Around the world, sailor does the spinning
September 8, 2003
NAPLES, Italy — Sea duty didn’t keep Shane Baker from his music.
He ordered records online daily, hiding them in cooling rooms and behind a radar consul on a San Diego-based frigate.
“It was disgusting. I seriously had a couple hundred records piled up back there by the end of deployment,” said the petty officer second class, with a laugh.
But he made good use of those records. In his spare time, he works as a disc jockey, and the largest crowd he ever played for was 2,000 people during a Hong Kong port call.
Now an operations specialist in Naples, Baker performs in a variety of clubs around southern Italy.
Music captivated Baker at age 14 when he walked into his first nightclub in his native San Diego.
“It was a place where everybody ... put their attitude up on the shelf,” he said.
At 15, when other boys were delivering newspapers, he was passing out fliers at clubs, which in the late 1980s were a breeding ground for a musical creativity that captured him.
“None of it had been done before,” Baker said of the alternative rock, new wave and electronic industrial beats.
Baker first stepped up to the turntable when the scheduled DJ fell through at an after-hours techno party. He was 17, spinning vinyls for a crowd of 500.
“I just started throwing on records,” he recalled. “I’ve been a music enthusiast ever since.”
Back then, deejaying at parties and raves was underground.
“Now it’s trendy as hell,” said Baker, 29. “Everybody wants to be a DJ, everybody wants to be a rock star.”
The sailor fondly remembers “outlaw parties” in old tunnels and warehouses that attracted an eclectic group of “Wall Street types ... school kids and freaks.”
But he said kids infatuated with drugs ruined the underground scene.
“As far as I’m concerned, the rave ended in 1993 because MTV had a compilation out the next year,” he said. “Now you have 14-year-olds dying of X [Ecstasy] overdoses in Phoenix, Arizona, when they should be working at the local strip mall at Starbucks.”
In community college, Baker studied biological psychology — drug research for people with self-induced psychosis — and worked on his culinary skills. At age 21, he was working as a secondary chef and managing a 30-person kitchen, cooking trendy Californian fusion dishes.
Then he did something completely different: To avoid a conventional life of school and work, he joined the Navy in 1997.
“The Navy was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum of anything I’d ever think to do,” he said. “My friends freaked out, my parents didn’t believe me.”
His father was a former sailor, a boiler technician.
“The military basically sat me down and said, ‘Look, you’re not going to outer space anytime soon, the aliens aren’t going to come get you and save you, so deal with it,’ ” Baker laughed.
In Naples, he works for Commander Submarine Group 8, providing mission data for submarines’ Tomahawk missile systems. And he doesn’t have to hide his record collection anymore, which numbers in the thousands.
He plays two-hour sets at clubs about once a week. To prepare, about an hour each day he mixes sounds with turntables, a sound generator and computer sequencing software.
For example, he’ll mix his ultimate influence, Depeche Mode, over a chart-topping beat track. Other influences are classic ’70s rock, soul and original Motown.
“I want a mesmerizing effect,” he said. “It’s uplifting for people to have the opportunity to sit back and listen and be able to breathe, not just to interpret it as a bunch of pounding beats and synthesizer riffs and annoying vocal samples.”
Baker’s sound is called global house, with worldwide influences.
“Germany has a strong electronic-based, very synthetic sound,” he said. “American is more organic, an acoustic, earthy feel. When they fuse the two together, it’s a more global sound [with] percussion lines and electronic beats.”
Baker wants to start producing his own music. If he stays in the Navy, he hopes to transfer to Germany, which he said has the most inventive music around.
One DJ who works well with Baker musically is Petty Officer 1st Class Warren Bembry.
“I like his style, the way we build off each other,” said Bembry, 27, an information systems technician from Brooklyn, N.Y. “We have the ability to play well after each other and build a cohesive vibe and still have fun.”
The sailors have a following among co-workers and friends.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Shayla Dalton said people pester Baker to invite them to clubs he’s playing. Dalton, 24, an operations specialist from Pittsburgh, has watched him spin countless times.
“His sound is definitely bringing people out,” she said.