With all due respect to DJs who spend their careers digging really intensely into specific styles of music, one of the best things you can experience on a dancefloor is being thrown totally off-balance. There’s nothing quite like hearing a corker from your childhood when you least expect it, or a style far removed from the pummeling music you’ve been listening to for the past two hours. The trance states are cool and all, but it’s even more exciting to be started awake from your dancefloor dreaming.
New York DJ and promoter Andrew Devlin loves throwing this sort of curveball. The child of a father who was a concert promoter and a mother who was a Studio 54 regular, he was more or less born for the (night)life he’s adopted. But it hasn’t always been easy. His first DJ gig, he winningly recounts in an email interview, was at a midtown Manhattan sports bar, where he was jeered for mixing 90s rap and blog house. Still, over the last few years, he’s been channeling that penchant for defying expectations into one of New York’s liveliest techno-ish nights, the Level Party, which he and a handful of friends designed around a decidedly anything/anywhere goes philosophy.
At the small handful of Levels I’ve attended, I’ve caught long-haired Swedes swaying to glittery house music several floors below street-level, and solo dancers in all-white tearing up massive outdoor courtyards to the sounds of bleary ambience. Those were, apparently, a few of the more normal ones. Devlin recalls a series of early parties that took place in a borrowed woodshop, and a recent one at a New York beach that apparently inspired some young passersby to start breaking on the spot.
The unifying philosophy is one of those unquantifiable things. There’s a shared love of house and techno among DJs and party-goers alike, but that’s not really crucial either. As Devlin’s Noisey mix this week proves—moving from staring-into-the-sun folk-pop, to slo-mo techno, to trap edits, to, uh, Toadies—the goal is to give you what you need in the moment, regardless if it’s what you think you want. The point is, both the mix and the party are well worth your time, if, like, you enjoy having fun.
Also, if you happen to be in New York tonight (September 7), you can catch a little of the Level spirit at FIXED’s party at Good Room. Devlin and Level resident DJ Voices will takeover the smaller Bad Room all night.
NOISEY: How are we meant to enjoy the mix? What’s the perfect setting?
Andrew Devlin: Ideally hanging out with some pals, maybe [on] hour-12 of a good party or road trip.
Is synesthesia a real thing, and if so, what color is this mix?
It is, but I’m color-blind, so that’s always a little tough. I do think along food lines, though, in which instance this is a big meal—maybe some fresh bruschetta, a cacio e pepe, a nice marsala, throw in some roasted brussel sprouts and a slice of olive oil cake for dessert. Comfort food with some flavor.
Was there any specific concept to the mix?
I was really looking for a way to kind of bottle up what a lot of my DJ sets have felt like recently. I’ve been playing a lot of “open format,” for lack of a better word, just jumping between genres like crazy: Call Super >> Barry White >> Burial >> Cardi B kinda stuff. I tried to organize that feeling into a coherent thing, like you’re sitting by a radio switching stations but every song is good.
Do you have a favorite moment on this mix?
Hmm…probably “Murder on the Dancefloor.” I’m always a fan of the journeying 4×4 set followed by the curveball. It’s a killer pop song, and one I’ve been playing at parties since high school.
Tell me about the opening gambit on this mix. At this point, I’ve only seen the tracklist, but you definitely seem to go some places.
I’m always just trying to keep my focus on surprising people and playing good music. The world has enough boring techno DJs. I try to find a balance, though—an early version of this had [Toadies’] “Possum Kingdom” at like the third song, but a few friends said they weren’t quite willing to go with me on the jam. Bumped it to the end, which is kind of a fun one to finish with.
I’m always curious about everyone’s, like, club-kid origin story. Where are you from, and how’d you find yourself a part of the musical world in which you now reside?
Looking back on it, this life kinda chose me, haha. My dad was a concert promoter in college, booking The Supremes, Temptations, etc., and went on to work 30+ years in NYC radio. My mom was born in the Bronx, a Studio 54 regular, and easily one of the best partiers/hosts I’ve ever been around. I was putting music together for friends and choosing music at parties since I was young. I wasn’t in a punk band or anything, but I loved music and was getting wary of working in a more “serious” profession. In high school, I worked as a barback, doorman—even promoted at a couple places downtown.
My sophomore year in college, I wanted to go abroad but couldn’t afford it. I spent the summer waiting tables at Planet Hollywood in Times Square, saving every dollar I made. Not a dream job. In September, though, I left for Barcelona. I spent most of my time looking for music—checked out Ibiza closing weekend, Berlin, Budapest, Amsterdam. By the end of the semester, I knew who Ricardo Villalobos was and was pretty hooked on the DJ thing.
When I got back, I picked up a cheap controller and started watching YouTube vids. My first gig was at a sports bar on 82nd and 3rd on a Saturday night. I played A Tribe Called Quest & blog house and got booed. Things got better from there.
Could you tell me a little bit about the story behind the Level Party too?
For sure. The name—I honestly just took a nap and woke up and had the word on my mind. It’s a good message—balance and all that. The first one was in 2014 at Bizarre Bar in Bushwick. I wanted to provide an environment with really good new music that still felt warm/inviting. Somewhere between the kind of chin-stroking, I-saw-that-record-on-Discogs vibes I saw in Ridgewood and the more relaxed vibe you might find at a house party in the city.
After a few [parties] at Bizarre, I found a woodshop in Bed-Stuy that trusted me with their space for the night. We had Galcher Lustwerk, Jay Daniel, and Buck Smith (now Gene Tellem) in there, and my ma even made chicken cutlet sandwiches for everyone. That’s when it kind of popped off. Since then, have bounced around between legal/illegal venues and picked up a bunch of help I should probably shout out. Two of my best friends, Sverre (Onkel-S) and Kristin (DJ Voices), are resident DJs. Brittany runs the bar, Tyler promotes, Katyann shows up, Charlie photographs, Mauricio has done most of the flyers. Oh, and Soundhouse. None of this could have happened without them.
Either as a fan or as person who throws parties, do you feel like there are any magical ingredients, musically or otherwise, that make for a great night? Are there any things you do to shepherd the ever-elusive vibes?
Man, that’s a tough one! The vibe is truly elusive at times. The only thing I can say is a vibe is like a sandwich: You can tell when a lot of love has been put in. You walk into a party at Nowadays, or Sustain-Release, or The Lot Radio, [and] you know. You know some people really care, and that tends to reflect itself in the vibe. So just put a lot of work in, freak out that the whole thing’s going to fall apart, keep putting more work in, and then try to remember to record the sets.
What’s next for Level, and for you in general? I know throwing parties can be a thankless grind—are you excited and optimistic about the future?
Haha yes, it’s definitely thankless, and a little bit like going to a casino with your savings and playing blackjack every weekend. I love gambling, but it’s a lot. In any case, the last big thing we did, The Beach Party at Riis Park, was super inspiring. Just really fun putting music out there to random people on the boardwalk. We had rollerbladers showing up, little kids break dancing. I want to put energy in that direction, letting the music breathe out in public. Exclusivity is played out.
J.J. Cale – Cherry
CSNY – Dark Star
PM Dawn – Set Adrift on Memory Bliss
Mary J. Blige – Be Happy
MGUN – Inside Me
Solitary Dancer – Heroine Dub
Lumidee – Uh Oh
Syclops – 5 Left
Sleazy – Sex Jam
Mr. Curtains – Theme
Madteo – We Doubt You (Can Make It)
LNDCROY – Slam City (Mix Assist Mix)
Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Murder on the Dancefloor
Debbie Deb – Lookout Weekend
Cyrk – Bossanova Rock
Strafe – Set it Off (edit)
Alex Seidel – Secret High
Lil Baby, Drake – Yes, Indeed (AD blend)
Violet – Silver Lining
Textasy – I’m the Needle
Daniel Beddingfield – Gotta Get Thru This
Short Stuff, Mickey Pearce – Tripped Up (Ramandanman Mix)
DJ Technics – Luv U More
Toadies – Possum Kingdom