Once a fortnight for the past five years, London Calling's DJ Clockwork and DJ Nick O have entertained the PBR swilling, dance partying St. Louis public with their high-octane video sets. That kind of longevity is damn near unheard of in the highly capricious hipster community, and it's a testament to the guys' ability to adapt to the ever-changing tide of what's considered cool--be it the venue, the fashion, or, most importantly, the music.
Nick O and Clockwork (Nick Openlander and Doug Curtis, respectively) are known for bringing in big name guest stars like Designer Drugs, Depressed Buttons and Class Actress. This year, they took home the trophy for Best Party in our own 2011 Music Awards, and tomorrow night, they're celebrating their five year anniversary at The Gramophone with Jay Fay and Jaccuzzihidive from Las Vegas. We spoke with Curtis to get the lowdown on the past, the party, and whether or now we can look forward to another 5 years of London Calling.
Diana Benanti: How does it feel, five years later?
Doug Curtis: It's good, yeah, we're definitely excited about Saturday. It's a pretty big occasion for us.
How has the party changed in the past five years?
I don't think it's changed that much. Obviously the space has changed, people kind of get older and don't go out as much, I think by and large we've really just tried to keep it the same; not too pretentious, definitely laid back and fun. I definitely feel that it's the same party it was five years ago, thankfully.
And for those who don't remember, where has the nomadic party been in the past five years?
It started at Upstairs Lounge in '06, and we left there in '08. Then we were at the Stable Loft, for a short four months, we were at the Halo Bar for about six months, and then Shock City Studios for about four months, and we've had a run of good luck at the Gramophone for about a year and a half now.
Not to chose favorites, but what was your favorite venue?
I really think the high watermark was when we were at the Stable. More than anything else it was kind of really a special time, it just seemed like a lot of things were coalescing and happening. At the same time I'm most happy with being at the Gramophone, because we're able to do what we want to do, which is incorporate live bands with our party and bring in up-and-coming artists, whether they're DJs or bands. We're kind of uninhibited, whereas at the Stable it was a great venue and really cool and we had a lot of people there, but we did bands there and it was really hard. We had to pull in our own P.A. and sound guy. It wasn't set up for live concerts. I love the Gramophone for that reason. I love the ownership there, it makes life a lot easier when you have everybody moving towards the same direction, and I think creatively we're able to do a lot there, which is fantastic.
If I had to pick a favorite era, it would probably be the Stable, but it also seemed like it was super dramatic back then.
I think it was just the time or something.
We were only there for four months, so it was kind of like, for that four months it was really epic. I honestly felt like it was a little unsustainable. I think we had some really good parties there, but it's such a big space, and filling that space consistently was definitely a challenge as a promoter. We had to continually, totally up the ante with what we were doing, it would have been a hard place. If you have 150 people there it feels comfortable, but any less than that and it felt empty -- that's a big challenge. I think the recession has definitely affected people's discretionary spending right now. If we're bringing in an act, we try not to do any show over $10. We're taking losses on shows, to make sure the party is affordable for people. To price it out of the water would eliminate a huge audience. Let's be honest, our audience is service industry people who don't have a whole lot of money; we're really sensitive to that. We hate having to do a cover, but it's kind of essential. Our crowd knows that, and we try keep it at that $5-6 range. It seems like more and more people are thinking that $10 is an acceptable cover, and it's like, no, that won't fly here.
Yeah, I mean, three or four years ago we could do that. Gas prices are high and that affects every body. People have less money to go out and blow on the weekend, and that affects us. We have to be more creative with what we do and try to get as much value for the buck.
Is there one song that you can think of that you've played at every London Calling for the past five years?
No, definitely not. But there is one song that's kind of our joke song. It's a great song, but when we were down at South by Southwest two years ago, the running joke was every DJ -- whether it was Le Castle Vania or Treasure Fingers, all the big DJs got up and played the A Trak/Yeah Yeah Yeahs "Heads Will Roll" remix. For a while that song was constantly played and it was our joke song; we still play it quite a bit at London Calling. It's a great remix, it's a great song, but it's been done to death. [laughs]
I was thinking "Heartbeats" by the Knife. I think that's the only song that it is physically impossible to get sick of. I'm always happy to hear that song.
[laughs] Yeah, that would be another one. I think "Heartbeats" is probably played pretty close to every party. That song is so great no one ever really gets tired of it. I agree, I absolutely love that song. [laughs] That's awesome.
Have you seen Jaccuzzihidive before?
Yeah, they played at London Calling in July. We found out about them at SXSW this year. We were doing the lose control party at South by, and they came up and were like, 'you have to check out our band.' They were the best band that we've had play at London Calling, the crowd was totally into it. We were like, "we have our five year anniversary in August," and they made another mini-tour for August just because they wanted to play the anniversary. They had so much fun in St. Louis. People were so receptive, and they couldn't believe that people were dancing to their set because apparently in Las Vegas nobody dances at their shows. They were like, "These people don't even know our music and they're totally rocking out." It was pretty cool, so they're really excited about coming back and playing St. Louis. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the opposite, people are like, "Oh there's nobody at our show, St. Louis sucks, we never want to play there again." It's nice to hear [the opposite].
Can you pick a favorite appearance at London Calling?
When we brought in Designer Drugs that was a really big show, and it was awesome. It was the first time they'd been to St. Louis. Another favorite was when we brought out Class Actress from Brooklyn. They're an amazing band. Elizabeth Harper, the lead singer, her music just totally does it for me; it's just such great music. Yeah, I was really excited about that show, but it's so hard to pick out individual parties, there have been so many great ones over the years. But those two I really enjoyed.
How did the audience react to Jay Fay last time he played?
He's awesome. He's played once so far, and I can't say enough good things about him. His music.. he's a phenom, he really is. His production level... I've got a good friend of mine from K.C., he's into moohmbaton, and he just talks about Jay Fay non stop, about how great he is, and I'm like, 'Yeah I know, he's insane,' and he's only eighteen which is so incredible. When he played, the crowd was just absolutely, totally into it. As great of a DJ as he is, he's an even better guy. He's just so laid back and humble and so much fun to party with. He's truly a breath of fresh air for the city, it's so nice to have someone like him putting electronic music on the map for St. Louis. I don't want to just sound like I'm just gushing about him, but I really think he's great.
When I interviewed him he was just seventeen and I was blown away by how mature he is.
He's got such a level head on his shoulders, and I'm really excited about what's going to happen for him. Hopefully we can get him set up with some good shows and bookings throughout the country, we've got a pretty good network of people across the country that we work on parties with, and we'll do whatever we can to help catapult him. But he doesn't even need our help, he's legit on his own.
Hope and dreams for Saturday night?
You know, honestly, I'm already excited, whatever happens is fantastic. I try not to put too much expectations on things like that I can be high strung, and I try not let my expectations run wild. I'm most worried about people coming and having a blast and that they talk about it the next day. Looking forward to the next one; as long as people are having fun and being themselves and there isn't any major drama and attitude. I'd love to see that. Anything beyond that is just gravy I guess.
Do you see yourself doing this five years from now?
Yeah, good question, I'd love to, I absolutely would love to. I guess it'll just [depend] on what I have going on. These are my people. This is exactly what I love. I love the music, I love the people, and I'd be honored to be doing this five years from now. It's about the people. It's so incredible that something like this has been able to continue on for five years in St. Louis. It's a testament to the people and how much they care about the music, their enthusiasm for it. That's what's such a privilege, and I'm totally humbled by it. I'm a truly a servant to what these people want. That, honestly, is worth its weight in gold. I'm so lucky. That's the best way to describe it -- I'm really lucky.