I Played a Ten-Hour Set Without Stopping and Learned the True Meaning of DJing
The newly inducted Bunker resident explains how he did it—and gives us an exclusive listen to his latest EP.
Ravers at The Bunker and Unter's recent 36-hour party in New York (All illustrations were drawn on-site by Howl)
The Detroit-bred, Brooklyn-based Patrick Russell is The Bunker's latest resident, which is no small beans, considering the 13-year-old roving techno party's reputation as one of the bedrocks of New York City's electronic music scene. As a core member of Detroit label and collective Interdimensional Transmissions, the Midwestern DJ first played with The Bunker family in 2009, during one of the infamous No Way Back parties in that city. Since then, Russell has continuously collaborated with the New York crew, and to mark his induction into an esteemed circle that includes The Bunker co-founder Bryan Kasenic, Derek Plaslaiko, and Mike Servito, he recently pulled off a feat that only the most experienced (and strong-bladdered) DJs dare to attempt: playing for ten hours straight.
The marathon performance—or hazing ritual, depending on how you look at it—closed out a 36-hour party thrown last weekend by The Bunker and Unter in New York City's Market Hotel. It also came on the heels of Russell's latest EP, where he remixed three tracks from The Bunker's back catalog. "I like doing remixes because I like working within a certain set of established parameters," Russell told THUMP over the phone. "When you're making music on your own it's from the heart, and that's great but it's also completely open-ended. [With these tracks], I saw opportunities to take them in different directions that weren't necessarily a four-on-the-floor template. I feel there's a lot more freedom there." Listen to the EP below, and read on for Russell's thoughts on how to pull off a never-ending DJ set—and do it with style. —Michelle Lhooq
Patrick Russell: It's kind of cliché to say that a DJ set should take people on a journey. A lot of people say that, but I think there are DJs who play paint-by-numbers—just because you're playing some house and techno doesn't mean you're taking the dancefloor on a journey. I like telling stories, getting from one point to another over a long period of time, using interesting records that are maybe difficult to mix, and creating this weird dialogue with the crowd. I challenge myself pretty intensely, and while it is incredibly stressful, it's ten times more rewarding. I could easily just play the Top 10 Beatport techno tracks that are easy to mix, but I really enjoy the challenge of playing a lot of older records and different styles. Sometimes it works incredibly, and sometimes it doesn't work so great.
I don't really plan my sets at all. I wing it and play by ear, because I rely almost entirely on the vibe of the crowd. I think some DJs overthink it, and might not realize that or BPM is not what the people want. Even in my early days of DJing in 93 and '4—when it was a house party in a small town where I was playing corny records, because I was just starting out—I've been good at manipulating the energy in a room. But I spent countless hours playing on turntables that didn't even have pitch control. Forcing yourself to practice, even if it's not on the best equipment, just makes you better.
You have to know what the crowd wants before they know that they want it.
These days, I don't have to practice at home as much anymore. I hit a certain point where there's so much muscle memory, it becomes instinctive—you do it almost reflexively, half-asleep. Now, I can show up with a bunch of tracks, feel it out, and do a pretty decent job mixing. Timing is the most stressful—you're playing tracks that are four minutes long, and layering them together for a minute or two. That gives you a minute to find the next record out of a thumbdrive of 700 tracks, get it to the right tempo, cue it up, and start playing it.
Before last weekend's Bunker x Unter party, I'd never done a ten hour set—eight hours is the longest I've performed in public, back in August 2014 at a Bunker party at Trans Pecos. Ten-hour sets require a lot more preparation and thought. When I played a two to three-hour set at Berghain last month, while I put a lot of thought and preparation into it, you're in between two other DJs who are playing tough techno. You can't go all over the place; it's a big room that requires powerful music, and that's what people are going for. You can bang it out for two or three hours—it's pretty easy to keep that level going. But you can't do that to people for ten hours; rather, it's an opportunity to really flex and show what you're made of.
The first DJ I saw play an eight-hour set in-person was Donato Dozzy. It showed me that there's a way to really pace yourself with restraint; the way he didn't go straight for it, and knew how to keep everyone locked in hypnotically without manipulating the energy too much or resorting to tricks like dropping a big cheesy classic. That takes some skill. A few months ago, I also saw Theo Parrish play for nine hours in a Brooklyn warehouse. He's almost the opposite of Dozzy, where you never know what kind of record is gonna come next. He'll go from Chicago acid track to jazz fusion—playing all over the place and changing gears at the drop of a dime—while still managing to stitch these things together. It's phenomenal. Donato Dozzy and Theo Parrish represent such polar opposites, but they pull it off incredibly, and I draw inspiration from both of them.
At the Bunker x Unter party, I knew what track I was going to start with, and just played it all by ear from there. I brought 700 tracks with me. I think I played almost 200. It was also the first time I'd ever played all-digital on CDJs for that long. I wanted to challenge myself to be more organized and map everything out in different folders. When I listen to music, the track tells me where it should be played in a set—early, peak time, etc. In the week or two leading up to this party, I spent an hour or two each day going through the music I had, and in the last two days got dialed in about where I needed to be. I can get mentally prepared leading up to it, but if I go too much in advance, I end up changing my mind. So I prefer to tap into what I'm feeling on that day, work off those emotions, and pull based on that.
Since I wasn't starting from scratch—it was an already energetic party that had been going for 26 hours and was starting to really pop off—I knew I had to try and take it further and hold that for the duration of the night.
My first track was "Riots in Brixton" by Todd Terry (under his English Friday alias). Mike Servito, who I've been friends with for many years, played before me, and I knew he plays a lot of upbeat jacking house, so I knew this track would be the perfect start-out with the same tempo.
I played at least six hours of that intense pumping style—really upbeat material. Then, I started transitioning into more stripped back, jack/drum-oriented territory—older, bleepier tracks moving into early Warp records.
For an hour and a half, I played old Chicago records and percussive jams, working people up a lot and gradually toughening up until I went into the heavy acid zone.
At the heaviest part of the night, I was playing a lot of mid-90s German acid. I played a half dozen tracks by Wolfgang Voigt, who released under upwards of 30 aliases, including this old one as Love Inc.:
From there, I tried to make the music more abstract and weirder. That led me to a section where I was playing acid and electro at the same time, weaving in and out. Towards 6 or 7AM, I sped it up to faster electro, and finally I played this track by Like-A-Tim, on the Djax-Up-Beats label from 1996. It's an upbeat record called "Scale" where the tempo changes. I was playing 136 BPM anyway, and I thought it would be fun to mess with everyone's sense of tempo. The way it cuts out at the end of the track, I thought that was an opportunity to take everyone down and give everyone a break after playing quite energetically for six to seven hours. I took it down to 119 to 120 BPM, significantly slower, with these epically stretched-out tracks for the next two hours, from 7AM to 9AM. When I am playing slower, this one always sounds ominous:
Around 9AM, I felt like the party needed a bit more life—something needed to be injected back in—so I started playing some Italo disco jams and early Aphex Twin. Playing more positive, light-hearted music towards the end seemed to really work. Winding it down, I did this funny thing—I took an old sample where this guys says, "This is a bonus track" I recorded that earlier that day, and played that before playing "Cosmic Dancer" by T-Rex.
I didn't think of it at the time, but the lyrics in "Cosmic Dancer" speak so much about dancing. People had been dancing for 20-something hours, and they were really connecting to it, no matter who they were or what age. I think taking the time to take people down and leave them with something beautiful or poignant creates a better impression when they are leaving.
Of course, a ten-hour set is pretty taxing physically—it's hard to stand in one place for ten hours, you're just way more stiff. I was constantly bending over and stretching especially towards the end. But it's really all mental—maintaining that much concentration and focus, and juggling so many things in your head at the same time, while relying on gut instinct and not over-thinking it. To make it something special, you need to have something inside of you. In the end, it's all about the people. You have to know what the crowd wants before they know that they want it.