Riding High with free103.9 provocateur DJ Dizzy
By Charles Waters
DJ Dizzy nimbly turns the mixer knobs and pops another record on the decks at his weekly gig, Audio Buffet, every Sunday night at a local diner in Williamsburg Brooklyn. The crowd is intimate and the beers flow freely across the bar. The range of music is wide open. One minute we are listening to a cool, laid-back samba the next minute we are reveling at a requested Van Halen track, followed by some ancient old school hip-hop beats that Dizzy mixes into the revolving world of sound that make his sets so animated and fun. It can also be a little bewildering and chaotic at times.
This mind-bending mix of music is known as free form, a style pioneered in the 70's that mixes musical genres and styles to create a unique style of its own. Free form is identified with radio, especially stations like WFMU in Jersey City, NJ a long time bastion of free form programming. In this sense, radio is an art form unto itself yet never separated from the music. It is analogous to the way many avant-garde jazz musicians in the 70's like Anthony Braxton and John Zorn were working and composing. Free form also moves the listener from a passive role (read boring corporate rock) to an active role in the listening experience. And that's exactly the way Dizzy likes itkeeping people on their toes, anticipating what song or sound might come next.
Back at the diner with another flick of the wrist, DJ Dizzy slides on some early Velvet Underground and re-orients our sonic palette into a long montage of weird pop hits, new wave and one-hit wonder psychedelic bands. We have now entered the rocking and constantly mutating world of DJ Dizzy. Welcome.
Spinning records is only part of Dizzy's work. For the last four years Dizzy has been the catalyst and "station manager" of the independent radio station free 103.9 based in Williamsburg. My first encounter with Dizzy was as a mobile broadcaster filling Brooklyn's airwaves with incredible simulcast concerts of the burgeoning underground free jazz scene including concerts of the rarely heard and believed to be defunct Organic Trio featuring William Parker, Cooper-Moore and Daniel Carter. Other shows included Matthew Shipp on toy (!) piano and subway band par excellence TEST. And this was just the beginning of Dizzy's work.
Dizzy moved to Williamsburg 1995 in order to live in a community of artists and musicians. He says from the beginning "I found that it was a great neighborhood." Before moving to New York, Dizzy had some radio experience in Florida helping to establish 87X, a microradio station in Tampa. This experience gave Dizzy the technical knowledge to create his own microradio station here in New York City.
In the mainstream press microradio stations are referred to as pirate radio. Pirate is an apt metaphor, but pirate radio is more along the lines of Robin Hood than Blackbeard.
In the 1930's radio begin to be administered by our government. The basic tenant of the radio airwaves or frequencies legally speaking is that the airwaves belong to the people, that is, you and me and all Americans. But from the very beginning radio was a commercial device used and developed by large corporations that still have wide control of the industry. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandates that even commercial stations should do some work in the public's interest. But times have changed and those ideas of community service and local information have been almost completely disregarded.
The idea of community service through radio is the basis for DJ Dizzy's free103.9 microradio station. When speaking about the radio coverage that the neighborhood generally receives from the major broadcasters in the New York City area, Dizzy says, "Maybe, maybe once a month WYNC or WBAI (both public radio affiliate stations in this area) might mention some event is happening in Williamsburg, but that's about it." Looking around at the bustling growth of art and music in this neighborhood Dizzy knew someone had to offer an alternative to the coverage and dissemination of music and information received by local residents. "It makes perfect sense that Williamsburg should have a small radio station that serves the listeners in Williamsburg however they like." Dizzy writes in an email about free 103.9.
Dizzy describes how early in 2000 the FCC created the possibility that mircoradio might actually find some legal strength to stand on in the face of corporate radio through a mandate to allow low-wattage stations in communities that were under-served by radio and other technology. But these plans were dashed to bits by big radio lobbying and their conservative Republican backers. With the conservative Bush administration already taking office in Washington, DC, the hopes of finding some common ground between pirate radio advocates and corporate radio interests seems all but lost. And in America if you've got money on your side you usually get your way. And corporate radio has money to burn.
With this background it becomes easier to understand microradio broadcasting as an act of civil disobedience. For Dizzy, free 103.9 does have political power, " Yes. But I think every action humans take is political. What brand of toothpaste you buy is political, and in these
uber-capitalist times, a more powerful vote than the one that
obviously doesn't count much on Election Day. That said, the entire microradio movement has been political, an attempt to reclaim the natural resource that should be shared among all people: the airwaves. I liken the airwaves to our national parks, except the airwaves have been burned, looted, mined and de-forested for almost a century. It's time the people had access to their airwaves."
Freedom indeed. And freedom requires action through artistic statement. If you follow the local press in New York City, Williamsburg would seem to have built its reputation solely on the fact that its a great place for culturally daring Manhattanites to drink themselves into oblivion. But the reality for most Williamsburgers is that its a great place to live and work. Art of all type requires space. Space to think and space to create - Williamsburg has it. Hype aside and viewed from the inside (I've been staying in Williamsburg for five years and have lived here for three) this neighborhood is amazingly varied and vibrant. I see some great shows and I see some terrible shows, but artists are working and testing out new ideas and this is a good feeling.
Over the past six years DJ Dizzy has curated an extraordinary amount of events. Many shows at Good/Bad Art Collective, which often include DJ Dizzy working more as a sound sculptor using small electronics as well as the normal two turntable and microphone gear. He has played shows throughout the neighborhood and in greater Brooklyn. And he has hosted numerous events, concerts and special broadcasts from his home on the Southside of Williamsburg. Once again the idea of free form and free music play a part in Dizzy's musical associates. He recalled one of the best shows he ever did was in 1997 on the Williamsburg Bridge. " We got a generator and spun wax on a cool Memorial Day weekend, with a few hundred friends." These shows range musically from the super-groove of the mighty Antibalas Afro-beat Orchestra to the crazed freak rock-cum-art noise band To Live and Shave in L.A., in between loads of up and coming free jazzers, space rockers, noise mongers and plain old freaks. Dizzy has room for it all.
Around the New Year was a very busy time for Dizzy. He has a new weekly gig in Manhattan that takes work and care at the same time he is planning a vacation in South America for a few weeks. Plus the usual affairs of getting all of the weekly radio shows together and teaching radio to neighborhood kids. Where does one find all of the time? Remember one of the things that pirate radio will never give you is a job, so Dizzy, like most of us works during the day temping in order to pay the bills. But a few more paying DJ gigs couldn't hurt. Hopefully the new Manhattan gig will prosper.
Dizzy is spinning his last few records of the night. Once again it's late on a Sunday night, almost a school night. But its been snowing so it was good to get out of the house for a little adventure. And thats just what I got from DJ Dizzy, a sonic adventure. I ask Dizzy about his favorite performances and he responds, " Usually the most fun I have is very late at night, when a couple of drunk friends are over, and we go at the turntables, CD players and keyboards all at once." Leaving, I realized I had just witnessed one of DJ Dizzy's favorite performances and I was digging it all the way home.
Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry
Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211