- Photo: Courtesy Jae Ruberto
- DJs without borders: Caulen Kress, Pete Spynda, Justin Hopper, from left.
To promote Pandemic's third anniversary, and to introduce the dance night's wildly diverse global palette to newcomers, DJ Pete Spynda has made a free mix-CD: The garish package functions as a sort of multimedia show flyer and, if you attend, a souvenir of your sonic travels. But like the blank spaces on old maps, Spynda's cryptic mix notes suggest vast, largely uncharted musical territories around the globe. Alongside a cut from the fairly well-known Balkan Beat Box, there are tracks labeled "I think Serbian or Russian," "Unknown track Moroccan hip hop" and "Brazilian track info unknown."
"I really like the term 'bastard ethno-musicologists,'" says Spynda, over a frosty draft with his cohorts at Brillobox, Pandemic's home. Indeed, the night's DJs -- that's Spynda, formerly of Air Guitar Magazine, along with former CP music editor Justin Hopper and Centipede Eest's Caulen Kress -- are too busy mining music from this Google Earth to get too prissy and pedantic. Baile funk, Balkan beats, bhangra, whatever -- can you dance to it?
When the night first started, the goal was to play exciting music from all over the world, but not the separate, pasteurized genre known as "world music." As Hopper explains it, world music is "only ever listened to by people who are into 'world music.' And meanwhile, there's dudes in Brazil -- and Bosnia and Serbia, and Bulgaria and Japan and Thailand -- making music that people in those countries actually consume as fans."
Spynda offers a bootleg of "weird Brazilian bass" as an example of what he might spin. "It's only been played in the streets of Brazil, and someone made a copy of it and it got posted on a blog," he says. "Or an Albanian DJ who likes to add really cheesy samples to traditional Albanian music. Playing that kind of stuff, it's actually cool, dirty, fun to dance to -- and a lot of times, ridiculous."
In the early days, keeping the music easily danceable -- and audiences coming back for more -- was important. And if you've ever braved the sweaty bodies on the floor at Pandemic, you'll know that it often takes the dancers a little time to feel out the exotic beats, many of which stray far from Western pop's 4/4 rhythms. Lately, Kress says they've become more adventurous in their selections. "Now, we're not afraid to play psych music, or weird rock music, stuff like that," he says. And "as far as regions go, we're all over the place."
With such challenging fare, Pandemic's demonstrated staying power is remarkable -- especially for three guys who don't use traditional DJ techniques.
Spynda had never DJ'd before starting Pandemic, and freely cops to his lack of technical know-how. He downloads much of his music from blogs -- he cites a particularly valuable blog hosted by DJ/Rupture -- often the only place the rarer stuff is available. Kress prefers playing music that he actually owns, and picks up unusual music on his travels, but even he doesn't consider himself really a DJ. While Hopper indulges his obsession with collectible vinyl by spinning Northern Soul with Soulcialism and other nights, for Pandemic, "it's really Google-based DJing," he says. In particular, he uses a program that rips mp3s from videos he digs up on YouTube.
"Despite the fact that it's mp3s and burned CDs, and cassette tapes from taxi drivers, it's actually the primal sort of DJ requirement ... go find shit," says Hopper. "Maybe it's Jay-Z with Punjabi MC and it's a Top-10 hit, practically. But maybe it's some jagoff in his basement in Bulgaria."
And despite Pandemic's multi-genre, multi-ethnic mélange, it may also offer something uniquely local. "It's a function of this bizarre Pittsburgh nightlife scene," says Hopper. "There's enthusiasm, and creativity and excitement pouring out of everybody's ears and veins and everything, but at the same time, there's not enough people that you could actually have a baile funk night."
While plenty of cities offer Balkan music, or baile, cumbia or bhangra, they tend to be highly specialized nights, and lack the cross-genre adventure chaos of Pandemic, a chaos that the three DJs sometimes think of as a genre all its own. For now, apart from a party that's recently sprung up in London, it may be a Pittsburgh genre. "I honestly don't know that you could find a night like this in New York City," Hopper says. "We're actually ahead of this curve."
But with a little cross-pollination through spinning on nights in other cities, and hosting guests like NYC's DJ Joro-Boro, Gypsy Sound System and others, they're hoping to spread their gospel of DJs without borders.
"I always had this dream of there being a day when people in other cities were starting Pandemic nights, where you don't even name the kind of music you play, you just play 'pandemic music,'" says Hopper. "That's the dream goal -- creating a genre."
Pandemic Three-Year Anniversary, featuring DJs Pete, Juddy and Caulen with special guests. 9 p.m. Fri., Dec. 5. Brillobox, 4101 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $4. 412-621-4900