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Phantom Power

Brian Nagle helps indie kids get down


Published October 13, 2010 at 8:02 a.m.

Brian Nagle, DJ Disco Phantom - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Brian Nagle, DJ Disco Phantom

What happens in between sets at your favorite local club? Usually, very little. You catch up with friends, sip beverages, maybe go outside to have a smoke. It’s likely you don’t even notice the iPod mix drifting through the PA. Sometimes a killer track hits, but usually it’s filler. Or worse. Maybe you get bored and decide to go check out another show across town.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Meet Brian Nagle. Over the past two years, the man who rocks two turntables and a laptop as DJ Disco Phantom has been omnipresent at the hippest shows around. His task? To connect the aural dots between local bands and the indie-pop gold that MSR Presents and Angioplasty Media have been importing to plate the walls of Metronome and The Monkey House: the Tallest Man on Earth, Twin Sister, Happy Birthday, the Morning Benders, the Ruby Suns, Phantogram, Here We Go Magic and more.

When Disco Phantom is spinning, you may still grab an IPA at the bar and catch up with friends, but chances are your ears are a little more tuned in, your head nods more than usual, and little questions seep into your conversations. “What’s this mashup with the vocals from ‘Lisztomania’?” ... “This track is great. Do you know what it is?” ... “Who’s the DJ?”

“I love when people ask me, ‘Oh, what was that last one?’ And you tell them about it and they go look it up and get it,” Nagle says on a recent morning over coffee. “People are really expecting just hip-hop and dance music and stuff like that, and it’s fun to see people light up and go, ‘Oh my God, you’re playing Wilco.’ To me, that’s what it’s all about. I feel like there’s a right song for every mood and moment.”

That’s a good feeling to have when your workweek looks like Nagle’s.

“I’ll play noise shows with Toby Aronson and Snake in the Garden and those guys, and then I’ll play with the Smittens, which is the most ultimate poppy stuff ever,” Nagle says, his pace building with excitement. “Then I’ll go and play with Rough Francis or Blue Button and then play a real dance night ... To me, that’s what a real DJ should be. You should be good enough that it doesn’t matter who the band is.”

Nagle started out in a radio DJ booth. He spent all eight years of high school and college selecting music on the air. But during his senior year at St. Michael’s College he had a revelation.

“I was going out in Burlington and — I don’t want to hate on any DJs — not really hearing any music I’d really like to be hearing.”

In February 2008, Nagle bought turntables and started woodshedding. His first gigs were at house parties around St. Mike’s. He was living in Burlington in the summer of 2008 when he received a call from some friends at Nectar’s.

“They had a headliner who canceled — it happened two or three times within a couple months — and they were, like, ‘Do you want to come down and fill in?’” Nagle remembers. “Those were my first shows playing out and playing live. That fall I realized that was something I really wanted to do and got more serious with practicing.”

In the spring of 2009, Matt Rogers, who now owns MSR Presents, was hatching a plan to create his own promotion company. He knew from the beginning that he wanted Nagle to be part of it.

“I remember hanging at his apartment and he was messing around with his gear and I was really impressed both with his ability as a DJ and also the wide variety of stuff he was spinning,” Rogers explains over email. “It was just one of those things where we were, like, ‘I’m trying to make it as a promoter and you’re trying to make it as a DJ, so let’s team up and make it happen.’”

And that’s what they did. Nagle started playing at MSR shows supporting local and national bands and was eventually asked to do the same for Angioplasty Media, run by Nick Mavodones and Paddy Reagan. He became such a fixture at The Monkey House that the club offered him his own residency on Wednesday nights, which he dubbed Beat Vision. He collaborates with Mavodones and Reagan to book local acts one week and nationals the next.

Beat Vision keeps things eclectic: It’s hosted a 7-inch release party for Burlington’s woozy synth-pop auteurs tooth ache., booked the Californian duo Mates of State, and invited in DJs from local agency Okay Okay Creative. On October 13, San Francisco’s Little Teeth will play with experimental psych act Expo ’70 and local noise man Toby Aronson.

Though Nagle can now select records nearly any night of the week, one of his favorite projects hands the privilege over to listeners.

More Manual, Less Digital: Record Club happens at Radio Bean every other Saturday. To take part, all you have to do is bring some of your favorite vinyl LPs to the Bean and hand them over to Nagle. He’ll work them into a continuous, afternoon-length mix while you hang out, enjoy an afternoon brew and talk shop with other record aficionados. It’s an idea he originally pitched to some friends at the Queen City Social Club, the events and party wing of WOMM-LP The Radiator.

“Record Club, to me, is really fun because I’m playing a DJ set of other people’s music,” he says. “Even though it’s completely random people bringing in random records, it actually works out as an amazing mix sometimes.”

For a guy who’s only been on the Burlington music scene for a few years, Nagle is impressively busy. In a short time, he’s been able to carve out a niche for himself that seems almost obvious in hindsight. And while he is seen most often between his turntables, the glow of his Apple laptop shining on his face as he searches for the best tracks to play, Nagle also runs merch tables, hangs posters around town, promotes shows on Facebook and talks up anyone who will listen.

“Diving in and really being a part of the music scene is really fun and rewarding right now,” he says. “It’s the best job. It’s the most fun, amazing thing in the world, because you get to hang out with your friends, have a beer, play music ... It’s, like, Are you kidding me? You’re actually paying me to do this?

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