"Burn down the disco. Hang the blessed DJ because the music that they constantly play says nothing to me about my life."
-- The Smiths (1986)
According to DJ Emile, there should be panic in the streets of Phoenix because nightlife here may never be the same again. One of the city's premier underground spin doctors and a co-founder of the Bombshelter DJs, Emile recently announced that he will be leaving Phoenix for the more "progressive" musical environment of San Francisco (he will continue to work the occasional out-of-town show with the Bombshelter crew). Echoing Morrissey's lyrics of contempt, he opines, "Musically, all the clubs here suck! I'm asking club owners, 'Why not just get a jukebox and let people pick their tracks? Just hire somebody to stand up there, and hardly anyone will know the difference.'"
For those not familiar with DJ Emile's oral onslaught, his reputation as an outspoken local music "celebrity" precedes him. "People always have something to say about my personality, but I'm not asking you for a date -- I just want to play some records," notes the self-assured DJ.
Emile regards his impending departure as an inevitable career move. "I've done everything I possibly can in this town. I've won Best Club DJ and Best Rave DJ and besides, look at everybody that's left here: Eddie Amador, Mark Farina, Chris Flores, Sandra Collins, Blaze -- all household names." Like a weary employee, Emile feels that relocating will provide a much-needed change of scenery. His decision to leave also reflects his distaste for the prevalence of the local trance scene, which he claims is nothing more than "jacked-up John Tesh music" and maintains that -- contrary to popular belief -- "house [music] is not the cure for cancer."
In addition to spinning, he'll be finishing college with the aim of earning a political-science degree. He says a return to Phoenix would find him in a much different role as he promises to run for city council someday. In the meantime, he has more than a few parting shots reserved for the city's club cognoscente.
"You want to know what the problem is with this town? Hiring DJs from out of state while the locals are struggling makes no sense. It's killing the scene. I really have a problem when the same club that will pay $3,000 for 'world class DJs,' cries about paying me $250. Funny thing is, everybody's jacked up on coke and ecstasy and too high to even care who's spinning. Since that's the case -- hell -- why don't you just pay me the $3,000?!"
Fully agitated, he adds, "These new clubs, especially in Scottsdale, have awful music, but Phoenix has the best DJs in the country that are literally starving. It's like Ethiopia. The people aren't starving because there's no food, it's because the evil dictators aren't allowing the food to get to the people. And they are evil dictators. I think club owners and promoters in general are talentless people that use other people to further themselves."
Inevitably, the discussion turns to Emile's former employer, KIND (Thursdays at Pompeii) promoter Jas Tyson. Emile once enjoyed the position of resident DJ during the promotion's earliest days. Emile claims that most recently, Tyson has offered big money to out-of-town acts like Basement Jaxx while he and other locals were offered nothing but early warm-up slots. "Please, Jas, do us all a favor," shouts an agitated Emile. "Put in a CD, save some money!"
In fact, Emile was given a chance to headline a KIND event, and records show that few attended, while the English house-music duo Basement Jaxx, whom Emile claims remains "unknown by a society jacked up on goofballs," has been packing venues across the nation. And their September 30 stop at Tempe's Pompeii was no exception. Additionally, KIND circulars advertise a variety of local talents performing in "premium" slots. Needless to say, Emile could not prove that he deserved an increase in pay (which was already among the highest in the city) and subsequently lost his residency because of his inability to draw the required crowds.
Undaunted, Emile says, "Thanks to me, KIND has a variety of music. When I was in there, I played a different style every week. That's why they can now book techno, jungle, house, breakbeat or whatever. It's too bad that there'll never be a plaque on the front of that place that reads, 'You are listening to different styles of music because DJ Emile was once a resident here.' I've turned on all these different DJs in Arizona to a variety of styles."
Emile isn't shy about offering his theory on the evolution of DJ culture, either. Speaking as if he himself were immune, he proclaims, "The ultimate ego trip is the DJ! Everybody wants to be a DJ. When you walk into a party and it's going off, who is in control? It's the one guy with a bag of records. It's all about you -- no drummer, no lead singers -- it's all you! Nobody buys guitars anymore, they buy turntables. They're the world's largest-selling instrument now, the number one Christmas gift."
Of course, this is the world according to Emile, and when he began DJing 13 years ago, it wasn't "ego" that drove him, or so he claims. "I was a good kid in sixth grade, and since I was the only one who could be trusted with money, I was allowed to go and buy records to play for the break dancers at recess. I started spinning old school and from there I started my own New Wave club spinning Smiths singles and 45s. So you see, I've always been an underground DJ. At one point, The Smiths were underground. 'How Soon Is Now?' was a deep underground track. Now it's in a [car] commercial."
Speaking out against endorsements, Emile quickly points to the duo known as Crystal Method -- "buzzclip" poster boys for the "electronica" genre -- who were also featured in a recent Nissan ad. Rumor has it that Emile got into a scuffle with one of the binary boys during their recent visit to Club Rio. Emile was more than happy to clarify what really happened with his usual degree of subtlety.
"Fuck Crystal Method! I'll tell you straight out -- Ken Jordan was jacked up on meth. I know somebody that gave it to him. He's sitting at the bar and I walk by and he asks, 'Are you a DJ?' I say, 'Yes I am.' Then he says, 'So you take other people's music and mix it on a tape and act like it's yours? Do you pay them royalties?' I said, 'Fuck no. They've already got my $6.99, they're not gettin' any more out of me.' He then says, 'You're a fraud,' and pushes me and spills my drink. I take a glass, ready to bust it over his face and I've got three bouncers holding me back! And I said, 'Did you pay Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition for that sample in "Keep Hope Alive"?! You wanna fight me, boy? There's millions of us [DJs] out there and we're gonna take you down!'"
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"Jacked up" or not, what Jordan is fighting for is part of a recent movement to charge DJs for the use of prerecorded music. Emile claims that would require getting permission and paying as much as $1,500 for every song he uses. And with all of the quality/cost advancements that have made digital music production so affordable, protests have increased because the mixes in question are now on CDs. Under such circumstances, it isn't entirely inconceivable that digital technology will force mix music underground and into the back rooms of record stores, making them the new millennium's answer to bootleg discs.
The departing Emile, predictably, has his own views on the emerging technology as well. "Now, DJs are showing up with two CDs burned off of MP3s, and, since they didn't have to pay a cent, they're happy to get $50 from a club owner. And I don't understand these CD players that digitally count bpms [beats per minute]. They do all the work for you. It's like Minute Rice. You get a perfect mix every time. They've taken all of the skill and art out of turntabling."
For the man who seemingly hates everything, what is it exactly that Emile would like? "I would like to see kids register to vote," he lectures. "Maybe get in free to a party if they sign up at a booth on the site. The 18-to-25 voting bloc is nonexistent. You wanna rebel? Get out there and vote! And another thing that needs to change. DJs need to start dancing. DJs don't dance. I dance. I mean, how is a vegetarian going to cook you a steak?"
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