“When DJs play too loud—oh, my God, it’s the worst,” DJ Rex Dart says. Not a guy who believes in mondo-volume or megaclubs, Dart is more about creating an atmosphere, whether it’s vibraphone exotica at the Golden Tiki, vintage punk tracks at the Double Down, sleazy bump ’n’ grind at Pussyrama burlesque night or garage rock at Anti-League Bowling. This month, Dart celebrates his 13th anniversary of playing Monday nights at the Double Down with his Bargain DJ Collective.
You got your start DJing at KUNV. How did you make the move to bars and clubs?
I got laid off, and I was commiserating at Champagnes Cafe. A pal of mine came in—he was DJing a friend’s birthday, and he asked me to come play some records. We ended up having the greatest time and said, “Fuck it, let’s do this every week.” The management was going to pay us in free drinks. We didn’t make any money whatsoever. We were like, “What a bargain we are!” And then we thought, “Ah! Bargain DJ Collective.”
How’d the Bargain DJ Collective wind up at the Double Down?
When we’d do other shows, we would always go to the Double Down after every show to have a nightcap. We asked [owner] P Moss to give us the dead-est night of the week. This month it’ll be 13 years and I’ve been here every Monday since then. People come in and out—other record collectors who love punk rock and the scene that the Double Down has to offer. We’ve probably had about 50 different DJs who have come out and played with the Bargain DJs over the years.
Your style swims against the tide of what most DJs in town do. Is that difficult?
I’ve had to make that choice: Do I want to cater to the crowd, or do I want to play what I want to play, maybe just build a niche market for myself? Because there are enough people who don’t like techno, who don’t like Top 40. I’m not trying to disparage EDM because it takes talent to make that kind of music, too. But there are thousands of other formats to play, and they’re not being tapped into nearly enough. The more you start looking into history and looking for music, it opens up a whole world: “Oh, my God! How have I gone my whole life without hearing ‘Don’t You Know Yockomo?’”
You mostly play vinyl. Is that a rule with you?
No. I’ve been in and out of those all-wax sects. I’m not a rich guy; I’m not going to pay $600 for a rare 45. I am straight up going to steal that shit off YouTube, I don’t care. I realized this when I started getting into buying records, that no record is worth more than $20 to me. I’ll buy repressed. I don’t need an original, because I’m going to play it to death. I would rather spend $20 on a Crypt Records compilation than spend $200 on one single that would be on that compilation.
So, what’s your go-to song?
My go-to is always James Brown. His entire career, I simply worship and adore, even his terrible ’80s “Living in America” period. That was my transition from my love of hip-hop when I went to college: I started discovering the songs they were sampling from, which is why I keep going back to James Brown. I discovered that I enjoy the original songs more than the guy who’s rapping over them.
There’s an amazing cat named Johnny Otis. He’s got this song, “Castin’ My Spell,” which has been one of my favorites for a long, long time. It’s a cooker. It’s got a really fun hook; the lyrics are just hilarious [paraphrasing]—I tied two snakes together/To make you love me forever. He was also a DJ and had a TV show, The Johnny Otis Show. He was what was called an impresario, which is what I’m kind of trying to emulate.
Ricky Ricardo would be an impresario. He was a guy who put together shows and would also come out with bongos in the middle of the show and say, “Hey! Here’s our next guest!” He wasn’t just a maestro, he was an organizer of all of the things involved in the show, a ringmaster almost. I just love the term ‘impresario.’