DJ Ferny prefers to go manual

Heartfelt '80s music at TJ's Privee Lounge

DJ Ferny under the lights
  • DJ Ferny under the lights

Green light glows off the stippled white exterior of Priveé Lounge Bar, perched above the Plaza San Angel on Tijuana’s Avenida Sonora. (Just off Boulevard Agua Caliente before the Club Campestre.) Inside is white as well, but smooth; no color or texture competes with the rainbow array of swiveling spotlights or the thumping beat they serve to illustrate.

DJ Ferny is presiding tonight (as he does every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday); when he started out, he was another DJ’s light jockey. “The DJ responds to the room, and the light jockey responds to the DJ. There’s an automatic setting, but I preferred to go manual.”

Ferny is the DJ now, but he still eschews the automatic setting. “I never come with something in mind. I’m always looking at the people. You have to be able to make them sit down and start drinking, make them get up and dance, jump, cry…” He plays with feelings, but he also plays “with feeling.”

At the moment, that means his own dance remixes of ’80s hits — the sort you hear on Ferny’s 12˝ Mix Show (Saturday nights at seven, 98.9 MOR FM). The Mix Show is why I’m here: I want to meet the man who can put an electronic throb under Johnny Marr’s jangling guitar on a deep-cut Smiths tune and make it work. (The show has been providing “access to the past” for seven years; Ferny’s Priveé gig is a more recent development.)

“Josie’s on a vacation far away…” keens the Outfield’s Tony Lewis at the opening of “Your Love,” the beat in my chest trumping the thud of my heart.

“The thing I like about ’80s music is that it tells a story,” says Ferny. “You feel it in your heart, not in a romantic way, but in a human way. It’s music that lasts. The kids now always want new songs. There can be a song from Pitbull out this week, and if it’s on the radio two weeks from now, my kids will say, ‘This is old.’ But this — 

“At first I was afraid, I was petrified,” Gloria Gaynor belts at the start of “I Will Survive.”

“— this is never old. Listen to those violins. It’s not all made on a computer.” Just the part he added, the part that transforms it from a disco classic to a modern club song. “I try to remember what people used to feel like when they heard a song…

“Caribbean Queen, now we’re sharing the same dream…” cries Billy Ocean

“…maybe their first girlfriend, their first kiss. I start adding beats, play with the tempo, other elements” — even instrumentation. “I try not to destroy the song, to respect it. It takes two or three hours for each one.”

“You’ve got to work to succeed,” proclaims Yes on “Owner of a Lonely Heart”

Ferny remembers growing up with “91X, Q106, and obviously, 101. All my life, I liked the music. I had a little turntable, and I started with breakdancing.” The pro-DJ work started in ’95, “always in clubs. I’m 45 now. I know only one other DJ in Tijuana who’s lasted that long. I have to get up at seven for my day-job, and sometimes I don’t leave the club until 4 a.m. But I do this because I love it. I catch up on sleep on Sunday.”

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