Saturday, August 19, 2006


Yeah, he knows you know who he is. His friends know what you think about him. But they’re still having the best time ever. Spend a night on the town with one of Hollywood’s most conspicuous party people...

The night started innocently enough. It was a serene poolside scene at Hollywood’s legendary (and now notorious, thanks to Amanda Demme) Roosevelt Hotel, tonight playing host to a splashy Xbox party to celebrate the 2006 E3 Convention in Los Angeles, best described as a Winter Music Conference for tech-heads and extreme game enthusiasts. As leggy models dispense top-shelf liquor at a series of open bars, celebrities like Matthew Perry and Michael Vartan maintain their cool while being shamelessly gawked at by out-of-town video execs and pretty much everyone else. The shimmering pool is dramatically lit and surrounded by massive TV sets that are hooked up to game consoles for partygoers to easily experience the latest Xbox offerings. It’s not long before the area is teeming in a frothy crush of industry power players, recognizable working actors and enough inside chatter to keep gossip sites like on fire for weeks.

Controlling the sound in the eye of this celeb-reality storm is a particular working actor, tonight still using the stage moniker DJ Donkey Punch. Most under the age of 40 would easily recognize him as Danny Masterson, AKA TV bad boy “Hyde” from popular and omnipresent sitcom That ’70s Show. Having recently finished the series’ impressive eight season run on the Fox network, Masterson and friends are ready to have a good time. A full bottle of Patron is summoned from the bar, and he starts pouring drinks for his posse, which tonight includes his brother Chris, best friend Luke and girlfriend Bijou as in Phillips, the striking actress/tabloid fave best known for edgy cinematic fare like Black & White and Havoc. She throws her arms around Masterson’s neck. “I’m in a fashion show tomorrow night,” she purrs. “I’m walking for Cavalli. And yes, you have to be there.” He just smiles, surely thanking the gods for his good fortune.

Still, Masterson’s TV star status and relaxed demeanor doesn’t make him immune from the same problems most other DJs suffer at gigs, and tonight it’s all about the volume — or lack thereof. Because of the Roosevelt Hotel’s close proximity to old-school Hollywood neighborhoods full of people that work for a living, music spun by the pool after dark has to be kept well lower than Masterson or the partygoers would prefer.

Masterson soldiers on. Using a Sertato digital DJ system, he spins a tasteful blend of alterna-classics from the Smiths next to current favorites Bloc Party amidst more obscure choices, like atmospheric British band Electrelane. It’s a fun, lively mix that alleviates some of the tension that’s inevitable at such high-profile events.

“Yeah, this kind of sucks,” he laments at the restricted sound system that’s fighting a losing battle with the din of conversation rising from the crush of people packed around the pool, now hosting a troupe of scantily-clad beauties splashing through a choreographed interpretive dance. “So let’s just have our own party.” More Patron is poured, and Masterson cues up a particularly raucous tune from Nashville teen punks Be Your Own PET. “Let’s see what they make of this,” he laughs. An explosion of buzz saw guitars and punk girl shrieks pierce the air. A couple of hipster kids in striped tees and asymmetrical haircuts stop by the tables to give Masterson props. Soon he’s whipped up a gaggle of bodies shaking it in the DJ area. By the time I’ve met actor James DeBello (Detroit Rock City, Swimfan) and teased Bijou Phillips about the brilliant way she says the word “library” in Black & White, Masterson’s got a serious party going on, with Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” inspiring more dancers into the fray.

“I know what people think,” admits Masterson’s self-described “BFF” Luke, who also works behind the scenes on Ashton Kutcher’s MTV show Punk’d. “They see Danny spinning and automatically assume he’s just another ‘celebrity DJ,’ but it’s not like that. We started spinning as a team. That first summer we lived in record stores, collecting over 3,000 records. It was just about good songs, mostly classic hip-hop. We weren’t mixing or anything,” he admits. “But Danny took it further, and really learned how to beat-match and mix. I’d suggest a couple of songs that I thought would sound good together, and he could actually make it happen,” he smiles admiringly. “People are always shocked when they see him play. He just did a gig at Ice in Las Vegas and had the whole place rocking.”

“Hey, what are you doing later?” I look to see that Danny’s talking to me. “You should come to Cinespace with us. Pony Up is playing, and they’re awesome!”

“I first started spinning with my boy Jimmy Boyle at the Three of Clubs. That’s when I began buying records, which was like eight or nine years ago,” Masterson remembers a couple of weeks later from the set of his latest acting gig, “heist movie gone wrong” comedy Capers. “DJ AM showed me how to mix the beats, and then Luke and I would go and do our friends’ parties. We’d play really fun hair-metal and random, weird ’80s hip-hop tracks. We’d mix in bad ’80s hits, like Foreigner and Phil Collins. It was hysterical. People didn’t know what was going on.”

It was a joke that turned quite serious when he started getting calls to play at brand-name clubs and parties. Soon, Masterson was a regular on the celebrity DJ circuit, spinning exclusive industry events from Los Angeles to New York. He’s understandably uncomfortable with the “celebrity DJ” tag, but is quick to remind that he does know what the hell he’s doing up there.

“Every once in a while I’ll train-wreck a transition, that’s for sure,” he confesses. “But I understand the role of a DJ. You have to keep the girlies dancing and make sure everyone’s having a good time. The best way to do that is to never have a break in the music, so I learned how to mix well enough to keep it smooth.

“We all started with jail terms, like DJ Tossed Salad and DJ Prison Bitch,” he says about his recently retired moniker DJ Donkey Punch. “When Puff Daddy became P Diddy, I changed mine up to DJ Donkey Pizzle. Now I’ve changed it again. Donkey Pizzle is officially retired, and my new name is DJ Mom Jeans. You heard it first!”

Masterson laughs at the absurdity of it all, but that’s exactly the point.

“Me being a DJ almost became too serious, and that’s the last thing I want. So having crazy names helps keep it fun,” he explains. “I do a lot of parties, and I want it to just be fun. My friends are real DJs, guys like AM, Mark Ronson and Stretch Armstrong. Those are all my boys. I’m just an actor that loves music. Back when I started, there weren’t so many good DJs that could mix all different styles of music. That’s what I wanted to do. Now you’ve got guys like Steve Aoki and DJ Vice that can really rock a party that way. Celebrity DJs are everywhere. Now, I wouldn’t even start DJing. But since I’ve been doing it for so long and it’s still fun, I don’t feel like I have to retire myself.”

When Danny Masterson calls himself a DJ, it’s not just in the wheels of steel sense. He’s also one-half of the duo behind radio show “Feel My Heat,” which is broadcast on Los Angeles’ wildly popular FM station Indie 103.1-FM every Monday night. Best known for “Jonesy’s Jukebox,” the weekday lunchtime slot featuring Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, Indie has become the local bastion of current new rock upstarts next to old-school alternative heroes. On “Feel My Heat,” Masterson and local promoter Brent Bolthouse play whatever they hell they feel like, bolstered with a healthy dose of “color commentary” from Danny. A recent episode boasted a panorama of music ranging from Cold War Kids to the Rakes to Blonde Redhead.

“Brent manages the band Camp Freddy, and he made a deal with Indie to get them on the station,” Masterson recalls of the show’s infancy. “While he was talking to (program director) Michael Steele, Brent jokingly asked for his own slot. Michael said sure. So when it came time for (Bolthouse) to do his first show, he asked me to stop by and hang out with him on the air. I went, and it was fun. For the second week, he asked me to come back and bring my own records to play. I played like five or six songs that next week, and started talking mad shit on the air, really funny stuff. After the third week he said he didn’t want to do the show without me. Brent’s got his style of music, and I’m out searching high and low for all types of hot new music, whatever’s awesome. With Brent, it’s more of a conversation and telling a story, while I just rip on everybody, including myself” he says with an evil giggle. “Nothing’s sacred.”

A highlight of “Feel My Heat” is the “Ode to Silverlake” segment, which is a musical middle finger directed towards the cooler-than-you hipsters that populate LA’s famously hyper-trendy Silverlake neighborhood.

“We were playing a Weezer song on one of the first shows, and this hipster kid from (Silverlake) calls up complaining, ‘you shouldn’t be playing fucking Weezer, man. That’s not indie.’ I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Where do you think you got your haircut, your clothes and your whole style?’” Masterson seethes. “Weezer is like your godfather, you stupid motherfucker! So just to mess with him, we played something like “Come Sail Way” by Styx, and that turned into something we do on every show now. It’s directed at all of the hipsters that go to Star Shoes, Beauty Bar and Cinespace,” he adds, naming just a few of LA’s current hotspots. “We’ll play songs like White Lion’s ‘When The Childern Cry’ just for them. Last week we played ‘Pac-Man Fever’ by Buckner & Garcia.” The irony that these cheesy nuggets are being spun on the city’s premier outlet of what’s perennially fashionable is not lost on Materson. “We do it because we can,” he chuckles. “It’s all in good fun.”

Wisely, I accept Masterson’s aforementioned offer to accompany him to the Pony Up gig at Cinespace. Leaving the now-sloppy last dirges of the Xbox party, Masterson, Bijou Phillips and Luke pile into a chauffeured SUV. Maneuvering through thick traffic up Hollywood Boulevard, it only takes a few minutes to arrive at the club, where people that you’ve surely seen populating the pages of are milling out front when Masterson rolls to the door. Leaping up the red-carpeted stairs into Cinespace, those very same hipsters he likes to tease are clearly happy to see him. He gets an endless sea of pounds, smiles and “what’s up’s?” through the crammed dance-floor where a DJ is blasting Robert Palmer. By the time his crew gets to the main room, Pony Up has already started their set.

“They sound so much better than the last time I saw them,” Masterson explains of the Montreal band’s ear-ticklish blend of smart girl vocals and guitar-driven beatitudes before heading to the bar to buy the first round of drinks. When he gets back, fellow celeb DJ Steve Aoki is in tow, bouncing around with his usual surplus of energy. The Cobrasnake himself stops by and snaps a few photos. Masterson holds court on anything and everything. Topics range from his adoration of actor Sean Penn (“The greatest of our generation”) and Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder (“They’re the only two people out here that I have too much respect for to even meet,” he admits) to the uselessness of psychiatrists (“All they want to do is get you on drugs,” he muses).

“Hey man, I get it,” he says at the end of the night back in the SUV on his way home. “I got lucky, and on a sitcom at that. People can say what they want, but we were on for eight years. It was a successful show, and that’s the reason I can do what I do. Now that I’m here, I want to make more good things happen, have success in other places.” Given his investments in popular LA restaurant Dolce to the immense buzz around his jazz night Kid’s Cotton Club at Hollywood spot Guy’s (“I want to recreate the original jazz joints of Harlem”), it’s apparent that he’s doing more than simply supplying tabloids with fresh fodder. “We’re not just dumb kids anymore.”

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Move over, mashups! Now there’s somethin’ meatier: DJ Girl Talk’s Night Ripper

In 2006, everyone’s a DJ — even you! — thanks to MP3s and the iTunes playlist function. But nobody celebrates sonic egalitarianism, or takes it to such frantic extremes, as does DJ Girl Talk (a.k.a. Pittsburgh DJ Greg Gillis), whose highly actionable new mashup CD Night Ripper (Illegal Art) is all the rage on the underground.

Bordering on a new-school Paul’s Boutique for the pop-culture-obsessed ADHD set, Night Ripper salutes as much of the past 30 years of contemporary music as possible in as short a time span as possible. Where most mashups simply juxtapose a few tracks with similar BPMs or chord progressions, Girl Talk piles a decadent number of songs on top of each other to create a manic variation on Name That Tune — or a digital twist on ’80s mixmasters Stars On 45.

A routine like “Bounce That” finds the Purple Ribbon All-Stars rapping over a perpetually morphing series of beats from the Emotions, LCD Soundsystem, the Breeders, Laura Branigan and Britney Spears (just to name a few) in just two minutes. “Hold Up” features James Taylor crooning over a Mariah Carey loop before the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” sets the stage for Nas to rock the mic before pitting Weezer against a Chicago ghetto-tech rhythm. In all, there are more than 150 samples (each credited in the liner notes) that fuel the party-hearty dance mix.

Incredibly, this potential litigation orgy is not something you have to hunt down, but can be easily purchased at regular retailers like Amazon. Of course, the blogoheads are hot and bothered over Girl Talk: Some hail him as the new DJ messiah, while others consider him no better than musical fast food. With a live show notorious for “seminudity” and audience participation, the buzz should be deafening by the time he sets a date here in Los Angeles. But now that everyone from MTV to The New Yorker is onto him, he knows the clock is ticking. As he put it on his MySpace page recently, “I’m now a hyped band — get ready to hate me in approximately one year.” In his case, make that six months.

(Originally published in the LA Weekly, August 2006)

Justin Timberlake Live @ House of Blues Sunset, 8/11

Measured by the celebrities in attendance at this crazy exclusive club date, Justin Timberlake is one of pop’s brightest lights — Ellen DeGeneres, the Hilton sisters, Tyra Banks and Pharrell Williams were some of the fan favorites eliciting shrieks from below whenever they peered over the VIP balcony. But once the former ’N Sync-er took the stage, it became obvious why everyone was there.

Lifting off with a bombastic version of his revenge fantasy “Cry Me a River” (take that, Britney!), Timberlake then led his tight all-black band through an exuberant take on the rollicking juke-joint number “SeƱorita,” with the capacity crowd singing louder than Timberlake himself. But the new songs were the true test, and for the most part they passed. “My Love” (which got a five-star review from Pitchfork’s terminal hipsters) is another top-flight Timbaland collaboration, riding an easy Southern hip-hop groove and falsetto melody. Will.I.Am showed up to guest on his collabo “Damn Girl,” an upbeat pop romp screaming for radio play. The lilting ballad “Until the End of Time” showcased Timberlake’s knack for sticky melodies and sugary sentiment. “Like I Love You” became a live mashup, slipping the riff to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” underneath the chorus. The party ramped up when Timbaland and the Three 6 Mafia busted onstage; even the band seemed bemused by Timberlake’s delight at performing alongside such hip-hop heavyweights. And the rousing closer, the ambitiously bizarre new single “SexyBack,” drew the loudest ovation of the night from the partisan crowd. If Timberlake’s upcoming FutureSex/LoveSounds shows this kind of breadth and bump, it could be the hottest pop album since, well, Justified.

Timberlake has carved an enviable niche in the pop-cultural landscape, with a pansexual identity that excites both gay boys and the decidedly female TRL massive. Musically, he enjoys a credibility that’s as much about his own undeniable talents as about the company he keeps. It’s like Prince and Madonna really did have a baby in the ’80s.

(Originally published in the LA Weekly, August 2006)

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Who’s laughing now? While the teen pop bubble may have burst, ’NSync refugee Justin Timberlake fashioned a golden parachute from the fabric of music’s most pervasive beat bosses, specifically the Neptunes and Timbaland. His resulting solo debut, Justified (Jive) exploded with hooks and hits, effectively catapulting him from teeny-bop pretty boy to number one contender for the king of pop crown (Usher? Puh-leeze!). Now he’s ready to take his next shot at the top spot with the forthcoming Futuresex/Lovesounds (Jive), led by the four-on-the-floor robo-funk of freaky first single “Sexyback,” an ambitious blast of club flash that bumps like something by idiosyncratic Chicago house pioneer Green Velvet (get thee to Wikipedia!), courtesy of ’06 production MVP Timbaland. Dress to sweat — there won’t be a dry body in the house.
(Originally published in the LA Weekly, August ’06)