Hit the Decks

L.A.‘s club DJ circuit is like the local porn industry. Performers are paid to bang it hard, the business is overshadowed by Hollywood (in this case, the mainstream music industry), and it’s all about the hand-raising drum-roll crescendo, dance music‘s own money shot. Newer jocks are proficient at blowing their aural wads in short order, which is to say they can mix 10 tracks at fever pitch. But on the global circuit, true players they’re not.

Things have been changing for the better, and for every Club Naked (a roaming orgy of just-off-work strippers and West Coast guidos sweating to trance), there‘s a Giant (which boasts the most well-heeled e-music fans in L.A.); for every gold-chain-sporting hard-house DJ, there’s a new generation of ravers discovering the all-night sets of Danny Tenaglia, John Digweed, Deep Dish, Steve Lawler and Parks & Wilson. Kevin Bazell is at the top of the class of L.A.‘s DJs’ DJs. Better known as Kazell, the British transplant is Digweed‘s three-time choice as the opener for his L.A. performances, he’s a resident at the West Coast club juggernaut Spundae at Circus in Hollywood, and he‘s the reigning jock for Liquified, the party series that introduced Southern California to Sasha and Digweed. Kazell is now collaborating with Southern California DJs Brian (of Moontribe fame) and Eyal to make his own production debut on vinyl.

Kazell is a 31-year-old with facial scruff, long hair and a laid-back ’70s aura. Perhaps his greatest asset is his ability to play for the occasion, a rare skill. Warming up for Digweed, Kazell ventures into slower beats per minute, chugging four-on-the-floor drums and melodic tech-house textures, locking dancers inside an asylum of anticipation. Conversely, at Spundae, a near-2,000-capacity church of DJ worship, Kazell often plays it harder, louder, faster. The crowd at Circus doesn‘t want the foreplay, and Kazell aptly delivers driving progressive house, tribal rhythms and nu-skool breaks. ”Whenever I play a gig, I’ll give it a lot of thought beforehand,“ he says. ”What impresses me about other DJs is their ability to bring the music up and down. It‘s really an exciting thing. When things peak, it’s a great feeling.“

Kazell grew up in Manchester, home of rough-and-tumble raves where E-slangin‘ gangsters ruled and New Order, Happy Mondays and Stone Roses haunted spots like the historic Hacienda. His mother was an English teacher and his father a businessman. Kazell ended up street-smart. ”Manchester’s a pretty dangerous city to go out in,“ he says. He tried college, but found it more rewarding to study wax, and began deejaying in earnest in 1990. The next year he paired up with pal Damian Murphy to make the move to America. Their first stop was in the Southeast, where Murphy helped introduce stateside ravers to the British progressive-house sound (then a fusion of American house beats and British electronic sensibilities) via Liquified events in Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte and Orlando. ”When I first met him, he played all the early breakbeat stuff,“ says Murphy. ”His musical style has progressed, but he still plays tunes that are funky and have soul to them.“

The two settled in Los Angeles almost five years ago, solidifying Liquified‘s grip on Sasha and Digweed’s local appearances and slotting Kazell into one of the most desirable warm-up gigs in the club-DJ world. ”The last three events John [Digweed]‘s done on his own for us out here, he requested that Kev open for him,“ Murphy says. ”Too many DJs just come on and play the same set, whatever time of the night it is, which isn’t always appropriate. Kev always seems to consider what time of night he‘s spinning and has a great ability to read a crowd and play accordingly.“

At a recent Spundae show, Kazell is seen behind the glass of the DJ stage fondling the mixer and blending momentous, 130-beats-per-minute choons in the style of his heroes -- Sasha, Lee Burridge and Cass. The rock-star environment is daunting, as a horizon of fists, glow sticks and hips depends on every kick of the drum. When he’s done, Kazell emerges through a velvet rope. He‘s wet, his T-shirt clings to his chest, and he has a champion’s smile. Fan ”Little“ Jon Stern gives him a pat. ”When you have a venue this big,“ says the 33-year-old Stern, ”you need to bring the energy. His role here is to build it up for the next DJ. It‘s not the most glamorous job, but it’s very important.“ Fame is calling, however. Seven years ago, John Digweed was known as Sasha‘s warm-up guy, and Jimmy Van M, the duo’s New York opener, is now a globetrotter in his own right. Kazell is due, so long as he continues to take his time.

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