There are a handful of people in the Columbus dance music scene that have been around since the days of Mean Mr. Mustards in the early 80s that are still involved in the scene. These individuals have been indispensable in shaping the terrain of where we dance, what we listen to, and the types of parties we hold (Thats a whole other story I suppose that I will save for another day). Kevy Kev was there in those beginning days and has stayed intimately connected to our scene since. Whether it was playing DJ sets, promoting his Juicy or Church parties, creating event flyers or stickers with Hot Cards Columbus, running Melt magazine, or starting Spin Cycle DJ Academy, Kevy Kev has been always been in some way involved in the artistic conversation in our city through its many ebs and flows. This makes an interview with him an extremely worthwhile endeavor. We certainly can learn a lot about where we have been and where we are going by drawing on his insights. Hope you enjoy.
LA: You have been involved in the Columbus Dance Music Scene and dance music in general since 1984. Was there a track, show, or experience that started it all for you?
KK: Hmmmmm, probably the first time I stepped foot into Mean Mr Mustard’s (one of the ORIGINAL campus bars where the Gateway lives now). I’d always been into ALL kinds of music (Progressive/Alternative, Disco, Rock/Metal, Rap, Pop and pretty much ANYthing/band/song that used a synth). MTV was THE source for new music back then and did NOT differentiate genres at the time. Mean Mr Mustard’s was the first place on campus the open it’s doors playing MTV on the screens inside (which seems like no big deal today, but was HUGE back then), then they made the transition into a REAL nightclub playing stuff you couldnt hear ANYwhere else. The first time i walked the the doors I was hooked.
LA: Having such a depth of year after year commitment to the scene is truly commendable. What is it about this music and this community that keeps you coming back and wanting to put your time and energy into it?
KK: Truthfully it’s the energy that a well-tuned crowd gives back when you’ve really got a hold on them. It’s VERY addictive. Further truth is – it doesn’t really matter WHAT kind of music you’re playing (I mean as long as it’s not making you personally MISERABLE to play it), the feeling is the same when you control the feeling in the room. ‚that being said, it doesn’t hurt if you’re getting off on what you’re playing just as much as the crowd, and they’ll CAN tell if you’re bullshitting or not. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been allowed to play music I love (which is A LOT) for people that dig it as much as I do. Doing this for a JOB can work, but anyone that stays in the game long enough will tell you that it’s the love of rocking a floor, like the FIRST time it ever happens, that keeps them in it.
LA: You discussed the importance of that first phase of DJs that arose in the mid to late 70s to Columbus Dance Music History to teach you and your contemporaries. What is the importance of people Like Mike Swaggerty and the rest of the members of that first school of DJing to the development of dance music in Columbus?
KK: Welp, As far as the FIRST school of DJs on Columbus, and the people that I’ve known personally, Mike was IT. He dj’ed at a place called Streamers back in the day (like late-70s back-in-the-day) that I never even WENT to, but had MAJOR influence in club culture around here. Seems like when I was starting out almost every club owner (straight, gay, campus, downtown, suburban, whatEVER) I became involved with used to hang out there. I didn’t actually meet Mike until a couple of years after I got started (mostly because I was living in the campus/Mean Mr Mustard’s bubble). I’d heard of him and his name was always orbiting around me, but it wasn’t until he threw the first ever Columbus DJ competition, around 1989-90 or so that I met him. You’d never meet a cooler, more-supportive and less-egotistical guy in your life, and his musical knowledge was BIBLICAL. He dj’ed all over the place and was ALWAYS an influential presence on me just because of how all-around awesome he was. But his having started the FIRST on-air radio show of dance music (All Mixed Up on the original CD101), truly cemented him as a legend. There was no internet radio, no do-it-yourself podcasts and streaming soundcloud pages, he did it ALL himself. He busted his butt to strike a deal that had him on the airwaves, doing what we do in the clubs, EVERY week. VERY Sadly, Mike got ill and passed a few months back, but he’s kept his showing going this WHOLE time – and it carries on today on WCBE, now headed up by my buddy James Brown. Not the Godfather of soul, but just as funktastic 😉
LA: What about clubs like Mean Mr. Mustards and Maxwells? What was there importance in the development of dance music in Columbus?
KK: Well like I said before, Mustard’s was the place that started it all for me. Earl “Skully” Webb (yeah THAT Skully) was the head DJ and Music Director there and really SHAPED the dance club sound that everyone around us tried to emulate. Mustard’s was the club that leaned a little more alternative playing everything from Prince and Madonna to New Order and Depeche Mode. But Skully kept things constantly fresh you never knew when he’d drop in an AC/DC track or Run DMC or something darker like Sisters Of Mercy or something straight from the NYC dancefloors like Magazine 60. “Nobody EVER complained about “oh god, this music doesn’t fit the night” or “This doesnt go together” because it ALL went together. The club was TRULY a melting pot of musical styles and a complete cross-section of people.” The only thing we really DIDN’T play there was totally poppy bubblegum stuff like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. Skully was REALLY on top of what was going on GLOBALLY on the dancefloor, not an easy task in an age of no internet and being landlocked in the midwest – think about it. Maxwells’ was also important because we really started showcasing the NEXT groups of jocks that came up after us there. It was owned by the same guys as Mustard’s, and my old roomie and Mustard’s co-DJ Chuck Fay (DJ Chuckstar – the guy that DJs for Skully at Ladies 80s to this day) and myself headed up some Sunday night showcases of rotating local/regional DJ talent that usually included several of the ele_mental crew (ie Titonton, Todd Sines, Charles Noel (aka Monochrome), Doughboy and others). It was the beginning of things like that taking place in Columbus.
LA: The more I learn about the development of Columbus Dance Music the more I see how the Underground and Club Scenes speak to one another. How would you define “the underground” and “the club” scenes and how have they interacted with one another?
KK: Well, in MY experience they’re really one and the same. I worked at the “underground” club and everything started THERE for me. I suppose if you look at the history of another campus-club DJ from that time it might be a different story though. For instance – Mike Gallicchio (aka Mike G), now an owner of the Park Street and Long Street Complex group of clubs ALSO came from those same bars on High St back-in-the-day. His history was firmly rooted in the New York house music and early hip-hop scene and the club he played at back then had a different vibe AND group of people that went to it, albeit STILL underground in it’s own right. He and I BOTH went on to play the major Columbus clubs in the 90s, and then he eventually took the ownership route – but it’s the similar passion for what made music you couldn’t hear ANYwhere else but the clubs that shaped where we’ve both gone. Ya know it’s funny, back then (and when we were all competing in that first DJ competition that Mike Swaggerty threw), we made up shirts that said “No Weak Beats” on one side and “Fuck You We’re From DOWNTOWN” on the back‚ partially because we were smug motherfuckers, but MOSTLY because we KNEW everyone Djing on the outskirts WANTED to be US. Truthfully – we we’re the ONLY ones keepin’ it real.
LA: You are firm believer in teaching aspiring djs the importance of programming in your Spin Cycle DJ Academy. What is programming and why do you think it is the most important skill for a DJ to have?
KK: The first Dj lesson I ever got was from Skully. I bugged the CRAP out of him until he invited me into the booth at Mustard’s at like 8pm on a Tuesday night and showed me the BASICS of cueing, volume control, track-end anticipation and how to work the lights (LOL) He was a master. But it wasn’t until the 2nd-in-command-DJ at Mustard’s, a guy name Bryant Johnson let me sit in the booth ALL NIGHT and allowed me to learn – if by no other means than osmosis, HOW TO CONTROL A CROWD, that things REALLY started to become more clear to me. When you get in front of a crowd, and I mean ANY crowd, you’d better know what to play. Mixing, scratching, looping, effects, mashing and whatever other trick you want to learn will ALWAYS be secondary to programming (WHAT you play). It’s soooo much easier today than it was back then because by-and-large you don’t have to really pay a bunch for music. It’s easier (and cheaper) to try stuff out. But remember when (I) learned, 12″ singles were $5.99/piece and imports were $12.99/piece. I’ve got the wasted student loans and a sky-high stack of vinyl to prove it. So mastering your craft meant FIRST being able to afford your own copies of the records to play with at home. If you were a bedroom DJ that learned how to mix these 20-50 records that you owned and couldn’t vary from those selections if you started clearing a dancefloor you were SUNK. You needed to make SURE you owned what was going to rock the crowd. After THAT point blending different styles and sounds becomes more important. You have to have skills (and the playlist) to recover in case the crowd isn’t in tune with what you’re doing.
LA: You are a firm believer in “Violent Format Shifts” in mix work and live sets. What is it about presenting an expansive, diverse sonic palette that is so important to you?
KK: Hmmm, well it’s partially because of the initial environment (Mustard’s) that I learned to love dance music being so cross-genre oriented and partially because I suffer from a pretty vicious case of musical ADHD I guess. I’ve always LIKED so many different things that I get up in front of people and want to play them ALL at once. But thankfully I’m not alone. There are plenty of DJs and music-makers out there that have always done a great job of mixing genres. Take BT or Celdweller and you have guys doing SUCH a great job of integrating awesome electronics with a sometime heavy rock vibe. That stuff is incredible! But I’ve always loved shaking up the crowd a bit. Whether is dropping in some industrial on an electro crowd, or old-school hip-hop in the middle of a jungle set, it just FEELS right to throw ’em a curve ball every once in a while‚ My partner in my industrial night Travis Boggs (aka broken boy) drops in a dubsteppy version of Katy Perry’s E.T. on the goth kids every once in a while, and at FIRST they used to stare at the booth like, “huh?!”‚ now they just keep on goin’ – i love that.
LA: You have played the role of promoter and DJ in our scene. Over the last few years, you have increasingly played the role of promoting shows like Juicy and Church. What are some of the lessons you have learned over the last few years as you been doing more of the behind the scenes work to put on a show?
KK: Biggest thing I’ve learned is that if the promoters cant coordinate and cooperate with each that you’re starting off in a sinking ship. Anytime ANYone sees something successful going off they ALWAYS think they can do it and it’d be easy to pull it off. Because of that you end up having WAAAAAY too many events (some of them fully professional and some of them half-assed) trying to pop off at the same time. it ends up splitting the crowds and hurting all the events involved. I’ve ALWAYS been a champion of trying to make things gel TOGETHER.
LA: We spoke about the differences in dance music crowds and goth/industrial crowds. What are the differences between the two crowds and how does that impact how you play or who you choose to play your shows?
KK: It’s not really JUST the goth/industrial crowd vs the EDM crowd. It’s actually almost ANY other crowd vs. the EDM crowd when it comes down to it. Basically, the dance music/dj culture explosion has created a new subsection of club patrons that get off on a sound more than they do being able to sing-along to their favorite tracks. This probably started around the time of disco, but has been constantly evolving ever since. This is HEAVILY where my placing an extra importance on programming comes into play. I mean unless you’re Skrillex or Rusko or Paul Van Dyk, if you’re approaching a crowd you MUST do your homework on what goes down in that club. The thing is that indigenously, people like to dance to stuff that they know. There are ways of getting them to go to stuff that they don’t, but they STILL need to be sprinkled with the dust of familiarity or they’ll loose interest. That is EXCEPT for the EDM crowd. As long as you’re dropping something that SOUNDS like they want it to, is produced well enough to push the system to the limits, and can be manipulated in a way to which they are accustomed , you’re golden. So much of that music doesn’t have lyrics anyway that the familiarity-factor doesn’t hold as much weight.
LA: We discussed your desire to stay alternative and always connect with the younger generation. What drives you to embrace the alternative and new in dance music?
KK: I’d like to steal a line as quoted recently in Columbus Alive by my buddy Adrain “X” Spillman, “I like bad music”. I mean – that’s kinda true I guess. I’ve always been kind of an “alt” kid, I like punk-rock, metal, industrial, heavy beats, almost all rap music pre-DMX, electroclash, mash-ups, wearing black, being juvenile and stupid‚ Anything dirty is always good – what did Blank 182 say in their liner notes from Dude Ranch?‚ “masturbate everyday and anything with poop is funny”. I’m all in. Once club kids reach the age of say 27 (they magic age where ALL the coolest people have died ya know), they still go to clubs‚ but they’re, enh‚ more “adult”. it’s hard to describe but jazzy-house? – not a fan. I’d rather bathe in the insanity of a raging room of dubstep ANY day over that crap. Once you’ve hung up the Adidas in favor of some “Fluevogs for men” and start hanging out at Eleven – I just see it as you’ve cashed in. I live in the dark.
LA: You are instrumental in putting out a free music publication called MELT that has released 72 editions and running HotCards Columbus. I feel it harkens back to an age when flyers and printed zines were incredibly important for show promotion. In our age of social media, what is the importance of the printed press, stickers, and show flyers to scene building?
KK: Still super important. Let’s answer that in 2 parts‚ 1) Event flyer printing: A few years back when Facebook really blew up and Myspace staring feeling like a deflated balloon, if your party wasn’t online, it’s likely it was going to be empty. The social media sites changed party promotion FORever, and the good ‘ol print standbys sat idly by waiting to return. We’re seeing more and more back out there now, mostly because there are so many event invites online that people almost see them as white-noise. And where a passive-aggressive invite to a stockpile of Facebook friends worked for like a few months, to get the job done now you got to sew it ALL together. It’s like you STILL have to keep up the online presence, and in some cases almost to an annoying level to really stand out at all. But you’ve GOT to back it up with the old school methods of not JUST getting flyers made, but being OUT, being SOCIAL (like in-person social) and glad handing (genuinely) your potential attendees. With my Juicy parties it’s a MAJOR reason I teamed up with James Castrillo (DJ Kingpin). On top of being a MAJOR dude, he’s completely amped-into the current EDM social scene which is AWESOME. I still try and make it out in-person as often as possible for the stuff all through the week that goes on, but with having to be up at the buttcrack of dawn to get to HotcardsColumbus coupled with the fact I’m old and crusty plus have a DVR full of Storage Wars episodes, it can be tough. He is almost completely the in-person promotional arm of our night, an AWESOME DJ in his own right, and a super-suave dresser ‚and I love him VERY dearly for all of those things. AND‚ 2) As far as Melt goes, welp – people just seem to like it. I’m not sure if it’s the compact size, or the massive graphic feel, the over-the-top opinionated writing or the never-ending typos we leave in the copy, but we never get ANY back. We produced the magazine EVERY month for seven years straight and people just dig it. But it’s a HUGE undertaking, make no mistake. From rounding up writers to getting ad space filled to punching out mind-blowing layouts, the entire staff has never been more than 4-5 people strong at a time including interns, and usually just 2-3. THAT being said, in November 2011 The mag went on temporary hiatus as I’ve committed fully to my business-partner that I’d focus completely on getting the hotcardscolumbus.com website updated and redesigned before I’d TOUCH the keyboard for Melt again. But don’t despair! We’re coming out of the weeds here soon and we should return to full production later this summer/autumn sometime, and Melt will be back to annoy and amuse everyone once again.
LA: You are in a unique position to offer a retrospective on the ebs and flows of the scene historically. How would you assess the impact you and your contemporaries have had on the dance music scene in scene over the last almost thirty years?
KK: Hmmmm‚ well as we’ve gone along each DJ has effected the next, and hopefully in a positive way. I mean as long has you’re staying in touch with what’s going on DJing is something you can do as long as it still holds your interest. I found early inspiration in what Skully and BJ were doing at Mustard’s, then new inspiration the first time I walked into Nine Of Clubs in Cleveland and heard Angela play there and then later at Aquilon with Rob Sherwood. Hearing Pat Finn at the old Garage downtown for the first time blew me away‚ and I never stop having new heroes. I believe thoroughly as soon as you think you’re the shit, you stop developing your craft. Each of us has been inspired by another at one time or another and I for one still find inspiration in the guys coming up today. Matt and Bryan from networkEDM BLOW IT UP – there might not be more bangin BANGERS out here. Basillio Santiago (DJ Egotronic) freaks me out with his diversity (sometimes daily as he constantly drops new stuff on my Facebook inbox). Watching Greg and Zach from Digiraatii work the mixer and decks is like watching some open heart surgery show on the Discovery Channel!‚ and roeVy?!‚ it’s almost like they are not even in the same category as all of us! Their shows are a meticulously woven web of sound and visuals that EASILY rival the biggest production rock tours I’ve EVER seen. These ARE the music makers‚ These are the dreamers of dreams 😉
LA: We discussed our common belief in the specialness of Columbus. Do you think Columbus could be the austin, TX or Seattle Washington of DJ’ing?
KK: I think without question that we kind of already are. There is such a massive pool of performing talent here in Columbus that it’s easy to take it for granted, but all you’ve got to do is look around. And I think that part of it is the city itself – the fact that Columbus is kind of like a large “SMALL city”. Because we have such an enormous school here, everything that goes on is kind of centralized in and around the campus area, and goes out in concentric waves from there (Campus, Short North, Downtown, Clintonville, Grandview, Old Town, etc). Sure there are things going on out on the perimeter of the city, but by-and-large our enormous pool of talent, and the events that they all carry are right on top of each other. It forces us to all KNOW each other, be aware of one another, and be inspired by one another. Sometimes it gets a little incestuous and sparks some uncomfortable competition – but it leaves us with an open create environment we can all draw from – and it shows. You can go to other bigger cities that also have great DJs and electronic producers, but you’ll find the bigger the place, the more fragmented the scene(s). It’s almost like we’re living in a hippy commune for DJs, it’s REALLY cool and I think SIGNIFICANTLY important to our place in the advancement of dance music culture. You can find guys that play ANYthing here – Hip Hop, Electro, Goth, Disco, 80s, Techno, Breaks, Minimal, Funk – you name it. It’s awesome and I’d put us up against ANYwhere else that thinks they do it better.