As midnight approaches, lanterns glow pink over the first few people to hit the dance floor. A floral arrangement decorates the booth behind which Alison Swing, half of the promotion team Dig Deeper, spins an '80s-influenced house set.
There are still folks on the sidelines, looking as though they're trying hard to resist the spotlight that comes with being on a not-yet-packed dance floor. Their bobbing heads, though, have caught the groove, beating to a rhythm that evolved when the aftermaths of punk and disco seeped into the same musical pool. When Swing drops a Human League track, the party truly starts. Immediately there appear to be more people in this room than previously suspected, and most of them are crowding the dance floor.
The song is older than the DJ, but its relevance hasn't faded. By title alone, "The Things That Dreams Are Made of" is an all-too-appropriate anthem for the night. A plain-walled, exposed-ceiling space somewhere off the mainstream club grid has been transformed into a party garden. Masha Martinovic, the other half of Dig Deeper, describes the large floral arrangement as a "feminine touch" that has become a key decoration at many of their parties.
The dubby-disco vibe of Swing's set floats over the large blooms and eventually morphs as Masha (who uses only her first name when she DJs) hits the decks with harder-edged tracks. You can almost see the two women behind Dig Deeper inching closer to living out their dream in real time. As usual at Dig Deeper events, they aren't the headliners — that honor tonight goes to San Francisco–based Solar — but they have the crowd flushed.
Dig Deeper is about house in its broadest definition. Depending on the set, that could mean anything from world music–inspired tracks or cuts that creep closer to techno. It could be vintage finds or new music from their friends. Their parties, which have taken place at various locations over the past two years, have brought in local luminaries, such as dublab's Heidi Lawden, and esteemed out-of-towners, like The Black Madonna of Chicago's famed Smart Bar. Their crowds include downtown fashionistas and dance-music fanatics in equal measure.
Swing and Martinovic are still relative newcomers to the DJ scene; both have been working the decks for only about three years. But the 25-year-olds have made a name for themselves both as individual DJs and as a promotion duo. Swing played multiple dates in Mexico last year. Martinovic played Seattle's highly regarded Decibel Festival in 2015 and is scheduled to make her Coachella debut this April. Their monthly parties at the Ace Hotel's rooftop bar can draw a crowd even when the weather is too bitterly cold for Angelenos to hang outside, let alone dance.
At a Los Feliz cafe just days after their latest underground party, the duo excitedly banters about music. Swing is a disco-head who radiates record-nerd glee when she starts talking about an old track by L.A. art-pop duo Sparks that she has been wanting to work into her sets. She was that friend who would send her DJ pals YouTube clips of songs that she thought they should play. "I annoyed all of them so much," she says.
Those friends, in turn, suggested that Swing should DJ. She started on vinyl and it quickly became an obsession. In three years, she has amassed a collection of almost 1,000 records, among them an African disco compilation she found in Berlin and an EP from Swedish house producer Axel Boman that is one of her favorites. "Amazing records," Martinovic emphasizes for her friend.
Swing was raised in Moorpark and has a musical background. Her dad is a guitar teacher who would bring her with him to the ethnomusicology classes he took at UCLA. While growing up, she learned to play trombone, bass and piano. "I need to get back into making music," she says.
Martinovic, who was born in Serbia, spent her childhood in Greece before moving to Manhattan Beach at the age of 11. In Greece, she became fascinated with dance music. Much later, after studying at UC Berkeley and heading back to Los Angeles, she started working in event production. "I wanted to DJ, but I was really afraid to start."
Her first public gig came out of necessity. She had produced a New Year's Eve event and, when one artist finished ahead of schedule, she couldn't find a DJ to hit the decks. Martinovic had to grab a flash drive from her car and take over.
The two met through mutual friends, who suggested they work together on an event where Swing made her own public DJ debut. Dig Deeper was born soon after at the Lash downtown in September 2014 and moved around to a couple other bars in its infancy.
"We wanted to have, basically, a curatorial outlet and a place for us to DJ," Martinovic explains. The initial goal was for the two DJs to fill the opening slots for special guests culled from the L.A. scene. However, when a friend offered to hook them up with Jay Daniel, a Detroit-based DJ with enough of a buzz to attract a larger crowd than a local watering hole could hold, they brought the party to a warehouse outfitted with two party buses.
One successful big party led to more. Now, in addition to their monthly residency at the Ace, they throw larger events when the occasion calls for it. "This was never the plan," Swing admits.
As their brand gained popularity, so did their reputation as DJs. Part of that, they say, is simply the result of playing out so frequently. "We've both gotten a lot better," Swing says. But getting people to listen to your mixes isn't easy, Swing says, so their knack for booking cutting-edge artists has gotten them attention, too. Other promoters have clearly taken notice; Minimal Effort, School Night, A Club Called Rhonda and Cub Scout are just a few of the L.A. parties that have booked one or both of the Dig Deeper residents.
At their own parties, the two play opening sets, which Swing says has further strengthened her DJing talents. She has learned how to create the vibe for the party and says she is growing more confident in playing "weirder stuff."
There are still more challenges ahead. Martinovic is working on her production skills. "It all takes time," she says. "I have to make a lot of bad stuff before I make some good stuff that I want to put out." She's aiming to have a finished track, maybe a collaboration, ready for her Coachella gig.
Eventually, they want to take Dig Deeper across the globe. "That is the dream," Martinovic says. She repeats the sentence, stretching out those four, short words for emphasis.
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Says Swing, "We're working on this every single day."
Dig Deeper returns to the Ace Hotel rooftop bar on Monday, March 21, with Seb Wildblood, Al Zanders and residents Alison Swing and Masha. On Friday, March 25, Alison Swing and Masha will play Outspoken at Couture with Detroit Swindle and Andrew Charles.