Circuit Chat - DJ Mike Duretto

durettoicon An Interview with DJ Mike Duretto
by John McHugh-Dennis

Mike Duretto is a veteran DJ of the L.A. scene, having made his start at Probe, a place that for many of us "seasoned" clubsters, entreats a memory near and dear to our hearts.

Mike talks about the evolution of music, men, and drugs as he sees it, and also offers some feedback on some of the comments placed on Sidewalk Talk about him last year.

Don't miss Mike during his regular gigs at The Factory (May 26th and Pride Weekend), as well as at Mass during Pride S.F., and the Boom Boom Room in Laguna on July 3rd. His new CD, Evolution2, is available in record stores now.

John:

When I was trying to come up with a list of questions to ask, I asked myself What is this first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the the name Mike Duretto?, and I think that probably like a lot of people, Probe was what came into my head. When did you first start playing at Probe?

 

Mike:

The first time I played there was in October of 93, and it lasted up until last year (at the renamed club ICON) so 7 years, actually, all together.

 

John:

 

Was Probe where you first started?

 

Mike:

 

That's where I first started. It was a unique situation; a very unique situation. I had been going there for years Tom Johnson was the DJ before me, and a good friend of mine, and Eddie Garetti managed the club. Partly because of my knowing them, and the fact that they knew that I wanted to make an attempt at being a DJ, I got the opportunity that most people would not get. It was virtually impossible to walk into Probe and start playing there, and Tom actually was very set against it because he wanted me to play at one of the local bars first. But I did it anyway!

 

John:

 

Did that create any kind of animosity between you and Tom?

 

Mike:

 

No, not at all. We were dear friends. His concern was that I might become intimidated. You don't realize when you're first learning and playing in your living room the enormity of the people, the lights, and the sound itself that are part of the real experience. There are all of these factors that can really take you back and cause you to think to yourself Oh my God, what am I doing? He just didnt want anything to happen to me that would affect my confidence; he was being protective.

 

John:

 

Thats a VERY unusual position to be in to START OUT at The Probe! The music in the club scene has changed a lot throughout your career. How would you define that change from when you first started playing until now?

 

Mike:

 

I think music goes through cycles, and when I first started playing I think music was a lot more affected by vocals and melodies. After that, I started incorporating a lot more of the Progressive music that the European DJs were playing. And now, in the last couple of years, I think the music has been a little less creative. Its not as melodic, and there aren't as many songs out there with lyrics. Up until 6-8 months ago, and even perhaps a year or a year and a half prior to that, about 75% of the new releases I would see when I would go record shopping were instrumentals, which a person can only play so much of in a night. Now, I think weve kind of turned the corner, and its getting back to more vocal, melodic, happy, feel-good music.

 

John:

 

When you say that music has become less creative, that brings to mind one of the comments that Kimberly S. made to me when I was interviewing her. She said that the music today is very much computer-generated, whereas before it was more human-created. Do you think that is partially responsible for the lessening of creativity that you mentioned?

 

Mike:

 

Not necessarily. The home studios came a couple of years after I started playing. I buy mostly imports, and the trends in Europe are what ultimately get here 1-2 years later. Europe definitely went through a trend of a lot of hypnotic, trance that didnt have a lot of lyrics. I think that a lot of the types of music we hear is a direct correlation to what goes on in Society. What I mean by that is that when the whole AIDS epidemic hit I wasnt DJing then, but for all of my friends who were, music got very angry. It was hard, driving like the pots and pans stuff. So I think it is very representative of whats going on in current times. When things are good, music lightens up, and when theres a little bit more stress, conflict, it takes a turn in that direction.

 

John:

 

Have you found it a difficult adjustment to make as a DJ to adapt to today's music?

 

Mike:

 

The only time that I had to make a really big adjustment in terms of how I actually play was when I first started playing at Probe. That was after Tom Johnson had died. Tom's style was known for being very high-energy, very happy, and I was intrigued by another sound. I loved that sound, and wanted to maintain some of that sound, but I also wanted to start introducing a sound which I really liked, which was a little bit more progressive. I gradually started pulling it in, and many people would have liked to have killed me, because it wasnt what they wanted to hear, but over time it was an education process, and they finally came around. I always have my base sound which combines at least 3 different genres of music: I like the diva vocalists, I like the darker stuff, and I also like some of the light, pretty, morning music. Ive always tried to incorporate all of that.

 

John:

 

Did Tom Johnson's death affect the way that you played?

 

Mike:

 

I started playing when he got really sick. It didn't affect the way that I played. Shortly before Tom died, we had a very long talk. What Tom really wanted to see was for me to become the legacy of what he had established, and what Probe was about. That was the most important thing to me too; to be myself, but also to maintain what my predecessors established, and ultimately for me to make them proud of where I was standing, where they used to stand. And I think I did that.

 

John:

 

So the music definitely has changed. What about the clientele in the clubs, and the whole gay scene, and the whole party scene, and the whole circuit scene? How has that changed? Obviously, drugs are becoming very prevalent in the clubs and parties today. Was it this prevalent when you first began playing, or has it worsened?

Mike:

 

Drugs have always been a part of it. I think that they have definitely become much more mainstream now. When I used to go to a club or a Circuit party years and years ago, people were a lot more discrete and responsible with how they did their drugs, and where they did their drugs. I think today people have gotten a little too secure, and are doing it anywhere. The thing that I find the most disheartening about that whole situation is that in the past when people would go out and participate in doing drugs and going out for a night of dancing, they had their network of friends with them. Somebody was always watchful of everybody else in the group, and their surroundings; and everybody was watchful of each other. Today it seems like a lot of people who go out are going out with maybe one other person, or maybe even by themselves, and theres not that watchfulness from people around them. Ive even been in situations where Ive seen 2 best friends go out, and one of them overdoses, and the other one doesn't want to be bothered, so he continues on and leaves the friend to fend for himself. Its definitely changed.

 

John:

 

So does this mean that we've seen a loss of gay-bonding? Are people just becoming more selfish?

 

durettoMike:

 

I dont see as much camaraderie as there used to be. I think everybody goes out with good intentions of just having a good time, but I also think now there are more agendas. Some people go out strictly to dance and hear the music, some don't go out to hear the music some people go out to find someone to take home that night. In the past, the majority of people would go out to be with their friends, but now, they're not necessarily the majority.

 

John:

 

From my point of view, it seems like a lot of the guys now go out determined to get high, and repeatedly tell themselves I am going to have a good time DAMN IT! And this drug is going to make me HAPPY! And they are trying to force something to happen, rather than just opening up, enjoying the music, and enjoying it for what it is. They never achieve the happiness, so they increase the dosage, figuring the drug isn't working.

 

Mike:

 

Over the years, I have observed definite patterns of behavior in the clubs, and it was very easy, especially when it was Probe. Everybody was on the dance floor, there was a lot of interaction, most of the people knew each other, it was very friendly. Now drugs have changed, and times have changed. There was a period of about a year or two, where I would see more people lining the perimeter of the dance floor on the prowl looking for their prey to take home

 

John:

 

Or their dealer

 

Mike:

 

Right!

 

John:

 

It's interesting that you say that, because Probe was a private club; it was never intended to be a major dance club. It had a capacity of, I think, 500 people, a smaller group of people. As word caught on about it, people wanted to be part of this underground club, and as the numbers grew, it became mainstream, and you didnt recognize other people there.

Just a comment I wanted to throw out there.

One more question on drug use: Do you think a lot of the heavy use of drugs in the gay scene really started as a result of the AIDS epidemic? People looking for an outlet?

 

Mike:

 

No. They've been around. They've been prevalent for a long time. They were used much more in excess then, but the drugs were different. Groups of friends did them together, and there was etiquette. Even at Probe there was etiquette of acting a certain way. If you were new to Probe, you had someone who would take you and teach you what was proper, and what was not proper. There was kind of a sense that this is our home, and in order to be here, you need to behave, and if you don't, its going to be frowned upon. People acted the way they needed to act, and I think that as that got lost, you started to see anything goes.

 

John:

 

So what's the inside scoop on Probe, or should I say, ICON? Is it ever going to be resurrected do you think?

 

Mike:

 

It will never be the same. Unfortunately, it's something thats in the past, and it can never be recreated. It's the same thing when The Saint in New York closed it was a moment in time that will never happen again. I was very lucky to not only have been a DJ at Probe, but to have gone there before I was a DJ, and experienced it.

 

In terms of what they are going to do with that space, they're re-doing it again because of the fire damage.

 

John:

 

That's a long time to repair fire damage!

 

Mike:

 

Absolutely, absolutely. There are so many strange dynamics going on in clubs, and the trends of people going out I don't know what's gonna happen.

 

John:

 

Speaking of trends, it seems like the DJ has become much more commercialized since you first started playing. Do you think it would be a fair statement to say that when you played as a DJ before, your prime objective was to show the people a good time, and make them really get into the music, and now, with the commercialization of it, there's so much more involved there's CDs, there are managers and agents, etc. How has this affected how you work?

 

Mike:

 

I think a lot of things that you mentioned are good. DJs dont get paid a whole lot of money, although it has gotten better. People don't necessarily realize that every week we go out, and we spend a lot of money on music, nobody pays our taxes. We're independent contractors. Everything comes out of what we make, so we have to supplement it somehow usually. Either another job, or, a lot of DJs have turned to CDs.

 

John:

 

They can be a money pit too, cant they?

 

mdfactoryfeb01Mike:

 

The cost to produce a CD is enormous. I think that DJs should to a certain degree be marketed, and a commodity, but I think it's also very important for clubs and promoters to recognize that they are something that really it's the wheels that make the clubs spin. Without a DJ, what do you have? You could just play music, but you don't have someone out there playing live and really able to react to the energy of the crowd and what's going on in the club. And so, Id like to see DJs become a little bit more respected for what they do. In Europe, theyre really looked upon as someone in the entertainment industry. Theres advertising behind them, they have sponsors, theyre big! And Id like to see some of that transferred to the DJs here in the U.S.

 

John:

 

There were a series of comments on Sidewalk Talk last year that alluded to a conversation that was overheard at ICON where you supposedly said you were burned out on the business, and wanted to get out of playing. I can't remember if the statement was that you were tired of ICON, or tired of playing in general. Was there ever a time that you seriously considered not playing anymore, or where you felt that you were burned out, or just had it?

 

Mike:

 

Thanks for asking! I was waiting for that question! Absolutely NOT! I will say that music is one of my biggest passions; it always has been. During that whole craze it was really discouraging. One of the first things I was told by Tom Johnson was You've got to have a thick skin, because people are going to say things; I've always been able to take that in stride. In the conversation that was quoted, I made a comment that I was tired of the commentaries, not of playing. Within the last couple of years it seems to have gotten very nasty.

 

John:

 

Vicious!

 

Mike:

 

Very vicious. I will respect someone if they come up and make a constructive criticism, because I'm always interested in what people have to say, but unfortunately, a lot of it was just catty, vicious, and malicious. You see it all the time now where everybody is an expert, and they all know a better answer than the DJ himself or herself. People stop realizing in that situation that we are people, and sometimes it hurts. So be constructive be constructive. Any DJ worth his own salt is not going to have a problem with constructive criticism.

 

John:

 

Is there a lot of viciousness, especially amongst the DJs, or perhaps more correctly, the DJs constituencies, to try and jockey the DJs into positions?

 

Mike:

 

I think it's great for a DJ to be ambitious and try to get those great local venues to work in. I dont think it's necessarily the DJs, but I do see a lot of the DJ supporters, and maybe even people that they don't know who go out and hear them play. They do want to see their favorite play in such and such venue because they think it's so prestigious, and they are the ones, unfortunately, that bring about a lot of the negativity. I have a philosophy that if you've got what it takes, you're going to get there. Sometimes it's time, sometimes it's luck, or a matter of getting that one lucky break. You just have to stick to your guns, and believe in what you do, and in your talent as a DJ, and youre going to get there. What I've always found is most important, is to act professionally, be gracious, and that will get you far.

 

John:

 

Give us the run-down on where you're going to be playing. I know that locally, you have a date at the Factory coming up.

 

Mike:

 

I'll be at The Factory on May 26, I'll be playing a benefit called Pacific Sunset in San Clemente (4 DJs playing May 13th), I'll be playing at Crowbar in Phoenix (May 19th), Steven Ks T-dance Memorial Day, Montage on June 9th, Gay Pride in LA at The Factory (June 16th) I'll be playing Mass in San Francisco for Gay Pride (June 24th), and the Boom Boom Room on July 4th.

 

John:

 

Is the Factory a regular gig for you now?

 

Mike:

 

Yes, I play there usually once to twice a month.

 

John:

 

Any parting words?

 

Mike:

 

I just think that the whole thing about clubs, music, is to go out and have a good time, be with your friends, meet people. Everybody that walks in a club should always take that with them. That should be the priority of why they're there.

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