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Downloaded and Ready to Rock

Cafe Saint-Ex doesn't host the only iPod DJ night -- add the Hi Hat Lounge & Garage on the East Side of Milwaukee, APT in New York City's meatpacking district and Tonic Room in Chicago's Lincoln Park area, among others, to the growing list.

You can catch this kind of party across the Atlantic, too. Charlie Gower, an event promoter, has so far helped organize more than 25 iPod DJ nights in London since July 2003. Over there they're called "noWax" (meaning "no vinyl") nights.


Evan Zimmerman, left, and Anna Koeckeritz at Cafe Saint-Ex iPod night. (Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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"It's a democratic thing, really," Gower, via phone from London, says of noWax nights. The 28-year-old co-founded noWax.co.uk and works as a recruiter for Sense Worldwide, a research company. "What's true in every case of the iPod DJ party or noWax night -- different clubs do it different ways -- is that everybody who comes to the club loves to play to the crowd," continues Gower, who checked out the iPod DJ night at New York's APT last year. "Just like what Andy Warhol said, they love their 15 minutes of fame."

Or, more specifically, 12 minutes of fame, which is what you're given at iPod Jukebox. It's currently so busy that no repeats, meaning DJs going for a second showcase, are allowed.

Natalya Minkovsky (aka Seeking Irony) and Melissa Gilmore (aka Weird Curves) are iPod Jukebox regulars. They've been coming since October, usually staying until 12:30 a.m. "We've got 9-to-5 jobs," they say. "We can't stay until last call." Minkovsky, a 25-year-old marketing writer, got her iPod as a birthday present. (Tonya, her mom, knitted her an iPod cozy.) Gilmore, a 29-year-old grants manager, got her iPod in April 2004. It's 10:45 p.m. and they're waiting for their turns, drinking greyhounds (vodka and grapefruit juice).

Minkovsky likes to play indie pop. Gilmore, too. "But it's electronica tonight," says Gilmore. "I think it's great that individuals represent themselves for 12 minutes," she continues. "I picked my playlist before I left. Something silly. One night I played a song about cheese."

Why?

"Because I'm addicted to cheese." (The song, Gilmore says later, is "Addicted to Cheese" by the Evaporators.)

Michael Benson, the owner of Cafe Saint-Ex, has an iPod with close to 7,000 songs in it. "If you're a big music fan, you're limited to satellite radio and the Internet to find out what's new out there, what's cutting-edge music," says Benson, 38. The playlists from previous Jukebox nights are nothing like the top 100 Billboard singles or the top 100 downloads on iTunes.

"In a night like tonight, someone could be playing something and someone could come in and say, 'Hey, where'd you get that from?' There's an incredible diversity, from twang country to trip-hop" -- psychedelic hip-hop -- "and one of the things you notice about iPod night is a lot of people take notes of the music that's being played."

Jeff Wotowiec, standing at the other end of the bar, is taking notes.

Wotowiec is visibly nervous -- he isn't sure if his type of music would fit in. "So far, it's all been dance music," says the 26-year-old graphic designer from Arlington. He wants to play "some country," "some movie quotes" -- dialogue from "Tommy Boy" or "So I Married an Axe Murderer." But, he asks, "what if no one likes it?"

Sure, there's an intimate feel to the lounge, a friendly, down-to-earth vibe. Still, there's always someone like Paul Straka who sneers upon hearing "Pieces of Me," not Ashlee Simpson's, but the cut from the local go-go band Rare Essence.

"Listen to this awful, awful music," says the 28-year-old computer programmer from Manhattan who's in town visiting friends. Just because it's iPod night doesn't mean the music is going to be any good, he says.

Wotowiec decides tonight is not the night for his iPod debut. So a few hours after arriving at the lounge, fresh from evening Mass, Wotowiec makes two vows: to come back next month, and to come back with "better stuff."

"Next time, I'm gonna come back with more edgy stuff: You know, one hard-core country song, one hard-core metal song, one really, really, really dark techno song. Maybe a movie clip. Next time, when I come back, I'll be prepared, I'll be myself."


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