Back in 2004, when Shag Frenzy first started, there was nothing like it in the area. The concept of an indie dance night didn't just seem unlikely in Hartford. But there they were: Johnny Strangler and Garage Flower, two fearless DJs who loved each other as much as they loved bombarding us with obscure, ass-shaking tracks.
Now, seven years later, Shag Frenzy is back from a hiatus (the duo did some indie babymakin') and is a monthly event at Hartford's underappreciated Arch Street Tavern. "When we started, there was really nothing like it around," says Derek Warren, who becomes Johnny Strangler by night. "Now everywhere you look, the whole indie dance night is a big thing. It's not like we started this whole craze, but locally, the [Hartford] Party Starters and those guys, I'm not trying to toot my own horn, but I think Shag Frenzy kind of paved the way for others to do it. We reached out to people who we thought would accept it, and we found that there's people who don't wanna go to techno clubs or meat markets or dance to top 40 and radio hits."
So what do DJs at an indie dance night play? "French disco, American indie, British '77 punk rock, Australian new wave. … Whatever I'm feeling as I'm playing it, and whatever the crowd is feeling, we go with it," says Warren. "I played 'Pay to Cum' by Bad Brains, which you can't really dance to — I mean, I suppose you could circle pit to it — and people were dancing and pogoing and coming on stage. Basically, I would want the uninitiated to come in with an open mind and treat it like you were just going to some party, because that's all it was or ever should be."
In addition to the DJs, Shag Frenzy often incorporates a live band into the evening. This Saturday's event features New York's Tiny Victories, whom Warren describes as "good atmospheric pop songs. Some stuff is a little shoegazey, spacey. Some of it's kind of minimal — you've got some analog-sounding synths. They've got a drum kit and a whole bunch of old Roland drum machines. I was salivating over one of them," he jokes.
I asked Warren if he planned to continue bringing in live bands. "My wishlist is always bands that are big but not too big to play an Arch Street. I think if we're lucky we could get a band like Grizzly Bear, the Rapture, the Walkmen. We'd definitely sell the house out, but it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility."
With such a glut of music clogging up the Internet, modern DJs are hard-pressed to refine their music-finding process. How do Shag Frenzy's DJs find new tracks? "I make a lot of mix CDs — it's the whole John Cusack High Fidelity thing. It's just what I've always done," says Warren. He also mentions web services such as Mixcloud, the Hype Machine, and other blog aggregators. "You can go in there and listen to whatever, and nine times out of 10 you find something interesting."
Warren is also the first DJ I've ever heard mention the music press as a potential resource. But it ain't the American rags he depends on. "I rarely read magazines like Spin and Rolling Stone. If I'm looking at a magazine for reviews, it's usually British ones like Mojo and Q, where they have 30 pages of reviews and reissues," he says. "The American scene isn't very good for that any more."