[INTERVIEW] The Next Chapter of Torch DnB
Drum and bass is a genre for the old school kids, and is widely under-appreciated in my opinion. This isn't true in Atlanta, however, where the free event, Torch, has been loyally holding down this scene once a month for five years. Torch has been a part of my musically balanced diet since the first one I attended, even when I moved abroad- my friends knew they'd find me at Torch if I was in town for a visit.
In a globalized world, where truly nothing is free, Bill Hoffman has in a way, been my hero. I've always been interested in renegade parties, and events that let the music speak. When I've felt alone in the commercial party world, Torch was there. My break-dancing comrades were there... And it was never about what you wore, only if you were there!
As most of us know, the Masquerade will sadly be moved within the next year. The decrepit building which has been the site of much moshing, flogging, and hugging since '89 will be demolished and reincarnated into a fine condo for some yuppie couple soon enough. I had a chance to talk to Bill Hoffman, Torch's organizer, who assures us that Torch will continue, even after the Masquerade move.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I learned how to spin on turntables in 2000 but only kept up with it for a few months. My good friend, Thomas Barfield, lent me his turntables and gave me the basics. It took forever before I could ever match a beat. I really consider my starting point in late 2005 when my wife, Christina, purchased a pair of CDJ 100s for me as an early birthday present. Thomas had moved over to CDJs by this point and again was there to help me learn how to DJ. My roommate at the time, Heath Bolin, also became interested in DJing and we really learned a lot together, under the teachings from Thomas. My friends, Keith Brown and Evan Kuntz also started DJing around that time. Thomas set up a class for us and went over all the basics of mixing on CDJs, mixing on turntables, how to adjust the low, mid and high EQs when mixing tracks, cueing up tunes, etc. Keith and our mate Rich were renting a house, which we called “The Palace” and that’s where Thomas set up the class or us.
My first gig came from signing up for DnB DJ contest at the Mark. The event was called “SupportYourFuckingLocals” and Derek Marane from 180 Degrees and the Abstract Logic Crew hosted the event and contest. I practiced non-stop for weeks leading up to my round of the contest. I planned the whole set out, practiced it, made changes, etc. I am proud to say that landed a double drop (where two tracks drop at the same time) on my first mix in the contest! It was a great feeling and one of the best experiences ever. I did well enough to catch the ear of some of the local promoters, who were either in attendance or part of the judges for the contest. I started getting some slots for these shows and that is when my local DJ career began.
You've been doing the free monthly Torch event for five years in Atlanta. Tell me about the first event and how you've kept momentum for this event.
Our first event was June 2011, the main thing I was thinking afterward was that “We can do this!”. That I had actually gone through all the stages of putting on a single show, booking DJs, promoting the show, setting up and sound checking the equipment, working with the venue at the event, packing everything up and wrapping up all the post show items. I wrote a review of the show and posted it on Facebook, which I had no idea I would end up continuing that tradition of writing a review each time. The momentum is kept up by consistency. We focus on these core principles: A free show, once a month, all drum and bass and we feature local DJs. We have never strayed from that and never will. After a while, it just became the staple for ATL DnB. More and more people told their friends and pointed them to our social media outlets to keep up with our shows. I am so grateful to everyone who comes out to Torch once a month, every once in a while or when they can! There is also no way that we could have the show without the support of my Torch DnB crew!
Free parties are a novelty these days, why is this so important to you?
We based Torch after the model setup by the 180 Degrees crew and their event, Fuze. It was once a month, at the Masquerade, free, and featured local DJs. They focused on DnB but also branched out to other genres as well. Derek Marane is the person who connected us to Tim Sweetwood, who was working with The Masquerade at the time. He vouched for me as a person who could be a promoter and pull off a monthly show. The venue suggested we charge at the door for the show, but I wanted to remove as many barriers as I could for people to attend a DnB event. A free show is just that much easier to come out to, tell your friends about, and also organize. After a few years, I had many people come up and ask when we were going to start booking International headliners and charging at the door. Even though Torch was successful I didn’t want to do it. It just introduces a different dynamic to the event and I don’t want to cloud what we already have. I'm proud to say that we have had 140+ local DJs play at Torch in 5 years. I have them all listed in an excel spreadsheet, including the last date the played, they number of times they have played and how many times per year. This might sound silly to some, but with that sort of volume, even booking one or 2 headliners is taking a slot from a deserving local. So keeping the show free continues our theme of keeping things consistent.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic career?
I got into the Atlanta dance music scene in 1998. After about a year or so of being a fan, I wanted to have some sort of contribution to the scene, I wanted to feel more of a part. Some my buddies got into DJing, and I decided that I would like to try and MC. Making that decision, took me from the crowd to being on the path of becoming part of the preforming side. That really started my career as any sort of artist. I took rap songs that I knew the lyrics inside and out, and would rhyme them over DnB/jungle tapes. That’s how I learned how to get the cadence to match lyrics to 174 bpm drum and bass. I mentioned playing out the first time, that is definitely one of those moments as well. I was lucky enough to be included on 2 different shows with Andy C in Atlanta (Shoutout MJ and Rich from Basswars!). That really made me feel that I was doing well enough to be considered local support for such a show. If other people had confidence in me to play, then that made me have the confidence as well. Anthony (Mayhem) had me open as direct support for Klute and that was the same thing, such a big boost to be included! Playing my first festival show at Imagine Festival is really the pinnacle of my DJ life! It was an honor to get to play with all my torch DnB crew and it was absolutely amazing. I have never been a part of a stage like that, sound system, etc. It was so much fun to smash tunes up there!
What are currently your main challenges as a DJ? What is it about DJing, compared to say, producing your own music, that makes it interesting for you?
I’d say the most challenging thing these days is finding time to practice. With a family and a regular nine to five, it takes a fair amount of planning to work on sets, and do your “DJ Homework” as my friend Zach Lowe says. This constitutes organizing your music, analyzing tracks for Serato DJ and Rekordbox, setting cue points if you use those and then of course getting behind the decks and practicing. My wife, Christina, and family are super accommodating to this though and always supportive of me getting in some time to practice or venturing out to a buddy's house to mix. I dabbled in production a long time ago for a few years. It is absolutely a lot of fun and hard work to start from a blank page and make a full tune. It takes a lot of time and effort and when I look at balancing my life between family, work and drum and bass, I’d rather be mixing than in FL Studio working on beats. Lately, though I have had the itch to give the production a more serious effort.
When there is more music than one can possibly take in, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what constitutes an original and a remake anymore. What are your thoughts on the importance of roots and traditions, concerning originals and sources?
The cycle of drum and bass music is one that I have been studying for the past 18 years. It constantly re-invents itself and that is what keeps it fresh and unique. If I played you a few Neurofunk DnB tunes from 2006 and compared them Neurofunk DnB tunes from 2016, you will definitely hear some differences, but they keep the same core of that sub-genre of drum and bass. Liquid funk DnB would be the same case. I am really feeling a lot of the newer ragga tunes and jungle tunes coming out these days. If I compared them to ragga and jungle in the mid-to-late 90s, then there are plenty of differences but the core is the same. I love all the styles of DnB, so that’s what always keeps the music interesting to me. I’ve heard many people say “I checked out all the new DnB releases on Beatport, not feeling anything of this stuff.” That has literally NEVER happened to me! I have to move tunes from my main cart in Beatport to the hold bin because I need to dial it back on spending so much on tunes! I think its because I like ALL the sub-genres of drum and bass though.
We saw each other at Imagine Festival! Tell me about your experience. What was it like meeting Bad Company?
It was absolutely amazing! I’ve never experienced anything like this weekend! We got to be a part of the biggest event of our lives and the Torch crew is super thankful to Glenn, Madelyn, Chris and Tyler for including us in the drum and bass stage! Everything was executed perfectly and the vibe was amazing the entire time! My favorite set was Bad Company but that’s really tied for every set I heard at the DnB stage! Everyone crushed it! It was a honor to meet them! I got to talk a little shop about how I mix their new track, "Equilibrium". How exciting it was to hear new material from them and reminisce about seeing all 4 of them play in ATL in the early 2000s. I think I said the most drum and bass sentence of my life: “Hey Bad Company, it has been a pleasure to meet you, but I have to run back to the stage to catch Drumsound and Bassline Smith!”
Now that the Masquerade is moving, what is the next step for Torch?
The Masquerade is moving to Underground Atlanta and we are moving Torch DNB right along with them. The first Torch at the NEW Masquerade is our November 2016 show.
Sarah Sativa played at the most recent Torch. She had this to say:
What makes Masquerade an Iconic venue for Atlanta?
I love this question. I'll prelude by saying that I've been coming to the Masquerade since I was 13. In the last 15 years, I've been to dubstep shows there, rap shows, metal shows, DnB shows there. Everything from Schoolboy Q to Job For A Cowboy. To me it represents every facet of Atlanta's incredibly eclectic music scene. That's what makes it an Atlanta icon.
How has being female affected your ability to get booked? Do you have any comments about fashion as a female DJ?
A lot of girl DJs might not admit it, but being a woman in a male dominated industry is definitely an advantage. People either want to see you blow it or blow up. Either way is an opportunity to prove yourself.
As far as fashion goes, I've realized the more masculine I dress at shows, the more seriously people take me. So while I prefer heels and mini dresses when I go out, I tend to stick to jeans and Adidas more often than not when I DJ.
Photos by Grace Kelly for Bullet Music, unless stated otherwise.