Interview: Ali Berger on solo DJing, the Boston dance scene, and his new party, Focus

Tommy Vo

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here is a growing range of cloaked talent brewing within the electronic dance scene in the City of Boston, the prowess of which can be seen & heard by the likes of DJ/producer Ali Berger. We split some Five Guys Cajun fries before his unforgiving, live, all-hardware techno set during last month’s Together Festival & discussed his continuing growth, inspiration, & vision to start his own party — the first of which, titled Focus, is this Saturday @ the Lilypad in Cambridge.

If you’ve been around town to niche nightlife events you’ve probably seen Berger in the crowd, immersing himself in the music & likely training for future endeavors in the process. When you watch him perform, the wealth of his knowledge of drum machines, computer programs, & gear is quite apparent, yet he remains an eager student & even teacher of his craft. Recently purchasing a turntable, he tells me has been able to incorporate vinyl into his mixes & sets, & you can catch him as an Ableton professor at local production school MMMMaven.

At this point I wonder if he’s covertly wearing a shirt with an S on it. I complain about the seeming lack of effort that many electronic producers & DJs put into their sets because a lot of it tends to be prearranged. Berger responds that he is “about tailoring stuff to the crowd, being very present & live.” Refreshing. It takes labor to do what he does & his community respects it. Check out a recent track with local pioneer John Barera from the Together Compilation:


This weekend, we have the chance to experience an event curated by him. Focus’ “pilot episode” involves the man himself & three straight hours of consistent DJing. The event description: “No cycling of selectors & styles — a cohesive experience. Surrender to the groove, forget about who’s playing & focus on getting down.”

That might be all you need to know, but we wanted more. We caught up with him again recently, this time on the Boston Common, and exchanged some thoughts. Here’s our chat…


Georgette Bibber: You plan on pinning down DJs for twice their usual time slots at your new night “Focus” @ the lilypad. What motivated you to do so? What do you hope to accomplish?

Ali Berger: The parties that have been fun and transformative experiences for me have been ones where only a few DJs play for a really long time — often six or eight hours total. This gives them time to really stretch out, play a range of music, and take the party somewhere from start to finish. I’m trying to bring a little of that to Boston. I want to get away from the “show” mentality, where the event is about the names on the bill and the DJs are trying to distinguish themselves from each other.

Focus is about focusing on the party, the people around you. The DJ is there to facilitate that. With one DJ there’ll be a cohesive atmosphere throughout the night and not a lot of distraction around the DJ booth like there is on nights with three or four DJs.

What’s your favorite thing about the Boston underground music scene? And least favorite?


I feel like the scene here is very deep. I go out a lot and have been involved for about four years but I’m still finding parties and people that are new to me. What’s frustrating is that it seems like most people have their own comfort zone within the scene and rarely look outside it. People write off certain parties as not being for them without ever actually going, and that fractures the scene — we don’t ever really come together behind one event.

I don’t mean for Focus to be that event — it’s a small place and I have no real budget — but I do hope anyone interested feels comfortable going even if they don’t feel a part of whatever subset of the scene they associate me with.

Who are some artists we should check out?

People should check out Slow To Speak, which is Paul Nickerson and Francis Englehardt, the guys who run the record store Dope Jams (in New York). It was their parties that really showed me how powerful an experience a party can be, they have mixes and tracklists at celebratelifenyc.com and the site for the store.


People should also check out Native Racket, that’s Randy Delgado and Ivan Monegro, two guys who used to work at the store and now do parties in NY.

Again some of the best parties I’ve been to in terms of having really emotionally powerful music and a sense of celebration and community.

As far as producers, D’Marc Cantu and J.T.C. are two of my favorites right now.

Do you still intend on performing as an individual & putting out new music amidst everything?


I’ve actually been making more music than ever before and I’m always trying to get tracks signed for vinyl release. I’ll be playing live sets and DJing whenever an opportunity comes around that feels right.

FOCUS with DJ ALI BERGER :: Saturday, June 21 @ the Lilypad, 1353 Cambridge St., Cambridge MA :: 10 p.m., all-ages, $5 :: Facebook event page ::

Focus Ali Berger