Originally appeared in The Coldest Issue # 1

Hipshaker, now in its 20th year, is a monthly soul night in Minneapolis, MN. Spinning a variety of rare 45s, including gems from the overlooked Twin Cities scene of the 1960s-1970s, DJs Brian Engel, Greg Waletski, and George Rodriguez have planted a flag for this music and held onto it for two decades. They’ve continued to pack dance floors and introduced the music to a new, younger audience. Along the way, they’ve joined forces with Hot Pants, once started as a rival to Hipshaker, and contributed to re-releases of some of the music they’ve held a spotlight on over the years,

Back in March 2022, I had the chance to talk to Brian Engel about Hipshaker.

How did Hipshaker first start and what was the first venue you spun at?

Greg Waletski and I met a few months before Hipshaker started. We also were friends with Ron Wade. We all met because we were collecting Soul and Funk records. Ron and Greg got us a weekly spot (every Wednesday) at Jitters on E. Hennepin and we just kept doing it! Slowly and surely people started coming to dance every Wednesday until Jitters up and closed down. Ron had quit the thing and so Greg and I went out looking for a new home and we stopped at Kitty Cat Klub to check the place out and were introduced to the boss Tom through Matty Shindler that night and Tom then and there agreed to let us try Hipshaker out at Kitty Cat Klub.

When Hipshaker started were there any other regular soul nights in the Twin Cities? 

Only thing in Twin Cities we knew about then as a “Soul night” was Marc Mueller’s long running night, “Sussed,” at Britt’s Pub, where I think Greg and I first really met each other.

Lots of older musical formats have come roaring back in the past 20 years. The LP, 45s, even cassettes. Were many DJs spinning strictly vinyl or 45s in the Twin Cities when you started?

I’m not sure when things like Serato really caught on, but yeah, all the DJs I knew used vinyl records or CDs. I brought 78s out a few times!

I read in an Okayplayer article that you got into soul through hip-hop samples. Same here. I remember thinking that I couldn’t truly appreciate sample based hip-hop without appreciating the source material. Do you remember any specific hip-hop songs that piqued your interest in their samples?

I’d add that television/movie soundtracks played a roll in my experience getting to know the 60s music and vibes. My first Hip-Hop love/fascination was Run D.M.C. and Beastie Boys. Basically all Rap in the 90s was sample-based. De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest stuff was awesome to me.

Do you still follow any contemporary hip-hop and spot samples of obscure stuff you’ve been familiar with through your love of soul?

I do buy lots of new new music on vinyl that isn’t necessarily Hip-Hop. I’m very interested in how R&B, Soul, Funk, Disco, House and Rap music are continuing to evolve today. The funky albums I’m loving these days fall under R&B or even Electronica labels. I love Solange, Ella Mai, Yuna, The Internet, Kendrick Lamarr, DJ Taye and his scene. I have a 17 year old son who loves music and keeps me hip to new new Rap. I learn a lot from my son and his homies.

I believe you had a role in contributing to the excellent 2012 ‘Twin Cities Funk & Soul’ compilation? Could you describe your contributions and how you became involved?

2012 compilation Hipshaker made contributions to, released on Secret Stash Records

We got to know the people who worked on that album because us Hipshaker/Hotpants dudes were all voraciously collecting local Soul records, learning about the musicians and the scene in Twin Cities over the years. We had all the records and already had relationships with several of those musicians who made that scene and the records.

Have you noticed any changes in the crowd that attends Hipshaker?

The most noticeable change on the Hipshaker dance floor is there are always young people dancing out there! Which means, after 20 years, the younger people still love this music and how it makes us feel. There are a handful of people still partying with us from the initial years, but marriage and kids and graduating school and stuff like that slow people’s partying down. People move away. But yeah, much of the crowd remains in their 20s and 30s.

I understand that Hot Pants was created by Benjamin Mena separate from Hipshaker, but eventually you guys partnered up. How did this end up happening?

Hotpants was started by Justin (Rambo) Salinas, Ben Carey, Ben Mena and Dale Burback. They let me join them early on. Rambo moved to Texas, Dale got into other things, and Ben Mena and I kept doing Hotpants parties for several years. The pandemic has left HP on hold for now. Mena owns a couple vintage shops and is busy with that.

Hipshaker, Kitty Cat Club, September 2015

Have you had a chance to meet any of the Twin Cities soul artists whose records you spin? 

Yes, many. Our fairy Godmother is Wanda (Davis) Reilly. I had some good times talking with Solomon Hughes of Haze. I’ve been hanging out playing drums at Blues jams around town for about 9 years and have gotten to know a bunch of musicians who’ve been around for decades. I see Jellybean Johnson (The Time) out shredding his guitar weekly. My main drum mentor, Allen Kirk, goes way back to some serious Chicago roots.

What did they think about their records being played in a club so many years later?

Generally, every musician we’ve met thought it was interesting and cool that people collect, love and spin their old records and that crowds of young people continue loving to dance to their music. Who wouldn’t? But yeah, beautiful people who appreciate being admired and loved through some music they made. Hearing Maurice Mckinnies’ records blasting on a good sound system at the club is awesome every time and never gets old!

So much obscure or forgotten soul has been reissued by labels such as Numero, Kent, Soul Jazz, etc in the past two decades. Do you feel like you’ve dug into everything that’s out there or are you still stumbling upon and discovering soul you were unfamiliar with?

I don’t keep up with all of that as I should. I’ve been into new-new music more than reissues of the old stuff. I have all I need of that stuff. I pick up some stuff, but I’m enjoying what the younger people are creating these days

Q: Lastly, Hipshaker has been going on for 20 years. Did you ever think this would still be going and how long do you hope it keeps going?

Hipshaker, Kitty Cat Club, August 2014

I think our only plan was to just keep doing Hipshaker as long as we wanted to. And we still love it. And people keep showing up to dance and relax or let their hair down a few hours, so I think we “plan” to keep going long as we can. We’re in our 40s and 50s now! (WTF?!) A few weeks ago, I picked up Greg for Hipshaker and as we drove we talked about the 20th anniversary this summer and the younger record collectors/DJs I’ve been getting to know, and that it would be cool for us to retire and turn Hipshaker over to them to keep going. We liked the idea that some day Minneapolis would celebrate the 100th anniversary of Hipshaker. Hipshaker is about the music and the messages in Soul music, about feeling good. This music is strong medicine.

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