Make no mistake, Memphis is a town of vinyl lovers, as was evidenced by the fine new and vintage music being played between bands at Gonerfest 16. It turns out that many who thrive in our local DJ scene go on to make a name for themselves elsewhere. Case in point: Alix Brown, who lived here for three years over a decade ago. She's now established herself as a top-tier DJ in New York, with her eclectic tastes helping her build followings in many international venues. But Brown still holds Memphis close to her heart and can still be heard DJing here, holding court at Bar DKDC or other local dance floors.
"I try to come to Memphis once or twice a year," Brown told me when I caught up with her in New York's Tompkins Square Park this summer. "I usually drive down with my mom. She loves Gus's Fried Chicken, and she loves Karen Carrier. We always stay with her." Indeed, Carrier was a major influence on Brown when the music-obsessed Atlanta native began living here. "I was working at the Beauty Shop and Dó restaurant with Karen, and we got along so well. I loved hanging out there. That felt like my home. I waited tables. I loved getting dressed up. And that was the first time I'd ever gone blonde, like the Brigitte Bardot look."
- Kristin Gallegos
- Alix Brown
That was significant on multiple levels, for this music lover also happens to be glamorous: She's now a featured model in a Maybelline campaign that can be seen in drugstores nationwide. "I was never that girly until then; I kinda morphed into this '60s character in Memphis. That's when Jay said I changed."
"Jay" would be the late Jay Reatard, who was the whole reason Brown moved to Memphis, back in the day. "I met Jay in Memphis because I was on tour with the Black Lips. I was 18 at the time. Jay and I were kind of flirting, and the guys in the Black Lips were very protective of me. I was like the little sister and kind of a tomboy. But later, when we got home, Jay left me a message and said he needed a break from Memphis. He wanted to come and check out Atlanta. And I was like, 'Okay, cool.'"
Ultimately, Reatard would single-handedly record one of his greatest albums, Blood Visions, in Brown's Atlanta apartment. "I used to have his rough demos for Blood Visions on a cassette," she recalls. "He just knew how to record himself. It was amazing watching him work. He was like, 'Always record drums on tape. You can do everything else digitally.' So he went to a studio and cut all the drums. Then he'd take those tracks home and add layers of guitars. And I'm actually the only musician credited on Blood Visions. I played bass on one song, and I sang. And Jay played everything else."
Even as she and Jay Reatard moved here, then broke up, Brown was cultivating a new look and sharpening her skills as a DJ. "I never took it seriously. Then I came up to New York, and I was working at a record store. Little by little, I started getting more DJ gigs. And then I met Tennessee. Her dad is Pete Thomas, the drummer for Elvis Costello. She's actually named Tennessee because he loves Tennessee so much. She was DJing for several hotels. The Soho Grand, and what's now the Roxy Hotel, which used to be the Tribeca Grand."
That's now where Brown can be heard most any weekend in New York. "I do all their music. I make all the playlists, I book bands and all the other DJs, and do their social media." Beyond that, Brown is now expanding into music supervision for film soundtracks.
While she caught a rising wave in the Big Apple, Memphis holds a special place in her heart. "I don't think I really appreciated Memphis until I moved away. When I moved there for Jay, I really wanted to move to New Orleans. That was literally two weeks before Hurricane Katrina. But that's life, right? You never realize how cool something is when it's happening."
Hear Alix Brown DJ at Bar DKDC on October 10, after the Lorette Velvette Band.