They said the same thing about Zeppelin."

Recently picked by URB magazine as one of the top 100 up-and-comers in the nation, Emile was born in Kuwait and moved to Phoenix with his family in 1989 after living in Chicago and L.A. He's 24 years old, and has two mix tapes out--The Beast From the Middle East (1995) and last year's Loud Mouth. During a recent interview on the terrace at the Tempe coffee house Higher Ground, where Emile hosts a weekly trip-hop/acid-jazz club night called Shake, a gangly kid came up and asked him to autograph a napkin. "I can't get enough of that shit," he said.

A few minutes later, Emile zipped out of the coffee house's parking lot in a beat-to-shit Honda Accord with 202,000 miles on the odometer and a collage of stickers on the back, including "Meat Is Yummy" and "Your College Sucks." Emile's other car is a Jostamobile. He works as a "sampler" for Pepsico, handing out free bottles of Josta at raves and other target market events. "I revolutionized Josta sampling, dude," Emile says. "I went out to Dallas and introduced the samplers there to using scuba gloves so your hands don't get ice-cold, and they were like, 'Genius, man, genius.'"

Emile talks sort of like he spins: fast and all over the map. Caffeine helps--you and him--and I went through three tall iced coffees in our little 45-minute chat. Here are the choice cuts:

Coda: How'd you become a DJ?
Emile: My God. I guess you could trace it back to fifth grade. During recess, all these fifth and sixth graders at my school would breakdance, and I somehow wound up in charge of the music, so I started buying all these 45s and 12"s for them to breakdance to.

Coda: And how'd you get into the scene here?
Emile: Well, I didn't for a long time. I was blackballed for years, man. Blackballed, blackballed, blaaackballed! Me and [local hip-hop DJ] Z-Trip, man, no one would hire us, so we became terrorists. If you didn't hire us, we'd sit out in front of your place and complain. One time a promoter wouldn't even tell me why he wouldn't hire me, so I tore down a fence and let 200 kids into his party for free. It was awesome. But, you know how it goes, eventually I started getting gigs, and people started buzzing about this guy who played really early or really late, and it just went from there. Back then, though, my mouth got me in trouble. More than now, even. It seemed like I'd say something and a situation would just blow up like Beirut.

Coda: Does your reputation as a bigmouth bother you?
Emile: Yeah. Well, no. See, no one complains about me as a DJ, but it seems everyone's got a complaint about my personality. And I'm like, "Hey, I'm not asking you for a date. I just want to play some records."

Coda: Do you think you've got a big mouth?
Emile: Sure, because I don't like to sugar-coat things. I'll be really up front with you. I'll say look--you're a fuck, and I don't like the way you live. But you know, I've watched some of these same people who complain about me screw each other over, lie to each other, steal from one another, all the time. But me saying shit to someone's face is apparently worse to them than any of that stuff. Someone can just straight up jack somebody's girlfriend, and that's forgivable, but me telling someone to their face that I feel a certain way is a bad thing. That's just garbage. Total garbage.

Coda: You've been railing on out-of-town DJs a lot lately. What's up with that?

Emile: Well, for one thing, these promoters act like a bunch of stupid yokels when they fly in these guys and pay 'em $1,000 to do the same thing a local [DJ] will do for $150. And a lot of times the local could do it better. I'm telling you, here in Phoenix, we've got the best DJs in the country per capita, hands down. You have to work 10 times harder to get a slot here . . . and you get low, low pay. It's like Darwinism. With such harsh conditions, you're going to have superbreeded DJs coming out of the scene. So as far as I'm concerned, the only reason to bring these big-name guys in is to show them what great talent we have here. And too many of these out-of-towners treat Phoenix like a whorehouse. They come in, they do their thing, and once they're gone, they act like they were never here. They don't help spread the word about our scene, so hiring them only undermines us. I play out of town at the same parties with some of these guys, and I tell them I'm from Phoenix and they're like, "Oh, Phoenix, what goes on there?" And it's like, "Well, motherfucker, you should know, since you were there last week."

Coda: What's your strategy going into a set?
Emile: Well, I take as many types of music as I can and start somewhere and try and bring it around to end at a place that makes sense. But really I just shoot from the hip. I don't plan anything. A lot of DJs sketch out their sets beforehand, plot the BPMs and all that; but I'm a slob, dude. When I get ready to play a party, I just grab two crates of records and run out of the house. And if I end up with Mr. Rogers records, so be it. And that's happened a couple of times, where I just pull out really bad crates. And you know, within three records, I can tell you if I'm going to have a good set or a bad set. It's a big-bang theory. I can't tell you what's going to happen until that point, but once I reach it, everything's in motion on a predetermined course.

Coda: Electronic music's so fractured with subgenres--what's your prediction for the next one to emerge?

Emile: Let me give you the bleeding edge right now--minimal is where it's at. That's what I'm down with. We're talking minimal house and techno. Totally stripped down. With that much space between the sounds, the DJ has a lot of room to get creative with manipulating the music from the turntable. And if you can get 1,000 people off with just isolated bleeps and tones, man, then you know you're a fucking good DJ.

--David Holthouse

Emile performs every Monday at Shake (Higher Ground Cafe in Tempe). He's also scheduled to perform on Saturday, June 28, at Hardfloor. Call 495-8181 for information.

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