INTERVIEW WITH ALI COLEMAN
DM: Diego Martinez
AC: Ali Coleman
DM: Thank you for joining us and thank you for an awesome set at the last Summer Wednesdays party, you had some great vinyl.
AC: Thank you guys for having me, I had an awesome time man. It’s funny cause I used to have so many vinyl records, but I got rid of a lot of them. It’s better now cause I only kept the ones I really love, so I can just grab a handful and whatever is in there is usually crazy good.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey in music and DJ-ing and how that all got started?
Well, first of all, I believe we’re all born into music. It starts inside of your mom's belly, you know, it’s like listening to a disco record, 100BPM… we come out ready for the vibration. I’ve always been around music, I come from a long line of singers. My great uncle was part of a group called the Coleman Brothers, they were a very famous gospel choir in the 40s. When I was younger, in the late 70s, like ‘77, ‘78, we started hearing about these DJs and we started going to these clubs, I was hooked.
I knew right then that I wanted to play records and host parties the rest of my life. 1978 was when I first started, with two turntables and a mixer. I had got my first turntable set for my eighth grade graduation, so I went from being an honor roll student to dropping all of that just to DJ. We would go to the real underground disco spots at that time, Paradise Garage, those kinds of spots.
DM: So when did you play your first big set? Was that all in New York?
I grew up in Jersey, along with some pretty famous DJs at the time, Nick Jones, Jihad Mohammed, you know. I was a Jersey boy, but my heart was in New York. New York was always inside of me. My first big house party was in Jersey around that time, maybe 1980. It’s funny, I was talking to some guy recently and he was saying he was first introduced to disco music at a house party on the block, and we kept talking and realized he was talking about my party, when I was like 13 years old. That was crazy. At that time we were really just playing wherever they would let us. We’d play in the parks, playgrounds, we were doing that way back then, dancing non-stop all day.
"I BELIEVE WE'RE ALL BORN INTO MUSIC. IT STARTS INSIDE OF YOUR MOM'S BELLY, YOU KNOW, IT'S LIKE LISTENING TO A DISCO RECORD, 100BPM... WE COME OUT READY FOR THE VIBRATION."
Do you find that same energy when you play places now? What’s changed?
Well the equipment is definitely different, we learned on turntables, they had a rubber band and no pitch control. Now you can slide and do all sorts of shit, we had to use our fingers to do that. We didn’t even see the BPM, now you have the sync button, we didn’t see none of that. As far as people coming together though, that’s as ancient as human beings. So when I do it, when I play music for people, House of Yes, or wherever, I really pay homage to that part of it. I know our ancestors did the same thing, and I’m honored to connect to people in that way.
It must be quite a thing to look back through all the years - do you have any favorite sets or specific nights that stand out?
Ah man, so many. That’s the beautiful thing about it all, I’m doing something that I learned to do in my room as a hobby. As a kid, I envisioned myself playing with Francois K, Nicky Siano, playing in these clubs in NYC. I’m literally doing what I knew I was going to be doing, so I do it with great, great pleasure and a lot of passion. It’s all been such a journey. I would do it for free, fortunately I don’t have to!
I noticed you started with an orchestral piece, I loved that - I thought it was very interesting as a rallying point for the beginning of the night. Do you usually have a certain approach for starting a set and taking it through to the end?
Yeah, that was Bolero, from the early 1900s. For me, there’s only two kinds of music, good music, and bad music. I’ve said it for years and years, and people always ask me what the difference is. I’m not really the person to judge, but I believe music that stirs your soul is good music. Music that’s crap is just crap, you can call it drum-this, tech-that, clap-this, doesn’t matter. If it’s good, it’s good, if not, it’s not. For me, because I’m a part of this vibration that we’re all trying to connect to, I let the people that I’m around be the judge of whether it’s good or not. I’ve been doing this for over thirty years, and it’s always been fun for me, and they keep calling me back so I guess it must be good.
Do you have a favorite all time record?
I’d say my favorite all time record is Romeo and Juliet, by Alec Costandinos. It’s an entire A side, like fifteen minutes, and an entire B side, also like fifteen minutes. Two weeks ago I played the whole freaking song, at this underground play party - they don’t call them sex parties anymore, haha.
I don’t stay on the surface, I like to take us all on a deeper journey, in all things. Don’t be on the surface, what you see is not what you’re looking at, it doesn’t make the whole thing. I try to take people on a journey - If I’m playing for seven hours at House of Yes or Nowadays, I don’t have to squeeze everything into one hour. Being able to stretch things out is important, a lot of DJs now do short sets, so they have to squeeze. You can still tell a story with three records, but sometimes you have to give people more. That’s why I started that night with Bolero.
Where do you think the scene in New York goes from here?
There’s never really something new, if you think about it. Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti. Time and time again, over millions of years, since the first sense of rhythm. So I think it’s important to just be a part of what’s happening. Because music is just vibrations, we’ll never stop trying to connect to it. Listening to a record, humming a song, we’re all trying to do the same thing, to connect to this universal vibration.
I’m completely happy and satisfied when I play rooms with all these people dancing and having fun. I’ve heard too many times how the scene is dying and I don’t know what they’re talking about, cause I’ve been having fun from then till now, and I’m gonna keep doing just that.