Most of my columns feature singer songwriters or bands. This week I wanted to shine a light on an often overlooked player in the local music scene, the DJ. I think a great DJ in some ways is like a great storyteller. They can chart a journey through familiar terrain while still managing to take surprising twists. A great DJ also makes it really hard to get off the dance floor. I spoke with two DJs from different parts of the world who are both hosting their own local, weekly residencies.
Shannon (DJ XP) Howard is hosting Monday Night Madness at The Landfall in Woods Hole. “Back in the day in high school when people would make mixtapes I got into it,” he said of his early DJ days growing up in Barnstable.
“Then I went to buying records, building my collection and DJing all sorts of gigs from here to Boston. All over the place.”
While hip-hop is his first love, XP says he embraces all kinds of music from rock and jazz to country. “I love Wu Tang and if I can get in a Method Man track, I do. I just love that whole era and seeing what those guys built together but music is evolving and I try to evolve with it. I stay up on the new music.”
Like many Cape Codders he has a few hustles going and one of them is Northern Soul, a catering company he and his fiancée started. I asked if there are parallel skills with cooking and DJing.
“Yeah, you have to pay attention to the people and your surroundings. Both are also about timing. When I deejay, I prefer to go pretty free form instead of sticking with one particular genre. I like to blend things and see what works. Sometimes it pays off big and sometimes it’s a train wreck,” he said with a laugh.
On Monday nights XP says the main thing he wants to do is make people dance. “For me the club is my cardio. As long as you’re moving, bouncing and having a good time, I don’t care how you dance as long as you’re enjoying yourself. That’s what it’s really about.”
Every Thursday night at Grumpy’s Pub there is an international vibe. Dubliner Robby Dawnay is DJing a series he’s dubbed Mixtape: The Soundtrack to your Life.
“I got into DJing at the young age of 16,” he said. “I was working a summer job back home in Ireland and I got my first set of turntables. I started building an eclectic set of vinyls from the ’60s and ’70s all the way up to the ’90s. I had modern-day dance music, which back then would have been progressive trance. I used to experiment mixing indie music with dance music and punk music. You know, just fiddling around with the tables trying to do crazy things. I realized how much I loved and adored music at that stage.”
He counts club DJ/recording artist Fatboy Slim as an early influence as well as radio DJ John Peel, “He [Peel] introduced Joy Division to the world on Radio One and promoted all that post-punk and new wave music. Those bands that came from the UK in the late ’70s and early ’80s still have a huge impact on music today.” Robbie cut his teeth in the Temple Bar neighborhood of Dublin at a bar called the Foggy Dew. Mixing new wave, punk, ’80s electro, ska, soul and indie rock he created the Mixtape: Soundtrack to your Life template. As well as DJing bars and clubs he also opened up for international touring acts like The Buzzcocks and Killing Joke. He also listed DJing moped rallies and a charity for a school for the blind as highlights.
Being from Ireland, Robbie brings a unique perspective on music, “When you look at the map, Ireland has America to the west and mainland Europe to the east,” he explained. “You’ve got different genres of music coming at you from both sides, so it’s in both ears, basically. If you stand looking north, everything from the east is gonna be in your right ear and if you stand looking south it’s the opposite, but, either way, if you have an ear for music and an open mind for new records and artists, you are going to discover a lot.”
Every Monday night at The Landfall in Woods Hole, DJ XP is hosting Monday Night Madness, and every Thursday night at Grumpy’s Pub in Falmouth, Robbie Dawnay is hosting Mixtape: The Soundtrack to your Life. The dance floor awaits.