Since the 1990s, DJ Sprinkles has explored topics of identity, equality and activism through the politics of the dancefloor. Here’s a reflection on a weekend spent in her presence, across three appearances in the UK. Please note: for those eagle-eyed readers among you, we’ve deliberately alternated the gender pronouns to comply with DJ Sprinkles’ preference, expressed in this interview.
Simple Things Festival @ Colston Hall, Bristol. Photo by Chris Cooper / Shot Away
Anyone who is familiar with the work of Terre Thaemlitz, a.k.a DJ Sprinkles (Comatonse Recordings), will know that she doesn’t DJ for fun; a fierce and unparalleled producer, he uses her tours to fund projects at home in Japan. Thaemlitz was in the South West this weekend for sets at TEAK, an intimate club hidden under an antiques store amongst the 2-for-1 Jaegerbomb deals of central Cardiff, and Simple Things Festival in Bristol. Thaemlitz played an unannounced evening set on the terrace of Colston Hall, along with an early morning headliner set at the Coroner’s Court, bringing her total playing time to more than six hours over a 24-hour period. This is an account of those profound six hours.
Thaemlitz entered her TEAK set presented with a small dilemma – the resident DJs had opened with a set of substantially higher energy than he would normally be prepared to match. Reading Thaemlitz’s interviews, one would expect her slight irreverence toward contemporary club culture to shine through, and that he would begin her set with a distinct drop in energy. Instead, Thaemlitz was able to move smoothly through some deep original edits which built up to a climax with the incredible ‘B2B’, meeting the upcoming DJ at an intensity similar to that at which she began.
The most novel part of watching Sprinkles DJ is his nearly constant use of a Pioneer RMX-1000, a rarely seen tool on the underground house circuit. The key effects used by Thaemlitz are filtered delay and echo, enabling her to pick individual elements of a track and either temporarily flood the mix with them, or subtly increase their presence. In Cardiff, Thaemlitz demonstrated the effectiveness of this approach, using it to morph tracks and give them energy that were not present in the original mix. This allowed him to add new dimensions to her catalogue (most being unreleased DJ Sprinkles edits) whilst, creating a feeling of live performance whilst playing other producers’ work.
Despite having laid out concrete plans for the early evening of Simple Things involving three hours of DVS1, the rumours of a secret DJ Sprinkles set on the beautiful Colston Hall terrace couldn’t be ignored. Thaemlitz often feels restricted by the demands of conventional capitalist club culture, pressured to deliver a certain type of set to satisfy the current heteronormative demand and thus, remain financially viable as a DJ. Provided with a small stage at an early, unannounced time, Thaemlitz played an unrestricted set that didn’t even touch on electronic music for the whole first hour. Thaemlitz explored a hugely wide range, everything from Nina Simone to the Monkees to Kraftwerk. The volume was slowly raised over the first few tracks, bringing us to one of the early highlights: Sprinkles’ extended edit of ‘Over And Over’ by Sylvester, that brought the small terrace crowd to pandemonium.
Although the track was structured to create a sense of dancefloor euphoria, to which the crowd duly responded, it was subtly subverted by Sprinkles’ use of her delay unit. Instead of augmenting the drums, as he did many times in Cardiff, the delay on the track’s high-energy female vocals morphed them into an eerie echo of disco’s past. A track that was once played in Paradise Garage, with a background of huge minority struggle (as referenced in the ‘Intro‘ of Midtown 120 Blues), was now a soundtrack to a largely white, middle-class party on the terrace of a classical music venue, named after a controversial businessmen who worked in Bristol slavery. How times had changed. By editing the track in this way, Sprinkles effectively distanced the party she was playing from those to which ‘Over and Over’ originally became popular. While the track had the same musical impact, it no longer had the same social meaning as a soundtrack to marginalised struggle.
Five hours later, across the centre of Bristol, a packed crowd at Coroner’s Court eagerly awaited one of the final headline sets of the festival, played by Thaemlitz. A dancefloor-friendly set was therefore in high demand, but with the first hour dominated by deeper-than-deep extended house edits, some became impatient and left. The faithful were rewarded however, with Sprinkles dropping 45 minutes of material from Midtown 120 Blues, along with ‘Hobo Train‘ and ‘A Crippled Left Wing Soars with the Right‘. His remarkable ability as a DJ was again demonstrated, as his set and use of the RMX-1000 transformed Midtown 120 Blues’ title track, ostensibly a calm home-listening track, into a dancefloor weapon.
Terre Thaemlitz’s politics are totally central to her recorded output. Yet Thaemlitz often talks about how he finds it difficult to discuss them when playing music to privileged audiences. People who are just out for a good time are unwilling to be part of the challenging dialogue that Thaemlitz is interested in creating. Members of this politically apathetic dancefloor rarely take the time to examine the privilege in relation to the social contexts of the music that they love. Despite this, Thaemlitz is one of the few contemporary DJs to inject social commentary into her sets, while still managing to prevent the dancefloors from standing still and for this he stands apart.
To get an insight into some of Sprinkles’ philosophies and thoughts, check his RA Exchange. Catch DJ Sprinkles at the Dance Tunnel in London on 7th November. Thank you to Nick Wood for his help on this piece.