DJ HUGGS with ELI ESCOBAR, NASTY NAV and a special surprise guest at the Social (1100 Queen West), Wednesday (August 1). $10. www.myspace.com/random_play. Rating: NNNNN
Poring over the gig calendar of DJ Huggs (aka Alex Robbins) may leave you puzzled. Based in Montreal, the DJ almost never plays in his hometown, though his busy schedule takes him to clubs across the United States. He appears alongside some of the hipster scene's big names (like Steve Aoki, Eli Escobar and DJ Ayres), but Huggs is warming up the mainstream crowd in Montreal for megastars the Police. In the past he's opened for bands ranging from Sloan to Zero 7.
"I play a lot of commercial club gigs, too - it's how I tour so much," confesses Robbins. "I'll play lots of those spots across the U.S. and then do the fun dance parties on the side.
"Since fewer and fewer people will do those commercial gigs in the States, if they know they can trust you to put songs together cleverly and properly rock a crowd of junior executives blowing off steam, they'll always have you back."
Turns out that sacrificing a bit of integrity to play the occasional well-paid top-40 gig can actually open a lot of doors, especially if you bring actual DJ skills to the table and know how to network.
These days, DJ technique is rare in both mainstream and underground circles, so what gets Robbins gigs at yuppie lounges also impresses attendees of Steve Aoki's Cinespace parties, where they're often subjected to the rockstar-turned-DJ phenomenon.
"The Cinespace crowd is really up for anything," Robbins enthuses. "That's probably my favourite party in North America right now. They're excited about all kinds of music.
"About a year ago I decided to try to organize a tour through MySpace, and I e-mailed the Cinespace people to say I was heading to L.A. Steve Aoki invited me out on a whim and ended up giving me a good time slot. Now they have me back every three months."
While Robbins would clearly rather be playing cool parties exclusively, he notes that the indie dance scene has a set of rules and formulas that are similar in many ways to those experienced by top-40 DJs.
"It's really weird. People at the open-format nights almost expect to know every song now. It's like everyone's trying to recreate their impression of what the Rub are about, or what Hollertronix are, instead of just following their own musical intuition and their own taste."