Soul selector

DJ Andrew

DJ Andrew knows a good song when he hears one.

DJ Andrew knows a good song when he hears one.

Photo by Nick Higman

“Soul is always hip,” says DJ Andrew, between switching 45s. “You can go to any city, and any time there’s someone playing soul, you’ll find young people dancing to it.”

It’s unusual for a popular art form to have such enduring appeal; soul’s golden age ended about 40 years ago. (What’s next? A resurgence of interest in silent film among ’tweens?) And as DJ of “Soul Stomp,” the soul night at the Lincoln Lounge, he might be biased.

But realize that the great themes of soul songs—love and sex—never go out of style, and that soul records have in abundance two elements often missing from contemporary recordings: interesting rhythms and passion—enough passion to make most recent hits sound like they were recorded by valium-addled eunuchs—and you might find yourself agreeing with DJ Andrew when he says, “Soul is timeless.”

But he doesn’t just play soul.

“I play a lot of funk. I play boogaloo, a little bit of Latin. I play a little bit of old rocksteady, really old reggae and ska.”

In other words, stuff you can dance to. And, of course, it’s all played on vinyl records.

“On a ‘60s soul night, you kind of want to show off your collection. You want to pull out that rare record that no one else has, that you can’t get from a download. … Some of the songs I’ll play tonight you’d be hard pressed to hear even at some of the best soul clubs in big cities.”

Growing up in the Bay Area, DJ Andrew, aka Andrew McCulough, 35, started DJ-ing at his older friends’ parties when he was 16. What started as a hobby, he’s glad to say is again an amateur pursuit.

“I went through a phase where I did it for money—like wedding DJ-ing, which I hated. It was like being a prostitute.”

But even when “prostituting” himself, Andrew let the music, rather than his personality, be the focus—how refreshing that sounds to anyone who has ever witnessed a wedding DJ shout “Let’s get this party started!” and then badger attendees until they perform the Macarena.

“I was horrible at that. And I warned people up front … ‘I don’t talk on the microphone—I’ll make announcements, and that’s it. I’m not gonna be doing any funny dances.'”

Though even self-described soul fans may only be able to identify about one in every five songs DJ Andrew plays, it’s not obscurity for obscurity’s sake. Alongside lesser known artists like Patti Drew, Buddy Ace, and Frank Williams and the Rocketeers, Andrew will play immediately recognizable tracks by Otis Redding, The Supremes, and Sly and the Family Stone. The amazing thing is how good the stuff you’ve never heard is.

His sensitivity to good music, which makes him able to pick out the right gems, is how he accomplishes his most important task as a DJ. He doesn’t scratch or mix records, and he doesn’t talk to the crowd. His task is this: to play the exact song the crowd wants to hear, even if they’ve never heard it before.

“For me it kind of harkens back to really, really old times, like in Jamaica. They had DJs, and they were called selectors … it wasn’t about mixing records together. It was about who selected the right stream of songs that made people happy.”

“It’s not some magical task that no one else can do. I just happen to have a lot of records, and I like to play them for people, and I think that’s the only skill you really need.”

If you’re thinking, “Then I don’t need a DJ at all. I’ll just stay home listening to the thousands of songs I’ve downloaded onto my iPod,” then remember: Love, sex, rhythm, passion—they’re all more fun with other people.