By Clara Goode
Photos by Sara Vogt
My initial impression of the Alley Cat Music Club was one of trepidation. It shares a well-lit street corner with several boarded up buildings and what appears to be a convenience store. I cross paths with a group of young people who are laughing and chatting animatedly and I follow them through the doors. An underlit bar with a green flow immediately to my right, while an open path to my left leads to an outdoor patio.
I walk straight back toward the main room I am struck by how cozy the space is. The room is filled with dry ice which envelopes everyone in a glowing haze and, at times, obscures the DJs themselves completely. There is no stage, which sets the tone for a more intimate show, decreasing the distance between the performer and their fans. The club is still under construction, the hall to the restrooms glows with an eerie red light that highlights the broken concrete and dingy bathrooms, but somehow the grunginess of the exposed beams and unpainted walls adds to the allure of tonight’s show.
The crowd here is different than what I have previously experienced. The majority of conversations taking place around me are in Spanish and people are more interested in interacting with their companions than they are getting lost in the music. The openers are setting the scene however, with simple, catchy rhythms and people are definitely feeling the music.
There is a very strong sense of community among the patrons of this club. At other shows the crowd has consisted of numerous small groups who seem to isolate themselves and rarely interact through the course of the evening except to fumble past each other as they make their way around the venue. Tonight the place is filled with large groups of people who seem to interact freely and comfortably, even with complete strangers. Each person seems entirely at ease both with the crowd and with the artists playing.
I sat down with Randall M. before his set. A polite young man, very easy to talk to.
You were classically trained in piano and violin. Was there one instrument you preferred over the other?
I took lessons (as a child), but was not classically trained. Probably piano. I stopped violin lessons when I was four. Really, I prefer drums over anything.
What kind of influence does that training have over the music you produce?
It definitely helps with my ear, mixing things in key and choosing certain songs to go with others, I think it all comes back to that.
Is your family proud of you and your accomplishments?
They’re very supportive of it. I’ve been DJing for twelve years. It’s really all I’ve done and in the beginning they were very supportive. Actually, they’ve been supportive the whole time. There came a point where, you know, they were kind of questioning if I was going to be able to make a sustainable career out of it, but the last three or four years I’ve been able to do that and they’re very proud and supportive of it. I feel really lucky about that.
Your love for your pups on your IG page is pretty apparent. Tell us about your fur babies.
I have three dogs, two are ten and eleven that I’ve had since the beginning of college. They live with my ex-girlfriend, but I still see them when I come back home and stuff. Then I have like, not a puppy anymore cause she just turned two, but a Cocker Spaniel as well. I’ve always loved dogs. I’ve love animals. I grew up with a Labrador and I just really love dogs. I wish I could have at home in Berlin but with the touring schedule and stuff it's just not practical. But someday I would like to have a little farm and have like five or six dogs on it.
What are some of your favorite albums you own on vinyl?
Well I have to say it’s not an album, but my favorite records, one of my favorite tracks from The Rolling Stones “Miss You” they did like a disco extended edit. It’s quite rare and my dad had it growing up and he bought me a copy a few years ago. So that one is pretty special to me. It’s all pink, it’s like 12 minutes long, and it’s amazing. Then my original hip hop stuff like Tupac’s On Death Row, Outkast, stuff like that. I love my techno records but the others just stick out for me. Also, I guess I’d have to say Efdemin, Chicago as well, one of my favorites.
What are some upcoming projects you have planned for 2016?
I have my own vinyl label called Thirteen. It’s coming out, the first release is in March and it’s something I’ve been working on for about over a year now and it’s like my baby you know? It’s basically my way to really showcase the music I love from people who I’ve come in contact with. Not only making good music, but cool people. It’s kind of like a friend group and we all share music and now I’m finally releasing some.
As the evening progresses, more and more people are distracted from their socializing and make their way to the dance floor and as Randall takes the stage the main room is packed to overflowing. Randall M uses deep, syncopated rhythms to keep them bouncing then adds a softer, melodic overtone. His lifelong experience with music is made evident by the diversity of sound, multiple instruments can be heard dancing through the layers of percussion in patterns highlighted with timed silences. His underlying rhythm is at a constant tone, not too low to be uncomfortable and not too high to be harsh. The perfect sound for continuous listening.
The ease with which the crowd interacts is evidenced through their relationship with Randall. He is not simply leading them as many DJs do, they are openly connecting with him. Chants spring up during certain sequences, people sing along with repeating melodies, there is a constant interplay between artist and audience. This is an appreciated contrast to many shows in which the DJ seems very separate from the crowd, manipulating them, sometimes in an aggressive way, to feel what they want them to feel.
The number of people on the floor changes constantly. Even with fewer people on the dance floor the ones that are dancing are fully committed. Many stand to the sides, nodding to the music and chatting, but it is not out of boredom. None are eager to leave or disappointed, there is simply an equal desire to socialize as well as dance. He keeps their attention to the very end of the show.
Toward the end of the night, I venture out onto the patio. The air smells sweet with cigars and lighter flames flicker between the faces of those gathered for a cigarette break and small talk. The music is still loud and one must speak loudly to be heard over it. Tomorrow our voices will rasp, and our clothes will smell of smoke and sweat, and we will accept these as fond tokens of an excellent experience.