Photos by Jules Kueffer
I’m not just being a fanboy here: The number of DJ’s with as much cred as A-Trak can be counted with one finger. Even during a Monday night at the somewhat off-the-path Gothic Theatre in Englewood, he continued to keep it real while a packed and rowdy venue returned all the love that was given to them.
It’s hard to talk about A-Trak without beginning with the guy’s resume. It really says everything necessary — starting at the top, you have to mention that Kanye West has trusted him as a touring DJ for years, and even gave his two cents on the design for this tour’s stage decor. A-Trak also runs the prolific dance label Fool’s Gold Records and commands a small army of dance music celebrities. And last but not least, he won a DMC Championship (the premiere international turntable competition) at a mere 15 years old.
You’re looking for a DJ, you say? It doesn’t get much better than that. Most people only know of A-Trak as one half of disco revivalists Duck Sauce and their irritatingly uplifting track “Barbara Streisand,” but that demonstratively small chunk of talent really pales in comparison to what is possible when A-Trak steps behind his golden turntables (no, really, they are very shiny and very gold).
If you take a closer look, they also have oversized knobs labeled in mysterious onomatopoeia: “bounce,” “bump,” “shake,” “boom,” and “brapp.” Who knows what they actually do. It’s one of the most telling details of the performance: you have an extraordinary talent who refuses to take things too seriously. That might have been obvious by the giant flashing “A” he constructed around himself, but given that it was made of wood and looked more like glowing postmodern furniture than typical DJ stage props, it too was a bit of ridiculousness tinted with class.
Isn’t that the recipe for any good party? The music itself was a strict but fluid regiment of disco house, electro ear-splitters and low-end hip-hop bangers, taken either from A-Trak’s list of remixes or other samples, known and unknown. He’s a talented producer, but the real reason to see him is to catch it all mixed together with turntable alchemy. Even toward the end of his two-hour set, he set songs apart with furious chops and rhythmic juggles.
On-point beat juggling routines are the only way analog DJ controllers can compete with laptops, which make automatic song cues and effortless tempo matching so easy it has become widely forgotten there was any other way. It’s complimentary as well as sad to consider that most of the audience was too busy dancing to see A-Trak’s hands flying from one turntable to the other when they weren’t occupied by the usual vinyl chores, maybe thinking he actually was on a computerized metronome. Vinyl control gives a DJ the flexibility of performing with a real instrument. The rhythm isn’t digitally stiff by virtue and isn’t sloppy when performed with skill; there’s just the right amount of rhythmic tension when you drop a beat, and the catharsis from the crowd is that much more meaningful when that sound is released directly from the fingers of the DJ onstage.
It’s refreshing to see someone is still interested in doing it. Although you’d be stupid to quit anything in which you won you a world championship, credit is due to A-Trak (as well as the unrestrained opener The Gaslamp Killer) some props for giving vinyl control a reason to exist in today’s world. When you hone a craft like this, it builds far more of a meaningful community than press-play DJing ever will. Maybe you don’t think disco needs a revival, or maybe you can’t wait for iPads to replace everything, but no one should ever say they didn’t see A-Trak perform for a lack of skill.
Check out P.J. Nutting interviewing The Gaslamp Killer: