AJOBO: Goodnight, Sweet Turntable

Written by AJOBO, Music

Over the weekend, my roommate and I hosted our very first Christmas party. Among the guests was our friend, Louie, who found me in the living room and exclaimed, “Can we talk about Turntable?!”

Louie and I share 98% of the same music interests, mostly based in ’60s pop – where we differ is his expertise in bubblegum and garage, and my specialty of girl groups and surf rock. You might say that together, we are the total package or something. I learn a lot from Louie’s musical knowledge, and I’d like to hope that I’ve turned him on to some good tunes, too.

Oh, and did I mention that Louie and I met on Turntable.fm?

For those of you who were not clued into the revolutionary platform, Turntable.fm was a musical chatroom where the users’ avatars hopped up on “stages” to DJ from a bank of songs drawn from Spotify and other streaming sources, or uploaded directly. There was a wide range of genre- and theme-specific rooms, and, of course, users could create custom-themed hideouts, too. Listeners bobbed their heads along if they voted to “like” the song and awarded the DJ points, leading to upgraded avatars and bragging rights. It was a Pandora with a human thumbprint; believe me, some major thought went into curating the rooms.

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 3.39.20 PM

Dis my TT profile. Note that I am not a natural redhead, but I do wear a lot of pink.

The best aspect, however, was the chatting. Talk about traveling down the long tail! In the summer of 2011, when I first discovered Turntable, I had a notebook full of great rare tracks I was hearing for the first time. And instead of having to Google or research the artist, one only needed to say “WHO IS THIS?!” to get an educated answer from the DJ.

It was on my very first night timidly trying out the platform that I met DJ Lou-Balls and we bonded over some sunshine pop, even though it was a rainy New York night. (How I remember that, I have no clue.) I think it only took a few more Turntable sessions before we were swapping all of our favorites. We traded his Joey Levine for my Beach-Nuts. At the same time, we realized that we shared a foundation of favorite bands, like the Monkees and the Beach Boys. I had never had a friend so musically in tune (heh) with me in the same city before. It seemed too good to be true.

And when I got a crazy idea that maybe Turntabling in real life might be fun, I invited Louie for a drink at the former Gaslight Cafe and we excitedly made plans to start IRL DJing, which we’ve done on and off now for about three years. Many of the tracks I spin are drawn directly from those nights on Turntable; in fact, some of them, like “Egyptian Shumba” by the Tammys, are highly demanded when we DJ. I shirk to think of the gaping holes in my musical knowledge had Turntable not come into my life, not to mention the fact that I would probably have never met one of my very best friends.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 11.13.48 PM

DJs Hullabalou and AJOBO during our Yellow Period (and residency at the Gaslight in Greenwich Village), 2012. Photo courtesy Sara Greene.

On December 2, the platform bought the binary farm so that its parent company can focus on a virtual concert site (which, if you ask me, is a misguided use of resources, buttttt, no one asked…). Its many devoted users, myself included, are in a state of mourning. It’s true that my usage has waxed and waned over the years, but I always looked forward to its holiday-themed rooms and avatars. I also loved the security that turntable was there if I wanted or needed it, or if a friend and I wanted to pop into a secret room and chat and listen to music. I have many happy memories connected to the site.

I was glad, on its final day, that I was able to DJ with Louie one last time, right up until the site shut down at 10pm EST. Joining us in the room were fellow PopDoser Ken Shane, a man I’ve learned SO much from both on and off Turntable, and my friends Leslie and Amanda. Most of us realized the levity of the situation and tried to spin “that song” one last time. Meanwhile, it was Amanda’s first ever time on Turntable, which was completely unfortunate because it was meant for her level of deep-cut ’60s knowledge.

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 9.49.35 PM

The moment Ken Shane made me cry actual tears with his song choice.

As it happened, I ended up with the final play of the room, just as the clock switched over to ten. My choice? “Goodnight Sweetheart” by the Spaniels. I always think of it as the very last song that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame plays before it locks up at the end of the day, and in this case, it seemed appropriate.

Turntablers can take heart that similar sites do exist, like plug.dj. I, admittedly, haven’t tried that service yet (it’s too soon to rebound!), but it looks like it might be growing into a promising – and permanent – place to virtually spin, since it was just awarded $1.25 million in seed funding. The downside is that because plug.dj only utilizes officially licensed tracks from YouTube and SoundCloud, the library is undoubtedly limited and probably pretty lame. Sure, Turntable’s licensing was a little fudged, but I know that the discovery of music via other users led to more than a few purchases on my part and probably others’, too. It was the equivalent of a record-listening party; it didn’t pay the bills, but it sure provided a gateway.

To me, the legacy of Turntable.fm will always be the reassurance that music-loving communities do still exist. People are still anxious to share a new favorite song with others and will always dig deep to fill a Halloween-themed playlist with something other than “Monster Mash.” There will always be n00bs scrambling to write down song titles on notebook paper to someday DJ in real life.

And there will always be friendships to be made over the love of music, virtually or otherwise.

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 10.00.42 PM