In the Mix: DJs, dance floors, diasporas
Madison Moore in conversation with Wilfrid Vertueux, Benjamin Lebrave and John Armstrong
From house parties and music festivals to the salsa dance floor and the techno rave, the DJ plays a crucial role in stitching together the sonic narrative of the dance floor. But what does a DJ do, exactly? How does she or he create mood through music? And why do DJs still matter in a moment where iTunes charts and the Beatport Top 100 dictate what people think they want to hear?
Join us for a lively discussion between three DJs with specialties in distinctly afro-diasporic musical traditions - Wilfrid Vertueux (DJ Willy the Viper) (Latin music), Benjamin Lebrave (African) and John Armstrong (“world beat” music) - who will each share their experiences with moving bodies on dance floors all over the world.
Madison Moore is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in ‘Modern Moves’ in the Department of English at King’s College London. Trained in performance studies and popular culture, madison is a DJ, writer and pop culture scholar with expertise in nightlife culture, fashion, queer studies, contemporary art and performance, alternative subcultures and urban aesthetics. He is a staff writer at Thought Catalog, Splice Today, and his other writing has appeared in Vice, Interview magazine, Art in America, Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, the Journal of Popular Music Studies and Theater magazine. He is currently working on two book projects, The Theory of the Fabulous Class, which will be published by Yale University Press, and a new project tentatively called A Cultural History of Saturday Night.
John Armstrong is a London media litigation lawyer by profession (no longer practising) and a DJ, broadcaster, album compiler, writer, music journalist and record collector by passion since early childhood. John was the first club DJ in the UK (from 1979) to play what’s now known as worldbeat in clubs: latin, African, etc, music. His 10-year Latin, Caribbean and Afro residency, twice a week, at Hoxton’s legendary Bass Clef Jazz Club from 1984 to 1994, remains a record still to be broken.
John has recently researched, written and presented a major 13-part series for BBC Radio 2, ‘Viva Latino’ and his Brazilian partner - and enthusiastically Anglo-Brazilian daughter - ensure regular visits to Brazil to keep abreast of ‘a cultura’.
Wilfrid (Willy) Vertueux (DJ Willy the Viper) was brought up in metropolitan France, but received an education from his parents that kept alive his connection to Caribbean roots. It is thus with a knowing smile that he readily endorses that term all too often used pejoratively- ‘négropolitain’. Immersed in music from a young age due to his Caribbean upbringing, Willy is an internationally leading Latin music DJ. Ever since first acing the turntables in 1987 at the Montecristo Café in the City of Light, and later, as founding member of the Paris DJ Collective Papas DJs and as the second half of the Duo, ‘Dance Angels’, he has been resident DJ at Paris’s most fabled clubs; he also travels every weekend to play at salsa festivals in Europe and beyond.
Benjamin Lebrave is founder of Akwaaba Music, a label dedicated to spreading African music and pop culture. Born and raised in Paris, Benjamin graduated from ENSAE (Paris Tech) with a double master’s degree in economics and statistics. Upon graduating, his passion for music took center stage, his turntables knocked out econometric models, and he spent the next 4 years honing his DJ skills and deepening his record crates in Los Angeles, playing at clubs, bars, house parties and private events.
An eclectic music lover and DJ at heart, it wasn't until 2007 that Benjamin stumbled across Ghanaian hiplife, his first encounter with contemporary popular African music. The music combines distinctly Ghanaian rhythms and melodies with diasporic genre such as hip hop, soca and dancehall, and is assembled using readily available digital music production tools. This fresh combination captured Benjamin's attention: he founded his label Akwaaba Music in 2008, to broaden the window onto the countless bubbling scenes throughout the continent. 6 years and a dozen tours later, Benjamin is officially obsessed with music from Africa, to the point where he seems totally unaware that music is still created elsewhere.