Pandemic: 9 Year Anniversary Party

Published On December 3, 2014 | By Leah Kennedy | Interviews
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Pittsburgh’s very own, Pete Spynda specializes in the art of making music, and the craftwork of throwing a great party. In November 2005, Spynda launched the Pandemic party series in Pittsburgh. Combining a mixture of contemporary dance music and traditional folk music, the events are meant to showcase a collective of top notch global DJs who add a unique touch of culture to the party each time. Pandemic events have showcased multiple producers and DJs who specialize in various genres, including tropical bass, Balkan beats, chalga, dancehall, and more.  Staying true to form, Pandemic has remained continuously successful and is now about to celebrate its ninth anniversary.

Referred to as the “Crypto Crunk Charlatan From The Balkans”, world renowned performer, Joro Boro has toured with a wide variety of talent ranging from Bassnectar to Omar Souleyman. He’s also maintained a seven year residency at Mehanata – The Bulgarian Bar in NYC. This Friday, Dec. 5, Joro Boro will join fellow comrade Pete Spyda at Brillobox for Pandemic’s 9 Year Anniversary Party.

Together, the two discussed the many facets of music on a cultural level, including specific genre aspects, styles, tempos, frequencies, and rhythms, all of which have created a melting pot of inspiration that both artists have utilized to perfect their own styles.

Pete: How would you define your style/sound/musical tastes? Personally, I struggle with this question when someone comes up during one of my sets and asks, “What type of music is this?”

Joro: It really changes over time. A few years ago, I was using the handle etnoteck/glitchfolk/post-national bass. Then the global bass scene exploded, so it seemed like that was the most appropriate label for it. As of lately, I’ve been veering in a different direction. So I started calling it ‘crypto crunk’, because it is suggestive enough without being clear.

Pete: Years ago, tracks like The Austin Klezmorim’s “Birodidjan” and Leningrads “Babubudu” were huge hits at Pandemic, and I’m sure they were at your parties, too. These tracks [and similar ones] probably gave both of us the ‘Balkan DJ’ label. Well, you are from the Balkans, so I guess the name applies no matter what kind of music you play. But, we’ve both evolved as DJs and have broken free of that particular label. Where have your musical tastes landed lately? What scenes in ‘post-national bass’ or ‘global bass’ particularly peak your interest?

Joro: I’ve been going into a mellower, more chill deep bass direction. There is a crop of producers in different parts of the planet that are making very interesting music, mixing elements of trap, glitch, dub, chillwave and minimal techno. It adds up to something that doesn’t quite have a name yet, but definitely has an aesthetic identity. For example: QUIX – “Waves of Grain” (Auckland, NZ – wonky percussive trap), Persian Empire – “To Na Bi” (such an LA video for a Berlin-based Iranian producer), Djrum – “Honey” (London), Howie Lee – “Vol4.Shang” (Beijing).

The emerging global bass scene seemed to get established and somewhat consolidated, thanks to blogs like Generation Bass. In search for its identity or market niche, it went through a rapid succession of fads: dubstep, moombahton, trap, zouk bass, rasterinha… The net result was that a lot of producers started to sound a lot like each other and across different genres (e.g. the same synths were migrated from Dutch house to moombahton to trap to zouk bass) all under the banner of EDM. And EDM today is packaged for big festivals, so it requires a certain hype sound. But there are a lot of ‘turnt down’ genres where much more interesting things are happening. They wouldn’t necessarily be called ‘global bass’, I’d rather call them ‘local club musics’ (which is what I’ve been interested in throughout the years) – so I guess that’s the name for this style to answer your previous question.

When you look at it this way, bounce music from New Orleans or the juke scene in Japan have as much appeal as any Balkan beats remix. This approach also avoids fetishizing the ‘exotic’ element of music – let’s not forget that wedding bands in the Balkans play Metallica back to back with the local brass classics.

Pete: I’m really interested in the manele (Eastern European pop folk mixed w/ dancehall and hip hop) scene in Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania. I find something really interesting about having to add clarinet or accordion solos into dancehall and hip hop tracks. It keeps it exotic, in a way. And far more interesting melodically, having playful (and oftentimes, what I find silly) instrumental breaks.

Joro: Ha, it’s funny you talk about clarinet, but both of the videos have only keyboard simulations of it. That’s very typical of the popfolk music in the region – the whole brass fetish (e.g. Shantel) is a western thing (originally popularized, of course, by Bregovic); locally, music is produced and performed on keyboards. After all, would you pay for an 18-piece brass band at your wedding, then pay for their drinks, food, and travel? Or would you rather pay for just a keyboard player and a singer? Actually, that’s true not only in that region – I’m thinking of the mahraganat/electro chaabi trend coming from Egypt, or Omar Souleyman’s amazing keyboard player Reza Sayid… Or any other contemporary dabkeh, really. Yes, I definitely like manele/chalga/turbofolk/tallava and the likes. In many cases, I like the beat and the solo, but not necessarily the singing. I wish they would release instrumentals. That would also make it easier to remix and play in club environments. ‘Boom boom‘ is a great example of such a track – it’s an old favorite chalga beat produced by a Bulgarian DJ with a non-MIDI clarinet player.

Pete: So what are your thoughts on Chalga? Likes? Dislikes?

Joro: Most of the chalga I like is old. It’s partially because of its emotional associations with a certain time in my life as a new immigrant in this country, but also because a lot of productions back in the day were based on the kyuchek rhythm. A lot of the new productions use a sleekly produced ‘dem bow‘ beat, which is the basis for reggaeton, moombahton, etc., to end up sounding somewhat like a popfolk version of Dutch house. One way of looking at it is that the older chalga was confident enough to look south and east and embrace the Ottoman past of the Balkans, while the new popfolk club music is looking primarily west to the Atlantic, and dreams of European integration.

Pete: Keeping onto the Chalga conversation… What are you thoughts on Azis? What strikes you about him? What are your interactions and experiences with Bulgarians/Eastern Europeans that are familiar; specifically, what are their opinions when it comes to Azis [and his sexuality]?

Joro: Azis is a great source of pride for me as a Bulgarian. He shows how much the country has changed since I left. The country is dying out and emigrating… The population went from almost 9 million in 1988, to just over 7 million 15 years later. In the Bulgaria that I left, a gay, gender bending Roma superstar would have been absolutely impossible because of the unquestioned culture of racism and homophobia. On the other hand, I have no illusions that everyone is perfectly tolerant now because of Azis. A lot of Bulgarians still find him to be an affront to the white/heterosexual norm leftover from Socialist times, which is still considered fundamental to society as they imagine it. Azis is showing them that the world is changing, and they don’t like it.

Pete: We’re also both friends with and occasionally share a bill with the tropical bass scene, including DJs such as the Que Bajo crew, Cumba Mela, Peligrosa, and ZZK. I personally really like the bouncing around stylistically from Bhangra, Balkan, and Cumbia. But that’s just how scattered and chaotic my brain works. How do you approach a party with such DJs?  What sets you apart stylistically from what they are doing?

Joro: Each gig is different – that’s the main reason why I don’t do residencies anymore. Having to face a fresh audience in a different location each time makes you reevaluate what you play and how it sets you apart. So when I play with tropical bass DJs, I’d definitely include some tropical tracks to create a baseline comfort zone for the audience, but just like you, I’d also branch out in directions they don’t expect. The main thing is what makes sense musically – it can go from cumbia into dub into jungle into trap into chaabi into chalga and still stay in the 85-95 bpm range, using loops and samples from one track to the next; or it can go from merengue into reggaetion as mixing on the halftime [190/95bpm] and end up being a glitched out live mashup/remix. At least in my head, what sets DJs apart in these circles is the style of mixing much more than the choice of individual tracks… We all share a lot of common resources thanks to the internet. What do you think? Last time I played with you, you were experimenting a lot with speeding up and slowing down tracks, which for me, was refreshing, interesting, and quite recognizable as a unique style of mixing. Have you expanded more on your signature sound?

joro_boroPete: I definitely agree with your approach and often take a similar approach. I try to push those limits as much as possible and keep moving around tempos and genres. That stems back to when i was playing the Russian folk songs that build in tempo, then slow down and build back up again. But in all honesty, I still DJ from the approach of someone who can’t dance. I play what I think would make the person who’s least likely to dance, move. I personally always try to keep the dance floor bouncing around the world. In some instances, it doesn’t make me a technically sound DJ, but I try to keep my sets playful. Like after a heavy dancehall track or a trap remix of a cumbia track, I’ll drop in something like Tecno Brega. Do you or can you pull off playing a Tecno Brega track in the middle of your set?

Joro: Hmm, I used to be a lot more experimental with the flow of my mixes. I used to dabble in unexpected tempo transitions, sudden backspins, and jagged mixing. But after all these years of making people jump start their night into exhaustion, it has become less challenging to follow the hype direction. It’s like the build-drop formula at EDM festivals – be it electro, trap, dubstep, trance, or whatever. It has become more interesting and challenging for me to sustain the audience’s attention by increasing space and silence – slowing things down and moving the focus from fist pumping [in the air], down to the hips [into the earth]. On the other hand, I’m much more focused on flow rather than scope/variety/novelty. To a large extent, that has to do with playing at Burning Man for so many years. You just can’t go hyper ADD on people that are doing hard drugs way out in the desert. But I don’t mean to say that I’m mixing snoozefests now. I still punctuate my mixes with unexpected moments of madness, and I feel like they stand out much more because of the contrast. Surprise is definitely part of the flow of a mix. As for tecno brega, I never managed to learn to like it – it always had too much tongue-in-cheek for my taste.

Pete: Regarding the atmosphere, what scene do you prefer on a smaller scale: clubs or warehouse parties?

Joro: Rationally there’s something to be said for both, though my heart is forever lost on some warehouse dance floor somewhere in Brooklyn. You?

Pete: I generally prefer the Brillobox. I really like that space and feel at home and comfortable to play whatever I want there. The sound system is killer, and I love a venue that one night has metal bands, rock, bluegrass, indie rock bands, and the next night is a funk and soul party, or a global bass party. I do think it’s interesting to see a raw space transformed. The warehouse parties haven’t been happening so much anymore in Pittsburgh… At least not to my knowledge. Switching things up a bit, we’ve covered a lot of ground in regards to what types of music you incorporate into your sets. What are you listening to when you aren’t planning a DJ set?

Joro: I rarely listen to anything at home… I do most of my “recreational listening” on the subway. So I checked my phone, and this is what’s currently on it:
Biosphere – “Substrata” (A Norwegian ambient classic album)
Meshuggah – “The Ophidian Trek” (Swedish extreme metal, I’ve been addicted to them for a long time now.)
Biosphere – “Substrata” (A Norwegian ambient classic album)
Soap Kills – “Enta Fen” (A Lebanese trip hop project I just discovered, but they’ve been around since the 90s.)
Binaural Beats – “Calm Down” (One hour of low-frequency sine waves, oscillating between both ears to induce certain brain states; the science behind it is quite iffy, but I find it to be a great background to the urban sounds from the environment. Sometimes, I listen to this at home as meditation.)
FIS – “The Commons” (Smokey, layered, post-industrial textured beats) and “Sd Laika” (Noise club music); these are a few releases from Tri Angle Records in NY (A unique electronic label) I know you listen to a lot of stuff on your car stereo, what’s your current playlist there?

Pete: My current playlist is always whatever random CDs happen to be around in my car, and comedy or news podcasts. I’m still old fashioned and listen to WRCT, which is a local college radio station, or NPR. Sometimes, I’ll stream mixes from SoundCloud.

Pandemic events are held on the first Friday of every month at Brillobox. The 9 Year Anniversary Party kicks off this Friday, Dec. 5, at 9PM. Tickets are $8 at the door!

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