It was just about 10 years ago that Les Rhoda discovered the power of the untz. “I was at the Berkshire Mountain Festival back in 2000, and I saw a band called the New Deal,” he said. “I had a revelation. I guess I felt the untz for the first time, really. The untz called to me. It was definitely life-changing.”
What is the untz? The untz is that moment when the rhythm coalesces, the music swells, and the DJ drops some seriously sick beats. The untz is when the party reaches its peak, or the first of many peaks. And the untz is the thing that Rhoda has been chasing for the past 10 years, using turntables, MIDI controllers, computers and a whole host of other digital gadgetry.
Also known by his DJ alter ego Alien Journalism, Rhoda has been DJing in clubs and at parties in greater Bangor for several years now, after moving back to the area from Portland in 2004. Currently, he has a weekly gig each Saturday night at the Thai 1 Lounge on Main Street in Bangor, spinning a mix of diverse electronic music — from upbeat house like Daft Punk to the more atmospheric genre known as dubstep.
Originally from Houlton, Rhoda got his start as a DJ way back in 1990, when he was a high schooler, on-air on WHOU, the Houlton community radio station. He is an accomplished saxophone player in addition to being a DJ, and he has never been one to do things by the books. Even as a high school student and college student at the University of Maine, he was a musician with an experimental edge.
“I’ve always been the guy who liked to make weird sounds with samplers and keyboards,” said Rhoda, who has played with a whole host of jazz, rock, funk and jam bands in Maine. “I’m always trying something new. I plug my sax into a keyboard and bring the noise. That’s the stuff that really interests me.”
After getting turned on to the untz and to electronic music in general, Rhoda began his intense self-study of DJ technique. He was among the first DJs in the state to use CD turntables exclusively, and among the first, as far as he knows, to turn on Maine audiences to mashups, the popular style of music mixing two or more songs together.
Now, though, Rhoda has consolidated all of his equipment into just a computer and a MIDI controller — Musical Instrument Digital Interface, if you didn’t know. Instead of lugging crates of vinyl records or binders of CDs around, Rhoda has a 500 GB hard drive with thousands of hours of music on it. He can customize any set list for any occasion. You want low key? He’s got low key. You want epic funky party jams? He’s got that too. He even does weddings and bar mitzvahs, if the price is right.
“That’s the beauty of today’s technology, but also the challenge. You have to have a real grasp of not only tons and tons of music and genres, but you also have to know just what you have on your own hard drive,” said Rhoda. “You have to be able to draw on a library of 30,000 songs and know exactly what to play in that particular moment. It’s a bit of a science.”
Of course, any club DJ must wrestle with his or her own personal tastes versus the tastes of the crowd. When someone is screaming for the new Fergie single, it’s hard to balance that out with the amazing new track you just downloaded that no one has ever heard, but you personally love.
“I’ll drop the stuff that I like towards the end, when people are all danced out and will groove on anything,” said Rhoda. “At first, I stick to more electro and house. It’s sad, though, when you’re all excited to play a song that’s been totally blowing your mind, and then someone asks you for Lil’ John. It’s a balance.”
Either way, Rhoda is a good guy to have around if you’re planning a dance party, whether it’s at your house or in a club. Don’t ever think that DJs aren’t musicians, however. What Rhoda does is complicated, and requires as much skill as any guitarist or keyboard player has.
“DJing is just a new form of performance, especially the kind of stuff I do. I’m constantly changing things around and experimenting and mixing things together differently,” said Rhoda. “It’s the future.”
Les Rhoda DJs every Saturday night at the Thai 1 Lounge on Main Street in downtown Bangor. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/alienjournalism.