Before we begin: Happy new year and welcome to 2014! We know you probably got a lot of your energy out on Wednesday and Thursday, but hopefully you've still got a little left, because there's plenty of fun stuff headed your way in the next few days. This time there's some house, a lot of disco, and even a touch of hip-hop turntablism. Read on -- your weekend awaits.
9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3. Free
You don't hear much about turntablism these days. The form that developed from the scratchy tricks of hip-hop DJing has fallen out of favor in the new millennium. A part of that is due to its complexity: The manual techniques of this school of playing take years to master, and an aspiring artist is more likely to choose the vastly easier routes of laptop or hardware performance. This is an unfortunate loss, as to hear a capable turntablist spin is to experience the full potential of DJing as a rhythmic, narrative art form. But just because new spinners aren't flocking to the sound doesn't mean there aren't plenty of people still practicing. One of the greats is Cut Chemist (aka Lucas MacFadden), a veteran whose sets create a bridge between the manual dexterity of the past and the technology of the present.
MacFadden came to widespread acclaim in the '90s as a founding member of L.A. backpacker hip-hop group Jurassic 5. Later, he teamed up with instrumental hip-hop pioneer DJ Shadow to record a series of now classic mixes -- such as "Brainfreeze" and "Product Placement" -- composed entirely on 45 RPM records. These are narratives spun at breakneck speed, twisting through corridors of excruciatingly rare music that is equal parts serious and funny. One minute he might play a bit from "California Soul," Marlena Shaw's brassy ode to '70s soul, and the next track could be a kitschy advertising jingle like 7-Eleven's Herb Alpert-esque "Dance the Slurp," or National Fuel Gas' farty '80s rap cut "Cookin' With Gas."
This approach is still part of his current routine, a consequence of his insistence on music over medium. "I think the technology is always going to change, so it doesn't matter what the medium is," he told the site Sound Colour Vibration. "It could be records, it could be software. I think it's just important that [DJs] learn as much of their musical history and share that."
However, his sound has changed in the sense that he now explores the potential of contemporary technologies alongside his vinyl manipulations: things like live video mixing, outboard sound effects, and Pioneer CDJs. One of his festival tricks is playing the guitar riff from Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" by applying the pitch bend to the blank tone produced by a paused CDJ.
His sets are unpredictable and manic in the best way possible, which means it's hard to say exactly what's in store when he performs for free at 1015 Folsom this Friday. All we're sure of is that, like all good turntablism, it has the potential to be mind-expanding.
10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3. $10-$15
To spin for eight or more hours requires a special kind of DJ -- one attuned to the needs of the dancefloor. British DJ Steve Lawler is one of the few who can pull it off: He's a veteran whose legend became solidified in the late '90s as a resident at the Ibizan club Space. Back then he was playing thumping tribal house, but these days he mixes it up with techier sounds and minimal blips. Check out this mix he recorded live at Sankeys.
9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4. $5-$10
Few dance music stores command such immediate respect as Chicago's Gramaphone Records. For the past few decades it's been the center of the Windy City's storied house community. Michael Serafini is the current owner of the shop and, as you might expect, he's a killer DJ with quite a collection of rare tunes. Expect a night of underground cuts, Chi-town style -- and for a better idea of what that might mean, listen to this recording of his set at Go Bang! last year.
9:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4. $10
If a night of wildness is what you seek, try Odyssey. It's a long-running monthly run by local DJ and party personality Robin Malone Simmons, whose focus is raw house sounds and flamboyant disco. This weekend it welcomes Severino, a selector whose disco-laden sets as a resident DJ at London's Horse Meat Disco conjure a sweaty atmosphere evocative of gay nightlife in the 1970s. Listen to his Boiler Room mix.
10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4. $10-$15
The dawning of the latest decade brought with it a hyperactive new sound called bass music. One of the genre's foremost practitioners is Brenmar, a New York DJ whose productions and sets are marked by jittering drum patterns; pop, R&B, and rap vocals (think Beyoncé, Aaliyah,
and Kanye West); and computer-clean melodic riffs. Listen to this mix he recorded for i-D magazine.