By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Club acts like D. Ramirez flourish in economic downtimes
NYU finance professor Phil Maymin recently unveiled the results of a study comparing Billboard Top 100 songs to stock-market indicators reaching back to 1958. He found that years with a preponderance of hit songs that had low “beat variance” (steady rocking, danceable tunes) correlated with stretches of stock-market volatility.
We doubt his “beat variance” methodology: Nearly all American pop, particularly today’s digitally made music, rides on a rigid 4/4 drive train. What’s to vary? But the idea that we “Just Dance,” in the immortal words of Lady GaGa, certainly resonates in trying times.
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In dance music, mood and melody, not beats, seem to change with the Dow Jones. What word best describes the new crop of club sounds? Let’s try “dark.” Dubfire’s Terror Planet Remix of Radio Slave’s “Grindhouse” was the choon of ’08—devilish, descending and debauched. Looking at the unemployment rate, it’s safe to say there’s more of that to come.
“The music seems to be going that way,” says British DJ D. Ramirez. “It reflects angriness.”
Ramirez should know. The 38-year-old has been one of the shining lights of the electro-house set that seemed to take over clubland in the past few years. His singles, remixes and compilations, featuring gurgling analog bubbles, stomping tribal rhythms and hand-raising break-downs, provided the definitive pin in the map for mid-’00s club sounds. But even he’ll admit that his flavor (check out his most-recent mix-CD, The Headliners) is changing, absorbing some of that economic frustration and spitting it out on the floor in the form of twisted techno.
“I’m always excited by new music, especially the new tech-house, minimal and techno,” he says. “That’s going to be the new thing.”
Indeed, Ramirez has been a chameleon of floor flavors for nearly 20 years of economic peaks and valleys. He knows it takes keen ears, an adaptive persona and a mood barometer to stay atop the club marquee. Ramirez, born Dean Marriott, has recorded as part of many aliases and acts, including the Lisa Marie Experience in the mid-1990s.
At the dawn of the millennium, “a friend and I were messing around with names, and he said I should be Dino ‘Fingers’ Ramirez,” he says. “It was just for a laugh.”
But the homage to Mr. Fingers and the Latino-flavored contingent of tribal-house titans—Roger Sanchez, Junior Vasquez, the Murk boys—stuck, at least partially. Club promoters around the world booked the electro-house king only to discover they imported a Flock of Seagulls blond with an English accent. It’s all good, innit?
“D. Ramirez has a tough, funky electro-house groove that people in Southern California will definitely appreciate,” says Kazell, a fellow Brit and resident DJ at Avalon Hollywood. “I’ve always admired him because he’s a DJ/producer who really knows how to work the gear in the studio. He engineers his own material and has a banging sound—that’s a skill that’s not easy to come by these days.”
Keeping abreast of digital, recording and performance technology goes hand in hand with staying on the edge of electronic music. Today’s freshest producers—Deadmau5, Kaskade, Morgan Page—are tech whizzes. Ramirez prefers to use a laptop to play, remix and re-edit mostly his own music live at the club, although he always has CD decks on hand for controlling duties and to serve as standby entertainment in the case of a crash. The DJ game today is about making original music to play on the road, where the money is.
“Music and mix CDs are promotional tools, basically,” Ramirez says. “People like to see physical product in a shop and see your face on product. But in terms of making money, there’s no money in music at all these days. I make a good living from touring.”
And despite the global downturn, Southern California clubland is always a sunny stop for a globetrotter such as Ramirez.
“I really enjoy playing Southern California,” says the spinner from Sheffield. “It seems the people are really up for it. People come up to me for my autograph. There’s a real excitement in the air. It reminds me of the rave days.”
Those days, in many ways, are here again. After all, we’re dealing with a post-Bush economic mess, a Middle East crisis and a whole lot of techno. The New York Stock Exchange is down, and club music is, once again, underground.
“The D. Ramirez thing was a shift to the dark side,” he says of his latest alias. “And I don’t need to change my name again just yet.”