Neal Carter (DJ Neals Barkley) and Matt Abraham (DJ Fayo) are the Barnum and Bailey of Harrisonburg’s underground music scene. Once a month, you can catch their pulsating, bumping, visual feast of the Greatest Show on Earth when they host No Requests at The Blue Nile (181 N. Main St.). I caught up with them briefly as they gear up for their next event this Saturday, starting at 9:00 pm.
Sarah Murphy: Hey fellas! I’m helping Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance cover the arts and culture scene and you two are major players. I know you’re super busy, but I’ve got a couple of questions to ask you.
DJ Fayo: Yeah!
Sarah: Would you like to share one of your earliest music listening experiences?
DJ Neals Barkley: Good question. For Christmas one year – I was probably around eight or so, I can’t remember – my dad bought me a Walkman and a Don McClean “American Pie” tape. While that album was ok and everything, it wasn’t until my mom gave me Billy Joel’s “An Innocent Man” the following week and it made me felt completely at home. I remember my friend coming over and I played “For the Longest Time” for him. He was making fun of it because it didn’t have much of a groove (admittedly) like his favorite song at the time, “Achey Breaky Heart.” I think Billy Joel and I have a lot in common – we’re both from Long Island and both had crushes on Christie Brinkley.
DJ Fayo: Probably stealing my dad’s Nirvana Nevermind CD and my mom finding me listening to it. She wasn’t too pleased. I loved that album so much but the naked baby on the cover definitely seemed weird to my eight-year-old mind.
Sarah: What was the impetus/motivation to start No Requests?
DJ Neals Barkley: Matt and I came up with the idea to start throwing these parties when we were both at a crossroads with our club sets. We were locked into these Top 40 sets that we were expected to play and it didn’t afford us much of an opportunity to play the more interesting types of electronic/dance music we were listening to. We wanted to bring the house party vibe to the club. Thus spawned No Requests. Originally, the idea was to have the party at a different venue every month. We didn’t want No Requests to be associated to any particular place – it belonged to the people going as much as it did to us and the venue it was being held at. We quickly realized that moving it monthly proved to be way more difficult than we had expected. Therefore, we agreed that the Blue Nile would be the perfect home for it. The people at the Blue Nile treated us marvelously from day one and really understood the aesthetic, vibe, and sound we were going for.
DJ Fayo: No Requests started as an effort to produce and play a dance event where the DJs could play what they wanted because of an established trust with the dance floor. As DJs, we have played all kinds of parties and events where we take requests and where we have to play music that we’re not always that excited about. With No Requests, we wanted an outlet for more underground, experimental, and interesting music. We see ourselves as educators to an extent. We spend hours and hours every week researching and listening to music. Much of what we play at No Requests is the best of the best of what we’ve found. We don’t think that you have to live in New York, L.A., London, or Berlin to hear cutting-edge dance music played by talented DJs and producers. If you want to just hear top 40, there’s always the radio. Don’t get me wrong though, I do absolutely love some top 40 songs, but No Requests isn’t necessarily the place for that.
Sarah: How do you decide which guest DJs to showcase?
DJ Neals Barkley: Simply put, we bring down DJs we really like. Also, ones that fit the sound and mood we are trying to cultivate with the party. We typically bring DJs in from the East Coast, as our budget hasn’t afforded us the opportunity to tap into the West Coast just yet (But fear not! It’s coming). We like DJs and producers who are doing exciting things, ones straying from the path. We also like to switch things up – for example, get a House DJ one month, a Moombahton producer the next, followed by a bass DJ. I think it has to do with the fact that we both have short attention spans and are always trying to evolve and keep things fresh.
DJ Fayo: We bring in DJs that aren’t just DJs. In electronic music, there is a difference between DJs and producers, neither of which are mutually exclusive. DJs play other people’s music (and perhaps their own) while producers create their own music with the intent to DJ out to people. That’s how you make money these days! So we bring in producers whose music we really like and who we know will be able to play a show well and be a hit to our crowds here in Harrisonburg. To a smaller extent, geography does play a role in how we book. Many of the DJs we book are based in NYC and D.C. but are constantly touring the U.S. and Europe.
Sarah: Do you have any favorite No Requests memories you’d like to share? Or what’s your favorite thing about hosting No Requests?
DJ Neals Barkley: I’ll answer them both. I think my favorite No Requests memory was when we brought Brenmar down for JMU’s Homecoming Weekend of 2011. We were both super nervous. It was the most expensive DJ we had brought in to date, and were concerned how the out-of-town crowd would warm up to his set. Plus, his plane was delayed and he literally got into town 30 minutes before his set. Needless to say, he KILLED it. While standing on the side of the stage completely geeking out to the tracks he was dropping, this was the moment I truly believed that this party was doing something important in Harrisonburg. It was bigger than just a bunch of boozed-up people dancing; it was confirmation that we can introduce all this new music that most of the crowd had never heard before to such a great reaction and appreciation.
DJ Fayo: The best moments are when our guest headliner, the dance floor, and the staff are all on the same page just smiling and dancing. You can feel so much energy that its almost tangible! Specifically, playing with Brenmar two Homecomings ago was amazing. Also playing with our friend Willy Joy the two times we’ve had him down. All in all, the best parts about hosting No Requests are being able to have fun with new and old friends, providing a unique, cutting-edge party for people in Harrisonburg to experience, and surprising touring DJs by how great playing in small towns can be. Everyone we’ve had play with us has had a great time.
Sarah: Which one of you is the beauty and which one of you is the brains?
DJ Neals Barkley: Well, it’s a good thing there’s two of us, because, combined, we almost make up one fully-functioning brain. Matt handles a lot of the booking, dealing with agents, networking, etc – basically the business side of things. I handle more of the technical and creative aspects. I edit the visuals, build the signs and other aspects of our stage setup, and tend to focus on much of the promotion and design.
DJ Fayo: It depends on who’s having a bad hair day really. Humidity is huge. As for brains, Neal used to be the lead singer of a popular hardcore band called Anterrabae, so he must be pretty smart. He might not want people to know that little tidbit…
Sarah: What do you see coming up for No Requests in 2013?
DJ Neals Barkley: Just continuing to bring in exciting talent to Harrisonburg and expose people to new and exciting styles of music. We have a mini East Coast tour currently in the planning stages that will feature a couple of our favorite DJs we have brought down in the past. Also, [we’d like to] continue to expand our stage setup and increase the production value as a whole – a bubble machine, perhaps?
DJ Fayo: We are really looking to expand No Requests, both geographically and media-wise. We are exploring opportunities to expand to other cities in Virginia. We also feel like we’ve developed some trust with the community where people appreciate the things that we find cool and interesting in the arts. Because of this, we also want to take on a curatorial role in terms of putting together art openings and band shows, and having the No Requests name on it means that it’s something we really appreciate. Yes, we are DJs, but we are also really involved with other forms of art and want to give voice to those interests as well. For example, we are working with a few local and D.C.-based artists on putting together a light, video, and music installation sometime this spring here in town. In short, we want to push ourselves and our community to do things that aren’t being done in town creatively, in music and the fine arts, and to do things well.
Sarah: Wow! I had no idea how much you two put into this. I want to thank you for taking some time out to fill me in on your process. Here’s to a new year of No Requests!
The next No Requests will be this Saturday, January 12th, starting at 9:00 pm at the Blue Nile. DJ Neals Barkley and DJ Fayo will spin, followed by DJ Apt One. To find out more about No Requests, follow them on Facebook!
Sarah Murphy is a local artist, photographer, and writer currently working on her travel memoir: Library of Memory. She’s a member of the HDR Promotions Committee and a huge fan of downtown Harrisonburg in general. You can follow her on Twitter @meta_murph_osis.
All photos © Sarah Murphy.