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Quick, name your favorite Irish DJ.
Come on, we're waiting.
OK, maybe you see our point. Even though it supports a flourishing underground scene, the Emerald Isle isn't known stateside as a dance music hot spot. Which is why we're just as surprised as you that this year's New Times Ultra DJ Contest winner, DJ Ed Whitty, hails from the small town of Carlow, Ireland. Part of a Dublin-based collective called Club Educate, Whitty has called Fort Lauderdale home for a year and a half. A true DJ's DJ, spinning records is his only source of income, a situation that has forced the house head to reluctantly take on gigs at Top 40 hangouts in Lauderdale's Himmarshee district.
"I'm trying to push more house into Capone's, but the kind of crowds that go in there, they're all kids, and it's very hard to keep their attention with that kind of stuff," Whitty says of his Saturday-night residency. "You gotta build up a lot of energy before the crowd will accept it. If I just break into it, they don't even react at all, but if you get 'em all hyped up and put it in then, they'll go in for it for maybe four tracks, and then people just start leaving."
But it wasn't always that way, he insists. "I've been coming here on vacation for nine years, on and off, two weeks at a time," Whitty says with a quick-tongued brogue. "I remember Himmarshee used to be more varied, when Stereo was open and DJ Garfield was playing upstairs there. Dance music was so much more accepted in Fort Lauderdale alone." But Lauderdale, following the lead of South Beach, has over the past couple of years given over to a far poppier, less underground sound. And even though Whitty will rock the "positive hip-hop," he says "because hip-hop can be very negative" he sees a light at the end of the tunnel.
"Now it's a good thing in a way," he says, "and don't get me wrong, because I do love hip-hop, but there's a lot of really bad hip-hop coming out now. And generally, that means the scene will die. It's like trance in Europe all the moneymakers jump onto it and it ends up becoming a Coke commercial and it just drops off. I can feel a little of a change in people's interests. People are getting a little over it."
Wishful thinking, maybe, but Whitty came to America with plenty of real-world experience and a long-term outlook on his career.
"I have all the patience in the world, so I'd rather be doing this than working at McDonald's," he says. "I love music at the end of the day, and obviously I enjoy playing it, but I just prefer playing house. It's just a matter of waiting for those doors to open."
Whitty's been knocking pretty loudly since he started DJing seven years ago. "I did a tour of Ireland, played every major club, but you end up meeting the same person everywhere you go," he says. "You know everyone's background. There's nothing new to Ireland by anybody."
In 2004, he was invited to join acclaimed Hungarian DJ and producer Corvin Dalek's Wet n' Hard crew to rock San Francisco's Love Parade ("You might've seen the retarded float that we had," he says of the daylong dance music bacchanal, "but we had a good time anyway."). Meshing perfectly with Dalek's darkly sensual, strangely uplifting brand of house, Whitty's sound is funky and voraciously upbeat. He tilts swinging, organic drums against hard-driving machine beats and digital melodies, slipping in the occasional vocal or guitar sample or a kicking remix of the Killers or LCD Soundsystem. The winning mix he submitted to New Times blew wide open at the halfway mark with outrageous, big-beat pyrotechnics; it was that stunning crescendo that let Whitty's mix one of more than 40 entries run away with this year's title.
"It's a track by Coburn, called 'We Interrupt This Program,'" he says. "It's wicked, a style unto itself, I think. It can come across to people as nasty, or it can come across as really high energy."
That pretty much sums up Whitty's style nasty and really high energy which he'll take to Ultra to rep both Ireland and South Florida.
"I like being here because the diversity is unbelievable, the cultural differences. Even the negative things are positive," he says of his subtropical surroundings. "It's something I would never experience back home." Just like most of us wouldn't experience an Irish DJ in Fort Lauderdale. God bless America: Irish eyes are smiling.