It occurs to me about 12 minutes into observing Louisville DJ Dwight Johnson at one of his two weekly gigs — this one at the Maker’s Mark Lounge on Friday night — that the real artfulness of being a DJ, aside from owning and choosing from a vast and tasteful array of vinyl, is transitioning from one record to the next without exposing a seam. Done right, this creates the perception that what’s thumping methodically from the speakers is one continuous, three-hour song, an ethereal and almost tribalistic balance of sways and swirls that makes people move around, excise their shells and bounce joyfully on the dance floor. At the very least it provides a soundtrack that provokes folks to bob their heads with rhythmic enjoyment.
Dwight Johnson displays the transitional skills essential to DJing. (photo by stephen george)
By these standards, Johnson is an outstanding DJ. A Louisville native who’s hopped around the country for most of his life, the 35-year-old’s resume includes nearly half a lifetime of experience, from the youthful imitations we all recall — he and his friends used to periodically hit the reverse button on his car’s tape deck, making the tape squeal backwards momentarily, a crude emulation of the newly-emerging “scratching” techniques he was hearing all over his hip-hop albums at the time — to New Year’s Eve 2000, when he played an all-expenses-paid gig in Australia, making several thousand dollars.
Johnson is a self-taught spinner with a record collection that exceeds 5,000. He typically brings around 100 records to each gig, and will spin about 80 percent of those. Unlike most DJs, Johnson doesn’t predetermine a set; his is an ethos of improvisation.
“You just try to keep the groove,” Johnson says, imparting a thought on the crux of DJing. “Just gotta keep the flow going.”
Every four or five minutes he splits from our conversation to make that ever-important transition. Every time is flowing and perfect.
“What we try to do every night here is keep it to where you can still have a conversation and kinda dance around a bit,” he says of the lounge. “Non-obtrusive. We try to keep it up-tempo, but it allows vibe, too.”
The vibe develops beautifully for an hour and a half, from around 10 p.m. when Johnson starts his “Lifted Soul” exploration, like he’s been doing each week for the past several months. Heads are bobbing and a few folks dance to the soulful, jazzy and mostly instrumental house tune-collage from within the stuffed Maker’s Lounge. It is raining outside. People are very close to one another.
On one tall chair across from the DJ booth — which is a simple extension of the bar packed with two Technics turntables, a mixing board and an iPod (full of playlists for the days there’s no DJ) — a young woman with crimped blonde hair is dry humping what appears to be a young Louisville professional, probably early 30s, dressed sharply in a slick black suit. He seems very hip and streamlined, part of “the now,” sitting there grinding with his beer and lady.
Contrary to the norm, things got a little hairy at the Maker’s Lounge last Friday night. (photo by stephen george)
Bellied to the bar is a battery of young men (dressed like the guy now being rubbed down by female anatomy), drinking beers and bourbon and some smoking just-bought cigars. Johnson is talking about how different the crowd seems tonight. Most nights he sees a relaxed bunch of young and middle-aged folks taking it easy, calmly conversing and taking in the atmosphere, the vibe. Once in a while, he says, the exceedingly drunk require removal. That almost never happens, though.
Johnson’s wife Rebecca is talking to me about the dry-humping couple, the woman’s back now against the bar, the heavyset young professional conspicuously fondling one of her breasts. We’re discussing the lewdness of it all; she’s saying how out of character it is for this bar.
Then, suddenly, bottles break near the center of the bar. There is much loud yelling. One swing, then two. Punches to the face. Brawl. Melee. Screaming, confusion. The music still blasts and pumps. The dry-humping couple take a break.
“Meatheads,” Johnson says. They pound each other a few times before security breaks things up and drags them to the brick-laden Fourth Street.
Another fight soon breaks out, same place, same groups of people. A handful of cops barrel through the front door and hop in the middle, elbowing and grabbing. They pull out a few more aggressors. Twice more the same thing happens. There is broken glass, and people become frantic.
A woman, rather hysterical, walks frenetically toward the DJ booth.
“Turn the music down. Turn it off. We have to get control of these people,” she says.
Johnson leans over the table to listen. He leans back and issues his verdict, turning toward me.
“The music don’t stop, homey.”PAST YOUR BEDTIME:What:
Spinning tunes with DJ Dwight JohnsonWhy:
To relax, to groove, to grope or to brawl.Where
: Maker’s Mark Lounge, Fourth Street LiveWhen:
Every Thursday: “Soulution” with DJ Dwight Johnson; Every Friday: “Lifted Soul” with DJ Dwight JohnsonMore Info: