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Feature Thu Jun 18 2009
A midlife crisis is not quite the same as it used to be. While the Boomers were fine and dandy to find someone half their age plus seven and revisit the muscle cars of yore right around their 40th, generations X through Y seem to be looking at a much longer grace period of socially acceptable decadence. Cougars roam free, clever t-shirts are now bought for baby instead of packed up in anticipation of, bands of all sizes tour a decade after their prime, drawing out their also decade older fans.
On the other end of the spectrum, Clint Mansell was right — Pop is eating itself, and retro is approaching parody so fast that nostalgia is being wistfully revisited by people younger and younger. Whether due to an increasingly fragmented pop landscape, the completely soulless progression of mainstream music in label's quests to maximize profit, or just the fact that we're a little short on hot jamz right now, young 20-somethings who should be pushing forward in the prime of their life can't help but take a backwards look at the pop hits of yore.
A DJ duo by the name of TTTTotally Dudes has formed, intentionally or not, to address these grave issues of the day. Perhaps by satiating the nostalgia needs of those in their quarter-life crisis, the need to painfully dig up the past will be alleviated before it manifests as potential social stigma. Or even better, perhaps it will create a transitional nostalgia bridge, making a non-stop party across the generations where anyone can hop on in the name of remembering good old times or discovering new ones — a seamless blend of partying for all ages for all time!
Can you do all that with *NSYNC and Biggie tunes? We find out from the Dudes.
GB: OK, so which one of you came up with the idea, and which one is just riding the other's coattails?
Dustin Drase: The genesis for doing a '90s night sprang from Billy's endeavors playing house parties in college, and sat dormant for a while until we became roommates and started to hatch plans to take the idea a bit further. We spent a few months compiling lists and previewing tracks before eventually shopping the idea out to a few bars that we had some connections to. The Whistler was the first bar to give the TTTTotally Dudes a chance, and it's sort of blown up from there.
Billy Kalb: A friend of mine had asked me to DJ her birthday party — it was middle school dance themed. And I was honestly kind of stunned at how big the songs went over. I was probably a total hack, too; I remember buying second-hand copies of those first few "Now That's What I Call Music" comps and pulling a lot from that. But over time I did more parties like that and expanded my collection, and it quickly became something I wanted to eventually transfer to a bar, if I could figure out how to do that.
BK: I wouldn't say Dustin's riding anyone's coattails though; he does a really good job of covering the stuff I miss, and I don't think I could have started this without him. Actually, I don't think I would have started this without him.
GB: Where do you go for inspiration for the setlists?
BK: A ton of painstaking research. Wikipedia was a big help in the beginning. There are so many songs where you know them, but you don't think of them because they've been filed away for so long. "Too Close" by Next is a good example of that, just a hilariously hot jam that my brain had written over years ago. But you do the research, you check the old Billboard charts, you look up the hit in question and then there it is, that song about dancing with a boner that you didn't know you remembered. Though I guess that's also how I rediscovered Martin Page's "In the House of Stone & Light," which hasn't exactly made it into a set yet. And probably won't. But I used to hear that song on the radio on a daily basis once upon a time and had completely forgotten it until two weeks ago.
DD: One thing that's important to understand is that we're coming at this genre from two very different perspectives, solely due to age. Since Billy and I have a 7 year age gap between us, I remember the '90s as the latter part of high school and mostly college whereas a lot of these are "middle school dance" tracks to him. It makes things surprisingly fun, because we are able to cover a lot more ground this way.
GB: Do you feel like the '90s were a particularly bright spot on the musical landscape, or is it more of a personal nostalgia that led you to this?
BK: Both, I think. But in a weird way. When I was young I was a dumb suburban kid who liked rock and thought that rap was lame and pop was lamer. I went to junior high dances and parties and just didn't get this music at all, and would argue with friends about how there was no way this was as good as, like, Pearl Jam or whatever. Now I'm older and wiser and a little more well-versed in the ways of music, and I kind of want to go back and kick my 14-year-old ass. It's nostalgia for something I missed out on the first time around. Because you listen to a lot of these jams, and they just sound good. Even the stupid ones! The production is great, the arrangement is smart, the hooks are huge. I kind of want contemporary stuff to start ripping off the '90s more already.
DD: With any era or style, it's a lot easier to assess its worth after you've been able to give it a bit of distance. When you're deep in the heart of a movement, it's easy to get overwhelmed by all the different styles and sub genres that are happening. The '90s gave rise to some serious heavy hitters in regards to producers like Puff Daddy, Dr. Dre, etc., and a lot of these guys had been coming up in the early days of hip hop, and some had even been around since the halcyon disco days of the '70s. Access to digital technology was just starting to really kick in, and the return of the DJ to the landscape all played a major part. When you really start to pay attention and are able to look outside the posturing and the ego...a dude like Puff Daddy really is a damn genius.
BK: He definitely knew where to sample from. He got mocked at the time for such blatant borrowing, but then everyone got used to sampling and now a Puffy production from that era is more or less a seal of quality. Have you listened to Mase's Harlem World lately?
GB: What kind of reception have you gotten from the fans? (Have there been any unique e-mails/odd quotes insane requests from girls approaching the tables?)
DD: The TTTTotally Dudes is all about having fun. By its very nature it's only best enjoyed with a big group of friends who are all completely inebriated. It's surprising how many hipsters have been able to shrug off the dilemma of whether this is cool or not and sing along to an Ace of Base song. A song like "Kiss From A Rose" is a more valuable piece of culture than you'd think; it's a great equalizer...there's no good...no bad...there's just awesome.
BK: And people really get into it! A few months ago we were playing "Kiss From A Rose" and maybe 2/3 of the bar was singing along, and then someone tripped on our power cord. The whole rig just shut off. And it was the end of the night and everyone had had plenty to drink and my brain just skipped right over its "this is a disaster!" setting and went right for "keep singing." And so did everyone else. It was just a whole bunch of people at last call standing around and belting out a Seal song from the Batman Forever soundtrack totally acapella for probably a minute and a half while Dustin managed to get things hooked up again, and then the song started up right where it needed to. People thought we'd planned it, but you can't plan something like that. It was too perfect.
BK: Oh, and there have absolutely been girls who have wanted their picture taken with us. I don't understand it. We're just DJs, for fuck's sake.
GB: As you've progressed, the formula seems to have changed a bit - R&B/rap/Boy bands still makes up the majority, but I've heard Savage Garden sneak in there now and then. Will there be other areas of expansion? Is there a ceiling that you'll eventually hit? Will we ever hear "Sandstorm" by Darude?
BK: Oh, Darude. It's in the collection, I promise. It's just a little tougher to steer it into that clubbier side of the decade, because people don't always follow you there. But in the last 6 months we've been getting more daring and we're diversifying. I've been throwing the Sneaker Pimps in earlier in the night. There's actually not a whole lot of difference between "6 Underground" and the Fugees' "Ready or Not." I'd love to play "Smack My Bitch Up" or "Ray of Light," or even "Ooh Aah...Just a Little Bit," and we'll probably get there. I'm thinking the gateway track is probably Marky Mark's "Good Vibrations." Or "Naked Eye" by Luscious Jackson, although I might be the only one who's into that song.
DD: When we put together our idea for the TTTTotally Dudes, we purposefully tried to shy away from some of the more "indie" or "alternative" sort of bands as well because that would be something entirely different than what we're trying to explore. Don't get me wrong, I love the Breeders or Weezer as much as anyone, but the idea was to really delve into heavy hitter pop music and dissect why some of those songs are so absolutely magical. At first there may have been some sort of irony in our choices, but at this point, I can unabashedly say that I love Destiny's Child and Mariah Carey. It's nice to not take yourself so seriously and just enjoy a well crafted song. To answer the question, we're always looking to evolve what we do, and when you're dealing with a span of 10 years, there is a LOT of ground to cover. We enjoy colliding mega hits and one-hit wonders throughout the night to keep things a surprise for the audience. We definitely want to keep the Dudes going as an ever-evolving experiment. For now, we haven't included many '90s rave tracks, as that's just not what we're feeling at the moment. But if the mood strikes us, and we think that we can pull it off, there's really nothing stopping us from playing the techno tracks. I can definitely see something like La Bouche sneaking its way in at some point.
GB: So what do we have to do for you guys to play Independent Women (released in 2000)?
DD: Just give it time.
The TTTTotally Dudes will be spinning their next monthly residence night at The Whistler on Friday, June 26th.
Dan Morgridge is a freelance writer who knows that Puppet Lebron and Puppet Kobe will never match Lil' Penny's "No Diggity" chops.