When a genius comes to town, you don't tell him what to talk about, you just pull up a chair and learn from the master. So when local DJ promotion company Lazy Afternoon noticed the Roots were booked for Universal's Mardi Gras in May, they jumped to deliver a Questlove DJ night to remember. They were expecting Questlove to bring a wild party set, but he flipped a switch instead, going for a different kinda vibe.
"Honestly, the last gig Questlove did was a little unexpected," says Lazy Afternoon's Jonathan Santino (aka DJ Spreadsheets). "It was very vibey, Danny (Venegas, aka DanielVVI) and I were expecting him to be more like a party, a little more upbeat, something fun to do on a Saturday night, but he didn’t do that, and it was totally awesome. He’s a musical connoisseur, so he has the ability to take the crowd anywhere he wants. He knows so much about music. He played a lot of samples and a lot of J Dilla.
He was going from sample into production then back into sample into different versions of J Dilla beats that the Roots did that were unreleased. It was really cool."
Especially for studied music collectors like Santino and Venegas, whose traveling parties shape dance nights out of funk, soul, disco and hip-hop they love and are built to fit the room, whether that's Sandwich Bar, the Social, Peacock Room or their original venue, Eye Spy. Although they didn't speak directly with Questlove after his May appearance, Questlove's rep likened Lazy Afternoon's efforts to a "craft brewery of DJ nights." Questlove thanked the Social that night, publicly lumping Orlando's attentive crowd in with the receptive listeners the DJ rarely encounters anywhere but overseas.
"He was like, this is the type of music I can only play in big markets: Austin, Brooklyn sometimes, and overseas, that’s all I play, but I don’t normally get to play this type of music in a small room like this, so Orlando is one of those cities, too," Santino recalls Questlove saying. "I like that I can play something different from the ordinary, and you guys are still rocking."
For this week's residency, though, expect the beat to change again. With themed nights rumored to pivot around Michael Jackson one night, James Brown another and hip-hop on the other other, Questlove will present three entirely different nights of music June 17-19 this week at the Social. (Tickets are $15 a night or $40 for all three.) And to pull it off on such short notice, Lazy Afternoon collaborated with Phat-N-Jazzy and Foundation, so it's a true music community effort. Each night features a different opening DJ, with BMF on Tuesday, DJ Nigel on Wednesday and DJ Spreadsheets and DanielVVI on Thursday. If you caught the May show, you saw the visuals Lazy Afternoon presented - a montage of footage of old hip-hop, a lot of Questlove stuff, weird random footage - and the same effects will be applied on Thursday, June 19 to adequately trip you out to Questlove's final night.
As for Santino's and Venegas' sets, they're giddy about the playlists they've created, realizing during Nigel's set that not only does Questlove educate his audiences, but they could teach the crowd a thing or two, too:
"Nigel did a crazy set," Venegas says. "He played from jazz all the way to drum and bass back to acid jazz, it was all over the place sonically, bouncing everywhere. And we realized, hey Questlove’s gonna go on next, these people aren’t going to go anywhere, so it’s your opportunity to educate a crowd. The point for us is to sound different. Give them a little flavor. Don’t play the normal hip-hop stuff people would expect to hear before Questlove. That’s what we’re passionate about: playing new music for people. That’s the epitome."
Both DJs came across Questlove through the Roots, the pioneering live hip-hop band that most folks know best as Jimmy Fallon's house band on The Tonight Show. The Roots are in town filming The Tonight Show at Universal, of course, which was why Questlove came back so quick (also maybe he likes us). Questlove landed Saturday in Orlando, and he's been tweeting/Instagramming his experience since:
Rumors about The Tonight Show folks hanging out around town will penetrate this entire week, likely, with all the hype of Fallon in town, but what many TV show fans who love those bright moments when the Roots play spot-on songs as walk-on music for Tonight Show guests might not know is that Orlando's already well-connected with the show. Local musician/producer Sean Kantrowitz as one of the background players responsible for song selections that the Roots have played during The Tonight Show, including introducing Neil deGrasse Tyson with Funkadelic's "Cosmic Slop," Jonah Hill with Kriss Kross's "Jump," Emma Stone with No Doubt's "Ex-Girlfriend," Kermit the Frog with Incubus' "A Certain Shade of Green," Seth MacFarlane with Jay Z's "A Million and One Questions" and more.
The Lazy Afternoon guys hope that The Tonight Show leads the way to more smart music choices for TV bands.
"He has a house band that’s Grammy-award-winning, that’s still relevant, they’re not washed up," Santino says. "Still traveling the world, still putting out albums, and thanks to Jimmy Fallon, a huge fan of the Roots, reaching even more audiences. If I had a show, that’s what I would be doing!"
Santino and Venegas met as roommates in college when they were both rejecting radio hip-hop in favor of digging deeper into taste-making hip-hop from De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. They're both still digging to keep their modernized edits and mixes of funk, disco and soul fresh. Venegas prefers to root out vinyl rips online, frequenting blogs that he likens to remembering which record shops carry what and returning to those sources. Santino spends more time flipping through crates of vinyl and testing out records on his portable player - Park Ave CDs used vinyl, go-to finds at Rock and Roll Heaven, proper digging in the back room of Orange Antiques Mall. To discover new music, he typically is attracted first to psychedelic covers, then he also looks out for labels and session musicians he recognizes from albums he's already played out.
"Back in the day, record companies didn’t press just anything," Venegas says. "They believed in it. So if you found a good label that was putting out good stuff, usually if you come across something you’ve never heard of from this label, you know there’s probably some heat on there that was slept on."
Up ahead for Lazy Afternoon is a DJ set featuring Boston's DJ Kon, whose experience spinning disco, hip-hop and house dates back to the '90s. That's 10 p.m. Saturday, June 28 at Sandwich Bar.