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If you've been anywhere at night over the past decade and a half, you've collided with Chris Graham, that dread-topped insider who seems to be everywhere at once. Back in the 1990s, he'd spin at any fest in town, including Zen and Ultra, and would often be among the core organizers. As the new millennium dawned, he took his turntables from Groove Jet on to Buck 15, Purdy Lounge, Rok Bar, and the Diesel store, showing the new crop of kids that there was more to life than Slim Shady and House of Pain.
But it's the great good effort that Graham put into his clubbing that made his spins so swinging. I'm talkin' apprenticeship, dig? There was, of course, the tutelage of hotshot DJs such as Monk from Rabbit in the Moon. And before Graham truly got going back and forth across Miami's causeways, he took a year and hit every hotspot in the Big Bad Apple. And I do mean every hotspot.
It was the 1990s version of New York when megaclubs like the Tunnel were in full tilt, Giant Step ruled the acid jazz trip-hop scene, and the Cooler offered schooling in something called breakbeat science. Graham was there then, and he hit 'em all, nightly, taking in the action as if his life might one day depend on it. And upon his return, he took all that he learned and set up shop at Liquid, then South Beach's preeminent boîte, where he handled everything from marketing to downstairs head-spinning.
And sure, that was then, but you can't rightfully get to a kickass now without it. Thanks to his education in nightlife past, Graham, who was born and raised on the Sunshine State's West Coast, is a killer DJ in 2009. Of course, playing "as much vinyl as possible" helps — "that's the whole point of being a DJ," he says. So does the fact that Graham's not afraid to pit Elefant against Digable Planets and end up with the Misfits, even if only "five hot chicks are totally into it." And if he's somewhat loath to let loose Kings of Leon's saturating "Sex on Fire," it's only because he's been playing it for so long, and now that everyone's caught on, it kind of spoils the fun.
He's also hell-bent on breaking the latest, in any genre. In fact, he believes all DJs would do well to do likewise. "People need to go back to a time when they pushed records," says Graham over cocktails one evening at Rosinella on Lincoln Road. "New artists, new songs — they need to get with it."
Perhaps they first need to ditch the Serato and start actually playing records; hear the difference a veritable groove makes in the sound of things. After all, Graham's still lugging slabs of wax around town and it's earned him a residence at the Vagabond. It's also earned him respect among party people, among those who throw the parties, and among the fine few who ensure that the people have a party when they get wherever it is they're going. I mean, DJs, naturally, are proud to call Chris Graham one of their own.
Chris Graham's Random Top Seven:
1. Fugazi, Fugazi
2. Black Flag, The First Four Years
3. Billie Holiday, anything
4. Mazzy Star, "Fade Into You" or "Among My Swan"
5. Johnny Cash, Johnny Cash Remixed
6. Massive Attack, Blue Lines
7. Dead Can Dance, Into the Labyrinth