DJ Twig the Wonderkid: Nightlife Is My Day Job

Behind Trash, one of downtown's longest running parties (documented in a slew of NSFW photos), is the venerable indie-glam DJ Twig the Wonderkid. Once called the "greatest living New Yorker" at L Magazine's First Annual Nightlife Awards, Twig's Disco Down party at Happy Ending is the baby of the bunch at only two years young. But party years are like dog years in this town and only the fun survive.

Niteside got a chance to chat with Twig the Wonderkid at his Tuesday night party about the ever-changing NYC party scene, David Bowie and how nightlife is a day job too.

How did you get started in the New York City party scene? Well, the first party I was involved with is still running. It's called Trash, an indie rock party on Friday nights that started at Rafifi on E. 11th Street and 1st Avenue in February of 2002. Rafifi closed a little over a year ago and so we moved it to the Studio at Webster Hall where it is now. And my friend DJ Jess is one of the DJs, and we started it together. An interesting bit of trivia is that our bartender, when Trash first started at Rafifi, was Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters for the first few months. So that was my first party in New York, and it's still running.

What made you first decide you wanted to get involved with nightlife? It was purely by accident. Rafif used to have a cafe and a screening room called Cinema Classics and I started going because my friend told me about it. They used to show movies on a 16mm movie projector and I'd go there and watch a movie for $5 and get a coffee or latte and bring it in the theater with me. So I became friendly with the owner and because we had similar taste in music, and I had a bunch of concert videos that he let me screen on Saturdays at midnight. That was how I became involved with the venue. Then in January 2002, they got a liquor license and the owner asked me if I wanted to do a party there. By that time I was already friends with DJ Jess and he already had some involvement with nightlife, so that's how Trash started one month later.

So once Trash took off, what did you get involved with next? The second [party] is a monthly glam-rock party called Glamdammit, which is the first Saturday of the month at Don Hill's -- it actually also started at Rafifi but that closed essentially because the lease ran out there and the landlord wanted to double the rent and the owner [of the venue] said, 'No, thank you.' Basically, I had to move everything out of there. Now, Disco Down I've been doing a little over two years and it kind of blew up kind of quickly after that.

Since Disco Down's conception at Happy Ending in 2008, how has the party changed? I feel Disco Down is more or less consistent. Although I guess when we started we used to play a little more pop and new wave. Now, it's mostly electro but we still do the new wave Brit-pop thing. Trash started out as a Brit-pop/new wave night, but you just can't keep playing the same 20 songs every week, you have to play new music if you want to sustain yourself as a party. Glamdammit is definitely more of a retro night. I play Bowie, T. Rex, Roxy music, I mean, of course, The Smiths, The Cure, New Order, Joy Division -- people love them, they're timeless. You can always get a good response from them. But if there's no new music, bottom-line, the novelty wears off.

You guys just celebrated Trash's eight-year anniversary -- how has the party changed and sustained its success in the oh-so-transient NYC? Most parties usually don't last more than a couple months, most parties are actually really lucky if they last over a year, and it's just exceptional if a party goes more than five or 10 years. Every year we reach out to new people. We've definitely had a lot of acts come through that have become pretty big and achieved popularity. Also, a decent amount of the crowd at Trash are college students so going out to and talking to those people, introducing yourself, becoming friends with them -- if they like the music and the people who run the party -- they'll come back and they'll bring friends. Good music is the most important thing, because if people aren't feeling the music they'll go somewhere else. But apart from that, you have to be personable. It is sort of a self-perpetuating cycle.

Do you feel the nightlife scene in general has changed in the city since you started? Change is inevitable, everything changes. And that's one of the most important roles or a DJ, to be attentive to the crowd and see how they respond to things, certain songs, certain genres of music. Basically what you need to do is keep them entertained and engaged. Devin and Dayna, our hosts for Disco Down, are also a hug help. They're very personable and energetic. They usually dance from the moment they get here until 4 a.m. -- it's just positive energy. At the end of the day if people go somewhere and the have a good time, they'll want to come back -- word of mouth is the best promotion. You can do all the online marketing and flyers you want, but if people have a bad experience they won't come back.

Do you still think that the Lower East side is the hub of all things happening in nightlife right now? I mean, there's a lot of stuff happening on the Lower East Side obviously, the East Village still and Brooklyn more now than it was five or 10 years ago. There are still a lot of people that go out to clubs in those areas, but also all over Manhattan. There's enough people out there that if you're doing your job you should be able to have a successful party, I think.

Well, us nightlife folks seem to never sleep -- do you have a day job? Nightlife is what I do full time now. I DJ about four nights a week and sometimes even more. Sometimes I work eight nights in a row. When I'm not DJing I spend a lot of time doing online promotion, booking events, corresponding with people and sending out press releases so it's definitely full time. Myself, DJ Jess, Jeremy [Bastard], other people I work with like Michael T, it's what we do full time. I mean it's four nights going out but that doesn't account for the time I spend still working for the sake of the nightlife itself.

Is there a particular song that get's you ready for a night of DJing? Well, there's always the flavor of the week or the flavor of the month, but over the years the one song that people -- myself included -- have a sort of Pavlovian response to is "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order -- you play that and people always go bonkers.

Finally, how did the name Twig the Wonderkid first come about? It started when we started the Glamdammit party, and I needed a glam-rock name. I took the name from one of my favorite David Bowie songs which is 'Driving Saturday' and the character in that song is called Twig the Wonderkid. So with the purpose of DJing the glam party, I took on that name and it just stuck. It's one of my favorite songs and it's funny because Morrissey covers it a lot in his live shows, and those are mine and DJ Jess' favorite artists.

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