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The St. Louis Bosnian community is clustered in south city but stretches all over the metro area. Culturally, it reaches even farther, absorbing transplants from its much bigger geographic neighbor, Russia, and the other former Soviet satellites.
One of those transplants is 22-year-old Georgian Anton Mikhlin, a.k.a. DJ Sky. Mikhlin recently finished a residency at the fiery-hot Bosnian-centric Aquarius Club (wedged next to a 7-Eleven in a strip mall just off of Kingshighway), where on the weekends 300-plus squeeze first into their tightest outfits and then onto the kaleidoscope-lit dance floor.
Mikhlin's booty-rawkin' beats are a curious mix of Russian, Bosnian and French pop-techno, in that order. Crowd favorites include Russian pop/dance bands such as Russkiy Razmer, Ruki Vverh and tATu. "Every single Russian person knows of those three," Mikhlin says, including the Bosnian partiers in that group. Establishing a get-up party vibe is his main goal, and the Eastern Europeans who come out to hear him -- many in their finest duds for the social highlight of their week -- take their Euro-pop very seriously.
And Mikhlin does as well. At Aquarius he spun CDs, something that he acknowledges might not fly with the snobs. In fact, it wouldn't normally fly with him. "I have plenty of records," he says, exhaling smoke from a La Corona Whiffs cigar. "But they only have a setup for CDs." He absolutely won't stand for DJs who work the crowd on their iMacs, however. "That's not spinning," he says. "It's too easy. My wife could make music on computers."
To build his arsenal, Mikhlin downloads lots of tracks from Kazaa, and he also has friends bring back import collections when they travel abroad. He likes the beats of the Russian songs but complains when they incorporate sound bites in English -- as they inevitably do.
Just love the DJ. Hey!
Just love the music! Hey!
Just love the people. Hey!
Davai Davai Veseley!
That last line can be very roughly translated as "C'mon c'mon party," and the verse is courtesy of the Russian group Akoola. It is one of Mikhlin's signature tracks, but he's not a big fan of the English lyrics. "It sounds so gay," he comments, meaning, in non-politically correct Eastern European parlance, cheesy. "Russian people like the way it sounds, but for people like me who know what the lyrics mean it sounds gay." But, he says, in playing for the crowd he's willing to hand out some junk that causes trunks to be shunk. Er, shaken. In general, his music is faster and less hook-based than a St. Louis born-and-bred crowd would probably stand for.
As DJ Sky, Mikhlin is trying to get his career off the ground, but it hasn't quite happened yet. The hard-scrabbling jack-of-all-trades spruces up properties for resale and fixes cars in his garage in Fenton during the day, and he also designed his own DJ Sky Web site, www.eurosky.8m.com (and he'll do yours, too, for the right price).
Mikhlin grew up in Batumi, an oil-refinery town of around 100,000 on the Black Sea. His mother and father were divorced by the time he was one, and Mikhlin's mother supported him and his brother as a tailor. The three came to St. Louis twelve years ago, and Anton's mother and brother now work for the Men's Wearhouse. More recently arrived is Mikhlin's wife, Sophia, a native Siberian. She favors short hair and heavy eyebrow makeup, and the couple is expecting their first child in late December.
As perhaps could be expected of a DJ arriving in a distant city where he knows no one (not to mention a city without a strong club scene), Mikhlin says he doesn't really consider himself part of any larger musical community. His uncle, a 29-year-old Olivette resident who calls himself Vital-G, is the closest thing he has to a support system.
"I'll call him for advice or if I need to borrow any equipment, but he's more of a rave DJ; he plays psychedelic trance," says Mikhlin. In fact, he will hardly admit to being influenced by the music of others.
"I like PPK, a Russian DJ, and I like Moby, but they're not my idols or anything. I kind of grew out of idols," he says. "I had some when I was younger, but I can't remember who they were."
Or maybe he just can't remember how to say their names in English. As his linguistic blender of a brain churns the Georgian he spoke as a child, the Russian he speaks with his wife and the English he gabs in with local hoosiers, Mikhlin can be forgiven for not being able to communicate his musical influences in the twelve-word sound bites preferred by the alternative press. A more relevant question is which languages he's going to teach his kid.
"Russian...English," says Mikhlin, pausing as if considering whether Cantonese, Malayalam and Hungarian are also going to be part of the mix. He covers the mouthpiece, talks to Sophia briefly and then says he's got to get off the phone. For a young man with numerous day jobs, a very pregnant wife and a weekend gig rocking bodies, there's little time to talk, in any language.