New York City’s nightlife scene has been the epicenter of legendary scenes from Big Band to Punk, Disco to New Wave, from Club Kids to Indie Rock, each genre forming a piece of the tapestry that forms New York’s history. Jungle, drum and bass, and all its musical relatives are just as woven into the five borough scenes as any other. While NYC is happily experiencing a revival of the drums and bass, the initial heyday took places in the mid-late 90’s, with drum and bass taking over small clubs and bars all over Manhattan, legitimate, quality affairs with great sound systems and dedicated patrons, great local talent playing then unknown tunes before the ubiquity of the Internet, and committed promoters dropping collectible flyers everywhere. This all took place during a whirlwind of creative collaborations, brick and mortar record stores, and youthful enthusiasm, though the energy was dampened by the last of Mayor Giuliani’s draconian caberet law, parties still adapted, flourished, and rocked on to iconic status. One such affair, was Testpress Sundays founded by DJ Swingsett along with DJ Wally aka Pish Posh. After seven years of great times and vibes, Testpress Sundays weekly jam soon after Swingsett moved to the west coast after painful divorce. David Hale Winsett aka DJ Swingsett chats with the DNB Vault during his NYC visit about Testpress Sundays, the past, the present, and possible future.
How did you get into dj’ing in the first place?
I first dj’d my High School dances in Dayton, OH in ’87-’88. Then went to college at Colorado State University (my family’s home State). I got involved with my college station, KCSU-FM, and held once to twice a week midnight show slots for 3 years. I played a mix of Soul, Funk, Acid Jazz, Rare Groove, Hip-Hop and UK Alternative Dance/ New Wave. I was given a chance to play my first real club gigs in Denver and Boulder with DJ’s K-Nee and Cassien (aka L7 Square– who ended up moving to NYC 1 year after myself!) with their “crew” called Step On Productions. They gave me a chance to play the Acid Jazz and “Chill-out Rooms” at clubs and raves in 1991-’92, as well as slotting me to open for De La Soul at The Fox Theatre in Boulder! After a memorable and inspiring summer of 1992 in Colorado, I moved to NYC to chase my dreams.
What made you decide to start your own party?
I had weekly residencies at two Manhattan club lounges owned by Dave Baxley and Tom Sisk. Dave was opening Drinkland (in the East Village) and got me involved prior (to opening). We decided on a Sunday night staring in Spring of 1997, focusing on newer promos, literally, “Testpress” aka “White Label” vinyl, including upfront, underground, Jungle, Drum & Bass and downtempo/abstract hip hop/chillout, via labels like Ubiquity, Mo’ Wax, New Breed, Giant Step, Warp, Om, Liquid Sky Music & Home Entertainment, Talkin’ Loud, etc…). I asked DJ Wally to help me get the weekly started, so he played every week for the first few months and helped with designs and ideas for the first couple flyers. I eventually managed the party and booked all the guests. Wally was traveling more and getting super busy with his solo career and other collaborations, production, contracts, plus the many releases we produced together on our own label, Ism.
Vibes for days! Let’s talk about that…
Where to begin? The party grew organically through word of mouth, physical, dope-ass flyers and art by Bodie Chewning and Anselm Dastner. This was before social media existed. We started having standing room only nights pretty often. Especially on “good weather” nights, summers and when there was a big holiday on a Monday. The sound system started off as earth-shaking, chest-rattling & booming, but due to repeated noise complaints and neighbors living above Drinkland- and all over the block- we went through a half-dozen speaker and amp/compressor setups.
Then there was the “Giuliani Era” absolute bullshit “Cabaret License” nonsense. The City government forced the FDNY, NYPD and NY Health Department to pressure clubs, bars and lounges constantly for violating DANCING and/or loud music. Every venue from Drinkland to Wetland’s, Baktun, Brownie’s, Centro-Fly, Nell’s, Twilo, Coney Island High on St. Mark’s Place to places in Brooklyn had to play music at lower levels and actually ask and enforce a “No Dancing” policy. NYPD & FDNY would constantly just roll up at 12 or 1am in the middle of a bunch of youth listening to music and slap the venue owner(s) with a fine, of anywhere from $500-$2000. It was absolutely tragic, and should have been illegal to enforce in the first place.
Luckily, that changed as soon as Giuliani left office! We rolled with the punches during that difficult time and TESTPRESS continued to have sporadic mellower and crazy “4am kick the dancers out” nights. Packed nights and mellow ones, but steady and dedicated locals through and through.
The vibe was intensely happy, relaxed, comfortable, locals, New Yorkers and usually extremely diverse, both racially and age-wise. I think we only had 2 bust-ups or fights in 7 years, a testament to the spirit of the party, the many regular patrons/dancers/Junglists and music headz, the resident dj’s in monthly or bi-monthly rotation, the owners, bouncers and staff.
How did you choose your selectors?
I chose my best friends first, to be honest, who, in my humble opinion, were many of the best, most on-point Jungle and Abstract/Downtempo dj’s in NYC (and the USA for that matter)! Wally (Pish Posh), Delmar, Cassien, Paul C., Doomer (Sara Walker/ Mazarati?), Winter, The Burner Brothers (DJ Seen & CT Burners), I-Cue & Odyssey, Christian Bruna & Beau (Raw Q), Stefan “Lion” Leijon, and Datcyde. I met many of them at Carlos Soul Slinger’s Liquid Sky shop, on Lafayette, on the Lower East Side, where I worked for about a year, Satellite Records (where I worked for about a year), and Konkrete Jungle, where Mac & Kathé made Wally and I residents in the downstairs/basement rooms, and occasionally in the Jungle/D&B main floor. I was lucky & blessed to meet many talented and dedicated dj’s and producers in the early and mid-90’s, and become true friends with most. Can’t forget that MC’s Jamalski, TC Izlam, Posi-D and Zezo Uno and vocalists Lisa Shaw and Rhiannon Catalyst, also rocked the mic, on occasion!
I had guys and girls from different “crews” or other weeklies booked on the same nights. I did it on purpose to try to cut the b.s. in the scene and get people to get to know each other better and not be in such competition and drama about “who’s this and who’s that”.
Who were some of the notables that passed through?
Well, “bigger” names that played at Testpress included High Contrast, DJ SUV, SoulSlinger, Dara, DB, Reid Speed, Odi, Empress and Liondub! Oh, and Twilight Circus Dub Soundsystem, from Netherlands and Canada, twice!
“Big Shots” that just came through just to enjoy the vibe, sometimes after a massive Friday or Saturday booking with Direct Drive, Stuck On Earth or others in NYC, were: Grooverider, DJ’s Bryan Gee & Jumping Jack Frost, Die, Krust & SUV, Trace and Ed Rush and Nico.
Believe it or not, we had some crazy non-dj guests roll through, including Quentin Tarantino, Julian Lennon, Bjork, Sigur Ros and Hank Shocklee. Many others, that’s just what I remember right now!
Testpress Sundays ended in 2004, when Drinkland was sold. Swingsett already moved to San Francisco the year prior, while residents Winter, Delmar, and Courage held down the weekly for the final twelve months before the venues’ closing.
Well you’ve blessed us with a May reunion, bringing together an assortment of New York’s finest junglists including the Burner Brothers, Raw Q, DJ Seoul, Winter, Delmar, with promotion from Courage (aka Steve B). Dare we hope for a Testpress revival?
I live in Colorado now. Cliff “Seoul” Cho and other friends in my corner are working on doing some more one-offs and possibly a quarterly regular ‘ting. Hopefully every 3 months! To [the vault] and all my many brothers and sisters in NYC… The FORCE will be with you, ALWAYS! DJ Swingsett, out!