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Hey Mr. DJ

Photo by Larry Hirshowitz

As just another faceless mobile/party DJ doggie around town, I can be found hunkered in the corner of a thousand un-hip restaurants, clubs, hotel lobbies, lounges, ballrooms, parks, gazebos and patios. I’ve also been sighted cowering in the living rooms, the bedrooms — even the damn bathrooms — of some of the least hip private homes in the city, as well as the most beautiful and coveted. Over the past 22 years I’ve sweated shindigs in alleys, basements, parking lots, fashion runways, galleries and a million filthy barrooms, as well as movie premiere and A-list award show after-parties.

I spin in those places where the Global House Nation won’t necessarily go for their fix of seamlessly edited four-on-the-floor, digitally replicated ’70s disco thumps — with the occasional percussion-loop breakdown — fixed at the same BPM setting all night. From penthouse to pavement my job is catering music for parties and special events at varying levels of volume and danceability for a broader spectrum of age and musical ethnicity than what sticking to a single comfy genre will ever allow.

But, even though I’ve sometimes been billed as DJ Shameless or DJ Sleeze, I still won’t do weddings — unless for a dear friend or an ungodly amount of cheddar. Even then, I’ll still try to talk ’em into buying a couple of Rhino ’70s disco comps. You don’t need me. Technology took over. Just get a wedding-mix CD. It’s all the same songs. Never changes. Put what you’d spend on hiring me into the booze budget instead. The lyrics to nearly all my selections are inappropriate for a regular wedding anyway! While I’ll cop to a lot of things, who wants the ultimate cheese stigma of Wedding DJ From Hell in their bio (although I admit I’ve been there to know)?

My favorite places to work are near any bar, dance floor or lavatory, where being able to keep an eye on the side effects of mass intoxication helps to gauge my selections, nearly all of them fueled by the same old-as-the-hills party themes, the Three D’s of Dionysus: drinkin’, dancin’ and druggin’.

Bartenders and waitresses love it that I largely avoid the deep-dish house thing. Once you go there, there’s nowhere else to go for the rest of the night and the bar staff grumble about getting stuck selling water. Anyway, there are already a million cuter DJs in The Global Burning Garage House Nation, and the beautiful young E-puggled sylphs who love them. You won’t catch me flitting off to Barcelona (sour grapes, sour grapes) for the weekend to play a 90-minute set from the same crate I’ve been working for the past six or seven years.

Marvel instead, for instance, as I warm up spinning sleazy porno “jazzanova” by the Northern Californian electronic dance-music collective Basin Gently. Wonder, instead, as I segue into all manner and shape of ’60s, ’70s and ’80s rock & roll as well as the best soul/R&B from the same decades before I roar into punk rock (CBGB artpop, Britpunk, ’77 L.A. punk/OC melodic hardcore, U.K. Oi!). What’s a good segue tune to deliver notice you’re about to utterly destroy the chill-out room? “Let’s Get Fucked Up” by the Cramps.

I do slave to meet strangers halfway between doing my thing and giving ’em what they want, even if “setting the atmosphere” has sometimes recently meant pandering to current Top 40 hip-hop radio or ’80s dance-pop as decreed by KROQ’s flashback radio format and today’s thriving retro bar-club scene. But I’d never spin anything I didn’t truly adore — I just make sure to throw in many less-obvious pop hits mixed with the Paisley Park and other classic ’80s R&B. How low will I go? Sometimes the babes in the crowd will gang up to wear me down into playing Jay-Z and 50 Cent.

And so I pray there’s nobody in the room who knows me personally. I tell myself, You took this job (say, a Justin Timberlake after-party), slut, you knew this was gonna happen. You knew you weren’t walking into some desperately hip NPR/college radio show snickering with cool ironic detachment. You knew you weren’t going to be able to play “Too Many Creeps” by the Bush Tetras and all the artsy post-punk, electro and No Wave funk stuff you jammed with back in ’81-’82 (which has suddenly become au courant again). You knew you wouldn’t be able to do your (guilty pleasure) goth set or the crazy hillbilly-country set. So you make your deal with the lassies: I’ll play 50 Cent, but first, you have to get on the floor and move those pins to my next five joints, then you get 50 Cent, okay? If you can’t get the female faction on the dance floor in an under-30 booty-call crowd, you’ll never get the dudes out there, which basically means you’re rancid pigmeat for the rest of the night.

And it don’t stop. Some of my sets (about 30 different crates, culled from many different eras, genres and sub-genres, especially of dance music, from the 1920s to the present) are mixed and matched according to key and tempo. Sometimes if there’s less or no call for danceability (a background warm-up set before guests/customers get settled into their first few rounds, or a kicked-back lounge/barroom schmooze situation), I go with semi-freeform unrehearsed “selector jams” totally dependent on the vibe of the room as I hear and feel it at the time, with less emphasis on super-tight mixology, but still keeping it upbeat and bumpin’. I much prefer vinyl to CDs, though I’ll work with either or both, depending on the budget and other factors.

There isn’t any one playlist that will work every time (outside the safety of the strictly formatted weekly retro dance clubs), but if you want to try spinning your own party, ask yourself some of the same questions I do when I’m prepping for a gig. Does this crowd really want to get down and dirty? Are they looking for strictly ambient get-drunk lounge music? Do they just want to dance?

Just do me and my colleagues one favor: Do not ask us to play that song for you.


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