With Top-40 artists’ current emphasis on dance and club music, it’s no wonder DJs are becoming staples of local music scenes. And while Harrisonburg is no exception to the rule, the small town has produced two DJs who are exceptional.
Matt Abraham goes by DJ Fayo, a version of a nickname he received while studying in South America.
“My friend who I was down there with would start saying ‘Mateo es feo’ – ‘Matt is ugly’ in Spanish,” Abraham said laughing. “That just became my name: Feo.”
Abraham tried experimenting with different names when he started DJing in venues, but Feo stuck with him. He changed the spelling around a little to make it his own and has since been DJ Fayo.
Neal Carter never really thought about it. He would just come up with joke names for every gig he got. One day, a friend told him to go by Neals Barkley. He did, and it stuck, which, Carter admits, may not have been his most clever decision.
“Actually, once when [Abraham] and I were playing, a dude came up to us and yelled, ‘What’s your name?” Carter laughed. Upon learning Neal’s name, the man screamed, “Are you serious?”
Abraham and Carter – DJs Fayo and Neals Barkley – have been in charge of getting downtown Harrisonburg on the dance floor for the past several years. Carter plays at Ruby’s semi-weekly, and Abraham at Beyond every Friday. And while both of the bearded men DJ individually at the Blue Nile every weekend, they are most known for the set they do together at the basement bar on the first Saturday of every month: “No Requests.”
“We started it about two years ago,” said Abraham, a soft-spoken JMU graduate. Abraham explains that, at that point, most of the gigs he and Carter played as individuals were very request-driven; it was only when they played together that they were able to do what they themselves wanted.
“At that point, dance music – house, electronic, experimental, techno – wasn’t popular at all… but we wanted to focus on that,” Abraham said. “The whole idea is that we wanted people to really trust us as DJs to present to them the best of what we found.”
And so No Requests was born. Matt and Neal had both been thinking about doing a set together regularly, but didn’t really have a place to do what they wanted. Mark Finks, downstairs manager at the Blue Nile, explained that the event was initially intended to travel throughout the downtown circuit. However, the Blue Nile was more accommodating to dance parties, because the venue hosted them on a regular basis. “We had DJ lights over here, we could run a smoke machine. We actually had DJ nights on a regular basis,” said Finks. “It was just easier for them to do it here.”
Once Abraham and Carter got the ball rolling, they realized they had the ability to bring other, more prominent DJs onto the bill.
“We wanted to be educated a little bit by other DJs that we really like,” Abraham said. “And No Requests was a platform for that. We figured if we built up a party that basically had a built-in crowd, we could afford to pay guarantees to DJs to either fly them in or train them in.”
And, boy, do they have a built-in crowd. The Blue Nile remains at capacity during most No Requests sets. There’s often a line, and people are willing to wait a while to get in. “Most [No Requests], we do better than we would normally do on a Saturday night, sometimes double what we would normally do,” said Finks. “It’s always a really good event for us. It does really well. And it brings in a lot of people that might not normally come in here.”
But that’s not how it’s always been. Harrisonburg is a mainly punk and metal town, producing mostly punk and metal musicians and fans. But thanks to the prominence of dance music in popular culture, more and more people are flocking to DJ shows.
“I’ve been DJing in Harrisonburg since 2009, and from 2009 to 2011, people didn’t care about DJs at all,” Long Island-native Carter said. “If you would have asked me four years ago if I would have seen myself playing big room house stuff, I would have been like, ‘No way! That’s not going to happen.’”
“The pop machine has always, throughout history, taken from the underground in any genre of music or art,” Abraham said.
He explains that artists like Lady Gaga and Britney Spears started creating songs with 120 to 135 beats per minute – which is house and techno speed – five or so years ago, but that most Americans didn’t get into it until more recently.
“When I started DJing for the first time at the [Artful] Dodger, one of Lady Gaga’s early tracks was at the top of the European charts,” Abraham said, grinning. “And I was like, ‘cool, I’m going to play this track.’ And I played it and I just cleared the dance floor.”
Lady Gaga became the most popular recording artist in the world less than six months later.
And while the current trend toward dance in pop makes the music Abraham and Carter play more accessible to a broader audience, it also puts pressure on them to play super loud, super fast, super intense sets; a fact that causes both men to want to pull back. “Sometimes, I just want to play chill shit,” Carter said with a laugh.
Abraham explains that we’re living in an era of more-is-more. “We’re kind of in a period of maximalism in our culture,” Abraham said, introspectively. “But everything goes in circles, and it’s kind of like going back to glam rock in the ‘80s, but it’s dance music.”
This societal yearn for DJs and dance music has allowed Abraham and Carter to take No Requests to other cities, a double-edged sword of an opportunity. The two recently took the party to Manhattan, where they played on a rooftop of a members-only club.
“It was a little bit too hoity-toity, a little bit stuck up,” Abraham said. “And No Requests has always been very DIY. We have kind of a pseudo-punk mentality about it; we’re very firmly-rooted in the underground.
In terms of production, Abraham and Carter have built everything they have from the ground up, and not just in a figurative sense; they actually built their own stage and their own DJ booth.
Abraham and Carter are not your typical DJs. Although they have their own styles, both men take pride in the fact that they don’t – and can’t – stick to one genre. No Requests works so well because both men can weave a dozen genres together and make them really flow.
“I’m not a hip hop DJ, I’m not a house DJ,” Carter said. “I listen to everything. I play everything from soul funk to dance music, new electronic stuff, trap music. I like it all.”
And that’s what you’ll get at No Requests: no theme, no one particular genre, no rules, just really good DJing by two really cool dudes.