"It sounds pretty dirty, right?" jokes James Ramirez, the turntable maestro otherwise known as Sneeky Long. Chatting with Ramirez in front of the Tower Theatre, I ask how he chose his handle. "It's a golf term; I saw it on a golf magazine at my dad's house," he says. "Also, I'm a really huge fan of the band Steely Dan, and I wanted a name that had that kind of ring to it." Like Steely Dan, the name is a dick-joke meant to elicit tongue-in-cheek chuckles.
Ramirez DJs for weddings, clubs and bars—and himself, creating captivating live mixes in his living room. Music is his greatest passion, but he also has a great love for film (he's worked at the Tower for 10 years), books (especially the works of Cormac McCarthy), graphic design and food. "I'm definitely a foodie. My favorite dish to make is paella." That's a Spanish dish filled with near-everything; for those interested, he suggests a visit to local restaurant Del Mar al Lago for a good, authentic paella. "But first and foremost [my interests] are music and collecting music."
He says a birthday gift from his cousin Mike on Ramirez' 8th birthday—It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy—"changed my life." Ramirez went on to cultivate large a cassette collection, then a CD library. Naturally, the DJ found his way to vinyl, compiling a vast archive encompassing hip-hop and punk records from RUN-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys, Bad Brains, Circle Jerks and Black Flag. His understanding of record sampling led him to branch out into collecting jazz, soul, reggae, funk and electronic records.
Straight out of high school, Ramirez got his first pair of turntables and started DJing. With a little help from a fake ID, Ramirez booked gigs at some 21-and-up clubs around Salt Lake City. After a few years, he obtained a valid ID and began his first residencies. "I really cut my teeth DJing at Kristauf's and the Hookah Lounge," he says. Both establishments, now defunct, gave him the experience he needed to pursue his passion full-time.
Originally a hip-hop DJ, Ramirez began to diversify his live sets, including more mainstream music, which led to his current residency at Twist. In addition, he proudly gestures to his shirt and mentions his affinity for the Caviar Club, which takes place at Bar X on Monday nights. "Caviar Club is a DJ collective of like-minded record collectors," Ramirez says. "We all bring vinyl and play records; Chaseone2, DJ Finale Grand, DJ Godina, DJ Feral Cat, Black Vinyl, Fisch Loops—there's a lot of us."
Ramirez is pragmatic about the digital vs. tangible divide: "You will be a well-rounded DJ if you are familiar with both." He often uses Serato DJ software for his sets, but returns to vinyl whenever possible—drawing from his eclectic (and often bizarre) collection, which spans soul, psych-rock, Tropicália, Afrobeat, Polish jazz, Nigerian rock, Italian library music and other genres. He likes to work hipper artists like Gal Costa, Arthur Verocai, Gil Scott-Heron, Madlib, Can, Thelonious Monk, Serge Gainsbourg and De La Soul into his sets as much as possible, slipping their deep cuts in between pop songs by Rihanna, Drake and Bieber.
Earlier this year, Ramirez won City Weekly's Best of Utah Music for Best DJ, Open Format—an award that afforded him the opener spot for BADBADNOTGOOD and Diplo's at Thursday's Twilight Concert. "It's an honor," Ramirez says, "and it will be really cool to play with those people." He plans a set that seamlessly combines his desires and the audience's needs, while maintaining a sonic continuity with the other artists. "I hope that people will be pleasantly surprised by what I do."
As a last word, Ramirez wants to encourage record collectors of all tastes and knowledge levels to shop local. "If you are gonna buy an album, please don't buy it online if you can get it in Salt Lake. Without independent record stores, our city [wouldn't be the same]."