Amongst the sea of constantly sprouting-up club nights in New York, the three-year-old TURRBOTAX® is the kind of affair that stands out. With an eye on new sounds as much as the classic ones that influence them, TURRBOTAX® pairs up some of the world’s finest young guns with dance music heroes, assembling lineups with Robert Hood and Blawan or Todd Edwards and FaltyDL. Behind it all are residents Contakt, Rem Koolhaus, C-Sick, Mayster, and Space Jam, who are about to move the party to a new venue for their next event, which happens September 28. Before his upcoming releases for Local Action and the newly minted Icee Hot label, producer, remixer, and DJ Contakt gave us the lowdown on running things with TURRBOTAX® and the finer aspects of setting the tone for the night.
Firstly, tell us about TURRBOTAX®.
TURRBOTAX® is an NYC party focused on booking the most interesting and innovative DJs, young and old, anyone from 19-year-old kids from in the UK who just released their first records coming to the USA for the first time, to living legends who have shaped the history or electronic music. It’s nice because we are booking a lot of younger guys for their debut USA appearances—artists like Mosca, Julio Bashmore, Doc Daneeka, Blawan, etc—and also matching them with heavyweights like Robert Hood, Kenny Dope, Todd Edwards, and Terrence Parker. It’s inspiring to see the DJs inspire each other, and to see young fans discover old names, and vice versa.
The party was started by myself and Rem Koolhaus three years ago, along with residents C-Sick, Mayster, and Space Jam, initially to have an outlet for playing some of the new sounds we heard coming out of the UK by people like Cooly G, Martin Kemp, and Roska, and the night quickly evolved into bringing DJs to the States for their first time and booking the people who inspired the current generation. We feel really lucky to DJ with people who inspire us every month.
Do you feel as though the warm-up is an important part of the overall night, and if so, why?
The warm-up DJs are absolutely an important part of the night. They get the party started, provide context for the night and the guest DJs, and they set the overall pace of the party. The warm-up DJs in a sense can make or break an event. If the opener is playing club bangers at 11 PM, the headliner has no way to increase the energy; if the opener is playing too deep, or esoteric music and the crowd isn’t engaged, the headliner has to essentially start at zero.
Is there a specific “job” for the opening DJ?
In my opinion, the opening DJ’s job is to represent themselves and the event well, while also setting up the headliner to look great. The opener is passing the ball in an “alley-oop” so the headliner can get the slam dunk.
When you open for other headliners, how do those sets differ from your usual sets?
When I open for other headliners, my sets are deeper and groovier, as my focus is warming up the crowd.
Do your music-buying habits change if you’re about to play a warm-up set? If so, how?
My music buying habits are pretty consistent; I buy what I like. I have been collecting records for over 15 years, so I have a lot of records to choose from. I just buy good records when I hear them; I don’t usually buy specific records for specific gigs.
What are the biggest mistakes opening DJs often make?
The biggest mistake I frequently see opening DJs make is not realizing that it’s not all about them, and playing too hard, aggressive, and/or fast of music for the time of night, or the sequence of DJs.
Any benefits to warming up DJ?
I really enjoy opening up. Generally, when I am playing gigs as an opener, I am opening for artists that have inspired me, so it’s a real treat to be on the same lineup with them and play music to complement theirs. The other great thing about opening is the opportunity to play a more diverse selection of records—deeper, more obscure, and eclectic, which I always enjoy.
How do the pressures differ from opening to headlining?
Opening up is a different challenge than headlining, most obviously, because the crowd isn’t there for you specifically—they are there for the headliner. Additionally, the real challenge is starting with an empty room and transforming that to a packed house of people dancing, and building the intensity so it’s ripe for the headliner to take it over the top.
How important is it that the warm up DJ plays the same musical genre (or closely related) as the headliner?
My philosophy is that the opener should play complimentary music to the headliner, and by that I mean, similar, but not exactly in the same vein. For example, opening for Kenny Dope, I wouldn’t play classic house, because I want to give him as much space to do his thing and play classic house, but I would play housey records that make sense to a crowd coming to see Kenny Dope.
Which is more difficult—warming up or playing peak-time, and why?
They are each difficult in their own way, and in my opinion, just as important.
Does a warm-up set at a festival require a different approach to a club warm-up?
My experience is that it is different in a festival environment, because people tend to see DJs and artists a la carte, so in a festival environment, I think the opener should still mind the overall running order (and not play hard techno before someone playing slow, deep house), but has a bit more flexibility to represent themselves more.
One piece of advice to any DJ who is booked for the warm-up slot.
Think about the context of the night, and play appropriately.
Favorite three opening DJs you’ve ever heard, and why?
Soviet Panda in Minneapolis, Wolfjazz & Keyte in Edinburgh, and Psi-Mono in Copenhagen really stand out to me because they are all outstanding DJs who are skilled, incredibly knowledgeable about music, and really know their crowd.
What are your three favorite warm-up-set opening tracks?
Dream DJ to warm-up for, and why? What do you open with?
I feel fortunate because I have had the opportunity to open for so many of my heroes, so there is no one record. But the common theme is the first record would be a little nod to their musical history, but wouldn’t step on their toes and be a record they would play in their set.
Tell us about your upcoming gigs and releases.
2012 has been great so far, and the rest is shaping up nicely. TURRBOTAX® just celebrated its three-year anniversary, and is moving to a new venue, which is really exciting. As an artist, I have some releases coming soon on Icee Hot and Local Action Records, as well as a handful of remixes.