DJ club nights are a mixed bag these days. With the current state of pop culture being what it is, DJs often find themselves in the position of playing music they don’t actually like, because the crowd expects to hear records in current radio rotation. The 45 Sessions is an entirely different situation. It’s a club night which caters to people with more eclectic sensibilities. Having just celebrated its 45th iteration, it’s safe to say that it’s become somewhat of a cultural institution — its website calls it “the west coast’s premier all 7” vinyl event,” and its founder DJ Platurn casually mentions, “NY dudes know about us” — one which celebrates vinyl culture and rewards wax enthusiasts with music which doesn’t make them want to run screaming from the building.
The 45 Sessions began almost four years ago, after Platurn and some of his DJ friends decided to do something different: instead of catering to current trends, they created a night dedicated to seven-inch, 45 rpm records – an aesthetic which not only deviated from nightclub norms, but allowed vinyl junkies to dig deep into their record collections for both the familiar and the obscure.
The party debuted at The Layover in March 2010, although, as Platurn recalls, the night started “as kind of a joke almost.” The wide-open format—there were no restrictions on genre, with the only rule being that it had to be vinyl and it had to be on 45—resonated instantly within the Bay Area’s tight-knit DJ community.
Interest grew, as did the list of guest DJs jockeying to spin alongside Platurn and residents Enki, Delgado, Mr. E, and E Da Boss. During an early 45 Sessions episode, turntable master Shortkut, a member of legendary crews The Beat Junkies and Invisibl Skratch Piklz, not only dug deep into his crates for “damn, did he just play THAT” material, but beat-juggled and scratched throughout the night, a technically-challenging feat with a high degree of difficulty.
Word soon spread, and the Sessions became a monthly happening. At that time, Platurn recalls, “there wasn’t anything like this going on in the Bay.”
The night began to develop a following, comprised not of typical clubgoers, but folks who were more about the music than the scene, including some who had stopped going out because they just weren’t feeling the combination of commercial music and superficial club-kid vibes.
“People were attracted to the fact that you got to hear alternative music,” Platurn says. “We have die-hards that come every single time… We have people who don’t go out [regularly]; this is what they do.”
The 45 Sessions, he says, “provided certain things that people were missing.” DJs would try to one-up each other by playing obscure records rarely heard on typical club playlists and, while funk, R&B and hip-hop remained staples, they were augmented by reggae, rock, or just straight-up bugged-out discs. The result was an elevation of the quality of music over standard fare and a party which was different every time, because you never knew what you’d get from month to month. “We’re definitely music nerds that can get into anything,” Platurn explained. “We play so much random music.”
Although the 45 Sessions is a bit subversive to the club music status quo, Platurn insists the party “was never a stab at anything. We weren’t trying to make a statement at all.”
The party moved for a while to now-closed Disco Volante, where vinyl vendors hawking their wares underlined the DJ culture aspects. The list of guest DJs grew to include not only local wax-slingers and 45-collecting ethnomusicologists — by now a roll call too long to name — but also well-known DJs from other cities: Nu-Mark, Prince Paul, Peanut Butter Wolf, J-Zone, Kon & Amir.
One memorable night in 2011, DJ Matthew Africa spun, while 90s hip-hop legends tha Alkoholiks and the Beatnuts hung out at the bar. Sadly, that evening ended up being Africa’s last public performance; just a few weeks later, he was tragically killed in an automobile accident. Africa’s death, Platurn says, was “really intense and really heartbreaking.”
Other evenings which stand out for Platurn include the three-year anniversary, which featured Shortkut along with fellow Beat Junkie Rhettmatic, and sets by hip-hop legends Diamond D and Large Professor. Another big night featured Jay-Z producer Just Blaze, who awed the crowd by closing out his set with house music 45s.
Further visibility came through the world of co-branding via collaborations with True clothing, which manufactures 45 Sessions gear: limited-edition items which, in Platurn’s words, speak to “that collector’s aspect that goes along with 45 culture.”
In early 2013, the party moved to the just-opened Legionnaire Saloon, where it still resides. For the 45th session—a milestone—Platurn pulled out all the stops, with guest DJs Danny Holloway and Natasha Diggs and limited-edition swag, like custom wooden milkcrates, socks, hats, and Keith Haring-esque posters. The crowd divvied up just about how one might expect: half of them got busy on the dance floor, and the other half just stood there with ears cocked, waiting to hear the next record like the RCA Victrola dog. Diggs’s set was particularly good, as she not only party-rocked selections from a vast repertoire of musical formats, but matched Shortkut and Rhettmatic’s performances by scratching and juggling 45 rpm records, to the crowd’s delight.
All 45 of the Sessions, Platurn says, have been “kind of special to me.” Reason being, he’s not being told what he can and cannot play or being inundated with requests for Miley Cyrus or Chief Keef from drunken debutantes. “There are no restrictions,” he says. “I can do what I want as a DJ.”
This Monday saw the return of Monday Soul, an on-again, off-again party at the New Parish which gained a dedicated following by showcasing up-and-coming local hip-hop and R&B talents, including Adrian Marcel, Netta Brielle, The R.O.D. Project and others.
A crowd of about 200 people – quite respectable for the Monday before Xmas – came out and were greeted by DJ D-Sharp, the Golden State Warriors’ official music selector, who warmed up the house for the featured act, a showcase by Toure’s Theory, a live band headed by Hieroglyphics DJ Toure.
Though advertised guests Too $hort and R.O.D. were unfortunate no-shows, the crowd didn’t seem to mind much, as rapper/singer Nio the Gift, and vocalists London and Viveca Hawkins rocked the stage, backed by a live band featuring Toure on drums – a role he also played during the Souls of Mischief’s now-legendary set during Hiero Day.
Nio and London both oozed charisma for days, causing female fans to get exuberant, while Hawkins – also known for her vocal work with the Kev Choice Ensemble, Soul Mechanix, and the Memorials – showed why she’s one of Oakland’s top female soul singers. The band, meanwhile, laid down a pleasant wall of funky racket, playing material from the Toure’s Theory album, a slept-on but deservedly dope album produced by Toure, one of the architects of the Hiero sound, who has also put in work for E-40 and others. Not bad at all for a wintry Monday night.
This week’s picks:
HNRL Holiday Party, 12/26, 9pm, The Night Light, 311 Broadway
Beatrock Oakland Four-Year Anniversary, 12/27, 9pm, $12-$15, New Parish, 579 18th St.
Blunt Club Oakland w/ MED, Moe Green, 12/27, $10, Legionnaire Saloon, 2272 Telegraph
Blackalicious, Antique Naked Soul, Jahi & the Life, 12/29, Slims, 333 1th St., SF
J Boog, DJ Mr. E, 12/30, 9pm, $32-$35, New Parish, 579 18th St.