To the Next Level

With workmanlike expression, DJ Fader alternates between his tools – a pair of Technics 1200 turntables and a myriad of records nestled into a host of crates.

His bald head beginning to glisten with sweat, Fader pauses, briefly turns his attention to the crowd and soaks in the vibe of a dance floor filled with hip-hop heads ranging from b-boys dipped in Roc-A-Wear, rocking chains with medallions dangling down by their belly buttons, to girls glued to their belly shirts and miniskirts. But a second later his demeanor changes as focus washes over his face and he returns to work.

Scanning the crowd from the DJ booth perched above the dance floor on Saturday night at the Masquerade in Ybor City, things seem to be running smoothly.

The dance floor is overflowing and the energy from the crowd is seething. The steady stream of people coming through the runway leading to the main room indicates the line outside has probably begun to wrap around the building, which is the case every Saturday at midnight outside the Masquerade.

But you can’t judge a record by its cover.

First it’s a glitch in his needles. Then there’s a slight glitch in the sound system filling the spacious auditorium feel of the Masquerade. Then a crashing sound severs his concentration, disrupting his levels.

All minor problems – to everyone except for Fader.”It’s in my nature,” Fader said of his attention to detail. “I want everything to be . . . perfect. And if it’s not, then it’s on me. I have to stay on top of everything that goes into what I do.”

In a craft that demands precision, Fader is drenched in the quest for perfection. It’s a drive that has transformed Fader from the DJ in the dormant bar attached to the left side of Masquerade to the main attraction Saturday nights.

After landing a gig at Masquerade, Fader moved from the small, lightly traveled bar to the mid-size jungle room Saturday nights while techno DJs spun in the main room. Although it was better than being in the desolate bar area, Fader wasn’t instantly well-received.

“I got to tell you, there were nights, when we first started, when there wasn’t a soul in there,” Fader said. “It was me, my crew and the bartenders, and that was about it.”

The mid-size room proved to be an upgrade in terms of number of people, though it still lagged behind the amount of patrons in the main room. But slowly word began to circulate and Fader noticed the room filling up more and more with each passing Saturday – and Masquerade noticed as well.

“I wanted to get in (the main room),” Fader said. “And (Masquerade) saw how things were rolling and wanted to give me a shot.”

From there it was into the main room where Masquerade began promoting the hip-hop night in conjunction with Fader. The jump was a big step for Fader, but initially there were doubts in his mind.

“Yeah, at first it was a little bit of uncertainty,” Fader said. “We were starting to fill up (the jungle room), so the move made sense, but I didn’t know if we could put enough people in that room to fill it.”

Fast-forward to the present, and Saturday night has turned into the busiest night of the week at Masquerade. And the reason for that is Fader and the set he chooses. It’s heavy on underground hip-hop, yet sprinkled with enough mainstream flavor to appeal to a wide audience. Fader seamlessly bounces from Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones” to the Notorious B.I.G’s “Ten Crack Commandments,” mixing in a cut like Trick Daddy’s “I’m a Thug.”

“I try to play (stuff) that you don’t hear every day, 10 times a day on the radio,” Fader said. “You could definitely say it has an underground feel. I think that’s why we’ve been able to keep a steady base of people that come out on Saturday night intact.”Another reason Saturdays at Masquerade distinguishes itself from any other hip-hop night on Seventh Avenue is more than just the selection of music played – it’s the way it’s selected.

Fader’s set is completely improvisational. He has complete creative control over what he plays and doesn’t know from record to record what he will spin next. And according to Fader, this free-flowing approach to choosing which cut to set the crowd off is not one practiced by the great majority of hip-hop DJs spinning in Ybor City.

“The difference is that other cats don’t always take that approach,” he said. “I have no set list. Nothing is pre-programmed. Other DJs either are given a list of records to play or have their set already ready when they set up.”

Fader said adapting to the crowd, and their mood, is the true measure of a DJ. His emotion is as much dictated by the crowd as it is by the records Fader plays.

“I think the crowd reacts to what I play, but really, I feed off them,” Fader said. “I gear the records to what the crowd is feeling, no matter what it is.”

At 31, Fader has seen hip-hop progress from its humble beginnings to being the most popular form of music today. With a wealth of hip-hop knowledge in the 5,000 or so records in his crates, Fader is not shy about slipping in an old-school classic or two, but he admits he’d like to be able to play even more.

“I’d like to see a few more older heads in the crowd,” he said. “Sometimes I have to hold back playing some of the old school records because I don’t know how they will respond.”

It’s another steamy Saturday night inside Masquerade and Mase 1, Fader’s right-hand man and fellow DJ, looks out at the throngs of people making the dance floor burst at the seams. This Saturday is busier, making trips to the bar seem like an odyssey to the patrons in the midst of the gyrating bodies on the floor.

“It’s always something. Fader isn’t happy with the crowd – not big enough,” Mase 1 said. “The guy is just a perfectionist.”

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