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May 10, 2002
++ Cops Beer Pimp Turf War!
++ I'll tell you right now: anyone who tells you that DJing is all glamour is simply full of it. "Yeah, but it must be a great way to meet girls," says my friend, who clearly hasn't been noticing the glum look on my no-phone-number-havin' face at the end of my sets. Please. The only people coming up to the booth are people making requests, and you don't even want to get me started on that topic. Hell, the requests I've had for "'80s music" alone would fill their own column.
Last Saturday, I was playing my regular Saturday night weekly at a Lower Haight bar. It was 1:30 and, getting ready to sign off, I was winding down with a selection of laid-back soul and R&B Musiq Soulchild, D'Angelo, the new DJ Cam track featuring Cameo when a guy in khakis and a cornflower-blue shirt, a typical new-economy salaryman's uniform, came up to me. "Hey, do you have any James Brown?"
James Brown. It's 1:30, the joint's nearly empty and the energy level's as flat as my hour-old beer. And this guy wants to hear "Hot Pants."
I just look at him.
"You know, some soul?"
Sorry buddy, but this is soul, I tell him, and he skulks away. Reminds me of the house party I played all deep house and techno when a woman came up to request "dance music."
But this is dance music, I told her.
"Well, you know, music we can all dance to," she said.
I'm beginning to think I need to buy that shirt in the window of the Lower Haight's Tweekin Records the one that has "No fucking requests" scrawled across it in bold, angry letters.
++ Everything was shaping up perfectly for last Sunday night. It all started, as so many things do, with an Examiner headline. You might have seen it yourself, some months ago: Cops Fear Pimp Turf War! splashed across the front page of the San Francisco tabloid, marking a possible new low even for that rapidly decaying pile of pulp. Not a month ago the headline came up in conversation among a group of friends. "That'd be a great name for a weekly," I said, and my friend Anna jumped on it. "Let's do it!" That's the great thing about DJing with little capital beyond a box of records and a silly name, you too can have your own startup. We needed a venue, of course, but in a stroke of fate, an opportunity jumped in our laps, and within a week Anna and I were meeting with the owner of a Mission bar, setting out the terms for our take and, perhaps more crucially, the dollar drinks we were entitled to all night long.
Sunday, May 5 (Cinco de Mayo, in case you gringos forgot) was to be our inaugural session, and we were in high spirits. We'd crafted a cheeky email, complete with requisite tagline "Where the rough come to tumble" and sent it out (I believe "spammed" is the less generous verb) to several hundred of our closest friends, acquaintances and rivals. We had promises to represent from every corner of the scene. We knew the Mission would be crawling with Cinco de Mayo revelers. Success was ours! We knew who was going to win this turf war.
++ Cut to Sunday. We get to the bar a little before 9:00 p.m., only to find two dreadlocked granola-ravers fiddling with the turntables; waves of herbal odor waft over us as they turn our way. The specter of a DJ turf war flashes through my mind, but they quickly back down. After all, we're playing hip-hop, and in the rock/paper/scissors of electronic music, hip-hop crushes hippie trance every time.
We dispatch them in a puff of patchouli and quickly discover the cause of their fiddling: there's no sound coming out of the left turntable. "Oh, yeah, that turntable's a little janky," says the bartender nonchalantly. "A little janky"? Is this what the horse trainer tells the jockey, minutes before the race begins? "Oh, yeah, Fleetfooted's left hind leg's a little janky... you might want to use the other three instead."
We busy ourselves with fiddling, and all the laws of electronic audio quickly crumple into a pile of tangled cords and total illogic. There's no volume coming out of the left deck, but the mixer's fine. No, wait. The left turntable's fine, but the mixer goes silent. OK, the mixer's working but the house speakers are dead.
After 30 minutes or so, I give in and cab it back to my house, grab my mixer and a turntable for good measure, and whip back to the bar. $11, tip included: most likely about half of what I'll make tonight. Anna's leaning against the bar, laughing. She hands me the scrap of newsprint she's just torn out of the Guardian it's the ad for our gig. A historic document! One for the files!
I'm about to propose a toast to our future when she tells me to look closer. Oh. "Cops Beer Pimp Turf War," it says. Cops. Beer. Pimp. Turf. War. OK, I know our name is stupid, but at least it's a sentence.
"Look closer," she says.
Oh, again. "DJ Anna and Bill Sherburne." The ad, I take it, has been phoned in. I know I've been bitching about needing a good DJ alias, but somehow I don't think that "Bill Sherburne" is going to cut it.
++ From there on out, though, our luck improved. Mostly. The "janky" mixer was screwed into the coffin, so the only way around it was to close the coffin and rest the gear on top. Given the bar's unusually tall setup, that put the surface of the records somewhere about armpit level. You know how some rockers used to sling their basses so they were fingering the strings along the latitude of their collarbones? And it looked all badass? DJing in your armpits doesn't look badass in the slightest. And poor Anna, a few inches shorter than I am, spent most of the night on tiptoes, trying to keep her balance as she scratched. Wick, wick, wack.
Aside from sore calves, though, it was gravy after that. We played half-hour sets of classic hip-hop and deep downtempo, and I indulged my ever-growing penchant for slow jams. Neither of us had thought to bring much in the way of Cinco de Mayo music, but no one complained. Then at the end of the night, for my last record, I threw on an old favorite: St. Germain's dusky blue "Sure Thing," with a John Lee Hooker sample that never fails to get heads nodding.
A minute before the track was done, a guy came up to me. Oh no, I thought: not a request. "What track is that?" he said. I relaxed. "It's bothering me." I tensed up again this, this, affront, this outrage, was more than I needed! "I know it," he continued, "but I can't place it," and he squinted down at the spinning label. I relaxed again, sheepishly this time, and handed him the record sleeve just as the needle hit the runout groove. "Cops Fear Pimp Turf War" had survived its first session, and DJ Bill was signing off.