Escape from New York
DJ James Fucking Friedman gets out on the road behind his Go Commando mix
Just last weekend, New York’s James Fucking Friedman was very glad to be taking a break from the party-promoting business. On the night before a scheduled gig with Get Physical act Booka Shade, the venue, Avalon, was closed down by police who were doing some kind of drug sting—during the set of an adult-contemporary act, no less. The club’s soundman refused to bring the equipment to a backup venue, so by showtime, the gig had moved to a third club, where Friedman had little confidence a crowd would turn up. Of course, “it went off, screaming and hands-in-the-air-style,” he says, crediting the diligent promoters.
For a DJ, Friedman is unusually thankful to be touring at all, perhaps because he needs the exposure: He’s still close to anonymous outside of New York and well aware of it. There, he’s been a part of some of the most highly touted parties in recent years, often as a promoter as well as DJ. His long-running Refuse! Party at the Meatpacking District club APT has featured DJ sets from DJ Kaos, the Juan Maclean, the Avalanches, the Rapture, Jackson, Tiefschwarz and Michael Mayer. More recently, his All Wrong night at the Tribeca Grand Hotel has emphasized live acts featuring Annie and Tom Vek in their U.S. debuts, as well as dancey indie acts Cut Copy and David Gilmour Girls.
But rather than resting on the rewards of successful party throwing, Friedman’s concentrating on deejaying this year. His DJ mix-CD, the first for the Go Commando series on Defend! Music, sports three unreleased exclusive mixes, and though he may be tiring of it, the set still sounds fresh to our ears. With that disc making the rounds and the festival season in bloom, Friedman rarely spends a weekend at home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, these days. He calls Go Commando “more of a dance-floor affair” than his rocker-friendly parties, and he’s getting booked in more dance venues lately. At last weekend’s New York gig, he played a straight-up techno set with Booka Shade, “and no one batted an eye.”
On Friday 14, Friedman comes to Chicago with DFA/LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy. While Friedman asserts that they don’t spin the same records, they’ve deejayed together and run in similar circles musically. For Friedman, Chicago represents a place he’d like to explore. He played here last year—his first visit to the city—and sees it as a bit of an antidote to New York nightlife. “In New York, there really isn’t a very strong dance-music scene that’s really oriented around the dance-music part of the scene,” he says. “The conventional wisdom is that people go out in New York to go to the space and go to the party, generally not to hear the music.”
Friedman grew up in Washington, D.C., playing in punk bands as a teen, later diving into the city’s dance scene. Every Friday night, he’d visit the cavernous Capitol Ballroom, where the electronic dance night Buzz reigned. Before he was 20, he relocated to Gotham. There, he honed his DJ skills at home, spinning mostly breaks, skipped the tape-passing stage of deejaying and headed straight into bar gigs.
Friedman, who dabbled in music journalism and label management, ended up as a kind of ambassador of dance music. “The thing that I was doing a lot when I was throwing parties was trying to indoctrinate rock & roll kids into dance music,” he says. “So I was throwing parties in scumbag rock bars, or having kids that are in rock bands that know how to deejay come play records with us.”
It’s likely that we’ll hear a bit more from Friedman, whose booking agent is in Chicago. Besides getting yelled at while visiting Wieners Circle, he’s looking forward to an audience that pays attention. “It’s refreshing to get out of New York and play other places,” he says. “If you go to parties to listen to and play music, it’s nice when other people give a shit other than the other ten DJs in the room.”
James Fucking Friedman spins at Fashion Rocks at Sound-Bar Friday 14.