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Around The World With A-Trak: European Festivals

Did ya miss me? It's been many months since my last official Around The World post. The reason is simple: I reserve those for real tours, and I wasn't doing heavy duty zig-zagging…until now. Festival season is upon us, folks. It's that time of the year when kids gather in fields, pitch up tents and live the dream. The dream of live music. Europe has a particularly high concentration of such festivals. So if you deducted that I'm currently in Europe playing festivals…you are correct! But how are the shows going? Did I prepare a special set for the summer? Can I charge my Sonicare toothbrush on European voltage? All those questions will be answered in this blog post. Read on, my friends.


Let's start by talking about the set, shall we? I put together a new show using Serato's fantastic Video-SL feature. Translate in English? Serato lets you control videos the same way that you see DJs play mp3s. So I had some custom visuals made, based on animating a bunch of my existing artwork and other groovy tings, attached them to the music that I'm playing and voilà, it's a multimedia experience. Now when I scratch, you can see the image move. When I do that "Robot Rock" routine that you've surely heard in my sets, now you see the real robots, well, rocking. It's been a whole lot of work getting this ready though, and I have to admit, it wasn't all finished when I left home.

My first destination was Calvi, Corsica for the Calvi On The Rocks festival. Corsica is an island on the Mediterranean between France and Italy. It is also the birthplace of Napoleon. I'm not sure how Mr. Bonaparte used to travel, but I had to take three flights to get there from New York. Painful. Some friends of mine had played there last year and told me that the only way to do it is to stay for a few days and enjoy the island, and boy am I glad I took their advice. This place is absolutely gorgeous. I want to go back every year. For me it as also nice to be on a far-away island where people speak French, so I could actually get around. I knew that the local culinary specialty is wild boar, so on my first evening there I linked up with the Holy Ghost! homies and got my Obelix on. They serve it stewed, it's very tender and it comes with polenta. Delish. The next day was Sunday, and to make my weekend even less Jewish (after that non-kosher dinner) I allowed it to be my day of rest. I went to two beaches, one of which required a 20 minute ride on a boat. To anyone that knows me…I put the blackberry down! Now that I think of it, it was the 4th of July. But rather than lauding Uncle Sam, I was with the Ed Banger crew who rep another kind of red, white & blue, and we celebrated the shared birthdays of So Me, Romain Gavras and his Kourtrajmé affiliate Kim Chapiron. Later that night I played my show in a sweaty club by the beach until 5am. Midway through my set, an entire glass of booze splashed from the nearby bar all over my laptop, records and needles. First show of the tour, the laptop controls everything and it's now soaking with ethanol. Miraculously it didn't fry and I was able to finish my show.

I had two more days in Calvi, although those were more focused on work. I had to finish the new set. I was due to premiere the visuals at the end of the week. My animator in the UK would send me files which I had to go download in the hotel lobby because the rooms didn't have internet (exotic islands, I tell ya). Then I'd go up to my room where I had rented turntables and test them out. In the evenings I'd link up with friends for dinner and go watch performances at the festival, and maybe drink a Mauresque, my favorite beverage from the South of France. And so ended my trip in Calvi, a memorable one.

Mid-week I flew to Berlin, a day before my gig there. I had to take three flights again. The visual show was still not done and all these upload/download file transfers were eating up time so I flew out my animator to finish the work in person. Didn't get much sleep that night. The next day my tour manager and I went on a mission to replace the needles that were ruined by the Calvi alcohol spill and get my laundry done, which always turns into an impossible task on tour. It was Bread & Butter week in Berlin—I'm actually not talking about food this time, it's some sort of fashion week—so I had a few friends in town but I was in dire need of a nap so I didn't get to socialize. I played a club called Cookies that night. Good looking spot with a name that speaks to my interests. Berlin clubbing is a very late experience. Waking up early for the airport was not easy. In fact that's an understatement… I was completely exhausted already.

We took two flights to get to Ibiza. Ibiza is one of those places like Calvi that are best enjoyed if you stay for a couple days around your gig, but unfortunately this time I was in and out in less than 18 hours. My manager, who was with me in Berlin and saw my state of fatigue, had booked a spa for me upon my arrival. He gets a shout out for that. So I indulged in one hour of biothermal baths, salt inhalations and something called the "ice suite." I would have needed three hours at least. The party I was playing was Club 75's monthly Pacha residency. We went to dinner with Mehdi and the Cassius crew, it was the first time I saw Zdar since he finished mixing my brother's new album. Getting to the restaurant required a jeep ride through the dark island roads and a few missed turns but it was well worth it. Ibiza, like Berlin and Calvi, parties late. My set was from 3:30 to 5 again. That's basically when the club gets jumping. Pacha is a magical place with a palm tree inside the club and semi-nude performance art. And kick drums. After three hours of sleep it was time for another pair of flights to Dublin. I haven't had any direct flights since I got to Europe, if you haven't noticed.

My show wasn't actually in Dublin, it was one hour outside the city at Oxegen festival. When we landed I made a pit stop at the hotel to download the last missing files for the video show and we drove out to the grounds. So far I had only done club shows since I got here. This was the first big one. As if to symbolize the stigma of European summer festivals, it was rainy and muddy. But I have to say, the staff was extremely helpful and it was a pleasure to be there. The dance tent was the only indoors stage of the festival, mud-free, so it was like the holy land that day. Festival sets are always rowdy, it's hard to go wrong. I tried the visuals for the first time too, on a whim. Those screens looked dope! I think the upside of having spent so much time preparing this set is that I'm also able to do more scratching—I've got a new intro, some new routines, etc. Armand played after me with the closing set. Quack.

After that came the most grueling day so far on this tour. I had to go to Serbia to play Exit festival, so of course there was another flight connection. We landed in Stockholm to find out that the connecting flight was five hours late. There's only one airline that flies Stockholm to Belgrade, it's JAT Airways (short for Yugoslavian Aero Transport, a relic of Ex-Yugoslavia). Their planes still have ashtrays. There was what seemed like a young teenage soccer team on board; coincidentally we were in the air during the World Cup final game. When they were loud and boisterous during the flight, I had no love for those boys. But when we all lined up for passport control and they started shouting "A-Trak!" at me, I thought "these kids ain't so bad." (I'm still confused by that.) Having left Dublin at noon, we finally landed past midnight… and still had to drive an hour out to the town of Novi Sad. The guy who drove us was super nice and explained the story of the festival, which is going on its 11th year. He gave it a whole political angle, essentially saying it started as an escape from the rigors of life in Serbia in the late '90s…hence the name Exit. The hotel looked like what you could describe as "pimped out"… in the '70s. Today I'd just call it funky. Now can you guess what time my set was? I was playing the last set of the whole weekend. Apparently it's a classic slot at the festival because people like to stay up until the sunrise. Wait, did you just say sunrise? That's right, my set was from 6:30 to 8am. Ouch. The festival grounds were literally on an old fortress, it's an impressive sight (and site). The sun was wayyyy up. There were people dressed as penguins. And the kids wanted to dance.

One hour of sleep later, I finally headed to London for two and a half days off. Tune in next week for more…

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Around The World With A-Trak: European Festivals