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photos: Joe Putrock

The Body Electronic
By Kristen Ferguson

How Ryan Kick revved up the turntables of the Capital Region’s newly invigorated DJ scene

‘I don’t want to see Albany be a bland city. I don’t want to be in a bland city,” says DJ Ryan Kick, explaining why he has dedicated himself to reinvigorating the Capital Region’s nascent electronic-music scene. Plenty of people criticize the lack of dance-oriented nightlife options in Albany, as they surely do in midsized cities across the country, but most people don’t actively try to improve the situation. Kick doesn’t complain. He just does.

Since moving back to the Capital Region from Boston last November, the Schenectady-born DJ started a record store that caters to local DJs and cofounded Independent Technologies, a promotion company. He also has given hundreds of local electronic music fans a reason to celebrate at weekly RISE parties at Quintessence. Most amazingly, Kick and his Independent Technologies partners have done this all in just nine short months. “Yeah, we’ve been busy,” Kick admits over a drink at DeJohn’s Restaurant, where he was a chef until recently (he’s now a chef at Justin’s).

The RISE parties at Quintessence take place every Saturday night and are open to anyone 18 and older. “We’re trying to provide a safe, drug-free place for people to dance. And for DJs like us to have a place to play,” Kick says of the free events, which bring in headlining DJs from all over the Northeast. “We try to keep it fresh. We want to provide a place for people to go to see DJs, for free, who they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to see. It draws a great crowd. We’ve had some DJs absolutely tear the roof off the place,” he says, giving props to DJ Mirra from Burlington, Vt., and MO7S from New Hampshire. “These kids came and screamed energy into the crowd. It was unbelievable.”

RISE draws DJs from different genres of dance-oriented electronic music, including Kick’s own specialty of house (a form of dance music that originally evolved out of disco and is defined in part by a 4/4 time signature; it includes an array of subgenres such as hard house, progressive house, deep house, etc.). “I truly believe there is a style of electronic music for everyone,” says Kick, who tends to eschew the term “rave” for its connotations of drug-induced debauchery. “There is so much more to electronic music than many people realize. In Europe, it’s the main style of music and it’s promoted. We’re doing all we can to open people’s minds to this kind of music. That’s why Quintessence is a multi-genre event. That wouldn’t work in a bigger city. Around here, because there’s such a lack of live DJing, we can pull it off. We’ve had house DJs open up for drum ’n’ bass DJs. Hopefully in the future there will be enough places in the area to go for this kind of music. That’s what we want to see happen—that’s our utopia.”

As a DJ, Kick has his own high-energy style that gets the crowds moving. “I don’t even dance, but I get behind the decks and I freak out,” he says. “There’s a track called, ‘Can You Feel the Rhythm Moving Through Your System?’ That’s how I feel when I’m spinning. I can’t play to an empty room. I need a crowd to feed off of. I’m completely obsessive-compulsive with my sets. I put so much time and energy into them. I have to make sure they’re in the same key. I’m a perfectionist. I usually sit there for days and weeks and plan it out. I also have to make sure I’m projecting the image of a professional DJ. I do absolutely consider myself a musician.”

Kick, now only in his early 20s, attributes much of his current DJing style to his early exposure to rock music. “When I was about 10 years old, one of my first introductions to music was when my dad used to play me his Bob Dylan and Doc Watson albums. [Dylan’s] Blood on the Tracks is still one of my favorite albums. My mother was a punk rocker. She played bass for a band called the Dial Tones, who once opened for the Ramones. She used to tell me stories about Frank Zappa and how she used to hang out with his bass player and helped him write some songs. We moved to Clifton Park when I was 14, 15, and I met a bunch of kids who were into the whole punk-rock thing. We started a band and I sang. After singing lead, my inner and outer child started to feed off of controlling the crowd. It’s an amazing feeling.”

His teenage punk band eventually broke up, but Kick’s musical future was sealed when he attended an electronic-music happening at the Albany Armory with a friend. “I walked into this huge building and I looked at 2,000 people being controlled by one person, the DJ. I was completely intrigued by what was going on. After that I became obsessed. I started buying records at [now defunct Albany record store] Audio Underground. One local DJ in particular, who died about two years ago, DJ Beyond [aka Rich Woodruff], was the first person who really pushed me. Rich was my mentor, as far as buying records and teaching me what was what.”

Kick learned to master the various skills needed to DJ, which involves more than just picking records and stringing them together in a certain order. DJs need an understanding of how songs are structured, as well as a sense of rhythm and the ability to manipulate the dynamics of a record. “You kind of have to have a musical background to be a good DJ,” Kick says. “It goes so far beyond just putting two records on the turntables and adjusting the pitch control. I basically spent 1998 to 2000 locked in my room spinning records.”

At age 16, Kick got his first gigs spinning locally, which he says made him the youngest DJ in Albany. “I was playing in clubs that I wasn’t old enough to get into. But it reached a point where I wanted to do more than spin records. At 18, I wanted to be part of the scene. I wanted to know what was behind the curtain. I thought if I had made so many sacrifices in my life for DJing, I might as well take it to the next level. Any way I can be a part of the scene, I want to be involved. I want to make sure shit happens.”

After working as a house-music buyer for Altar Records in Albany, which opened after Audio Underground burned down at the close of the ’90s, Kick took a friend up on an offer to move to Boston. There, he attended the Art Institute of New England and soon landed his dream job at Satellite Records, one of the best known electronic music stores in the world, which has a branch in Boston. “I would go there every day and buy records,” Kick says. “DJs like to call it the black crack. There will never be enough. After being a customer for six months, the manager offered me a position. I absolutely took it. That’s when things really started to happen for me. I bought myself a brand-new G4 computer and everything I would need to produce at home.”

Kick’s biggest break in Boston came when he put together a remix of a track called “Undercurrent,” by Cates and DPL, a Boston-based DJ production duo. Cates and DPL in turn gave it to Timo Maas, a globally known German DJ in the trance-music scene. “My friend David [aka DPL] called me from Crobar in New York City,” Kick explains. “He said, ‘Maas is dropping your remix right now in front of 35,000 people.’” (The track may get licensed next year.)

In November 2003, Kick got word that his mother had been injured in a horse-riding accident. He moved back to the area to help her. When he did, he found the local electronic-music scene to be moribund. “There were no club nights; there were no record stores. I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to move back to Albany, I’m not going to sit by while the scene sinks further and further.’” One of Kick’s first moves was to take over Saturday nights at Quintessence, which he did with the help of his longtime friend and partner Backus (aka DJ Ransom), as well as local DJ Scooby Carolan, who had found the Quintessence spot. They held the grand opening of RISE in the first week of March this year, and it drew more than 150 people. The partners also started Independent Technologies as a promotional group that throws events and signs DJs. In addition to Kick, Backus and Carolan, the current Indy Techs “family” also includes local drum ’n’ bass DJs John Santola (aka Mentally Ill) and John Nowak (aka John the Baptist).

“In the back of our minds, we were always fantasizing about starting a record store,” Kick says. “It wasn’t realistic at the time, but then our name began to snowball. We started to gain respect locally. We started pulling crowds whenever our name was involved.” In May, Kick, Backus and Carolan opened the doors of Massive Wax at 306 Hudson Ave. in Albany. “The store is a service to the community,” he says. “It’s our life. We don’t get paid. It’s what we love to do. This was something that had to happen. No city should be without a DJ vinyl shop—it’s the city hall of the electronic music scene. It’s a necessity. We’re trying to keep it very low-key and catered to people like us. The store has been extremely successful. People have been waiting for this.” He mentions the support the store has gotten from area notables like DJ Jennifer Haley and Dave Space, whom Kick calls the “the founder of the Albany scene.”

The future only holds more projects and events for Kick. If all goes well, he will start a DJ night at Justin’s next month, and he’s signed on for a residency at Waterworks starting in November. Kick continues to return to RISE once a month (he’ll be there next on Oct. 30), as part of a rotating residency shared by everyone in the Indy Techs company. His new mix CD is due in January, a follow-up to his well-received mix CD The Science. “People are starting to recognize that maybe this isn’t just rave music,” Kick says. “I’m seeing the ball slowly start to roll. It makes me feel like what we’re doing isn’t for nothing. I’ve dedicated half of my life to this city. We’ve worked so hard. I just want people to know that there’s a whole other musical world people don’t know about. It’s becoming more and more possible. I’m really only trying to help the town that made me what I am.”

 


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