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Meet DJs Mason Williams and Jonny Yuma

September 24, 2010

By Andrew Duncan

Originally Posted at zap town

DJs Mason Williams and Jonny Yuma

By Andrew Duncan • May 3rd, 2010 • Category: Categories, The Mixdown

Link: New Wave Night: http://www.newwavenight.com/

Listen to two exclusive ZapTown Mixdowns from Mason Williams and Jonny Yuma.

Podcast 1: New Wave Night (41:17)
Podcast 2: Biff Bang Pow! (39:11)

Jonny Yuma – New Wave Night: Hide PlayerPlay in Popup | Download (6)
Mason Williams – Biff Bang Pow [39:11m]: Hide PlayerPlay in Popup | Download (6)

In the age of digital mixing, what is it about the 45 and vinyl that attracted you to do what you do? How do you deal with the inconsistencies of vinyl? It’s an acceptance that both the DJ and the listener must understand.

Mason Williams: I love vinyl but I’m not a vinyl snob. I also love my MP3 player. I DJ with vinyl because it seems like more of an art, it makes me feel like I’m doing something live. With vinyl and turntables you’re constantly messing with your gear, you have to twiddle and fidget constantly. Records fuck up, they skip, they get bumped…they’re alive. People react differently to vinyl DJs too, we’re doing something that they can’t do with their iPods and laptops, something physical, no playlists, no safety net, pure spontaneity. Nothing sounds like vinyl either, it’s so raw and real.

Jonny Yuma: I, like Mason, have an iPod and I couldn’t live without it. Vinyl purists get all pissed off about them, but I think if you are a true fan of music, the iPod is something that you cannot live without. As far as DJing live, I like the limits that vinyl gives me. If I DJ-ed with my iPod or my computer I could basically go out on to the internet and find any song I wanted. It would be limitless.  With records you are limited to what is available on record and if you can find it on wax. To me, creating art is about giving yourself limits and boundaries. It keeps your medium pure. Plus there is nothing more fun than hitting garage sales, flea markets, church basements etc and discovering gems for 25cents then going to the club and dropping it and watching people dance to a record that was basically thrown away by someone because to them it was useless. As far as inconsistencies in vinyl, I think there is more inconsistency in the digital file. If your digital file gets damaged then you are fucked, at least with vinyl if you have a skip or something you can lay your finger on the needle and plow right over it. You cant do that with an mp3.

What were the things that originally attracted you two to individually become DJs?

Williams: I got nagged into DJing by one of my best friends who had been DJing for years. I started making mix tapes for friends and girls I had crushes on when I was about 12 years old. The mix tape was a major form of communication for me all through my teens. As someone who has suffered with lifelong shyness, the thought of getting up in front of people and entertaining them was… well, it was something that was never going to happen. My first real DJ gig was a sold out new year’s eve party at one of Cincinatti’s most popular nightclubs. People responded to my awkward, eclectic mix and I was hooked immediately. So the short answer is: nothing. I was harassed into making a “live mix tape” by a friend who believed that I would be a solid DJ and that was my introduction to “DJ culture.”

Yuma: I’ve been DJ-ing off and on for about 20 years. I got my first radio shack mixer when I was in my late teens to make mix tapes with, I liked it when radio DJs mixed the ends and beginnings of songs to make one long song. I love the seamless mix. Not so much beat matching but mixing. I can beat match, but I think there are other people who can do it better, so I just try to make my mixes interesting. I’m also a vinyl nut and have thousands of records so DJ-ing gives me an excuse to buy records.

How did you two meet, and what led to collaborating together as DJs? What is your Bloomington connection and how did you get to where you are today?

Williams: I met Jonny at a Borders bookstore in the spring of 2001. We both had recently become fathers and shared that “record nerd turned first-time parent” face. We soon discovered that we also shared a passion for Polynesian culture and incredibly strange music. Jonny had already been DJing for some time at that point and eventually helped get a vintage soul and funk night up off the ground here in Bloomington. One night he invited me to spin a few records at the soul party and we seemed to really work well together. A year later when I was hatching the new wave night idea and wondering who to partner up with Jonny was the first person that came to mind.

Yuma: Yeah, what he said.

What music influenced you growing up?

Williams: My brother is 8 years older than me, I got all of his rock n’ roll hand-me-downs: Alice Cooper, Kiss, Rush, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent etc… I thought rock & roll was the only form of music in the universe. The first band I obsessed over was KISS, I was a card carrying member of the KISS army! One day, I opened up a copy of big brother’s CREEM magazine and saw a picture of The Sex Pistols… I thought “Hey… another band with a blood soaked bass player, I should check them out.” Two allowances later I picked up Never Mind The Bullocks from there on out it was nothing but Punk & New Wave until I landed a job at a local record store in the late ’80s and got turned on to everything else that’s out there.

Yuma: The first records I listened to were my mothers 45s. Her dad would buy her one 45 a week if she kept her grades up, so she had hundreds of 45s spanning everything from teenybopper to garage to soul to rock. She was heavy on the Beatles and Stones but she also had some real rare weird garage and soul. She passed them down to me, and I played them til there were no grooves left. Later on as my tastes developed into my teens I was all about heavy metal. In high school someone introduced me to Echo and The Bunnymen and i was hooked.  After that is was Smiths, Cure, U2, Duran Duran, etc., all the way. As time went on my tastes expanded and my bloated record collection is proof of that.

Although you are commonly known for your New Wave shows twice a month, it did not start out that way? Tell me about the idea to jump into the type of ’50s and ’60s wild dance music that became “Biff, Bang, Pow.” What influences led you to experiment with this type of dance music?

Williams: In the beginning I started a monthly dance party/hang-out night called Nervous Shakedown, it was created to fill what I considered a void in Bloomington’s nightlife scene. It was a simple concept: just play rock n’ roll records. We played everything from Sun Rockabilly records from the ’50s through New Wave classics of the ’80s and even threw in contemporary curveballs from the ’00s. It was pretty much a hit right out of the gate, the “new wavers” wanted a whole night of new wave, the rock n’ rollers wanted more raw rock n’ roll and none of the “80s crap” so we decided to split Nervous Shakedown into two separate club nights…the New Wave and Punk records from the late ’70s & ’80s found a home at New Wave Night, the ’50s & ’60s stuff ended up going to a night we decided to call Biff Bang Pow (named after a b-side from the amazing mod band The Creation). I grew up on junk culture… Happy Days, Gilligan’s Island, American Graffiti… I’ve always loved b-movies, drive-ins, camp kings like Russ Meyer & John Waters. I love the images I’ve seen of ’60s go-go clubs like the Peppermint Lounge, places where people just went wild and twisted the night away. Places where a girl could wear her best a-frame dress and get a drink called a pink lady or an aqua velva. Biff Bang Pow is like putting a ’60s discotheque in a blender with a ’50s sock hop. It’s a convoluted concept that makes for great escapism. Jonny kicks every Biff Bang Pow off with an hour’s worth of Exotica. It really sets the mood, once you’re good n’ dreamy we let loose and try to bring your favorite cult movie dance party scenes to life…a little Hairspray here, a little Beyond The Valley of the Dolls over there. Mods vs. Rockers all dang night. It’s a challenge though, songs from that era are usually around 2 minutes long, we play around 150 45s in an average Biff Bang Pow set.

Yuma: Mason said it all here.

How about the New Wave aspect, how did New Wave Night become reality and did you expect its popularity? For me, I was too young to make it out to a club to experience the music, but I was old enough to have it be an important part of my life at the time. Tell me about the crowd mix and your perception of it all. What you two are doing is not only channeling the youth to give them a taste of the roots of modern indie electronic music and the punk sound, but also giving people who were immersed in the decade a way to re-live and experience the vibrancy of that musical decade.

Williams: New Wave Night started as a one-off and got turned into a monthly before the first one even happened based on the amount of attention that it received, by the third one it had gone to twice a month and remains on that schedule. The music of the ’80s is something a lot of people take very personal. It’s the music of their lifetime, they are connected to it. I can’t hear The Plimsouls without remembering renting Valley Girl (on VHS) 1000 times in high school or hear The Go-Gos without thinking of watching the opening credits of Fast Times at Ridgemont High with a gang of pimply faced goofs at my side more than ready to catch another glimpse of Phoebe Cates’ boobs. First kisses, proms, dead pets… it’s all in the music. It’s not uncommon for me to get stopped in the parking lot and thanked by someone who has obviously shed a few tears on the dance floor. In my opinion. New Wave is some of the most infectiously danceable music ever made, and I believe it will get discovered again and again. I meet a lot of young people who consider the current music scene “the musical dark ages.”

Yuma: Both Mason and I grew up in the ’80s, it was the music we listened to while going through the major milestones of our youth. It’s in our blood, it comes natural, and we know what’s good and what is bad. Younger kids who come out to NWN who didn’t grow up in the ’80s, like we did, but love the sound thinking of us as their personal New Wave tour guides.

Williams: New Wave Night is truly a labor of love, I think a good DJ has to follow his heart and play the music that means the most to him or her. You can tell the difference between a DJ who is “feeling it” and a DJ who just downloaded a playlist and is going at it all willy nilly. The music has to come first, you have the records THEN you DJ. A lot of DJs do it the other way around…they start DJ-ing and then try to gather enough music to make it work.

Retro or timeless? How do you view it and how do you keep what you do respectable instead of simple re-hashing from a decade long gone, like say a radio station doing some kind of ’80s retro-rewind? or the conception of “oldies” music?

Williams: We play classics not oldies, you don’t call Shakespeare an oldie! We could easily build a successful night by simply playing nothing but hits and obvious choices, that’s the easiest way to keep people dancing. I like to think that what we’re doing is fresh and alive enough to exist outside of the retro scene. We play the big hits of the era because we love the songs, surprisingly the biggest reactions of the night usually come from unfamiliar territory. We may get you on the dancefloor with a radio staple but before you know it you’re flailing around to a song you’ve never heard before, and you’re caught up in the weird energy that others around you are also experiencing… that weird energy that comes with discovering something new… and the vibe has gone from “Oh My God I Love This Song!!” to “Oh My God Where Has This Song Been All Of My Life!!” As a DJ the ultimate thrill for me is getting 100 people to applaud a song that you know 99% of them have never heard before.

Yuma: We play the hits and the misses but all songs are top notch. We might play a song that we love but was never played on popular radio at the time.  Most of the people at the bar don’t know that it wasn’t a hit. They just think “hey this is a great song, it must have been a hit.”  So in that sense we are broadening the genre a bit, creating hits in people’s minds.

One thing that is immediately impressive about you two together is that when you get out to one of your events, both of you are so happy to be there and dancing around yourselves that it immediately allows the people there to let go and just have a good time. What does that mean to you?

Williams: Me and Jonny come from the rock n’ roll underground, New Wave Night comes after years of absorbing the culture. We’ve both spent most of our lives going to shows and digging for records. We’re not going to go to all of the work of promoting, hanging flyers and lugging gear around to put on a boring show. We try to present our dance parties with the raw energy of a punk show or at least give it enough pep to appeal to someone who might otherwise only enjoy live music. Honestly once everything gets going I rarely come up for air, it’s not until I see photos of the dancers that I get the reward of looking at their smiling faces.

Yuma: In the ’80s people danced to music. The ’90s and especially indie rock killed the dance floor.  Its slowly coming back though, dancing is becoming more popular again thankfully. I dance to the songs I play because its dance music. To me if a DJ doesn’t get down and dance to what he or she is playing then they don’t like the music. If you have a good time then the people you are playing to will have a good time too. Its infectious.

Williams: My focus is on the dancers, I’m not here to show off rare records, I’m here to get lost in the moment and hopefully inspire some foolish behavior.

As DJs tell me what you would like to accomplish? What new things would you like to try, and how do you keep pushing the envelope to keep the momentum you have set in place?

Williams: Most New Wave Nights have a theme, usually a tribute to an iconic artist or sub-genre. We’ve never done 2 NWNs in a row with the same records. I believe that keeping it fresh is as important to us as it is to the crowd. So in that respect we’re always trying out new twists. After all, me and Jonny are usually playing for each other and just hoping the crowd follows along. We request songs from each other all night. DJ-ing with a partner is kind of like being in a debate, you’re constantly scrambling to find a record that will blow away or at the very least compliment the record your partner is playing. I would love to see more people show up prepared for virtual time travel, dressed in period clothing, cell phones off, ready for pure escapism. We’re offering a 6-hour space where it’s ok to act like a teenager…embrace it people.

Yuma: Yeah, what Mason said. My goal is to keep digging for the best tunes and mixes. Im a huge fan of the remix 12″. I have thousands and keep finding more. Mason doesn’t play too many remixes, he usually goes for the album cut or the 7″ mix. In that sense we compliment each other.  I like to extend the song and keep the dancers moving, however if the song is longer than 8 minutes I usually fade it or try to mix it into another song to keep attention spans up. You never want a bored dance floor.

What things, shows, etc. do you have planned for 2010 and beyond?

Williams: New Wave Night every 2nd & 4th Saturday at The Root Cellar, Biff Bang Pow!! whenever someone will let us + one offs, weddings, birthday parties and boat launches as we’re asked.

Yuma: Im DJ-ing at least once a week somewhere in Bloomington either with Mason or with my friends Heath Byers (DJ Whitelight/Whiteheath) and Dan Coleman (DJ Junebug) at our monthly night at the Root Cellar — Soul In The Hole.  In 2010, I want to keep the momentum up yet try to pace myself to not burn out. I’ve been doing it too long to stop now.

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