The local DJ walks through the thought process of performing on Le Plur.
There was a time when a DJ made his name with exclusives—tracks (usually) he (sometimes she) had that no one else did that blew up the dance floor. DJs famously guarded those tracks to keep them a secret and their personal advantage. According to Carmine P. Filthy (with a Boy Named Ruth, Saturday, 2:50, Le Plur), those days are gone. A less-talked-about byproduct of the digital music revolution is that there is no scarcity. Most DJs work off their laptops with digital files, not turntables and vinyl, and those digital tracks are infinitely reproducible.
“Even if you’re on an exclusive mailing list, you know that there might another 40 people in that record pool,” he says. “It would be real easy for another person in this city to have it, the way digital dissemination happens.”
Because exclusives have become rare, Filthy—real name, Carmine Potenza, bar manager at Purloo by day—says that fact is an equalizer, and that DJs now have to distinguish themselves with their performances—their programming, their technique, and their swagger onstage. Filthy has tried to carve his niche in New Orleans not by specializing in any particular sound but by keeping track of the cutting edge in Europe and particularly England. He moved to New York City in 2005 and while there, he remained genre agnostic, playing house, techno and Italian disco. Rather than find inspiration in genres or American schools of thought, he looked overseas. “Europe was always ahead of the curve,” Potenza says. “I started embracing what they were doing in the UK. What are they doing in Germany?” DJ Erol Alkan made an impression on him for his ability to mix house, techno and rock, as did Trevor Jackson for similar reasons. “When I started 15, 16 years ago, people wanted to know, Are you a drum and bass DJ? Are you a techno DJ? Now you can just be a DJ,” he says.
Potenza grew up in Miami, and he attended his first parties in the mid-nineties while in high school. They featured a DJ who specialized in old ska and rock steady, he remembers. “Ska was in its third wave, but this guy was really into the traditional stuff.” In the same venue on another night, a DJ spun primarily Britpop, and the two nights drove home the idea that people want songs they can sing along to. “Shortly thereafter, I started going to drum and bass and jungle parties and realized, Oh, there’s electronic music.” His first DJ gigs focused on Britpop which was easy for him, and a few years later he started spinning electronic dance music.
Miami has become an EDM mecca, but when Potenza lived there, record stores that sold something other than trance were hard to find. He didn’t start seriously collecting records to spin until he moved to Chicago in 2001. “One that comes to mind was this white label remix of ‘Erotic City’ by Prince,” he says. It was the first time he had something he didn’t think anyone else had, and it was also the first time he heard “Erotic City.” He didn’t hear the original until a year later.
Potenza began to find himself as a DJ 10 years ago in New York City. He moved to New York in 2005 naively thinking that he was going to bring something new to the city, then moved to New Orleans in 2010 like so many people do—after a visit.
“Wow, this is a place I could live,” he remembers thinking. Having grown up in Miami, the weather wasn’t an obstacle, and the burgeoning cocktail scene meant he’d have more than one income stream. Once here, he started DJ’ing a show on WTUL, and he helped introduce New Orleans to dubstep as one of the organizers of Bass Church nights at the Dragon’s Den.
This year will be Filthy’s sixth Voodoo on the Le Plur stage, and it has often fallen to him to open the stage. In the opening slot, he felt he had the liberty he wouldn’t have later in the day. It’s poor form to rev the crowd up too much too early and leave no place for the headliner to take it, but early in the day, Filthy could play a thermodynamic set if he wanted. “It’s the only way you’re going to bring people in,” he says. “You have to do your most attention-getting stuff.”
He might know in advance what his first track will be, but he doesn't think beyond that point. Part of the fun of the gig is figuring out what to do on the fly, but he also wants to be responsive to the audience. When he’s performing on Le Plur, Filthy thinks about those who are in front of him. “Those are the diehards,” he says. “They won’t leave that stage all day.” He plays to them—to entertain them, educate them, and have a conversation with them.
For him, the real test of the DJ at Voodoo is what happens around sunset. At that point, there’s a crowd and an energy, but the drugs haven’t entirely kicked in yet. When the sun goes down, it becomes more nightclub-like “and the pressure is on,” Filthy says. “The only thing headliners have on the other DJs is the light show. Any skilled DJ who has played a headlining set for a group of people could crush it at a festival.”