Fattie B celebrates, and somewhat rues, 25 years behind the decks
After 25 years of DJing in and around Burlington, Fattie B (aka Kyle Thompson) has a lot of good stories. And many of them — like the following one — aren’t exactly suitable for a family publication.
(Warning: The next several paragraphs are rated NC-17. If you’re prudish, or easily offended or embarrassed, please skip ahead. Really.)
About seven years ago, Thompson was spinning 1980s pop hits for a sweaty throng of weekend warriors at Retronome, as he’d done each Saturday night for 13 years. The long-running weekly dance party at Club Metronome in Burlington continues to be noted for its neon-dappled Top 40 tunes and its status as one of the city’s “meat markets.” From his perch in the club’s cramped DJ booth, he’d watch a typical scene unfold: an undulating sea of debauched revelers grinding and groping to, say, “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama or Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
“You’re basically seeing from the top of the chest to the top of the knee,” says Thompson of the porthole that offers a view of the dance floor from the booth. “You have to lean down to see anybody’s face. So you never really know who is in front of you.”
Thompson recalls it was a hot summer night, which meant the second-floor club was positively sweltering — the crowd a jiggling mass of booze, cologne and overheated hormones.
“It was, like, 110 degrees in the club, and I had a buddy in the booth with me. We were laughing at this guy grinding some girl right in front of the window,” says Thompson. “There’s people all around them, but they’re just grinding away,” he continues. “All of a sudden, she flips her miniskirt up and rolls her underwear down.”
That thing you’re thinking couldn’t possibly happen now? It’s about to happen. (Seriously, skip ahead if you’re skittish. Please.)
“He whips out his dick, and they start having sex, like, right in front of the booth,” Thompson says, a Cheshire grin creeping across his face.
(I told you to skip ahead. But since you’ve made it this far…)
“I turned to my buddy and said, ‘Watch this, I’m gonna mess with them.’”
Thompson began adjusting the speed of the track.
“And he starts going faster and faster,” he says.
Then he slowed the track down. And sped it up again. And slowed it down, watching as the couple frantically tried to keep pace.
After the song, Thompson grabbed a stick he kept in the booth to ward off drunks who got too close, slid it through the window and poked the would-be John Holmes to get his attention.
“I said, ‘Listen, I’m gonna give you one more song to finish up, and then I’m gonna tell security.’”
The song finished — as, presumably, did the couple — and the guy peered through the window. “He says, ‘Thanks, man,’ and disappears,” Thompson recalls.
“Only at ’80s night,” he adds, clearly chagrined.
While that’s an amusing — and extreme — tale, not all of Thompson’s stories have such, ahem, happy endings. For instance, there was the time a drunken bachelorette dumped her cocktail on his brand-new mixer because he hadn’t played her entire list of requests quickly enough. Or every time someone asked to hear “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”
“God, I hate that fucking song,” says Thompson, rolling his eyes.
On Friday, May 11, at Club Metronome, Thompson will reach his silver anniversary as a DJ. That’s a long time to do anything. It’s an achievement. But in a conversation with Seven Days, it’s obvious Thompson approaches the milestone with mixed feelings.
“I love it, and I … well, I guess I don’t hate it,” he says of his trade.
Thompson is something of a local mogul. In addition to DJing, he’s been the MC for a number of local hip-hop bands, most notably the successful acid-jazz/hip-hop fusion outfit Belizbeha, which gained national renown in the 1990s. He was the owner of a popular hip-hop fashion and culture boutique on Church Street called Steez. He’s an accomplished artist and graphic designer. And, especially among local musicians, he’s regarded as Vermont hip-hop’s elder statesman, a guru of sorts to the current generation of artists. But he’s best known to the public as a DJ, specifically at the decidedly nonartistic outlets of Retronome and its weekly sister session at Metronome, ’90s Night.
That makes Thompson a curious figure. He’s the Burlington DJ equivalent of Crash Davis, the fictional lead character in the classic baseball movie Bull Durham. Davis, played by Kevin Costner, is the all-time minor-league leader in home runs, which, as he remarks to Susan Sarandon’s character, is “a dubious distinction.” Dubious because, while it means he’s had success and longevity, he’s achieved them outside the majors.
That’s not a perfect comparison, given that Thompson has experienced so much success beyond DJing, and in art and music generally. But it works because both Crash Davis and Thompson ultimately love what they do and are bound to it, even though the venue may not always be what they had in mind when they were younger.
“I love sharing music with people,” says Thompson, who also regularly DJs at 1/2 Lounge and, in the summer, at Breakwater Café, where he’s been free to expand his mixes beyond the 1980s and dig into his own favorites. “I’ve always been the type of DJ who wants to turn people on to stuff they don’t know: ‘If you like this beat, you should check this out,’” he says. “I love that aspect.”
Thompson himself was first turned on to DJing at a seventh-grade dance in his hometown of Bristol, Vt. A high school senior was at the deck.
He was mesmerized “the minute I saw how he had his setup going, and how the crowd was reacting, and that just by playing music he’s controlling the whole room so easily,” recalls Thompson — “he’s making all these people so happy, and all he’s doing is buying records.”
Thompson was hooked, fascinated by the DJ’s ability to be the life of the party.
“I was really interested in the power aspect of it,” he says. “You really do change someone’s day, or week or month, just by playing one song they really like or maybe hadn’t heard. That’s a cool concept to me.”
Thompson describes his first DJ setup as if it were the electronics section at Goodwill.
“I had, like, one tape deck, an eight-track player, one turntable,” he says. “I’d just make mixes in my room. I’d even mix with, like, two cassettes, using the pause button to try and beat match.”
His first real gig was a monthly teen dance party at Holley Hall in Bristol.
“It was something for kids who had nothing to do on the weekend to have something to do besides cause trouble,” he says. “I know I was causing trouble. So if we could keep 50 or 60 kids off the street, it’s a good thing.”
Thompson’s fascination with DJing led him to the nightclub Border, which later became Club Metronome. The former had a weekly teen night, the Young and the Restless Dance Party, which Thompson attended religiously to pick the brain of club owner and DJ Tod Warner.
“I would bug him constantly about records I didn’t know,” says Thompson. “I’d bring a pen and paper and write down everything he had.”
From the era of those handwritten lists, Thompson progressed through innumerable gigs at virtually every club in town, past and present, and now he finds himself on the precipice of a quarter-century behind the decks. “To my delight, and horror,” he jokes. Sort of.
Thompson says he’s often contemplated getting a “real job” — he was a graphic- design major at Champlain College and still does freelance work in that field. After playing in a touring band and working as a DJ, he doubts he could ever exist in a 9-to-5. Still, the 41-year-old is now married and looking to buy a house, and sees children in his future. DJing doesn’t come with a retirement plan or benefits. Staying out until 3 a.m. is not behavior recommended by Parenting for Dummies.
For now, though, Thompson finds the DJ lifestyle too good to give up. So is the income. “Why would I work 50 hours a week when I can work 10 and make more money?” Thompson asks rhetorically. Even his folks appear to agree. “My parents are always like, ‘If you quit, you’re an idiot,’” he says.
“It’s made me a lot of money, and it’s a fun job,” Thompson continues. But he admits he sometimes has lurid visions of how it might all end. “I have dreams of a packed house at quarter to 2 in the morning, and me shutting the music off, and people are like, ‘Hey! What the hell?’ And me pulling out a gun and blowing my brains out, going out in a blaze of glory.”
Or maybe just dropping the needle on some Cyndi Lauper, one more time.
Fattie B celebrates his 25th anniversary DJing at Club Metronome in Burlington on Friday, May 11, 10 p.m. Free. clubmetronome.com