Since the Pandemic night started at Brillobox a year and half ago, DJ Pete Spynda and his cohorts have been opening Pittsburgh minds to global dance music. Spynda has also been instrumental in bringing live incarnations of what he's been spinning -- mostly Balkan music -- with sweaty shows for groups such as Slavic Soul Party, KAL, Balkan Beat Box and Boom Pam.
"Every month seems to be a different crowd," Spynda says. "White and black, young and old, punks and yuppies, Eastern Europeans and South Americans and Arabs. They give us feedback about what we're playing, tell us about music they've listened to, and let us know what music we should get."
These days, the Pandemic DJs -- which include Caulen Kress and City Paper contributor Justin Hopper -- are often invited to DJ other parties, concerts and cultural events. This month alone, Kress and Spynda will provide interim tunes for an Afrobeat show at the Shadow Lounge (July 12) and New York klezmer punks Golem at Club Café (July 20). They've also been invited to the Big Apple's premier Bulgarian dance club, Mehanata.
In contrast, Spynda says he's been rebuffed by traditional folk organizations -- and there are many in Pittsburgh, especially Eastern European societies -- when he's tried to involve them in Pandemic events. "If the group isn't from their region, they don't want to work with us," he says. "When we brought a Gypsy band from Serbia and approached the Serbian club about it, they said they had no interest. There's prejudice there against Gypsies, and a lot of people in the old guard are ethnically divided."
The young people, however, mostly just want to dance. Spynda collaborates with DJ Soy Sos (a.k.a. Herman Pearl of Soma Mestizo) to rework traditional folk music for the dancefloor. He's also planning to bring in Brooklyn Afrobeat band Budos in August, Bulgarian wedding-music heroes Yuri Yunakov and Ivo Papasov in October, and, in November, Dutch collective Gypsy Sound System.
"Ethnicity is hip right now," notes Annette Ezekiel, the lead singer and accordionist for the very lively Golem. "Sacha Baron Cohen obviously hit something big with his Eastern European shtick. The soundtrack to Borat was all Balkan music, like Esma (the gypsy Ethel Merman) and bands like Kocani Orkestar and Fanfare Ciocarlia." Golem's debut, Fresh Off Boat, has in turn garnered the right kind of attention in places like NPR's Fresh Air.
"The craze is not just in New York -- it's in Berlin, all over the former Soviet Union and the Balkans," Ezekiel continues. "Personally, that's not what Golem does -- we're a live band ... But people dance at our shows too, and I'm happy if they want to remix our songs and put the beats in. I'm open to everything."