Every Thursday night, Mike McGuire spins records in a bar at 2nd and Fairmount, a section of Philadelphia called Northern Liberties. He hauls a couple crates and his turntables up a flight of stairs, and waits for the floor to fill with people who know him only as DJ Low Budget, half of the trailblazing Hollertronix crew, Baltimore Club junkie, and prime beat selector in his own right.
Upstairs at the 700 Club resembles an old person's living room. As each minute passes before his set on December 23, it seems increasingly less possible that someone's grandmother is going to deposit banana bread next to McGuire's mixer. But when I first arrived, the senior-citizen vibe was pervasive. It's a cozy venue with cheap drinks that fills up by around 11:30 or so, and it houses one of the gigs that have come along to help build up what is McGuire's only means of income.
"That was the goal," he says about finally being able to pay his rent by deejaying. "I think I quit my day job in spring of 2002. I was working at Glaxo - the pharmaceutical company - in the mailroom. I got it through a temp agency. I went to college and everything, but I still haven't used my degree.
"I had been out of college for a year, and I was working that job," he says. "They were about to make me permanent. I was gonna get the benefits, the paid vacation," he says. "And I was like, 'This job sucks.'" He laughs between taking sips of his beer.
"At the time, I was starting to come up, still grinding deejaying, but it was getting in the way," he says. "I wouldn't want to take gigs on weeknights unless the money was really good, because I had to go to work the next day. And then I'd take off from work because I wanted to spin a party. I was just like, 'Fuck this.' I figured if I just dedicate that time to this, it would work out. So I quit, I took the leap, and it worked out."
With its roots in Philadelphia, McGuire's contribution to the frenzied Hollertronix parties has become a conversation topic for those in the know all over the world. Alongside Wes "Diplo" Gully, McGuire's monthly Hollertronix slots at Philly's Ukrainian Club are now overcrowded with an eternity of devotees gorging themselves on an agreeable Ukrainian lager and the crew's unconventional genre-splicing mash-ups. The Never Scared mixtape helped spread the word, with its sleek melding of the Clash and Missy Elliott, a dip into crunk, and a stop-off in the beats that are centerpiece to McGuire's recent Bmore Gutter Music mix.
The mix, put out on Milkcrate Records, showcases McGuire and deejay/producer/clothing designer Aaron LaCrate's long-running relationship with Baltimore club's blend of Miami bass, danceable faster hip-hop breaks, and sleazy, pornographic cat-calls that serve as verses.
Though it's spilling into venues internationally, Baltimore club is the sweaty, aggressive overdrive that surges through a city with a sizable drug problem and an astronomically high crime rate (five times higher than New York City's in 2004). On the lengthy Gutter Music mix, LaCrate and McGuire split the tracklist into two expletive-laden sets of gutter-tinged dance music and bass drills that rattle the sternum.
There were at least a couple things that drew the South Philly deejay into Baltimore.
"About five years ago I was working at (Armand's Records in Philadelphia), and it was always the kind of music you heard," he says. "They'd play a few sets of it on the radio sometimes. When I started spinning at this club Eden Roc, it was mostly a black crowd, and I was working at the record store at the same time. I was servicing a lot of deejays who spun on the radio. With the urban market - that's kind of where I came from anyway - you needed that kind of stuff to rock the party there. A lot of people don't realize it, but I would spin that stuff and people would go crazy, more so than for the hip-hop. I just fell in love with it there, just with the energy of it all. It was basically from spinning that gig and the record store."
McGuire's end of the Gutter mix fires up with some beat juggling. With "Are You Ready," he teases with cuts and scratches overtop the opening breaks of Martha & the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street" before launching into the genre at the center of the mix. Though he doesn't shy away from layering newer stuff on '60s scorchers in mash-up fashion, he'd rather pull from a more recent era.
"I'm into the breaks and stuff like that; that's cool," he says. "But really where my heart lies - and if I could I'd spin it way more often, but I just feel like it's kinda past that time - it's the '70s and '80s dance music, funk disco. Not even hard-to-find shit. Shit like Earth, Wind & Fire. Really fun, feel-good music. But kids are, I don't know, getting younger."
The "Are You Ready" jam or the Smokey Robinson-flavored "Fool the Public" on Low Budget's side of Gutter Music showcases a playful tendency that McGuire once executed on the monthly MP3 mixes he used to load onto his Web site. For a brief stretch, the site hosted a free fifty-minute mix that culled together whatever records he'd fancied that month, taking memorable liberties with Suzanne Vega, "Under My Thumb," and the Dirty South that's ubiquitous within his Hollertronix sets. The Prince/Queen/Snoop/Pharcyde intro blend from a few Decembers ago is still pretty hot.
"I saw a lot of deejays getting attention from promo mixes," he says of his sorely missed monthly installments. "I thought that I could make mixes a lot, but I always make them so long, and I put so much energy into them, because I feel like if you sell a mix, then that's what you have to do. But if I was to just put something up online and make it a half-hour or forty-five minutes, I could make a solid mix, and it would be a way to get out and play a lot of music that I might not put on a mixtape or just whatever's in my head at the time."
Like constructing friendship bracelets, McGuire's monthly mixes were a colorful idea that ended far too abruptly. "Of course, it only lasted like four months," he says, laughing. "I'll probably start doing it again. It has kind of become something that gets pushed to the back burner. I'll start to make real mixtapes that I'll want to make money off of, and (the monthly mixes are) something that you're doing just for promotion, so that's not always at the forefront of your to-do list. It's just a good outlet to play whatever I'm feeling that month."
Regular deejay gigs might keep McGuire from rolling out the Web-ready bangers. He kicked off the new year with Ghislain Poirier in Montreal, rocks consistent spots in Philly and beyond, and just dropped a new mix of his own called Club Shotta.
"It's actually really heavy, with exclusive Baltimores," he says of the new joint. "And what I did with this was that I blended them; I put up-tempo reggae a cappellas over them, so it's like Baltimore reggae. 'Club shot' is when you put up-tempo reggae over Baltimore."
In front of the warm glow of Serato Scratch (handy interface software to run turntables into laptops) and two Technics, McGuire's set at 700 in December makes ass-shakers of local shoegazers by the stroke of midnight. With occasional breezy scratches, McGuire is mostly focused on hip-hop and funk - not much of the '80s synth pop sides that a lot of Philly seems to prefer.
"I remember when I was part of it," he says of the '80s resurgence. "Four or five years ago when we started doing Hollertronix and I would spin an '80s set, and there would be these girls around that were five years older than me, and they were like, 'We already lived through the '80s, man.' And I'd be like, 'I know.' Because for us, that's like playing Spin Doctors or something. You'd be like, 'Dude, why are you playing this again?' There's no retro quality to that.
"In all fairness, I do think there was something really cool about '80s pop," he says. "It's just funny when a twenty-one-year-old girl requests New Order."
In between the gigs, his Baltimore-heavy samplers, and trying to get his Web site re-vamped and re-launched, McGuire's also turning out remixes. He did a remix on the last Spank Rock twelve-inch and is doing the same for Baltimore's Unruly Records (label founder DJ Scottie B executive produced Gutter Music). But production isn't really where it's at for Low Budget. It's evident in the throngs of hooded parkas and the feverish dance floor that he'd rather busy himself doing what this diverse, anxious crowd came to see.
"I do love making music, but I'm just way more efficient deejaying," he says. "I haven't really surpassed the learning curve for production; I'm really inefficient. I feel like I have great ideas, and when I do complete something, it's good. But I don't bang them out like someone who's been doing it forever. With deejaying, it's so easy for me to make a hot mixtape. I feel like my love for [production] hasn't really been able to blossom yet, but it will. It's definitely what I need to be doing. But when I do become good on all sides of it, it's done. I will be good at it."
Baltimore Club picks, as chosen by DJ Low Budget:
1) "Pick 'Em Up" by Griff & Booman
2) "Tear Da Club Up" by DJ Class
3) "Feel Me" by Rod Lee
4) "Big Dummy" by K.W. Griff
5) "Put You Leg Up" by Diamond K
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