Check out our conversation with Joel Albers, founder of the indie dance party phenomenon, Dance Yourself Clean, that’s taking the country by storm. Don’t miss their show in San Diego at Music Box on December 2nd!
I love the concept of a no-frills, music oriented dance party. How did you come up with this idea and how did you bring it to life?
JA: Well, I can give you a long version or short version. The long version is pretty long. I actually had a promoter out in Seattle double book a show that I had book with a band called Ghost Beach. The promoter at the venue called to cancel on us last minute saying he double booked and was going in favor of the other party. So I had to think on my feet and think of what I could do. I called Ghost Beaches and told them, and their booking agent was pretty cool about it. But, I had billed some DJs and we had to find a venue, and I had just met this guy who had a venue that was really struggling to stay alive that he had opened up a few months earlier. The venue literally had a few weeks left before they were going to have to shut down. This place was literally the size of a living room, maybe two living rooms in a suburban house, but we were like, you know screw it, we’ll do it, and we moved the party there. I didn’t wanna brand it as the same thing so, I just thought on it for 24 hours and came up with that name, and the rest is history I guess. But yeah I had no idea what was gonna happen. Ultimately I decided to say, fuck it, tonight’s gonna be about playing the music that me and my friends wanna hear. This is gonna be about us, you know, we’re gonna be selfish for once in our lives, and we’re gonna play the music that we wanna hear, and if the room doesn’t fill out it doesn’t really matter cause only about 50 people can fit in there anyway. So, that was the first Dance Yourself Clean ever. It was completely random.
So were people like wow this is amazing, when is this happening again?
JA: Well, our friends were. Nobody else cared to be honest with you. For the first several months we struggled. It would get sort of packed towards the end of the night because I would literally stand out front of the bar and pull people in from the street. I would offer free drinks to people so they’d come in for a few minutes hoping that some people would stick, like it would resonate with someone. Cause I knew that what we were doing, I know that there’s a lot of massive music fans out there. You know everybody that’s been paying attention to blogs like Hypemachine and Pitchfork and all of these blogs for the last five to ten years, I know there’s a huge fanbase out there. I also know that I’m one of those people and when I hear a certain kind of song played at a bar or a venue, I freak out. So, I was hoping any of those random people would freak out too. After doing that for five months, finally we started getting a reputation of like being a really awesome teeny little dance party that all the hipster, really, really, like hipster kids started to come to for several reasons, cause finally for the first time ever they were able to go to a venue for the first time ever and hear a DJ play their favorite music, not some regular old EDM or house music that everybody plays, or hip hop that everybody plays. The other reason the hipsters liked it was because they felt like it was their own.
Wow, that is not what I expected to hear, that’s very cool.
JA: What were you expecting?
I don’t know, that you had the idea before and it was kind of a very carefully thought out idea that you then put in place, not that it was a purely spontaneous thing.
JA: Yeah, it became something very deep and well thought out, but it was literally just about playing our favorite music. That’s it. And we figured other people would like it. And they did.
So, I know you started out with you and your friends curating music, as you’ve grown, have you branched out to picking more DJs who curate the music for an event who have the same taste or style you want?
JA: Well, I started it and I brought my friend Scott along, who runs Dance Yourself Clean in Seattle and Portland today. So he was the first person I brought along. Neither of us were good DJs. He didn’t even know how to DJ really. But it didn’t matter, because that’s not what it was about. And a lot of people get confused and will come to our shows and will critique the way we DJ, but first off, this music is not DJ music, at all. Its really really hard to DJ. The reality was, when I was bringing people on, I didn’t care if they could DJ. What I cared about was if they had good taste. You can teach someone how to DJ, but you can’t teach taste.
JA: So I brought Scott on, started teaching him how to DJ and he got pretty good at it. Then, I booked a Goldroom show in Seattle a few years ago with an artist named Touchtone. At the time Touchtone was still unknown, and Goldroom was very new at that point but I was a blogger for a long time, so I had relationships with all of these guys. To this day I show Josh who’s at Goldroom the first email he sent us, and it was his first email as Goldroom. We all laugh about it now. So I booked them and they had a lot of fun at the Seattle show. Touchtone was staying an extra night and them next night was DYC, so I had him come out to Dance Yourself Clean and check it out. My goal was to build up a bit of a following and move to LA just to do events, not necessarily anything in particular. I showed him the night and let him DJ a little bit, and he was just like “oh my god, this is the best thing ever.” Cause you know he had been DJing house music and disco for the last several years and he was very tired of that, cause that’s what everybody DJs. So him and I started talking about bringing this to LA.
He was just like “oh my god, this is the best thing ever.”
JA: I flew to LA two weeks later and scouted bars. We walked into this place called The Short Stop in Echo Park, and I talked to the bar manager who happened to be there that night and said, “we’re gonna do this night here, and you’re gonna love it.” And she laughed at us, and told us to email her. A week later, we started having the show there on a weekly basis. Apparently they’re not used to people coming in there and saying that and actually following up. So, Touchtone, to this day is my LA DJ partner, and actually does all of our LA shows with me. In fact we all just started a record label together. So we were at Short Stop for a while. You know, the show was never successful in Seattle. It was okay, I had no reason to think this thing was going to project forward this well. I mean I knew, in my heart but I had no physical evidence if that makes any sense. I had a gut feeling that this was gonna work. So we kinda blew up at The Short Stop and got offers to move, and took the gig at The Satellite to do it there weekly, and after the Satellite, literally the rest is history. It blew up on a level I didn’t think it would. Now we’re touring the country.
That’s a seriously incredible story. So I have one more question for you: if you could only dance to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
JA: Oh man, that is too hard. I can’t give a good answer here. I can tell you what songs get me the most emotional when I DJ them, I’d be able to give you a better answer for that.
Yeah, go ahead!
JA: There’s a few songs that make me the most emotional when I DJ them, and the particular reason is that there’s really nowhere else in the world you’d be able to DJ these songs and get away with it. So one of them would be Wake Up by Arcade Fire. It’s not because its my favorite song, its just because like every DJ in the world would probably slap you if you tried to play that, and we play it and people lose their minds. And everybody sings along. That’s definitely top three. I would also say All My Friends by LCD Soundsystem, cause again its just not a dance song, every DJ in the world would say you’re crazy. In fact we have a lot of bedroom DJs who say we’re getting it all wrong. Artist and musicians realize that DJing is not black and white or drawing within the lines. It’s about art, and delivering a message in a way, and creating an environment and showing people a good time. The third would be Home (RAC Remix) by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Obviously Dance Yourself Clean, but its less emotional. You’d just never hear a DJ play this stuff, especially in a sold-out crowd.