While some folks at the University of Georgia might recognize Tony Chackal from his involvement in the school’s philosophy department, there’s another reason one might have heard his name around Athens. In addition to his teaching and doctoral studies, Chackal plays DJ sets several times a month.
Although Chackal spends time each week at the front of a classroom, his students aren’t the only people he wants to be teaching. Viewing himself as a “cultural steward,” the professor aims to use his DJ sets to expose audiences to new sounds and ideas.
“In some ways, I feel it can be teachy. It can be pedantic, you know?” Chackal says. “You shouldn’t be didactic and lecture necessarily, but introducing people to things – that’s what teaching is.”
To help him better teach his audience, Chackal uses themes to connect the songs in his sets. Love, race and female empowerment are examples of some of Chackal’s recent themes, and a psychedelic set for 4/20 is already in the works.
Chackal’s themes are often intentionally broad, allowing him to play music from a plethora of genres and time periods on any given night. By juxtaposing lots of different styles of music, he hopes to get his audiences thinking about the larger ideas that connect them.
“That must be a sort of representative theme of what human beings are thinking about represented in song, and there’s probably something universal there to think about,” Chackal says.
Another key element of Chackal’s DJing is his dedication to only using vinyl records. A longtime music collector, Chackal says he prefers vinyl because of its unique physical and aesthetic qualities.
“I’d say that I always had a fascination with vinyl records once I discovered that they were there,” Chackal says. “When I was growing up, CDs were the thing.”
While vinyl has have obvious perks like larger album art or extra included goodies, it also provides a physical experience that many consider unmatched by other media. For Chackal, the tangibility of this experience is an important part of his time spent DJing.
“I really want to create a spectacle, and part of that spectacle includes looking at and the visibility of records,” Chackal says.
Aesthetic value isn’t the only reason Chackal is drawn to vinyl, though. Rejecting the modern imperative to centralize music on one device, Chackal uses physical records to connect himself to an ongoing tradition of DJing.
“I think it’s about keeping a certain culture, a certain tradition alive and being connected to that tradition through the physicality of it,” Chackal says. “It’s not necessarily the only way you can stay connected to it, but it’s a very prominent way.”
Chackal currently DJs every other Wednesday night at Hendershot’s Coffee, his mainstay coffee shop since its opening. Because of the laidback, musician-friendly atmosphere of Hendershot’s, Chackal says he has a lot of freedom in what music he wants to play.
“That different atmosphere and the fact that we’re in a college town does enable a certain creative latitude that allows me to do these things,” Chackal says.
Chackal’s sets at Hendershot’s weren’t his first foray into music, though. While attending Georgia State University for his undergrad, Chackal ran The 513 Club in Atlanta, a venue known primarily for its punk shows.
“A lot of the kids that were like punks back in my day, some of them are still around and now they’re business owners which is kind of cool,” Chackal says.
In 2006, he went to Northern Illinois University to get his master’s degree and spent several years DJing around Chicago. Eventually, Chackal decided it was time to get his PhD, and he ended up in Athens to teach and write his dissertation.
In the future, Chackal says he wants to DJ at his own parties in addition to his sets at Hendershot’s. The possibility of a warehouse party seems promising, and Chackal is also exploring the idea of throwing a pop-up event in a public space this summer.
Taking inspiration from the Club Kids of the 1990s, Chackal wants to bring a portable set-up and lots of people to overwhelm a public space with unannounced music and dancing. Although he’s unsure how well this idea would play out in Athens, a pop-up party’s combination of underground and open elements is definitely something that’s grabbed Chackal’s attention.
“I think that would be really interesting and kind of spontaneous, and I would almost look at it as a sort of instance of performative street art,” Chackal says.
Those interested in hearing Chackal’s DJing will get their next opportunity at Hendershot’s March 30, when he’ll be spinning another ladies night set in honor of Women’s History Month. The event is free and set to start at 8:00.