The cardinal rule of DJing is simple – always keep the floor packed. No amount of technical finesse or obscure musical knowledge can save your set if the crowd is standing around unwilling to move.
Boston-bred DJ Oliver Stumm, one half of New York-based duo A Touch of Class, learned this lesson while attending college in Switzerland.
“I needed a job,” he explains of his beginnings. “More as a joke, I told the manager of a club that he should hire me as a DJ because I would be much better than the DJ he had.” Stumm landed the gig and played nightly at the Swiss club, quickly learning that playing the records you and your friends want to hear doesn’t necessarily cut it when your duty is to ensure that the dance floor remains packed throughout the evening.
Stumm took this lesson with him when he returned to the States, settled in New York and joined forces with his DJ/production partner, Zurich native Domie Clausen. Since the late 1990s, A Touch of Class has been responsible for promoting parties in New York, DJing across the world, remixing some of the biggest dance hits of the past few years and releasing music through its self-titled record label. The duo’s gig at Zanzibar was the final installment of a three-date streak across the Los Angeles area, new terrain for Stumm and Clausen.
“For us, [L.A. gigs are] a little bit difficult because we don’t know what the crowd knows and doesn’t know and we don’t know how far we can go,” said Stumm prior to Friday night’s engagement.
Playing the pre-midnight time slot usually reserved for local warm-up DJs, A Touch of Class immediately found that the deep cuts would have to remain in the bottom of the DJ crates. Although Fridays at Zanzibar are called Shake and Pop, named after a 2006 club hit from house producer Green Velvet, and advertise heaps of “nu-rave and electronic love,” the crowd was only interested in aging dance club standards.
This proved to be disappointing for the few who came specifically to hear A Touch of Class’ signature sets. The duo’s reputation among dance music aficionados of late is for mixing obscure, primarily instrumental, disco tracks with a few of the latest electro singles and a smattering of house rhythms for a sound that blurs the line between old and new. Instead, we heard a set that was not a far stretch from your typical L.A. dance night geared towards the thirtysomething crowd. Stumm and Clausen took some leeway with the format, however, by throwing in the all-but-forgotten late ’80s acid house jam “Theme from S’Express” and selecting ABBA’s “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” over the tried-and-true “Dancing Queen.” (After his set, Stumm confessed that someone requested “Dancing Queen,” but he didn’t have the song on him.)
Also missing from the duo’s set were its own remixes, which was odd considering that this string of DJ gigs is in support of the March release of remix collection A Touch of Class Still Sucks. As remixers, Stumm and Clausen pay careful respect to the original song and use their skills to amplify the effect of the vocals. On a recent re-working of “Listen Up” from soul-punk outfit Gossip, A Touch of Class used a deep, funky bassline to play up the Aretha Franklin quality in Beth Ditto’s vocals. Meanwhile, with a remix of Erasure’s single “Don’t Say You Love Me,” the producers made use of keyboard sweeps to highlight Andy Bell’s soaring voice.
Although it was apparent that several elements of the duo’s style were sorely absent from this DJ set, it is hard to fault Stumm and Clausen. They were, after all, simply doing their jobs. Throughout the duration of the set, the dance floor was comfortably full. Girls jumped on stage to shake alongside Prince tunes and people yelped with glee upon catching the opening hook of “Girls on Film.” When Orange County’s Acid Girls relieved A Touch of Class from duty, there was a noticeable drop in dancing. Even though Acid Girls stuck with tracks familiar to regular club-goers, such as “Dance,” the latest hit from French producers Justice, it was not enough to keep this crowd on the floor. Stumm and Clausen’s knack for quickly discerning the tastes inside Zanzibar and keeping people on the floor for the duration of the set is a success in any book, even if that meant they had to sacrifice some gems in the process.