by Dan Radin
Questlove stood like royalty atop his deck throne. Entering from the front of the room, he raised his hands briefly towards the sea of people in front of him. Niceties fulfilled, he swung his gaze down to his turntables and got to work.
The Roots’ drummer/DJ was all business all evening. During the course of his 2+ hour DJ set at Empire Control Room, Questlove hardly said a word to his audience- he let his speakers do the talking. The Philadelphia DJ bobbed his head between songs, completely focused on his headphone mix and cueing up his next record. A cloud of bass rumbled through the back of the Empire courtyard. The room grooved on.
Questlove’s endless songbank proved to be the real treat of the evening. He spun through obscure 80’s soul, 90’s hip hop, and 2000’s R&B, all totally on vinyl. Complete with record scratches and stutter-stops, Questlove’s vintage touch played Phil Collins on Kanye in a language that would have made Aretha proud. Especially compared to local openers DJ DK and DJ Mel (who got the crowd BUMPIN’), Questlove’s choices were decidedly throwback.
DJ Mel is recognized as ‘Obama’s DJ’ and is one Texas’ most popular DJs. He’s been around a long time and has performed huge festivals including Lollapalooza.
Overheard in the crowd: “This brings me back to my high school days!”. The decades of walking into east coast record stores for vinyl gifted the DJ with an unrivaled variety of songs to select from. You can’t expect much else from a man who has 60,000 records in his collection.
As the show progressed, Questlove seemed to settle into rhythm. Tempos fluctuated between more modern hits, and the audience warmly received the change in pace. Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky,” JT’s “Rock Your Body,” and Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” were all sing-alongs. DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat” raised every hand upwards. Barstool would have had a field day among the sea of drunk girls with sloppy dance moves. Even spotted in the crowd: a line dance of flossing.
Visually, the stage presented a pretty stripped-down show. The few LED/strobes were fitting for a small club (or a bar-mitzvah), with no embellishments to speak of. Questlove’s stage gear- just a MacBook, a mixer, and two turntables. Either presentation wasn’t considered, or he opted to try to not distract from the music itself. He likewise sported a simple purple T-shirt, eyes glued to his deck behind his large-rimmed glasses, recently trimmed of his signature ‘fro. The man looked cleaned up and ready to go.
In a dance-hype world that gets off on epilepsy-inducing visuals, rising filter sweeps, and songs that sound like robots bumping uglies, it’s a breath of fresh air to hear a DJ dig deep down in the catalog rabbit hole to make an old track feel fresh. The minimalist stage plot left viewers with the core of the act: simply a fine hip-hop DJ with an expansive musical palette.
See all our photos from the show at Austin 101.