Donald Trump and a seven-inch record have something in common, and it has nothing to do with size: Trump is the 45th president of the United States, and a seven-inch spins 45 times per minute. It’s poetic, then, that DJ, musician, writer and Westword contributor Jason Heller named his monthly anti-Trump dance party 45s Against 45.
“Like a lot of people, I woke up the day after the election just paralyzed and petrified that this completely inhuman human being had somehow assumed the highest office in the land,” says Heller.
In the weeks following the election and then the inauguration, Heller found himself morose, showing up to protests when he could and donating money to causes he believed in. Yet he was still angry and confused about where to channel his energy.
He doesn’t remember where he was when he made the connection between the 45th president and 45s, which the DJ spins exclusively at two regular events: Mile High Soul Club and Mile High Funk Club. But as soon as Heller did link the two, he knew he had the title for a dance party that was sure to (at least temporarily) bring joy to attendees fretting about Trump’s Muslim ban, border wall and tweets.
Heller’s love of 45s long preceded his hatred of Trump. Since the DJ was a kid growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, he’s always appreciated the format for what it is: “The cheap, disposable, easy way to get songs. You didn’t have to buy a whole album. You could spend a couple bucks and just get the song you wanted — kinda like now, if you get an MP3 or whatever.”
Seven-inch records showcased artists’ most catchy tunes, hits and wannabe hits that record companies were trying to push to the world. These days, they’re timeless, a totem of nostalgia, if not an obvious choice as a weapon in an ideological battle for the soul of a nation. (Then again, Woody Guthrie’s acoustic guitar, branded with the slogan “This Machine Kills Fascists,” hardly seemed like an effective way to stop Nazis.)
Heller, whose anti-violence language couldn’t be further from the militant machinations of the twiggy folksinger, wants 45s to combat 45 in two ways: creating a culture of joy and resistance amid political despair, and raising money through suggested donations for attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union, who are virtually guaranteed to spend the next four years trying to protect basic civil liberties from the current administration
“I chose the ACLU, being one of the most visible organizations out there who are doing what they can,” Heller explains. “You know, the ACLU is not an explicitly liberal or conservative or anything organization. They’re fighting for civil rights, period. That’s something I think anyone across the political spectrum can agree with.
Obviously, there are a lot of conservatives in this country — not just liberals like myself — who are very uneasy with a lot of the transgressions against the Bill of Rights and civil liberties in general that Donald Trump is pushing forward.”
Heller’s hope, which he admits is a bit far-fetched, is that by choosing the ACLU as a beneficiary, the 45s Against 45 dance parties will bring conservatives and liberals together on the dance floor, partying for a shared cause.
From the beginning, the parties have been set up as round robins, in which different DJs take turns spinning four songs and then rotating out. There is one rule: Every song, whether it’s soul, rap, punk, funk, indie rock or disco — must inspire the crowd to dance.
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“So it isn’t like a regular night where there’s a theme, where you go down and you know you’re going to hear all soul music or you’re going to hear all ’80s music, or you’re going to hear all indie rock or whatever,” says Heller. “You’re going to hear just a total mix. I actually try to challenge the other DJs to really throw some crazy stuff out there.”
While other deejayed events focus on beat-matching to create smooth transitions between songs and artists, 45s Against 45 does just the opposite. Heller says there will be abrupt transitions between the sets.
“This is not a political or cultural climate for smooth transitions or being lulled with a hypnotic beat throughout an entire DJ set,” Heller says. “This is a time to wake up, to challenge yourself, to look at the chaos of what’s going on in this country square in the eye. Maybe it’s just my punk-rock background, but I love the fact that at 45s Against 45, you can’t just be lulled into this easy thing of a dance floor. You’ve got to shift gears every song, because you don’t know what’s coming at you.”