From snowy Denver the heat of the Arizona desert hit me as I walked from the airport terminal. I walked out into the of the air conditioned airport terminal and my hat and scarf were useless. I sat on a wall as businessmen reunited with their families and tired arguing families piled oversize luggage into taxis. I didn’t have room for all my warm cloths in my back. I left a couple of tee shirts on a bench to save space and headed into town.
My hosts for the first night were Bran and her husband Ron. For two days before they’d both been in Vegas. The couple were keen fans of drum and bass and they had come from a RAM records show two nights before. When I landed they were still a few hours away. I set out on a bus to explore Phoenix.
Striking mountains rose up from the desert plane. The city blocks expanded in all directs right to the horizon. The solid buildings only split by the indian reservations. Land “given” to native americans when their original home land became valuable to the settlers.
The meeting point was set. As I turned the block a ten foot Liverpool football club flag greeted me. As I got closer I could hear chanting getting louder and louder. Inside the pub decor reminded me of an explosion in a tourist gift show in Leicester Square. Complete with bad paintings of Sir Winston Churchill and every royal. The back rooms were full of drunk football fans. Just group I spend most of my time in London attempting to avoid.
Bran and Ron arrived soon after. Greeting like out friends we attempted to make conversation sit inside. I tried to ask about Las Vegas and what they’d had for breakfast but each time a cheer would erupt and drown out the conversation. Moving outside we had just sat down when “You’ll Never Walk Alone” blared form tinny speakers. A tradition we learnt when Liverpool won was to play this particular track. We sat mouths closed until we could finally talk in peace.
We drove from Phoenix out to the Mesa district. After food at an local taco place just around from it was time for bed. Bran and Ron had to work and recover from their trip. In two days the whole Arizona Drum and Bass collective was going to converge on Bran’s place. In the mean time another Chew user was driving across the state to look after me for the night.
We met Eric in a petrol station beside the main motorway of the highway north of Mesa. I stepped from Brans card and approached the white Ford truck to meet my new host for the next day. The exchange was brief and we were on our way.
Three hours north of Phoenix we were still driving. Eric’s story had me engrossed the entire journey. For the last decade he had been repairing weather radar for the national weather service. The equivalent of the Met Office in England. Now he was applying his skills to the forest service. For the whole drive we talked about the crazy challenges he face coordination forest service on the ground with fire fighting planes in the sky.
Eric, and his partner Stephanie called Chino Valley home. As small towns go this is was one small town.
Eric and Stephanie’s home stood on a good plot of land with a double garage. Along the street mail boxes for each block stood on a communal frame. The house was full of everything you could collect from the surrounding area. Beautiful dessert rocks like crystal sat on shelves of engineering books. Gold panning equipment sat in one corner.
Relieving myself after the long drive I was a little confused to find the bath tub was full of chicks. Stephanie was building a hutch for them in the garden. Until that was complete the bath was their makeshift home. We ate a hearty meal of stake with champaign for the special occasion. We called it a night early. Eric had plans for me the next day.
In the morning I woke up an hour after first light. Round the side of the house I could hear a rumbling of a small engine. Eric has started up his all terrain vehicle ready to go. The small red cart was road legal and had a complete cab and role cage. Stocking up with food and supplies for the day we set off into of town to top up on petrol alongside huge pickup trucks.
As we left the town behind the first to go was the road surface. From concrete to loose gravel. Next the electricity pylons passed into the distance. Finally we passed the last of the houses heading out into the dessert. As we passed trails and camping spots Eric explained more about the forest. My first question was “Where does the forest start”. The response was, you’re in it. Trees were short and scrub grew up out of the sand between them. The scenery was sparse in comparison to forests in leafy England.
After two full hours of driving we passed only one or two other vehicles. We stopped at the trailhead which lead into an expansive basin. It felt to me like the grand canyon would be but tree lined and with no tourist in sight. From there hiked up over a ridge line. Up and over we descended the steep slope on the other side. As we began to traverse the cliff a large cave came into view. The cave had formed as softer red rock and sand had eroded away below an overhang of much harder material. At the base of the cave a selection of neat little buildings came into view.
Eric explained the buildings dated to 1100AD. They were also the first recorded example of buildings to use air gaps in the walls as insulation. The building should have felt so isolating. So remote from any modern civilisation. To me though they still had a homely felling. We sat and ate lunch looking out over the valley. I wondered what could have been going through the heads of the families that lived in this community. Looking out every day over the valley below. How could they even comprehend my life. Sitting in the courtyard it my world into sharp perspective.
For the return journey the add on speaker system in the car came in real handy. Eric was a real fan of the jump up drum and bass. A sub genre of the already break next BPM genre. Blaring the bass at full volume we drove back at speed over the unmanaged tracks. The tyres skipped and dug into the rock. The harness holding me firm into the seat as the cab rolled over ridges and pivoted around the corners
Back at the house I washed off layers of red dust from every part of my body. There was little time left to hang around before we had to leave to get back to Mesa. The small town streets became bigger towns with more pylons filling the horizon until road gave way to freeway and stop-start traffic.
It’s funny watching DJs play on Chew and then find yourself in their studio. Brans studio was longer and thinner than I had thought. The space had every type of DJ equipment. Monitors mounted on stands or from the ceiling and a subwoofer which packed a punch.
When we arrived DJMOJO had beaten us there. Jose was the other DJ from the collective who had offered me a home in Arizona. I was already sad I couldn’t take him up on the offer. In the back of my mind I couldn’t stop thinking about the panel I had to do at South by South West the next morning and the early flight. I couldn’t let the English reputation down. As an honorary member of the collective I helped drink my fair share of the remaining alcohol from Vegas.
We mixed for thirty minutes each and played into the early hours. The collective showed the full range of styles within drum and bass. So far along the trip they had been the best partiers. Wearing my coveted AZDNB shirt the blurry eyed Bran dropped me off at the airport with a hug.
As I boarded the plane I felt like I’d seen more of Arizona than any other state so far. I’d seen the real history of the country from the reservations to the remote settlement. My hosts had stepped up their hospitality to another level. Not only feeding me and housing me but showing me every aspect of the state. As the plane took off I looked up from my panel notes to watch the dessert below. Red sand gave way to green below me as Arizona gave way to South Texas and Austin.
Ben Bowler is the Co-Founder of Chew, the live streaming community that connects a new generation of DJs, producers and personalities.
Having built his career in music and media companies AEI Media and Vice, he noticed young fans today are no longer passive consumers but content creators as well. Launching Chew in January 2015 the community has exploded internationally in the first year and Ben has received press and industry notice, being awarded the IMS Visionaries award last year. Ben continues to build and expand Chew internationally throughout 2016.