Just there to dance

Taking a spin: DJ Equal first tried out the turntables at Hip Replacements. He now lives in New York, but travels frequently.

Asheville native Elliot Heller (aka DJ Equal) is based in New York City but returns to WNC on Friday, May 24 for a show at Club Tetrus. RBTS WIN also perform a DJ set as Brutal Wizards.

(Mountain Xpress:) Tell us about your show at Club Tetrus. Heller: It's a dance party, it's a DJ show. When I first moved to New York, I would come home a few times a year and I'd play a gig, whether it was supporting Toubab Krewe at The Orange Peel or doing my own thing at a smaller venue around town. It's been a long time since I've got to see a bunch of friends and just show where I'm at as a DJ. I'm so stoked to have RBTS WIN on the bill. They're a great example of an artist whose music I try to slip in a set when it's appropriate. I've had people come up and say, "What's this?" I'm like, "That's my home town! That's what that is!" 

You moved to New York in 2004. What drew you to that city? I moved to New York to further my DJ career. I had a nice thing going in Asheville. I was heavily involved in the hip-hop scene … But there was only so much you could do at that time, in Asheville, as a hip-hop DJ. I moved and it was exactly what I was looking for: being a tiny fish in an ocean of DJs. It forced me to adapt. I realized you can't really make a living as just a hip-hop and R&B and reggae DJ. I learned to play rock and funk and soul. In the past five years I've really dived into electronic music and learned the history, learned what's popular now in the commercial and indie.

Tell us a little bit about the venues you play. For years I threw my own parties. I had a business partner and we threw parties with different themes every week. Not much of a door policy — anyone could come. My favorite party that we ever threw was for a music publicist who represented the GZA and the RZA from Wu-Tang Clan. What ended up happening was Raekwon came [too] and they did an hour and a half of every Wu-Tang classic, taking turns doing the missing member's verses. That's just one example of the interesting, random things that can happen downtown on any given night in New York.

I love doing both [art events and high-end clubs]. I love playing for big commercial rooms. My only concern with any gig is playing exactly what will get the biggest reaction from a room. When there's an opportunity to expose a crowd to new music that I'm feeling, and I know it's a safe environment to do so, that's great, and I love that as well.

How do you discover new music? It's definitely the part of the job that takes the most amount of time. It's my responsibility to do my own research, which can be from browsing blogs, looking at charts, looking overseas and seeing what's trending or what's popular. But I'd say the best way that I have is taking what I find and sharing it with my tight-knit group of DJ peers, and they do the same. I get some of my best stuff and most-played stuff from friends.

It sounds like you get to travel a lot. Since last August, I've been doing a lot of traveling. I really only work in New York two weekends a month, if that. I love to travel. It's one of the top perks of the job, for sure. I don't mind the long flights and the schlepping and the waiting for the promoter in some random country. It's all interesting.

Where have you discovered a cool music scene, or what's been a favorite trip? There's been so many. I think Berlin has impressed me the most as far as the local nightlife scene. I've been to very different types of events and clubs, and generally everyone is just there to dance.

— Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

who: DJ Equal with Brutal Wizards
where: Club Tetrus
when: Friday, May 24 (10 p.m., $10.)

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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