Dan Selzer - New Mix and a personal interview on DJing, Post Punk, Listening parties and more
by Herb Essntls
A year ago
This week we are proud to introduce Dan Selzer. DJ, Graphic Designer and Print producer. Dan resides in Queens and is sharing a lot of his personal views on many music topics below. Thank you Dan, for a great mix and incredibly insightful and deep answers to our questions.
We ask all our Musical Hosts to “Set the mood for NYC”.Describe your headspace while mixing, and the overall tone you planned to offer NYC, right now?
I’ve lived in NYC for many years and grew up in the bridge and tunnel area, so the city has always been part of my DNA. The breadth of sounds and styles here is endless and NY can summon any number of moods, so I went with my gut and tried to have fun with it. I tried to touch on new wave and disco as I often do, a bit of the no wave post-punk funk that used to be my bread and butter and some more out there selections that represent the anxiety and frustrations of this often great city.
We want to learn more about your label, Acute Records. We read that you intended the platform as an opportunity to re-press records and expose artistic potential, care to tell us a bit about it?
Acute Records started at a time when the internet was big enough that people interested in finding information could dig for it, but not so exhaustive that everything was totally overexposed. My sole claim to fame is being the kid who found an email address for one of the Desperate Bicycles. At the time I was collecting a lot of post-punk/no-wave/DIY type records and they were expensive, and I thought most new music (that I was hearing) wasn’t great. I had friends running cool labels finding a lot of the good new bands so I figured I could do a service by reissuing these old records and making them available again. Some of them were valuable, but sometimes they were just forgotten and could use a bit of renewed focus. In 2000 there weren’t that many people mining this era, not even that many reissue labels, but over the years, as interest re-emerged, plenty of other labels joined in the fun. It was always a very time-consuming hobby for me, working with Todd from Carpark Records, and I never managed to take it to the next level.
Eventually I felt like there were enough great labels reissuing (almost) everything I’d have liked to see so I felt it was time to quit around 2016. We weren’t the most prolific label and we had some missteps when it comes to timing, but I think we got some good stuff back out there and turned some people onto some good sounds.
We find that at times, DJs host and mix in pairs. Why do you think that is, and how it relates to Crazy Rhythms, a previous collaboration with Mike Simonetti?
In theory DJing in teams, crews, squads is great. Collaboration is fun and can often be a way for people to challenge and support each other. I think with DJing, especially in the pre-digital days, it was a pain to bring all the gear yourself. Then what would you do for a bathroom break? And what if nobody came to your party? It’s nice to have somebody to talk to. Moral support, combined “followings”, any number of reasons. When Mike and I met we were on similar paths. I had always had one foot in techno/disco/house and the other in post-punk type stuff. He was mostly known for his punk/noise record label but had been doing a post-punk type night and had a background in house and hip hop. Fitz, the promoter who probably more than anybody else gave birth to the Brooklyn rock “scene” of the 2000s as we know it came up to me one day and said in his thick broque “I’m going to do a night with you and Simonetti” and I wasn’t convinced, figured he was just a punk. But we met and hit it off and on paper had a good eclectic sound with similar interests but slightly different takes on them.
I think I thought teams were the way to go. I had been hearing about Optimo, Eric and Thomas were getting traction in NY, and everybody was talking about Hollertronix, whatever that was. I thought we could be a success and we did it for a while but what makes sense on paper doesn’t always work in the real world. We had some pretty fun nights, and plenty of empty gigs. It was just that time, there were good parties for sure, but it wasn’t like people were dancing to Delta 5 and italo-disco every tuesday night across the city. I was kind of a control freak about the dancefloor and what we’d play and I’d piss MIke (or other DJ partners at the time) off and the pairs wouldn’t last. I’ve thrown nights with other people, and as a guest I’ve DJ’d with many local faves many times. Sometimes it’s magic to be excited about what other people are playing and trying to figure out what to play to mix out of somebody else’s record, other times it’s sitting in the back of a booth wondering when it’s your turn to go on again. I’ve always thought maybe the right partner is out there for me, there should be a tinder type app for finding DJ partners. In the end one of my semi-regular partners, Tropical Jeremy, gave me his Saturday night gig at Tandem when he wasn’t in town and I was talking to him about who I should ask to join me and he said “eh, just do it yourself”. It had been a long time since I’d done a 6 hour set by myself, DJing from open to close, but I thought it was a good idea. At times it’s lonely and stressful having all the pressure on yourself, but other times it’s nice to get to take all the credit. It takes some stamina, it helps that I don’t really drink much so I can usually make it the whole time, but I’m old enough and in bad enough shape that it’s hell on the back.
You have a history in Brooklyn - DJing loft parties, and a past residency at Capone’s. What is there to be said about the music community in Brooklyn?
I’m probably the last person who should talk about the Brooklyn music community, but that won’t stop me. I lived in Brooklyn from 1998 or so to 2006 and certainly have a lot of opinions about what happened during that time for better or worse. In 2006 I moved to Queens and stopped going out as much. I still make it out now and again, DJ when I can and check stuff out when I can but in the years since then it’s just gotten crazier. Better and worse. From the outside looking in, there’s a great community, I mean it’s a far cry from when there were a handful of bars or clubs and it was hard to get people to come out dancing to where it grew. There’s so many DJs and so many people making music, I think that’s great. I don’t know that I love all the music or want to hear all the DJs but that’s true of any time. So long as people are making an effort, I support it. I kinda keep up with stuff online, see what the kids are posting about on social media and buy some bandcamp releases. Go down to some event in brooklyn every now and then. Usually run into some of the old guard and get nostalgic. It is a lot of the same people, but also lots of younger people who just can’t even imagine what it was like. But I’m sure any number of people older than me will say the same about me.
How did New York Endless become your name? And how does it relate to music?
It started simply as a reference to Kraftwerk’s Europe Endless, one of my all time favorite songs. Just beautiful. And Kraftwerk repeatedly sing about travel. About highways and railways and to me, dance music has always existed in the car stereo as much as the nightclub. I spent formative college years 93-97 driving back and forth to Oberlin with a tape of Transmat Relics and Techno! The New Dance Sound of Detroit blasting. Near the end of my time in Brooklyn I met my now wife Nicole, who had a car. I was always proud of not needing a car in New York City, that’s one of the true pros of NYC! But I’ll tell you a secret...so long as you know a thing or two about street cleaning rules and when traffic hits, having a car in NYC is GREAT. And when you’re leaving a Brooklyn party at 5 am and driving on the BQE back to Queens with no traffic and the music blasting and you look over to your right and you see industrial Maspetch and the Blade Runner-esque flame coming out of some chimney and you look to the left and see the skyline of the greatest city in the world...it’s inspiring. Beyond Kraftwerk to me, Endless means repetition, which we dig-uh, it means loops and drones and 3am eternal and house music all night long. And New York means disco and no wave, electro-funk and hip-hop, Velvet Underground and Silver Apples, Steve Reich and Philip Glass and so many other formative and inspiring sounds.
You’ve said that you like to play records that get people dancing, what is it about the immediate feedback that’s so important? And how does it affect you that all dance parties are on hold right now?
DJing has always been straight up magic to me. The critics are right, in some ways it’s shockingly easy. Easy to learn and easy to do. You play somebody else’s song. When it’s done you play somebody else’s song (hopefully, you usually don’t play two songs from the same person back to back, unless you’re a really good DJ and have a good reason). But beyond that it can be incredibly difficult, if you pay attention to the crowd, to get things going and keep things interesting. But when it works, it really can feel like the least amount of work for the greatest response. To turn one knob (or move a fader) and hear a room full of people totally lose their shit. Is there anything better than that? When that immediate feedback is positive...it’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt, and I’ve felt it enough to keep coming back for it. I’ve often said I’ll DJ 20 shitty parties for that 1 time that goes well. I know that doesn’t paint a great picture of my skills if those first 20 parties don’t go off but I promise it’s not always my fault. It was a Tuesday night and it was raining and the L train wasn’t working.
Let’s talk about post-punk, and it’s influence on you (as a DJ) What about its time, and genre do you connect with most?
The breaking of musical and genre barriers was the first thing that attracted me to post-punk. The merging of punk aggression and the DIY spirit with art-rock experimentation, pop hooks, funk and disco danceability, all things that speak to me. Outside of a few key “hits” I don’t really play much post-punk as a DJ. When I started DJing in NYC, after a few years of playing mostly disco at friends loft parties, I met Luke from the Rapture at Plant Bar and proposed my first regular weekly night, Transmission, which was mondays for 3 years. Around that time I really thought I could build up a party of people dancing to post-punk funk, on it’s own but more likely mixed with disco and funk and rock. I never really pulled it off. I don’t know that people wanted it. More likely the people who wanted it weren’t the type of people who went out dancing on week nights. I’ve always mixed it in when I could and I think it’s a sensibility that certainly affects how I look at other genres of music.
That kind of post-punk kind of became passé as the kids moved onto other sounds. There’s a big scene in NY born from the Weird Parties which definitely plays some post-punk stuff but it’s a totally different, more gothy context. But as post-punk sort of evolved as a progression from punk, bringing in outside influences like funk and disco and dub in the late 70s/early 80s, that cycle has repeated. During the early 2000s post-punk “revival” there was a lot of talk not just about the early 80s, but about the madchester meets acid house era. That early 2000 revival itself was born from people coming out of post-hardcore bands, much as the original post-punks (mostly) came out of punk.
In the early 2000s, post-punk revival, along with electroclash, helped break down a lot of the barriers that surrounded the house and techno scenes on one side, and “indie-rock” on the other. Not all the music was great, but a lot of kids were dancing for the first time, and a lot of dance acts were stretching their boundaries. While that has passed into history and we’ve entered a post-internet time where all history is accessible as a current influence, and those influences are more digested, there’s still great bands mining those sounds.
You’re also involved in graphic design and owned a printing and letterpress company called Sheffield Product. We often find that our Musical Hosts have other creative endeavors. Why do you think that is?
As somebody who has always loved graphic design and has some technical background in printing, working on music-related projects was always natural. I’m old friends with Morgan Geist from Metro Area/Environ so I got to collaborate on many of his releases over the years. Then other friends of mine with labels, like Kevin from What’s Yr. Rupture? or Todd at Carpark knew I could occasionally be used for some print production. I’ve done design, production and/or printing for a number of other labels over the years, and did all the graphics for everything related to Acute which was great. Working on reissues is kind of like sampling. I wasn’t starting from scratch, I’d have the original releases and artist’s aesthetic to work from and with, but I’d rework the elements to make something new that hopefully fit in with the old. There’s no question that there’s a great deal of crossover...in my years as a production artist in corporate NYC environments I’ve come across so many great musicians and DJs. I think one easy answer is how they both involve technology and arts. Also if it seems like many DJs and producers have other creative endeavors, it’s because it’s hard to make a living with just one! I do think for many creative people though, especially today, it’s hard to focus on just one medium/outlet, when there’s so much accessibility to tools and outlets.
You held a residency at Dazzle Ships, described as “a listening party.” Can you share more about this party - where does “Listening parties” stem from and do you see this being something that grows bigger in the future?
It’s funny that listening parties have become a trend now, with a global emergence of beautiful high-end rooms and fancy cocktails. New York has a special relationship with “listening parties” because for so many years we had to deal with the cabaret license. People weren’t allowed to dance, and that was being enforced during a time when the east village/lower east side exploded with bars with DJ set-ups. My initial impulse was after a few years of playing one party where the crowd was pretty basic (sorry), I felt the urge to stretch out and play weirder stuff. At the time I was regularly DJing with Tropical Jeremy Campbell, and we mostly played disco. Jeremy was getting more into the cosmic scene (he brought Beppe Loda for his first US appearances) and I was missing my weird post-punk dub b-sides and we both loved krautrock so we started Dazzle Ships. It was a bit frustrating because at the time pretty much all of the bars had shitty sound systems, and a listening party where you can barely hear the music is a really depressing thing.
By the time we were slowing down with Dazzle Ships a few places that bucked that trend were opening...and now there’s a lot of great options, but we haven’t done Dazzle Ships in a few years. I do see this growing, assuming we ever properly reopen. People always long for curators and tastemakers. Maybe the bulk of the people in a venue are there to socialize or drink or eat delightful snacks, but there’s always gonna be a core group of people excited to hear new or new to them records and bug the DJ to find out what it is.
Through Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Spotify, etc. there are so many ways to connect with people and find new music. What are your thoughts on the future of exploring music?
I think the biggest news of the last few years is the emergence of Bandcamp, the way they’ve created a simple user friendly site with good ethics is a real boon. One way that these sites are not succeeding as podcasts and youtube are is that they haven’t figured out how to monetize the same way. The music industry has been broken for a very long time and coronavirus has just made clear some of the problems while decimating some of the only income streams. In certain other countries, the arts are supported. I go on Bandcamp or Soundcloud and discover so much great music and think, in what world should somebody this talented even need to have a day job? Forget that, there’s enough money to go around. Spotify and the other streaming services are huge problems obviously and it’s on the services and the labels to figure out how to pay the artists fairly. They can start with their CEO’s salaries. I don’t know what the answers are but these technologies need fixing. Bandcamp is doing it right, but for music fans, people have to get over the stigma of paying for digital downloads.