Chris Holmes' Freewheeling DJ Sets Make Nightswim the Coolest Pool Party in Town
Partiers at Nightswim at the Standard Downtown
Facebook isn’t just for sexy selfies, political spats or overused memes. Sometimes it really can do incredible things, such as exposing injustice, righting wrongs — and, in the case of producer/promoter/DJ Chris Holmes, helping catch thieves.
A couple of weeks ago, Holmes’ laptop was brazenly stolen from the DJ booth at his current Wednesday night party Nightswim at the Standard Downtown. Fortunately, the hotel had a ton of footage of the thieves, Nightswim’s party photographer found closeups of the three young men responsible, and Holmes’ wife connected the images with the event’s RSVP guest list. Thanks to zealous sharing of this detective work on Facebook, Holmes got back his laptop, which contains his epic music library and other irreplaceable work files and projects, less than 12 hours later.
“By the time I got home from Nightswim, it had been shared hundreds of times," he says. "My friend Annaliese Nielsen and a bunch of her friends scoured Facebook and the internet. By 9 a.m. it had been shared thousands of times. By the time I went down to the police department, people had gotten in touch with the family of one of the guys, and by the time I got home from the police station, one of the friends of the main thief had contacted me on Facebook asking how he could get my computer back to me.”
The power of Holmes' network is not surprising. He has been promoting and DJing hot L.A. parties for 13 years now. He’s also a seasoned music producer, and he currently tours the world as the opening DJ for none other than Paul McCartney.
Chris Holmes and his wife, Melinda Lee Holm
Coming up in the Chicago club scene, Holmes did live performances in the ambient rooms with Derrick Carter and Mark Farina, and was program director at his college radio station. He started to DJ out at clubs after remixing and producing with Felix Da Housecat in Chicago in the ’90s, and since moving to L.A. in 2003 he’s garnered dozens of residencies, from Bronson Bar with Adam 12, Sean Patrick and Zach Rosencrantz to the opening of Teddy’s at the Roosevelt.
For the past 12 years, he’s hosted and DJed the city’s splashiest bash, Nightswim, which until last year took place at the Roosevelt. With entertainment industry maven Amanda Demme at the reins, both the Roosevelt’s Tropicana Bar and Teddy’s became coveted, celebrity-driven havens when they opened, but Nightswim gave the place a hip-kid cred as well.
Thanks to the connections of Holmes and his partners, David Heath and David Schneider, Nightswim’s scene was always stylish but never too scene-y. After Heath and Schneider moved on, promoters Zach Cowie and Daniel Terndrup came in and, according to Holmes, the party hit its groove. Three years ago, Allie Teilz and Nina Tarr joined Holmes as resident DJs, and it’s been the go-to poolside promo ever since.
This year, the team gave Nightswim a huge refresh, moving to the Standard. Holmes and current partners Jeremy Burke (Loud Village) and Dan Keyes have been booking great DJs to guest-spin, too, including L.A. faves Them Jeans and Yung Skeeter (Katy Perry's former DJ), The Roots' Questlove and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich.
Questlove guest DJs a Nightswim event.
But catching Holmes on the decks has always been the highlight of the gathering — where yes, people do actually swim, either in bathing suits or, if the urge and alcohol moves them, with their clothes on (or sometimes off). It's got a decadent vibe but it's never douchey, and there's often more dancing than diving. Holmes plays a diverse set where almost no genre seems off-limits. Being one of the first DJs to use a laptop with Traktor and Serato, he’s constantly scouring his entire library of music to unearth something old, new or unexpected. Holmes is one of the best examples out there of DJ-as-curator, turning people on to new sounds, songs they haven't heard before and stuff they forgot about.
“A lot of DJs are like stand-up comics and play the same 40 songs every time they spin. I try to play different songs from the 100,000 songs I have on my laptop, to keep myself and the dance floor from getting bored,” he explains. “I like to combine everything — punk, old-school hip-hop, disco, psych-rock — with newer dance music. Most of the time I'm DJing for other DJs and producers that don't want to hear the same 'DJ music' again and again."
His all-encompassing style and skill is what led to him a certain Beatle, too. “I was DJing the In Rainbows Grammy party for Radiohead, and Paul McCartney came out and danced all night,” Holmes recalls. “Nigel Godrich had produced a record for Sir Paul and was friends with him. So the next day McCartney called Nigel for my phone number and then asked me to open for him for his headlining show at Coachella in 2009. I've been on the tour with him and played every show since mid-2011.”
Though Holmes' club sets tend to be vast and obsessively varied in scope (“what I'd personally want to hear if I was on the dance floor,” he says), his sets for McCartney are always driven by the music legend’s work. “I remix everything from Beatles and Wings covers to making original remixes of Beatles and McCartney catalog,” he says. “I try to find rare stuff that fans might not have heard before. I also like to find rad gems that I know the band and Paul will love. It's pretty amazing to play Beatles and McCartney catalog to McCartney fans. There is so much love and joy in the stadiums and arenas.”
The club scene is a different animal since Holmes moved to L.A. more than a dozen years ago, and he's had a hand in helping change it for the better. “When I moved to L.A., almost every club played hip-hop. I tried to create situations where I could play everything from The Stooges to LCD Soundsystem, too."
In the spirit of loving great music, Holmes formed The Embassy with DJ Ana Calderon about five years ago. The group is a DJ collective including everyone from Brie Larson, Questlove, Godrich, Thom Yorke and Win Butler to high school history teachers and friends obsessive about sharing music with the masses. Over the last couple years, The Embassy has partnered with a new group called Artists for Artists, a creative agency and event production company run by Mack Sennett Studios owner Jesse Rogg. “It's been amazing collaborating with Jesse and the Mack Sennett team,” Holmes says. “Every year we do everything from host, produce and DJ Oscar and Grammy parties, to movie premieres and record releases. It's like a League of Justice for people who love good music.”
Good music clearly brings everyone together. Nielson, one of the friends who helped spread the word when Holmes' laptop was stolen, now co-hosts Cherry Bomb, a similar pool-party night at Tropicana on Thursday, along with some of Holmes’ old cohorts including Adam 12. Though the parties are technically competing with one another (albeit on different nights), no one appears to view it that way.
L.A. summers seem endless, so even as fall approaches, there are still plenty of hot, music-fueled nights to celebrate poolside — many with DJs who, like Holmes, aren't afraid to dive deep in their quest to provide the perfect party soundtrack.
"I fucking hate Top 40 bottle-service clubs where DJs play the same bullshit Vegas sets every night. Life is too short to ever have to listen to EDM, Pitbull and Drake on repeat," Holmes says. "I try my best to play great music for people who love great music. Everything else is just people trying to get laid.”
Nightswim is every Wednesday on the rooftop of the Standard Downtown. More info.
Los Angeles native Lina Lecaro has been covering L.A. nightlife since she started as a teen intern at L.A. Weekly (fake ID in tow) nearly two decades ago. She went on to write her own column, "Nightranger," for the print edition of the Weekly for six years. Read her "Lina in L.A." interviews for the latest nightlife news, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
More from Lina Lecaro:
Goths, Galleries and Gentrification: The Year in L.A. Nightlife
Everyone From L7 to Nirvana (Yes, That Nirvana) Played '90s DIY Venue Jabberjaw
A Q&A With Gun N' Roses' Duff McKagan
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