Phreak Power Podcast Vol. 11: Dr. Plotkin – “Black Velvetopia”

Guest Mixes

Phreak Power Podcast Vol. 11: Dr. Plotkin – “Black Velvetopia”

An 80-minute stimulus mix of deep house and rhythmic grooves from WKDU 91.7FM Philadelphia’s Dr. Plotkin.

For the eleventh Phreak Power Podcast, Philadelphia DJ and WKDU 91.7FM radio host Dr. Plotkin delivers an 18-track stimulus mix to tide you over during our societal hiatus. The Guest Mix, entitled “Black Velvetopia,” covers a lot of ground, and Dr. Plotkin traverses it with ease. From the sample-heavy stylings of Romare to the electro-acoustic experimentations of Dan Deacon⁠, and with a wide array of house and rhythmic grooves in between, Dr. Plotkin blends the divergent styles seamlessly.

Please stay safe out there, wash your hands thoroughly and often, and enjoy this care package of quality tunes!

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Phreak Power Podcast Vol. 11 was recorded live by Dr. Plotkin.

Tracklist:

  1. Romare – Motherless Child
  2. Carrot Green & Selvagem – Ossain
  3. Masomenos – Savane Dub
  4. Sasha Jan Rezzie – Play Infinite
  5. Andy Hart – Vienen
  6. Rene Najara – Rivers
  7. Tornado Wallace – Kakadu
  8. Librarian – Aren’t You A Mess?
  9. Sekou Babe – Treize Zero Zero Trois (Nachtbraker Remix)
  10. D. Tiffany – Distant Globes
  11. Perdu – Morbid
  12. Monty Luke – Anton’s Room
  13. Urulu – Mushroom Valve
  14. LNRDCROY – Sunrise Market
  15. Dele Sosimi – Too Much Information
  16. Nachtbraker – Hamdi 
  17. Geinoh Yamashirogumi – Kaneda
  18. Dan Deacon – Slow With Horns / Run For Your Life

Shantih Interviews Dr. Plotkin:


Thank you for the guest mix! First off, how are you handling the adjustment into post-COVID society?


I have to admit, it’s not easy. I think of myself as introverted. Often I choose a quiet night at home over socializing with a big crowd, but now that I no longer even get the option of big social events I find myself really missing them! Plus, continuing to work in direct contact with people in construction sites is… unsettling.


I’d say!


On the other hand, I have been cooking more, and also playing more music than I have in ages after a nearly six month hiatus from WKDU. 


Well I hope you’re staying safe as you can out there on the job. But I’m glad to hear you’re playing more music at least. My music addiction has definitely kept me grounded through all of this. So tell me a bit about the mix… Is there an idea behind it? Any specific inspirations?


Right before lockdown, I went on an enormous music collection binge, downloading dozens of albums and EPs that had been in my wish list for months but I had never gotten around to picking up (due to said hiatus from the radio). A lot of what I picked up was outside of the disco realm I have found myself DJing within the last several years.

When lockdown started, my DJ group Left Rite organized a spontaneous online marathon of some Philly peeps and when I played that event, I decided to wing it with some of these new songs and go as leftfield as possible, or as far from my disco comfort zone as I could. It ended up being a blast, and I decided I wanted to do the same for this mix—create a sonic adventure that never stayed on one track for too long, and also was something that would surprise someone who sees Dr. Plotkin and thinks “oh I know what to expect here.” 


Yes, I was definitely expecting to hear more disco, but I was pleasantly surprised with your submission. I’ve also gone on a few “enormous music collection binges” over the past couple months. Of these new additions to your library, how did you go about curating songs for this mix?


As I said earlier, a lot of what is in this mix I had only heard once or twice recently, after having first listened to it while digging months and months ago. When I sit down and properly prepare a mix—as opposed to improving like I normally do on WKDU—I think about the general vibe or genre I have in mind, and also some songs I know I absolutely want to play. For this mix, I knew I wanted something more spacey, danceable but not too uptempo, where maybe the beat would come in and out of focus and wouldn’t be the main thing holding my attention. That’s where tracks like “Kakadu“, “Distant Globes“, or “Sunrise Market” came in. 


Those were among my favorites from the mix! How about the others?


Well, some of the songs were added at random and then ended up working really well in the flow. For instance, the opening track “Motherless Child” is a song I love but don’t often play out since it’s so slow. It popped up on a YouTube recommendation the other day and it felt right to start things off. Likewise, the idea for the final track “Slow With Horns/Run For Your Life” only came about when I was listening through an earlier version of the mix I had sent my friend Es, the bells in the previous track “Kaneda” made me think of that song. Dan Deacon was probably the first musical artist we found we both liked and it felt fitting to include it as a way to stay connected to friends when that’s literally impossible right now. 


Sure, that’s as good of a reason as any to include a song. I’m a sucker for good intros and outros, so I appreciated these selections and their place within the mix. Also, props for dropping a tune from the Akira soundtrack! What was the recording process like?


I recorded a couple of different versions before coming to this one. Before actually hitting the record button on each one, I heavily prepared the order of the tracks and even demoed most of the transitions or general points when I wanted to move to a new song.


It sounds like we have similar styles when it comes to creating and preparing a mix for recording. What kind of hardware did you use?


I don’t own CDJs or a mixer at my house, just the Traktor controller I first learned to DJ on. That is all the tech I can use since quarantine started. I personally am not a fan of using Traktor, for a number of reasons (I think all the software makes the act of DJing less fun, plus my controller is janky as fuck), but without access to another setup, this was my only option. As I continued to refine the mix, I surprisingly found myself using less effects and looping. In this version I might have just used the filter and a few instances of a delay effect to help smooth out a transition in the moment. That made the entire process feel more fluid and spontaneous, even though it was rehearsed.


Sure. The way I see it, you can always abandon a plan. I’m such a fan of prep because it gives me the confidence that I’m delivering something polished, but I also know that I can abandon the plan at any moment and go off-script.


I’m reminded of something Rich Medina told me once (and I’m paraphrasing here): “When you go into the club/venue/whatever you shouldn’t just bring green records cuz what if the room is full of red people, or someone wants to hear something blue. You should be thinking 3 songs ahead of yourself constantly when DJing.”


I love that. That’s exactly how I feel. You can never be over-prepared.


Yes, that always stuck with me because I don’t like putting myself into a box at any point when performing, and that goes for listening to others too. Some of my favorite moments out and about were when someone may have been playing nothing but techno and then suddenly starts playing classic disco and the entire crowd goes wild.


Agreed. Nothing is worse than monotony. The best sets have surprises, unforeseen detours… How long have you been DJing, and how did you get involved with WKDU? 



I have been DJing on WKDU as a purely “playlist DJ” (for lack of a better term) since 2012, and DJing with controller/CDJs/turntable mixing since 2014. I have to give credit to Chris B for first teaching me how to mix vinyl back in 2014, when I trainwrecked over and over in his basement apartment before finally making one good transition. 

I became involved in WKDU in 2012 as a sophomore at Drexel. I desperately wanted to play the music I enjoyed for the people of Philadelphia and see if anyone shared the same taste as me. In high school, when I first started to listen to music on my own, I was terribly alone because my taste was so far removed from everyone else, and college radio seemed like a great way to fight against that. 


I can definitely relate to that. I had a similar experience in high school and most of college. 


Yep, I felt alone since few people liked listening to the same music as me as a kid. I listened to lots of electronic music that was either 10 or 15 years old, or otherwise unpopular with most people my age. The spaces where people did listen to that music were inaccessible to a 14 year old kid stuck at home. Even in college when I found a musical home at WKDU, I didn’t know that there were still raves. I honestly thought they ended in the ‘90s and there was nothing but bad clubs with bottle service that played pop music. When I found my way into the underground house and techno scene in Philly, where parties were geared towards the music and the creation of an atmosphere that allowed for people to do nothing but dance, I felt deeply connected. I was learning to DJ at the same time and felt an enormous draw to the idea of creating a never ending musical through line for an entire evening—especially with how I visualize music (specifically four on the floor dance music) as a breakdown of the rhythm section.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I played music as a kid, piano for two years and violin for five years, but never felt like I could improvise with any instruments. When I started DJing, it was like a dam broke and I found I could do this artistic thing for hours on end and that felt very satisfying.


That’s great! I took a similar path, playing trombone throughout grade school, as well as a couple years of piano lessons. How do you think this background in music has informed your DJing?


I personally don’t feel as if it has influenced my DJing much, at least not in any noticeable way. I never learned much about music theory in any official capacity. When it comes to mixing in key, or trying to find melodies that match harmonies, I’m kind of just spitting in the wind and when I find stuff that sounds good together, I stick with it for awhile. I’m much more interested in the rhythmic aspect of DJing, and the creation of a continuous groove, which I have taught myself mostly on my own since I have no formal training in percussion. I like syncopated beats, and find myself drawn to music that includes those and complex rhythms in addition to simple 4 on the floor construction.

To get back to your question, I honestly love listening to jazz (even though I never played it), and house music that incorporates those sounds and musical textures is something I love to play around with.


That certainly comes through in your DJing and selections. I love jazz as well, but I did not find a love for it until after I stopped playing in a jazz band, ironically. I am thankful for what it taught me in regards to music theory, but I definitely don’t think it’s necessary knowledge for a DJ. So how are things working at WKDU these days, post-COVID?



Nowadays at WKDU, the folks running things are thinking bigger than ever. As always, the executive board that governs the decisions brought to the general membership are current students. They made the decision to take WKDU fully remote prior to the PA shutdown to maintain safe spaces, and also recorded specific public service announcements related to COVID-19 to keep the listening public informed. Additionally they are remaining very active on social media to maintain engagement, whether it’s Instagram or the blog Communiqué. And finally, the WKDU Electronic Music Marathon team just had our first meeting (via video chat, of course) to discuss how we will start moving forward with the next marathon this fall. 


I’m glad to hear that the EMM is still going ahead, although I expect it will operate a bit differently this year. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience last year, despite my early 7AM set starttime! But I suppose that your 4AM Monday slot wasn’t a cakewalk either… Can you tell me about all of the events and parties you’re affiliated with?


I am a member of the Left Rite crew. Before all this craziness, we used to throw a monthly party featuring jungle, dnb, breaks, etc. at Warehouse on Watts, as well as other less frequent house or techno parties when the stars aligned. We own our own soundsystem that gives us the luxury to create a party with a high attention to detail programming as well as sound quality. When this quarantine is over, you can bet you’ll be hearing that once again.


I hope so! Looking forward to it. How about your WKDU residency?


I still have a weekly show on WKDU, which is of course also currently on hiatus also due to COVID. Once Drexel gives us the OK to go back on air, I hope to return to my former show time of Thursdays at 10 pm.


I’m also looking forward to that returning—hopefully soon. So I have to ask, what’s the story behind your name, Dr. Plotkin, as well as your WKDU show?


The short answer is that my last name is Plotkin, and I found that it is much cheaper to just call myself a doctor on the radio than to actually earn a PhD. [Laughs] The long answer is that I was at work when I got an email from the program director of WKDU saying I would be approved for a show as soon as I came up with a show name and description. For some reason, I was thinking about old-timey health tonics that were either just snake oil or literal cocaine and decided to call my show “Dr. Plotkin’s Majikal Love X-perience” and the name kind of stuck since then.


[Laughs] Love it.
We have delved into this some already, but I’m curious about your beliefs about music and the art of DJing… Would you elaborate a bit on your DJ philosophy?


My philosophy towards my own DJ performance is largely about taking a backseat to an event but creating an atmosphere that is critical for that event to function. I don’t go in for the flashy lights and effects, and in fact normally don’t even use more than a filter and an echo/delay effect when playing. When I perform I don’t want anyone to think “OK that was fun here comes the next song” or to feel a jarring moment or different energies at any point. Ideally, I’m the soundtrack in the background that you don’t notice is there until you realize you haven’t been watching the movie for ten minutes and have just been jamming to the music. 


Before you mentioned how you visualize music when you DJ. Could you expand upon that?


I am constantly counting—if maybe just subconsciously—the time and place when I hear a (4 on the floor) beat. Where in the phrase does THIS sound happen, how many bars until THAT melody begins, etc. I see a straight path in front of me when I am in the mix and strive to continue it as seamlessly as possible. When I’m playing more ambient music where the beat isn’t as obvious (or even present) I imagine I’m walking that path in a fog. I may be aware the path exists, but I can’t see it and it’s really more just a guide than an exact set of rules to follow.


Interesting. I find myself tracking the beat in a similar way. I find myself constantly counting and phrase-tracking, despite if I’m just passively listening to a recorded mix. If you have any ideas on how to turn that off on occasion, I’m all ears! [Laugh] Who are some of your biggest influences as a DJ?


Michael Fichman, or Michael the Lion, was the person who made me want to be a disco DJ, during the first EMM I organized right when I first started DJing. Es Hamidi and Nick Stropko both used to run a show on WKDU called Toilet Radio that so clearly knew what it was trying to accomplish (Es even wrote a manifesto for it!). They reminded me that DJing can be goofy, and funny, and have rock & roll and city pop.

Another influence is Chaos in the CBD, but mainly their production (although as DJs they are quite good), which falls in that wonderful jazzy, housy, chillout place I like to sink my mind into after a long day.


Nice! I’ve been listening to both Michael the Lion and Chaos in the CBD for years. Besides the ones you’ve mentioned, who are some of your other favorite DJs in Philadelphia right now?


Mr. Falcon, bgkiki, DJ Anarres, Phil Yeah, God, Gravers Lane… I’m definitely forgetting way more than that!


What is the best set you’ve played? 


My best set was a park party a few years ago that Left Rite put together on a 70 degree February day. 


I remember that! I wasn’t able to make it and had major FOMO. How about your worst set?


A 13 year old’s birthday party in 2015… [Laughs]


Ouch! Yeah, that sounds like a rough one. Do you have anything in the works currently? Any livestreaming events or other mixes coming up?


I’ve started getting into woodworking. Maybe I’ll join the bandwagon and do that on Twitch. 


[Laughs] Go for it! I’m sure there’s a thriving online community of woodworking enthusiasts out there. What are you most excited about music-wise right now?


Well, there’s a pandemic but that doesn’t mean amazing music has stopped being released, or that amazing people stopped creating spaces for radical community within the music world.


Definitely. I’m struggling to keep up with all of the new releases and old archival cuts coming out… What are your hopes for the future? 


I hope that we all walk away from this realizing just how much the system failed us, that it is set up to benefit a small few on the backs of our failure. I hope we do not turn against each other in hate or bigotry in an effort to protect our own little crumbs, but come together and demand the cake from those who have stolen it from us long ago.


Amen to that, brother! Stay safe out there, and thank you again for the mix contribution!


Thanks for having me! Looking forward to hearing what is next for Phreak Power!