Mixing it up with longtime local DJ Marc Thrasher

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Photo by Micah Smith

Photo by Micah Smith

There’s no doubt that technology has made easy many a task that once seemed hard.

Film editing used to require physically cutting tape reels and piecing together a segment. It required years of constant practice to master. Now, all you need is a click of the mouse and you can create a professional-looking film clip – with little in the way of practice and perfection needed to succeed. Journalism used to require a degree and years of understudy before you got your big break. Now, with the emergence of blogs, it seems anyone can do it, regardless of one’s training or education level. Of course, each example has its pros and cons.

Likewise, the DJ universe has dealt with a similar transformation – in this case enabling what is bland, uncreative and amateur to sound professional. With the development of programs to allow you to mix on a laptop (Apple, because the light-up logo looks cool on stage, of course), you no longer even need to spin records or CDs to mix tracks.

Another problem seems to be that, for many DJs, style is more important than substance. Too often you see DJs at clubs talking a big game, wearing expensive clothing and rolling out expensive equipment, only to see an uninspired, one-dimensional set that pays homage to whatever the Billboard Hot 100 says is what people want to hear.

Marc Thrasher, who’s been DJing in San Diego since 1985, has made it his mission over the years to buck the trend; to “differentiate himself” from other run-of-the-mill DJs; to find what has lately become a “lost art,” in his words.

First, Thrasher utilizes two senses over the usual one most DJ’s use – with the visual aspect he has long been noted for creating another dimension to the music. Thrasher is, by definition a VJ (video DJ), but you’ll never hear him or anyone else define him that way. His show defies what anyone else has done in the VJing world.

His unique style involves painstaking work. It’s not as simple as simply throwing a DVD of a music video on his special DVD turntables. Instead, he sees his sets as not just entertainment, but as a music history lesson, where he incorporates other types of footage into the songs – whether it be old concert footage, a TV recording, or clips from films featuring a particular song.

For example, not only do you get to hear Loverboy’s “Workin’ for the Weekend,” but you get to see Chris Farley’s hilarious SNL Chippendale’s skit where a scantily clad Farley and Patrick Swayze go head-to-head on stage at an audition to be the next famous male entertainer; a skit that pop culture fans will forever tie to that song.

Later in the set, he plays “Under My Thumb” by the Stones, which gets mix of tourists and saltier older guys at Jose’s tapping on the bar and staring at the TV screens as Mick Jagger circa 1967 tries to sing, pretending to not see the Stones’ “security” (i.e. the Hell’s Angels) beat the piss out of a long-haired hippy in the front row who’s obviously zonked out of his mind on some type(s) of hallucinogen. Another night, he throws on “Pinball Wizard” by the Who, and you can see Roger Daltrey in his spandex get-up, spinning the mic around like a madman, only to transition to footage of Johnny Cash playing at Folsom Prison.

Thrasher believes he’s been successful because he’s put content and substance over style and flair. Thrasher dresses well, but doesn’t overdo it. Although he used to when he was younger, he now avoids drinking during his sets so as to stay sharp and not get rundown over the course of his grinding schedule. Plus, you can imagine drinking would get old when you’re in a different bar every night of the week.

“Content is king,” he said to me while I was sitting in at his recurring Tuesday night gig at Jose’s Courtroom in La Jolla, which he has been doing for two years now.

“I pride myself on differentiation and variety of music,” he said, believing that a multi-genre set has much more appeal to people than someone who swears by just hip-hop, techno or electronica.

Sure, this all sounds good, but here’s an actual sample of a part of his set at Jose’s (keep in mind that he video-transitions between all these songs as well):

  • “Panic Switch” / Silversun Pickups
  • “Robot Rock” / Daft Punk
  • “Let It Rock” / Kevin Rudolf & Lil Wayne
  • “Human” / The Killers
  • “Viva La Vida” / Coldplay
  • “Feel Good Inc.” / Gorillaz
  • “Don’t Fear the Reaper” / Blue Oyster Cult (Feat. Will Ferrell’s SNL “Cowbell” skit)
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” / Queen (Feat. the Wayne’s World scene lip syncing in the car)

Check out a sample video of his work:

Marc Thrasher video

There’s little he won’t touch. He’ll transition from Johnny Cash to Devo to Rhianna and have no qualms about it. “Excellent” indeed, Wayne.

Screenshot of his work - "Hey Ya George!"

"Hey Ya George!" (A sample mix of video from Thrasher)

Thrasher may be the hardest-working DJ in San Diego, playing a different bar or club each night of the week, and often doubling-up gigs on the weekends. Last weekend, he was featured at Mission Beach’s Wavehouse during the day, and then had literally less than an hour to breakdown, drive downtown and setup his equipment at the Whiskey Girl in the Gaslamp Quarter to spin into the night.

He was even fighting the flu over the course of the week that I followed him around to various bars to “do research.” But just get him a Red Bull and a few tissues – he’ll keep at it and you’ll never hear any complaints.

His catalogue is massive, a culmination of years of hard work that began before most of the people at the clubs he now plays were even born. He has footage and sound for nearly every request, as I quickly found out at his Wednesday night gig at True North, when a heavier set Hispanic guy approached him with a $5 bill to play “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes because “I really wanna hear that song, dude.”

The guy even wanted to buy Thrasher a drink but he heard via the bouncers that Thrasher doesn’t drink during his sets. Guess this happens quite a bit. Thrasher politely declined the money and the drink, but made sure he had the song on within 10 minutes of the request. I quickly glanced over to the heavier set guy sitting by the bar as the “tap tap” of the snare drum kicked in, and he had a huge smile on his face, singing along with a few girls next to him.

It is this sheer love for the music that explains why DJ Marc Thrasher has been at it for so long. Go see him perform – you will not be disappointed.

DJ Marc Thrasher (Catch his nightly schedule here)

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