music (2007-44)

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Influential breakbeat DJ drops the needle in Knoxville

by Matthew Everett

When Eddie Pappa, who as an adult would become known as DJ Icey, was growing up in Orlando, Fla., in the 1970s, he heard the Edgar Winter Groupâ’s â“Frankensteinâ” on his motherâ’s stereo. It was a somewhat sideways introduction to electronic music, but it planted the seeds for one of the most influential and prolific DJ and producing careers in American music in the 1990s. Iceyâ’s solo discsâ"1999â’s Continuous Play and 2003â’s Different Dayâ"have never made much of an impact, but his live sets and mixtapes were essential parts of the evolution of American dance music in the 1990s.

â“The breakdown with the modular synthesizer riff [on â“Frankensteinâ”] was mesmerizing to me as a child,â” Icey writes in an e-mail exchange, adding a link to a live performance of the song on YouTube. â“The bit in the middle where he is tweaking the low-frequency oscillation is sick! They were a tight band, as well.â”

Influenced by that riff, Icey gradually started spinning records at nightclubs as a teenager. The Orlando scene at the time, during the late 1980s and early â’90s, was becoming known for its break musicâ"dance and electronic mixes that included snatches of instrumental rhythmic sections, or breaks, from funk, soul, and R&B performances and, later, borrowed second-hand from hip hop. The syncopated rhythms of the break samples provided an alternative to the strictly 4/4 beats of traditional disco and house music. Icey scrambled to get any gigs he could in a scene that was starting to get national attention.

â“I was was spinning at a pub while in college, and I would go into bars that had nights that were slow and ask to be able to do a night there,â” Icey writes. â“I would make flyers at Kinkos and flyer parking lots all week for whatever gig I could get. I always gave out free mixtapes to everyone every night I DJed. I had six tape decks daisy-chained in my apartment and I spent all of my money on blank tapes and records every week. My girlfriend at the time would hand-decorate the cassette tapes with paint pens; she had a crazy graffiti/Andy Warhol vibe with her artwork.â”

His work paid off with occasional gigs at the club Sub Zero and, finally, a residency at The Edge, the center of Orlando break music. He began to travel for out-of-town performances, spreading breaks to dance floors all over the country. He introduced the Chemical Brothers, who had added breaks to the rave-scene music of the U.K., to the United States with their first stateside show at The Edge. And he was producing dozens of singles and 12-inch records for various labels, including his own Zone Records. He was the first American to record a volume of the Essential Mix compilation series curated by Pete Tong. As time went on, he began to fuse his early breakbeat music with the popular but less propulsive progressive trance style in the â’90s. And he was on the road hundreds of nights a year, every year.

â“Staying on the road, you have to be dedicated and pace yourself and love what you do, or it would get old very quickly,â” he writes. â“I love to DJ, and since I have been producing music almost as long as I have been DJing, it never gets old to drop a tune you just finished in the studio on the road and see and feel the reaction.â”

Something heâ’s noticed on the road, however, is that the community for dance music is becoming increasingly virtual. â“Well, the sad thing is there are barely any record stores left,â” he writes. â“I have one distributor left in business that I sell vinyl to from my indie label. They are on the verge of going under. I used to put out between 15 and 20 releases a year on vinyl. This year so far I have done three. The sad thing about losing record stores is that they were a place in the community for the scene in general. Now everything has gone digital.... The Internet has made the world a much smaller place, and as Tommy Sunshine, I believe, once said, instant messaging is the new record store.â”

Who: DJ Icey with Future Sounds and Funky James

Where: Blue Cats

When: Saturday, Nov. 10

How Much: Free before 11 p.m., $6 after

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