im sullivan photography by kristie rae gillooly| October 8, 2012 |
Near the entrance at a recent private party on Newbury Street, DJ Mario is working two turntables, hands constantly in motion, smiling as the beats shift and the tempo ebbs and flows. “When I’m spinning,” he says, “I’m the happiest I could ever be.”
Growing up in Roslindale, Mario Papathanasiou knew in high school that he wanted to be the guy manning those wheels of steel. Now 34, record time DJ Mario brings eclectic grooves and live sounds to the heart of boston’s club scene. by jim sullivan Papathanasiou recalls the specific moment of transcendence. It was 1995 in Europa—now the site of Bijou, a club where he used to spin—and DJ Manolo “pulled something out of my childhood, ‘Din Daa Daa,’ from the movie Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. I’d never heard a classic song like that mixed with house music. I remember that vividly in terms of what I wanted to do.”
While at Emerson College in the late ’90s, he started to spin at local clubs. In 2000, he moved to Los Angeles, where he became a resident DJ at The Standard hotel and also took on an assistant producer position at Warner Bros. Television. In his spare time, Papathanasiou scoured yard sales in search of vinyl gems and built a 6,000-plus record collection. Now he has brought those sounds back to Boston. Before landing his Bijou gig, he was resident DJ at Gypsy Bar, as well as the music director and resident DJ for Bond restaurant and lounge at The Langham hotel.
Today Mario also has a company called Every Second Counts (ESC): Music and Design, where he creates music for corporate events, high-end retail openings, and weddings. Part of that ESC gig is booking himself to spin with live musicians, often from Berklee College of Music or the New England Conservatory. From his initial weekly drummer/DJ mash-ups at Bond (he’s done about a hundred of these), Mario has since worked with 15 groups of musicians— usually trios and quartets, but once an octet—giving him a network of about 50 musicians in total. “I could be mixing song A into song B,” he explains, “but leave room for percussion, like a Latin rhythm that creates a different vibe. For melodic instruments—strings, horns, guitars, piano—they would take the lead on melody, and I would back up the beat and chop up different instrumentals. It’s something I’m trying to build into the future.”
What does Mario bring to the party? It depends on the party. “There are many genre and subgenre designations,” he explains. “I like to cross-pollinate between the current hits and known classics of all those genres, with the song selection completely determined by the audience and environment.” On a perfect night, he says, “You play the hits and people are jamming. Then you play something that’s off-genre or off-time-period and get that reaction, when you see that swell of joy—you get goose bumps. That’s what brings you back every day.”