Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lisbon: Custard & Clouds

Greetings from Lisbon where I arrived last night, just in time for a spitty gray fog to roll in. Whether it's a little bit of San Francisco summer coming over to make me feel at home (sigh) or it stuck to me in the Undisclosed Location I just visited I'm not sure, but it's actually not so bad, although I hope the famous Portuguese sun comes out soon. Speaking of that Undisclosed Location, I'm sure the 7 or 8 family and friends who read this blog probably already know where I was, and I suppose it looks pretty pretentious to keep it a secret, but let me explain: first of all, there are a lot of "acquaintances" in this place that I should probably have looked up but didn't really have time (or energy) for; secondly, it was a bit embarrassing not to get a booking there, and there are a variety of people around my Facebook fan page that might raise a ruckus if they knew I'd been hanging around, and a certain media figure who would probably have wanted to speak to me, but again, I was a little embarrassed to do so without anything real to talk about. So, it was a secret visit, but a fun one, and thanks to those who helped make it a wild weekend--you know who you are, or maybe you don't, because it's so secret!

But anyway, here I am in Portugal, which isn't a secret at all. I have gigs in the area of Lisbon Friday and Saturday nights, and then another gig at a beach club the next Friday, so I get a few days of R&R here, which I'm incredibly excited about. Of course, my Portuguese is nonexistent, and my Spanish is like taqueria-level (para llevar, por favor!) so I'm a bit at sea, but everybody I've dealt with so far is either happy to let me muddle through in pseudo-Spanish or speaks English just fine. The city is uniquely beautiful, and reminds me a lot of Puebla, Mexico, where I DJed last year: the center of town was mostly destroyed in the 1755 earthquake and was rebuilt on a strict grid, just like Puebla; but the tiny, winding lanes immediately snake up the seven hills the rest of the city is built on. First on the agenda today was—what else?—the funicular!

Actually this is one of I think three funiculars, all slightly more useful than your typical funicular that just climbs up a few hundred feet. The one I took actually rises from the main drag, Avenida de Liberdad, to a hip nightlife area, the Barrio Alto, although it was still chock full of tourists, as well as some guy who got in an endless shouting match with the driver and three policemen halfway up, bringing everything to an amusing stop that I utilized to take pictures.
The cars have cockpits at both ends (since they can't exactly turn around) so riders are free to stand in the rear one, and to step, accidentally at first, on the little silver button (see at left) in the floor that rings the bell. (I tried not to do it too much after my accidental discovery, since I imagine the driver was in a bad mood after the big argument about who knows what, but there was no way I could resist a few dings).

Barrio Alto at around 3pm seems pretty deserted, but apparently its tiny streets fill with revelers later in the evening, so I'll have to check that out. In the light of day, it's charming and strange, its ancient buildings scrawled with graffiti and signs for the tiny late night bars.

The transit system is a bit complicated, especially to get to the hotel I'm staying at (for now) out in Belem, a neighborhood that's a bit of a ways down the river and accessible only by a suburban train whose ticket cards look exactly the same as the metro cards but are, of course, incompatible, which one discovers when swiping the incorrect one and getting a red light and warning bell immediately identifying one as a doltish tourist. Thankfully there are some good reasons to be here, like a beautiful old monastery, the presidential palace complete with fancy-dress guards, and perhaps most importantly a famous pastry shop, Pasteis de Belem, whose custard tarts are made from a secret recipe known only to three chefs. I do like the custard, as desserts go, and this little dollop, cradled in a flaky pastry shell and dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon, was worth the line of tourists and complicated Russian style pay-at-one-counter-get-'em-at-the-other system, as well as the 80 euro cents it cost (about $1.15).

As far as my gigs go, while I usually try and do some mashuppery/remixery of local tunes, I'm a bit overwhelmed by the breadth of Portuguese (and Brazilian) music, from the groovy baile funk of Rio to the banging local dance music kuduro and of course the traditional, mournful fado. So I'm not exactly sure where to start. Conveniently, my faves Buraka Som Sistema are mega-huge here (headlining a festival next weekend whose top-billed artist the day before is Faith No More), so I can at least drop them into my sets if people get confused. We'll see how it goes.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Paris, Briefly

Above: Paris, Thursday July 16, 5:45am

While I was technically in (or, more accurately, under) Paris for about two hours on Monday as I transferred from Charles de Gaulle airport to the Montparnasse train station, I got a good dose of summer Parisian fun times on Wednesday night as I met up with DJ Comar and Grandpamini at La Lucha Libre, the crazy little Mexican wrestling-themed bar in the 5th arrondisement where we'll have our little August 8 shindig. Now, this place is super cool, but I was totally starving, and when my 17EUR ($24) appetizer platter featuring some chips and guac, fried cheese-stuffed jalapenos, and onion rings (?) arrived, along with my martini-sized margarita, I was a little sad. Nothing against Lucha Libre's snacks, which were fine, but seriously, a San Franciscan gets the best Mexican food possible from trucks on streetcorners at any time, so there's no possible way a Left Bank bar can compete. I was just reminded of one of my many curses: I have a lot of trouble geting good food in France (delicious seafood below notwithstanding). I've been to France now three times in the last 4 or so years, and if you know me, you know I like to eat, and eat well. Moreover, I'm a huge fan of French cuisine in general, and the ideal 3-hour multi-course dinner with big bottles of robust Bordeaux, finishing off with some stinky cheeses, is the stuff of dreams for me. But every time I'm in France, I'm always in such a hurry I never get the chance to live my fantasy: in 2005, I mostly ate les pommes frites from whatever kebab shop was on the way, as me and DJ Zebra were on the run from radio stations to club gigs at all hours. Those fries were, admittedly, delicious, but still. Then in 2007, as part of the tour with Moule and Zebra, I actually visited Bordeaux and Toulouse, in France's southern half, which is known for its exceptionally tasty food. But our schedule was so jammed we just had to eat whatever was backstage, as we'd generally arrive in town, drop stuff off at the hotel, then rush to the venue. The dreary, grayish-brown stew I got served backstage in Bordeaux was a definite low point.

I had forgotten all about this as I cabbed over the Pont Neuf bridge to meet up with the guys, but it all came rushing back to me as I forlornly chewed my onion rings. Comar, bless him, promises at least one good French meal when I return to Paris August 8, but we'll see; I bet a meteor hits the kitchen or something just as they're finishing up my Steak Frites.

No matter, though, because Lucha Libre (above) could not be more crazy and fun, with tons of Mexican wrestling memorabilia strewn about; they also gave me a frozen margarita on the house which was both larger and more delicious. The downstairs dance area is a miniscule cave with arched ceilings, in that only-in-Paris way, but the night we were there, notable Buenos Aires producer and DJ El Hijo de Cumbia was spinning, weirdly enough, a guy my buddy Disco Shawn clued me into when he was living in B.A., back when his currently-super-successful nightclub and record label were just glimmers in his and Oro11's eyes. While the attendees downstairs at Lucha Libre numbered, perhaps, in the teens, we danced around to the shimmying beats in the Paris summer heat, and I felt a weird and wonderful sense of international cultural convergence, or just wacky coincidence.

Since I had to catch an 8:00am flight back at good old Charles de Gaulle (perhaps my 2nd least favorite airport, after Heathrow, just ahead of Dulles), I had really made a valiant effort not to drink too much, but people kept giving me margaritas, and what's a guy to do. So as we tottered back to Marco's tiny St. Germain apartment, I spotted a crepe stand and, much to Marco's chagrin, I decided to get my breakfast early: a delicious Crepe Complete, that's with egg, cheese and ham. Plus about 17 pounds of butter. Take that, can't-get-no-good-food-in-Paris curse.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Something's Fishy in La Rochelle

Wonk, wonk. Cause look at them sea critters I done ate! More on that later, but first, greetings from La Rochelle on France's west coast where I'm enjoying Bastille Day amongst the throngs of French tourists and attendees at the Festival Francofolies, a French music-focused festival where I played, somewhat inexplicably, last night. I was recommended to the festival by Parisian DJ Zebra who has helped create a real interest in mashup/remix culture in France and at this festival specifically, so they booked me, but at first I didn't really understand how French-centric it is: it turns out I'm either the first or second American to play the festival, ever, in its like 17-year history. So I was a little nervous about my gig at the smallish "Club Cosy" and created 6 or 7 new mashups and mixes using French music, and had a whole set planned using other local heroes like your Daft Punk etc. The other DJs playing with me got in touch and asked whether I wanted 12:30am-2:30am or 2:30am-4:30am, and I took the early set, thinking my somewhat mainstream tunes might be better to open the night with. Unfortunately another thing I didn't understand was that they were closing the venue after the 10:30 band, emptying it out, and then re-opening, right at 12:30, so even best case scenario my first, like, 4 or 5 songs would kind of be throwaways, to an empty room. That was about right, and I had a frustrating 30 minutes of trying to please the people walking in the door but not play any of my hits or new creations. Thankfully it was pretty packed at about 1:00 or 1:15 and I got to do a compressed version of the set I'd planned, at least.

Those mashups, by the way, along with most or maybe all of the other items I've made on this tour, I'll be posting to my website as a package-album-deal sort of thing, when I get back – a lot of it will be pretty silly stuff but a couple things turned out pretty good, I thought, like a new track matching Frenchman Katerine with Darude that made people go nuts last night. I forgot to take pictures but there were a bunch of cameras (and a TV camera taking footage for the festival to show on the big screen at the main stage tonight) so hopefully we can track those down.

Probably the most awesome thing that happened last night was that after my set, one of the festival coordinators brought me a form and asked me to fill it out. My French is very rough, but a lot of the festival employees' English was worse, so when I didn't understand the form it took a while to figure out what it was: it was a music-rights form on which I was supposed to list every song I played. Darrrrr? Can you say "c'est impossible"? "Uh, I played 10 seconds of the guitar from that song, but backwards, and 3 words from the acapella of 'Pump Up the Jam,' looped for 25 seconds…" I balked at that but they seemed to forgive me, or at least give up on trying to explain to the bumbling American what needed to be done.

Actually the most awesome part of last night was the meal I had "backstage," actually on the deck of the building where the event was taking place, a few hours before the gig around soundcheck time. Check it out to the right. On my rider from now on: a good Bordeaux and a view of the Atlantic.

Today is of course Bastille Day, and I got to enjoy a little French touristy fun times around town with the aforementioned DJ Zebra and his wife Alexandre, and as you can see above, the local specialty is seafood. Let's take a closer look at "La Plate du Capitaine" or whatever it was called:

Let's see. Clockwise, we can find mussels, some sort of chewy clam item, giganto prawns, normal sized shrimp, and the prawns are kind of balanced over a mega-huge crab claw that practically exploded when I cracked it open. Then we've got mini-mussels of some sort, the ubiquitous snails, and then teeny tiny little brown mini-shrimp that were impossible to peel so I just started popping them in my mouth like salty little sea insects that they basically are. All this, fresh from the sea, for only 26EUR (about $36). Anybody remember that Simpsons episode where Homer wants to start a new life "under the sea," and they cut to him swimming about in a Little Mermaid takeoff, gleefully ingesting all the dancing fishes? It was kind of like that.

The music festival continues today with one of my favorites, Birdy Nam Nam, a French group whose charming first album focused on wobbly sounds executed mostly on turntables, and which I used extensively in imaging production for LIVE 105. However, their new direction aims more for the arena-techno of Justice, for better or for worse, but they do have a rep for a great live "show" complete with expensive video and light show a la Daft Punk. The festival graciously gave me an artist pass for today as well so I get to chill in the VIP when they go on later tonight. Since the main stage is right in the center of the city, we went over for a few minutes early this evening where I checked out Sefyu, an up-and-coming French rapper whose aggressive style and glacial rhythms could probably be classified as "gangsta," but his live show was surprisingly sprightly, with two backup guys chasing Sefyu around the stage in and executing cheeky, carefully choreographed tandem dance moves.

The biggest break of my Euro Stim Tour starts for me now, with no gigs til (dun dun, dun dunnn) Portugal! Which will be next week. So for now, a bit of R&R here in France, a quick trip back to Germany, and a brief foray to an undisclosed location…

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Budapest Photo Highlights

Courtyard of apartment building where I stayed

Not an eagle, but a mythical turul, the bird that apparently, according to Wikitravel, appeared in a dream to the wife of the Magyar leader Ügyek and told her that she would be the founding mother of a new nation.

Budapest - City from top of Castle Hill Funicular

Budapest - Keleti Train Station, 6:30am

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hungary Wrap-Up / Munich Fun Times

Okay, where do we start. Apologies to the 3 or 4 people checking up on me here (in addition to my random updates on Twitter, Flickr and Facebook) but my lack of internet service at the apartment I was staying at in Budapest, and the more pressing need to try and track down a new laptop battery (darrr!) meant I just didn't get around to blogging the few times I stumbled into an internet cafe. But here I am safely ensconced at the WiFi-laden household of Frank and Alex in Munich, and look at me go.

First up, mega-props to Pozsi, the DJ who spun with me at the VOLT festival and who has been a longtime resident at Zold Pardon, the big outdoor club/live venue on the Buda side of the Danube in Budapest, and who helped arrange that gig. In addition to being a DJ, he's also a partner in a budding vacation-apartment-rental business, and has been renovating these four little apartments in an amazing building in a great spot in Budapest, and generously allowed me to stay in one of the almost-finished ones, although the TV, internet and hot water hadn't yet been hooked up/turned on, so I did go a little stir crazy the few times I was actually just chilling in the pad. But once the things are done they'll be super fantastic so I have to give linky props:

Design-Apartment - Super Awesome Rentals in Budapest

Anyway, big thanks to Pozsi for that; and also to Simon Iddol of course who helped set up the gigs and pimped me out via his web site, AudioPorn Central. Actually that was one source of a bit of amusing drama -- I had made two mashups specific for Hungary, one using the classic Omega power ballad "Girl with the Pearl's Hair" and one using a filthy reggae-rap by the Budapestian Beastie Boys, Belga, called "Egy Ket Ha." The latter was a friendlier, sprightly drum-n-bassy number, but because of the dirty lyrics, we had to use the Omega mix for an "exclusive" track on his blog, despite my doubts about its appeal to the mainstream audience who would come there (due to a big link on, a major Hungarian internet destination, apparently). My suspicions turned out to be right, since apparently commenters on the post were universally negative, allowing me the pleasure of learning the Hungarian word for "shit" ("szar"). I did feel a little bad but we all know how internet commenters can be.

While Budapest had been swelteringly hot Monday and Tuesday, it cooled significantly on Wednesday when my "headline" gig was scheduled at Zold, making it a bit less attractive for kids to come out, but a good crowd did anyway, not gigantic but enthusiastic, and despite the presence of that one drunk guy screaming at me to play Michael Jackson (which, drunk or sober, has happened at every gig I've played since that dude kicked the bucket -- what the hell, people, is it more fun to listen to his music now that he's dead, or what?), he was outnumbered by the groups of actual live Party Ben fans, who told me they had "all the Sixx Mixxes" and took pictures with me and asked for my autograph and all that crazy junk. One marvels at the power of the internet, and also one is thankful for nice people, who totally made my night.

Budapest itself continued to both frustrate and amaze me -- the city is crazy beautiful, but the language is just crazy-making, especially for someone like myself who knows a couple languages and usually likes to pick up a few words and stuff before traveling somewhere. Hungarian was impenetrable to me, and some people were kind of unfriendly to the bumbling foreigner, especially, say, the woman who came out and yelled at me when I was just trying to read the signs and figure out why the Kiraly Baths, lauded as a stunning old piece of Turkish architecture built to house a bunch of hot spring pools, was inexplicably closed, on a day the guide magazine said they were open. This happened at another baths too, minus the yelling, but I finally made it to the Szescheni baths and pools, which were pretty amazing but not super hot, as far as water temperature goes, and super touristy, possibly due to the New York Times giving it a shout out.

But I was not going to miss the funicular!

In addition to my general love and fascination with all public transit, I have a special place in my heart for funiculars, inclined trains whose quirky custom-made specificity charms my socks off every time. Watch Budapest's above.

Also, I spent a drunken night out with Pozsi showing me all the cool nightspots, and man does Budapest have some amazing venues -- for instance, Holdudvar, a huge, sprawling open air patio on an island in the Danube, under huge modernist tents and glowing red lights, or Cha Cha Cha, also on the island, where I met a dude from Chicago who professed his love for J Dilla without me even prompting him. Also, there was some club whose name I can't remember but was accessed by a tiny elevator, whose hipster attendant had a cooler with mini bottles of Jaeger and a "palinka," (pronounced PAL-inka, not pa-LINK-a, like the Russian speaker in me wanted to), a local specialty that just refers basically to a fruit-based liquor, and can be any flavor. This crazy skinny bottle with a gothic type-face was cherry flavor, and of course I had to buy one for about 500 forints (around $2.50). Once the elevator arrived on the appropriate (3rd? 4th) floor, it opened to reveal a Mad Max-y scene of red-lit corrodores filled with hipsters and junky chairs, eventually leading to a steamy room blasting dancehall rhythms complete with dreadlocked MC. Up a clanky metal staircase to the gargantuan roof and views of the city. Then there was Szimpla, again, another place I would never have noticed from the street, just an entrance into a non-descript looking old building, which suddenly opens up to a huge, tree-filled courtyard, strung with lights, surrounded by two or three stories of glowing bars, and complete with a disembowled Trabant in the middle. Insane.

Anyhoo, finally I had to say goodbye to the beautiful, disconnected apartment, and grab the new RailJet train to Munich via Vienna. The train is billed kind of as a "bullet" although it only reaches its top speed of 200kph (about 125mph) once it gets into Austria. First class ticket for the nearly 7-hour ride was 59 euros, though, so you can't go wrong.

In Munich it was right to the club for Bootie Munich last night, where I did my video set via laptop to another enthusiastic crowd, complete with some former San Franciscans, one of whom confessed to hating mashups at first but eventually coming around to being a fan. Sound issues at the venue meant I wasn't totally happy with the set, but the video worked fine, so hopefully people enjoyed themselves.

Crap picture of the crowd at Bootie Munich

One of the venue guys had arranged to get me a guest slot at one of the many open-air music stages at Munich "Christopher Street Day," their big gay pride celebration set for Saturday (er, today), and I wasn't sure what to expect -- SF's gay pride has a bunch of different stages, some of which are just a few kids in a tent, and others are massive dance arenas. This turned out to be the latter, a huge plaza with a raised DJ platform, so I jumped up and did a goofy set veering between 80s-y themes remixes and mashups, some of my more electro-y new items, that Laidback Luke mix of Daft Punk's "One More Time," Cut Copy's "Hearts on Fire," stuff like that. Tons of fun although as I said on Facebook, I was pushing it a bit far with the MIA remix -- the stage had been playing genero-gay-house, like that "You're Free To Do what You Want to Do" song that just makes my brain ache with its self-helpy, saccharine emptiness. But that's what the gays like. I did play that new David Guetta thing to make up for my edgier stuff. Here's me:

The club promoter who had helped organize the stage was pleased enough to ask me to come by and "maybe spin" tonight at one of their big after parties, but after a few beers and snacks around town, I decided his vague proposition to "just come to the club and come find him and then they'll figure it out" seemed like it might turn out to be a total mess, especially since I would have been by myself and my German is quite bare-bones at this point. Not-on-list, can't-find-dude, no-open-slots, other-DJ-mad, yada yada, and me not able to understand any of that, with 30 million drunk Germans all pushing and shoving... sorry Sugar, I just wasn't up for it. But danke!

And of course danke to Alex and Frank, Bootie Munich promoters, and their housemate Julia, who were generous enough to allow me to take over their living room for a couple days.

Monday: France and Francofolies! Will I successfully pass myself off as a local at the French-centric festival? Stay tuned...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Budapest: Dumbfoundingly Beautiful and Kind of Creepy

It couldn't have been a more perfect drive into Budapest on Sunday evening with the always-friendly DJ Pozsi -- the sunny skies gave way to rain clouds, and as we approached the outskirts of Budapest, a rainbow appeared in the distance in the direction of the city. Entering from the southwest on the main highway, you come upon the city suddenly, with the suburban malls and car dealers giving way suddenly to old buildings, and then you're crossing the Danube. The view to the north from the bridge was just stupefying, unlike anything I've ever seen -- the small rainstorm had just passed and the sun was shining orange-gray from under dark clouds, backlighting the hills of Buda, the castle and crazy statue on top of this almost-mountain right next to the river. The bright, angular light threw the city itself into a weird darkness, and add the gothic architecture and suddenly you have something from a vampire movie.

Pozsi is putting me up at his just-finished vacation rental apartment, and we walk into the building, and my jaw drops even further -- the building is out of The Hunger, with huge archways surrounding a tall central courtyard and an old iron cage style elevator. The apartment itself is done up ultra-modern style, and couldn't be more awesome except it's not quite finished and so doesn't have internet, TV, radio, or hot water. :)

I walked up to the chain bridge after the sun se, and still just can't even believe this city. It's stunningly beautiful, and not in that tourist-postcard way Paris can be sometimes: gritty and sometimes dirty, with abandoned buildings and stuff, so "beautiful" really isn't even the word. Like something out of a movie, and the weirdly creepy gothic factor totally works in its favor. Amazing.

Now unfortunately instead of sightseeing or getting relief from the sweltering heat at one of the many public baths, I have to go try and buy a new laptop battery since mine took this opportunity to up and die for good, which makes sense because I'm in fucking Hungary so of course this isn't going to be difficult at all, I'm fluent in the language and know where all the technology stores are. DARRRRRRR

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Hungary Stays Up All Night (Update: Now with Photos!)

Well, at least the 20 (?) thousand or so people who attended the VOLT festival here in Sopron. I guess I should have expected the late late nights, but it's understandable that I would be lulled into an old-dude-friendly "lights out at midnight" festival schedule by Coachella, which famously must pay a $1,000 fine, I think, for every minute they create retiree-disturbing sound after the clock strikes twelve. VOLT, being kind of out at a campground at the edge of this small city, is I guess more like Bonnaroo, which a) features mostly on-site camping and b) goes til the wee hours. Last night, Saturday, the final night of the festival, was no exception, and fittingly capped off a progressively-more-bonkers week with a couple super crazy sets. First off, back in our T-Mobile branded terrace room thing, I'm to get things going at midnight, but unfortunately the 10-12 guy is possibly the most aggressively listener-unfriendly DJ on the planet; not bad, necessarily, if you like shuddering, shrieking techno in impossible-to-follow time signatures or put-the-drill-in-drill-'n'-bass played at absolutely ear-splitting volumes. By the end of his set there were a few scattered casualties lying on couches at the edges of the terrace and one blissed-out girl still grooving away, so I had a bit of a challenge building a dancefloor. Now, I don't mean to big myself up, especially considering I had the bonus of Saturday's headliner Marilyn Manson finishing his set right at 12:30 (and the crowds dispersing to our still-bouncing side stages), but even by then I had managed to get a pretty packed floor going, something I think I should really get a fucking award for, although granted I was playin' the hits.

Amusingly, another group of DJs had (apparently, from what I understood, "inspired" by our mashup-themed room) created a "Bootleg Bar" just around the corner from our zone, and while they seemed to mostly play breaks remixes of familiar tunes, I have to admit I was pretty jealous of their setup which had a much better lighting rig (although our sound system showed theirs up by the time it got retuned on Thursday). It was also more open to the nearby path and just generally had a more solid crowd. (Especially when our room was playing Aphex Twin b-sides). And just like that, Saturday night I find out that the guys over there are big fans of my work and want me to do a guest set. I get Simon Idoll sorted out in the terrace after a few false starts and skedaddle over to their stage where I proceed to do a Party Ben power jams set, which goes well but not just ridiculously well, I mean I kind of lost the hands-in-the-air energy during a few of my own admittedly self-indulgent little electro forays. But first of all, I felt a little like acknowledging my homeland, since it was July 4th, so I opened with a short edit of Jimi Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock. I don't think anyone got it. But my two new Hungarian mixes went down a storm: first up, I've done a kind of electro mix of Hungarian metal combo Omega's '80s euro-smash, "Girl With the Pearl's Hair," a power ballad whose la-la-la-la chorus even a few Americans might recognize. My mix just basically plays the chorus and then loops the final note for a big buildup into a stomping techno beat lifted from Jean Elan's "Killer," which is just massive on a big soundsystem like that. Second, perhaps using my DJ ESP to anticipate the utter dominance of breaks and drum 'n' bass at the festival, I did a jungly mix of Belga's "Egy Het Ka." The band are kind of the Hungarian Beastie Boys-slash-Bloodhound Gang, and the track I picked has a loping reggae beat that fit perfectly over the good old Urban Takeover jump-up mix of Fatboy Slim's "Rockafella Skank." What I didn't realize is that its lyrics are also, apparently, utterly filthy, with a chorus that refers repeatedly to fellatio (my fellow DJ informed me). But, you know, bonus! So wrapping up my set around 3am with that little number (photo at like 3:10am above) turned out very well.

At this point as well I'm kind of drunk, partially because I figured out these weird ball things made by some local alcohol producer. All week people would give me these goofy little plastic balls, about the size of a golf ball and branded with the company's logo, and I would just toss them, thinking they were dumb promotional toys or something. Well, no, it turns out, if you unscrew it, it opens up to reveal a deliciously fruity alcoholic shot of some sort. One of the other DJs gave me one as I started my set and when I was like "what the hell is this thing," he demonstrated, and then once I'm seen up there on stage drinking the thing people are of course all like, "give Party Ben more balls." And then what am I supposed to do, offend their country by not drinking them?

A big giddy after all that, I wander over to another side stage where Noisia and MC ID are doing a much more melodic, friendly style of drum 'n' bass, and I dance around with the crowd for a while. Then I headed back to our good old terrace which wrapped up, again, around 5am, with the sun bright in the sky.

At about 5:10am, I'm waiting for the car to the hotel in a bit of a daze, standing out in the path a ways away from the Bootleg Bar, which still has a good crowd going, amazingly enough, to more drum 'n' bass. I see that it's the DJ who introduced me on the decks, and take a quick picture (see above). A second later and he spots me standing out there and gets on the mic, and starts shouting stuff. I hear a few "Party Ben's" and then a bunch of Hungarian and the whole crowd turns to look at what the hell he's talking about. "Party Ben, you arrrre my DJ brrrotherrr!" he shouts. The crowd is baffled, and I give a bit of an "I'm not worthy" bow, and mercifully, he's done. But, funny!

Anyway, I'd just like to speak to any of my DJ friends out there reading this, thinking, "who is Party Ben to deserve to go to this random country and DJ." Some of you have even come out and said it, like Australian mashupper Dsico who posted "gee, 4 days at VOLT, how did you manage that?" on GYBO, like I somehow tricked the festival into booking me. How do you fucking think I managed it? Maybe they fucking asked? And maybe when I said "could I please play two or three nights so I can go do Bootie Paris" they said, "no, we want you every night"? Maybe that? Whatever. But yes, okay, whether or not you’re an insensitive Australian dingo-face, I get you, I don't exactly have Top 10 hits or anything, and sure, there are many other deserving mashup producers, DJs, and supermodels out there who could also have been booked, for sure. Yes. However, I would just like to say that this was not all fun and games; the festival, especially the first day, was a total clusterfuck, organization-wise, and since I was pretty much at the bottom of the bill I was last priority for the organizers, who had forgotten to schedule things like, say, a car to get me from the festival to the hotel and back, and then, say, after two hours of waiting for a car, finally plop me into one, and then the driver turns to me and says something in Hungarian that I assume means "where are we going," and no-one's told me the name or location of the hotel, and he doesn't speak English, so I try to make clear to him I don't know where I'm going in a pastiche of German and hand gestures, and he gives me this look like "fucking Americans think they own me and I am biding my time before I can kill you all," and then we have to go chase down the organizers who have, of course, disappeared. That kind of shit. Also, with the music around the festival and what the crowds seemed to enjoy a bit off from what I expected, I spent hours each day reworking my set and remixing some of my tracks. So, what I'm trying to say is that, yes, I'm totally not famous enough to get booked at a big festival like this, and clearly it was some sort of mistake, but this was a goddamned fucking battle, and I battled, and I labored, and I endured, and I totally earned the great crowds and hugely fun sets I had the last three days, through sheer blood sweat and tears. The last thing I felt was "entitled" to the gigs, so I worked my ass off, and was rewarded. Anyone else out there willing to do the same would, I'm sure, have been as well.

Ahem. So, yes, I'm off to Budapest in a few minutes, which I'm looking forward to very much – this Hunguest (huh huh huh) hotel is basically in the forest at the edge of town and there aren't any things like stores or whatever anywhere nearby, and I have like 18 cents left in Hungarian forints right now and I'm so hungry I'm about to die. Will post pictures when I'm back in civilization…

Saturday, July 4, 2009

This Picture...

...was taken at 3:45am, er, this morning, nearly 4 hours after I started DJing in the newly re-engineered "T-mobile terrace." Holy Hungarian 4-hour mega-marathon DJ sets. Tons of fun, and thanks sound guys for helping out!

My cohort DJ Poszi took over with some crazy breaks and drum 'n' bass (see?!) at about 4 and I took a quick walk around for some fresh air. A few doors down at the more "mainstream" dance room, the DJ is playing Boney M's "Rasputin," so I had a little shimmy with the kids. Then I went back and tag-teamed with Poszi until, er, about 5? See, these festivals, they aren't like Coachella over here, and when we shut our room down and got a ride to our respective hotels, in the full bright morning light, the party was still going strong. Go, Hungary.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Question: When is MTV not MTV?

Answer: when the "M" stands for "Magyarország," the Hungarian word for Hungary. That's right, the TV station that was interviewing me when I arrived at the VOLT Festival here in Sopron wasn't "Hungarian MTV," like I thought, although I think the miscommunication is understandable since that's how they referred to it in their initial e-mail, and a youthful hipster such as myself would obviously interpret that to mean the local offshoot of Music Television. But no, this is, literally, Hungary TV, one of the four or five Hungarian channels on my TV here at the hotel, and a national broadcaster of some note. Neat. Apparently the interview already aired last night, so if you were watching, I hope they didn't edit me to look stupider, since that always happens to me, but in the interest of clarity, here's basically how it went:

Interviewer: So, Party Ben, what makes you so brave to take music and change it?

Me: … Brave? Er… well… um… I wouldn't really say "brave," I would say, "easily bored," I guess? It's more like a disease, I can't stop changing music.

I've heard you're making some Hungarian mashups to play?

Me: Yes, I'm working on mixes of Omega, Belga and Beatrice [the final two didn't turn out so well, more on that later].

You stay up late every night DJing and it's of course a difficult lifestyle. How do you stay looking so young? [I shit you not]

Me: [Collapsing into hysterics] What? Seriously? Oh, stop, just stop. [Desperately thinking of something to say] Uhhh, I guess since I live in California, and we all eat our vegetables? [Realizing that was dumb.] Also I have a deal with the devil. [Realizing I'm digging myself in deeper, shutting up]

Interviewer: Thank you Party Ben!

So, as you can imagine, there's been some hilarity here in Hungary ("Hungilatiry"?) but things are basically going alright. First I should mention the brief visit to Vienna (Sopron is just over the border from Austria, and Vienna, about an hour's drive, was the meeting point for most artists on the bill). Mashup connoisseurs will remember that Vienna (or at least its outskirts) is home to DJ Schmolli, and he braved rush hour traffic to meet me at my hotel downtown and then heroically whisked me around the city to see as much stuff as possible. I finally got my TV tower fix in, and then we also hit up the old Vienna carnival, and by "old" I mean like "older than America," whose giant ferris wheel was featured in The Third Man, film buffs.

But my stay in Vienna was to be all too brief as I had to rush and meet the car that would take us over the border into Sopron. Also coming along in my van from Vienna: Delinquent Habits, a rough-and-tumble LA hip-hop combo whose first question to the VOLT representative when we got in the van was "Hey, you know where we can score some weed?" The VOLT guy ("Zoltan"!!!) said he thought so. After a beat, I piped up: "And I'd like a Red Bull please." Everybody thought I was very funny.

VOLT booked me to play all four nights of the Wednesday to Saturday festival, and so inevitably there were some first-night technical issues: the room they had us set up in was supposed to magically transform from a couch-filled chill-out lounge during the day to a thumping club at night, but of course, come night time, there's no one to actually, say, move any couches or anything. Plus the sound had been set up for the local radio station, also ensconced in the same place, and was weirdly compressed and quiet in the actual room. So, after a first-night fail, they got their act together, admirably (thanks by the way to DJ Poszi for helping out with that) and moved me to a DJ booth sort of straddling the VIP area and a general-public bar/dance tent thing, directly opposite the main stage, and scheduled me to go on right after the headliners. On Thursday night, amusingly enough, that was none other than Limp Bizkit. I was dreading their set, which I kind of had to sit through in anticipation of their who-knows-when ending, but in all honesty it turned out to not actually be that bad, just repetitive, since every song is kind of in the same key and stuff. For his between song banter, however, Fred Durst sank to hilariously idiotic, they-can't-really-understand-me-so-I-won't-even-try-to-make-sense lazy platitudes: "the feeling we have to play for you, you give us that feeling, so thank you, we are happy, to get that from you" kind of junk. Which was pretty awesome.

Then I got to play some tunes and stuff, which went pretty well, I kind of did a mix of mainstream rock/hip-hoppy kind of stuff to appeal to the Bizkiters and then more of my patented electro nuttiness. Fun times. I do want to point out one totally weird but kind of great think I've noticed here at the festival: there are about 5 or 6 various dance tents/rooms/platforms of varying sizes, and each of them, every single time I've walked by, has been playing breaks, or maybe drum 'n' bass. Every time. All breaks. It's crazy. Some of you may know I'm a big fan of the breakbeat tunes and in fact my DJ incarnation just before my mashuppy pseudo-fame was in the "nu skool" breaks genre. But correct me if I'm wrong, at least in California it seems like that scene has totally died out, except for some Burning Man types, and even they have mostly moved on to dubstep. I feel a little awkward since my current work is very much in the 4/4, bassline-centric electro-house zone. Anyway, whatever, I am what I am, but I did pull out that old breaks mix of the Gorillaz which got some cheers last night.

By the way, a torrential downpour in the evening meant that the entire festival was one giant sloppy mud pit, making me pine a bit for the dry roasting heat of Coachella, and also giving me that sinking feeling you can only get when you've got one pair of pants for 2 months and they're getting covered with brown slime. But hey, it's a rite of passage, right?

Hungary itself I haven't seen much of, except for a bit of wandering around the town center of Sopron. The city has about 50,000 people so the VOLT festival with its equivalent attendance is a big thing here, and the charming little restaurant I ate at for lunch had a "special VOLT menu": giant local Soproni beer, funky meatball soup, chicken cordon bleu with the ubiquitous fries, 2000 forints, or about $11. Obviously I don't speak more than the most basic Hungarian, and people don't even seem to understand me when I try out the most simple words like "Köszönöm" ("thank you"). My English fumbling and goofy sunglasses were likely what led to my waitress at the aforementioned restaurant asking for my autograph in scrambled, halting English that took me about 5 minutes to figure out what exactly she wanted.

Of course, a crazy new language does make for chuckles, and first among them, the name of my hotel:

Yes, that says "Hunguest." Joke 1: How do you think they knew? Joke 2: Glad I wasn't booked at the Micropenis Lodge down the street. Joke 3: I suddenly look at Super 8 and Motel 6 in a whole new light. Et cetera, tip your waitress.

Also, does anybody need any throat lozenges? Actually, I don't mean "anybody," I mean…

Oh boy. You know, I imagine Bill O'Reilly could spin this as reverse discrimination somehow.

Two more days of VOLTing around then I'm off to Budapest for gigs at the exciting-looking outdoor Zold Pardon, then off to Munich to hang with the craziest dudes this side of Stuttgart. Internet service comes in 30 minute, 300-forint chunks here at the Hunguest, and only in the lobby, so I've had to type this in Word and then upload it as fast as I can, and I haven't been able to stay on top of the e-mail or blogging as much as I'd like, but hopefully I'll be back on top of things by Monday.