The artist also known as Luis, DJ Python and Deejay Xanax is as poetic as he is versatile, dishing out everything from house to breakbeat to so-called "deep reggaeton." Max Pearl pays him a visit in Queens.
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Brian Piñeyro was sitting on the edge of his bed, showing me his collection of perfumes. His room was clean and well-lit, without much in the way of decorating, and its windows looked out onto a quiet residential street in Ridgewood, Queens. It was late afternoon in December on one of the first truly cold days of the season, the kind of day where nothing outside moves except the leafless branches in the wind. The little glass bottles clinked as he lifted the box off his dresser and passed me them one at a time, describing not only the scent notes but the feelings they tend to evoke. "This one's tender and a little sad," he said, uncapping one of his favorites, a fragrance called Iris Silver Mist, produced by a French perfumer named Maurice Roucel in 1994. As I sniffed each one in and let it roll around in my nose, he listed off their names, their provenance and the ingredients that give them their character. Some of the older ones are made with deer musk, he explained, which has been off the market since 1979, when the Himalayan Musk Deer became an endangered species.
But I didn't take the bus all the way to Queens to talk about perfume. I was there to talk about music, which Piñeyro produces under a phone book's worth of monikers. As DJ Wey, he makes fuzzy house tracks that often sound like they're halfway underwater, with weird rhythms and a wistful tint that comes across in the synths. Then there's DJ Python, which is more of a barebones, percussion-heavy sound that he semi-jokingly calls "deep reggaeton." Towards the end of last year he dropped a 12-inch of ragged breakbeat tracks under the name Deejay Xanax, which are, ironically, the least relaxing tracks in his catalogue. His latest record, released under the name Luis for the Canadian label 1080p, takes a less paranoid approach to the Deejay Xanax sound, with sweet melodies rising over damaged breaks.
Piñeyro is something of a local legend. It's not just because he's so prolific, or because he's always hosting parties with his friends, but because, as a mutual acquaintance put it to me, "he's a comedic genius." It's hard to explain if you've never met him in person, but he's constantly inventing his own catchphrases―idiosyncratic little sayings that suddenly catch on and, before you know it, everybody else is using them. His most recent one: "It's all love at the end of the day," which he uses to sign off most Facebook posts, text messages and emails. For a while he was going around saluting people by saying, "At ease my geese," and though nobody's sure about the etymology of this phrase, many of his friends started saying it too. His Facebook page is a goldmine of aphorisms and reflections on friendship, happiness and the meaning of life. "Wow, a shrimp's heart is in its head," he wrote in one post. "I can relate to our aquatic sea critter friends in this sense. What do you think?"
Each alias captures a different side of Brian Piñeyro. Sometimes his tracks are wild and rambunctious; other times they're anxious and uneasy. But even when he puts out party-starting house bombs, you can usually sense a kind of gentle yearning somewhere in the mix. "I like calm shit," he told me. "I can't just sit down and say, 'Man, I wanna make a banger,' because I rarely ever feel like a banger. More often I feel confused and sad and a little scared, because the world feels like it's so crazy lately. But I try to focus on the airiness of life when I can."
When Piñeyro mentioned "airiness," I bookmarked the thought for later, though I didn't understand what he meant at the time. I later found myself reaching for it repeatedly as I sought to put a pin on the current that runs through his projects. Airiness, in this case, is all about soft edges—not a formlessness but a gaseous loosening of form that gives his music a dreamlike quality, like it's right in front of you but out of focus. In that sense it's also evasive, hard to contain, and his best tracks slip away before you can get a firm hold on them. That sense of longing, of moving towards something that's always out of reach, is what makes his best work so evocative. Listen to "Song For Mashiro," a huge tune that flew under the radar last year, and you'll hear that bittersweet nostalgia at its most concentrated.
Piñeyro has so many monikers that friends will often download his tracks without knowing he made them. "It's my way of pushing back against branding," he told me. "Because I struggle to identify myself as one thing and not another. I don't see the point in forcing myself, so I have a bunch of things going on and if people connect the dots, that's fine. If they don't that's fine too." He's also a promiscuous collaborator, someone who's constantly making new friends through music. He lists artists like Anthony Naples, Aurora Halal, Huerco S. and Ital―who put out the first DJ Wey record in 2015―as some of his favorite jam buddies. "I'm a polyamorous person, even with my music cliques," he said. "I like to hang out with everyone and experience all kinds of things, so as long as something feels good, and people are treating each other with respect, then that's a vibe I'd like to be a part of."
Piñeyro's house, a little brick building in a neighborhood you could almost mistake for a suburb, is also somewhat mythic around these parts. It's home to a rotating cast of DJs and producers who are all riding a similar wave, not just musically, but in terms of their outlook on life. It's like the unofficial club house for a loose collective of friends and collaborators who frequently pop by to play records, party, cook something for dinner or pick up an impromptu jam session with samplers, sequencers and synths. When I came over to chat, there were still a bunch of colorful picket signs leaning against the wall in the living room, from a sign-making party they had for an anti-Trump rally outside Trump Tower.
Living on the second floor with Piñeyro is Will DiMaggio, a producer, record collector and keyboardist who debuted on the DC label Future Times last year with the anthemic single-sided 12-inch Fusion (Broadcast Mix). Then there's JP Wright, a graphic designer, and Tanya Lyon, who spins records as part of the four-piece DJ crew Working Women. In the downstairs apartment is Juan Bocca, or Person Of Interest―a core member of the L.I.E.S. family―as well as Jiovanni Nadal, alias J. Albert. Bocca and Nadal run Exotic Dance Records, one of the most promising new labels to come from New York's oddball house and techno scene.
As Piñeyro and I sat and talked at his kitchen counter, DiMaggio wrote noodly melodies in the small studio down the hall. Over in the living room there were a pair of Technics and a few shelves of records comprising all three roommates' collections. There was plenty of the usual house and disco classics, but just leafing through it briefly I spied a few golden-age jungle records, a lot of jazz-fusion, a couple Motown LPs, some singer-songwriter stuff and even a fair amount of gospel music. I remember reading one of the labels for a record that Piñeyro's roommates pressed last year, J. Albert's Dance Slow, and underneath the tracklist it said: "That sweet 470 Fairview sound." So does the house at 470 Fairview Avenue actually have its own sound?
"Well we're always hanging out and listen to records together," Piñeyro said, "so certain ideas bounce around, but I don't know if there's a specific 470 Fairview sound." Living with such a prolific group of musicians, however, does tend to light a fire under his ass to get in the studio and start churning out tracks. "It's an alarm clock, like, 'Oh, I should be making music,' like a healthy kind of competition. And if we're excited about one sound we might all start making that subconsciously."
The whole gang gets together on Fridays for a semi-regular function called Brian and Brian's Open House Party. The other Brian is Brian Leeds, or Huerco S., Piñeyro's good friend and musical confidant, and together they broadcast a radio show live from their house parties at 470 Fairview Avenue. Basically all of their friends are invited to bring a record or two to put on, and the show stretches for as long as they feel like feel like playing. There's a 32-second YouTube clip from one of these get-togethers that shows Piñeyro holding up a mic while his friend Carlos Pacifico wails a jazzy flute solo along to a joyful house record. Piñeyro is doing a kind of air flute movement with his other hand, and by the look on his face you can tell he's deep in his zone.
For Piñeyro, music isn't just music, and parties aren't just parties. They're also the best tools at his disposal to foster his ideal community based on love and mutual respect. That utopian impulse is what drew him to house music in the first place, when he was still living in Chicago, making experimental music with his Korg Electribe and a bunch of pedals. "I loved it because I was frustrated with the elitism of the noise scene," he explained, "and I thought that shit didn't exist in house music―because so many of its values are about being inviting." He's all about the simple things in life, like getting together with your friends to talk and dance and drink and eat and get close to somebody. "There's always a film of sadness over reality," he said, "which is tough. But what brings you out of that is, like, making food with your friends, and it smells good, and someone's playing some nice records, and you just texted your mom."
We'd been talking in the kitchen for a while, and the sun was starting to dip behind the trees. He offered to show me around the neighborhood, so we put on our winter jackets, walked downstairs and hopped in his Honda. While we drove in wide, irregular circles around Ridgewood, he told me about his favorite dance party in New York City, a disco-focused members-only affair that grew from the tradition of David Mancuso's Loft parties. Like the Loft, this particular dance spot follows a protocol that's meant to enhance the dancer's relationship to the music: rather than mixing records, the selector only plays one record at a time, and when that record finishes everybody stops and claps before the next one comes on. They don't just play disco, but a broad mix of mostly retro tunes that spans from Frankie Knuckles to Arthur Russell and Led Zeppelin, and they've got one of the most exquisite soundsystems in all five boroughs. It's a wholesome affair, with a hot buffet included in the price of the ticket and a crowd that spans multiple generations.
"You go there and there's all different kinds of people," he said. "It's so accepting. You can dance however you want and everyone's just having fun." That warmth, he told me, reminds him of the hospitality he feels in Ecuador, where both of his parents immigrated from in the 1980s, and where he spends his holidays. "In Ecuador I used to go out to the club with my cousin, and we'd meet up at my aunt's crib," he said. "Then his friends would come over and she'd feed us. We'd hang out with my aunt and uncle until maybe 1 or 2 AM, then go out to and dance. They'd serve food around seven, and then we'd dance some more before going home to eat breakfast with my aunt. There were no judgments."
Those visits shaped not only his music, but his perspective on life. "The poverty in Ecuador is a very humbling thing that I've experienced my whole life," he told me. "But at the same time everything is so warm and communal. And that's something that's always stuck with me―the importance of community."
We parked the car and walked a few blocks to his neighborhood bar, a German beer hall called Gottscheer that serves giant beers for cheap along with sausage and spaetzle and sauerbraten. It was a weeknight so the place was mostly empty, populated by a few older German men from the neighborhood who were reading newspapers and nursing lagers. In the back there was a hallway that led to a large function room with wall-to-wall carpeting and chandeliers―the kind of place you might rent for a bar mitzvah or a quinceñeara. You'd have no idea if you were to walk past the brick facade out front, but Piñeyro and the 470 Fairview crew have thrown some prettying banging parties here.
"I love Gottscheer," he told me, coming back from the bar with a couple of pints. Like the members-only loft party Piñeyro was telling me about, the events they throw at Gottscheer follow a particular protocol. One: they always strive to book equally across the genders. Two: they always invite at least one couple to DJ together. Three: they do their best to book one person who either rarely DJs or has never DJ'd in public. "The idea behind those parties is always to have a good mix of people," he explained. "We also want to offer people a supportive space where they don't feel threatened when they're DJing. That's why we chose Gottsheer Hall, because it's not a chin-scratching kind of place, and people can just play records, mess up if they want to, and just have fun."
Sometimes Piñeyro is so unrelentingly earnest and sweet that it makes you wonder if the guy's for real. The catchphrases, the positive philosophy and the heart-on-his-sleeve approach to life all feed into a personality that often feels larger than life. But after spending a day talking with him, it becomes clear that there's not a disingenuous hair on his head, and that this really is Brian Piñeyro. He's just wired to feel things more exquisitely than the rest of us, from the good to the bad and the just plain mundane, and he goes through life with his guard down. "I feel like our generation really doesn't like to be vulnerable, because it's scary, and you do get hurt a lot," he explained as we closed our bar tab and put on our coats. "But I really just appreciate those moments where you're just chilling and talking to your friends, and you're thinking―man, humans are so real. That's how I feel about music. Life is kind of a wistful weird thing, you know?"