When the Lakers play at Staples Center, Jeremy Roueche will be there well before you are. By the time the doors open and the fans head towards their seats, he's playing the tunes to get you pumped for the game. During the game itself, he drops the current hits and classic jock jams during time outs and halftime. DJ Roueche, as he's known, keeps the party going on and off the court.
Roueche plays clubs and parties like a lot of other DJs — he even produces tracks as part of local duo The Suicide Doors — but what makes his career behind the decks unusual is that he's primarily a sports DJ. He estimates that about 70 percent of his business comes from athletic events. He DJs for AVP beach volleyball and UCLA basketball and previously brought music to the beach volleyball games at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
This year marks Roueche's second season with the Lakers. Prior to that, he played music for the Clippers. “I can't get out of sports now even if I wanted to,” he says.
Roueche is a longtime sports fan; he played basketball as a teenager and was going to beach volleyball games before he started DJing professional events. When he first started DJing as a teenager in Virginia in the 1990s, he had no idea that those interests would converge. That happened long after he moved to Los Angeles, after a layoff prompted him to DJ full-time and a run-in with a former co-worker led to his start with the pro beach volleyball tour in 2003.
When we met at a Culver City coffee spot in late September, Roueche was on a brief break between sports gigs. Beach volleyball season ended early that month and the Lakers preseason was still more than a week away. Roueche, who had just returned from his honeymoon, was still going through the latest music to figure out what might make it into his “Lakeshow.” He'll need music to build energy in the first quarter and songs to match the peak intensity of the fourth.
“If you watch us at a game, it looks easy because we're just kind of standing there,” he says. For Lakers basketball, Roueche isn't constantly in the mix. He plays at specific moments and shares hype duties with the team's organist, Joel Jacboson. Usually, it's the organist you hear when the game is going. Roueche tends to take over during the timeouts. While the players are in motion, Roueche has to prepare himself for lots of different scenarios. The song he selects when the opposing team calls a time out probably won't be the same one you hear if a Laker player gets injured.
“When somebody gets hurt
“You have to have all that stuff ready to go pretty quickly,” he says. It keeps the DJ on his toes. “I like the challenge of being prepared for all that stuff, but also challenging myself to come up with new ideas for those situations. When somebody gets hurt, you don't want it to be dead quiet in there, but you don't want to play a song that's trying to fire people up. It doesn't make sense for that situation.”
Then there's the TV timeout, when he has to keep the crowd from looking bored as the cameras flash upon them after coming out of commercial. That's when Roueche has to play the big hits. “Bust out Zombie Nation and 'Sandstorm,'” he says.
He's talking about those inescapable hits of the athletics world: “Kernkraft 400” by Zombie Nation and “Sandstorm” by Darude, two monumental pieces of dance music that are probably now more closely associated with sports fans than club kids. The former is a late '90s techno track derived from music from the '80s video game Lazy Jones. In its remixed form, “Kernkraft 400” became a massive chant-and-clap-along anthem. The latter is a turn-of-the-21st century trance hit that has, in recent years, become fodder for memes. The synths race through the song and crash only to rise again. It sounds like the heart-racing, towel-biting climax of a game.
Sporting music may change with the seasons, but there are some hits that remain year after year. “Eye of the Tiger” is an obvious one; “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” by Lenny Kravitz is another. Then there are the songs that unexpectedly became arena mega-hits, like “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes. “That riff,” Roueche remarks. “People get fired up about it.” More recently, Roueche has turned to an edit of “Rattle” by Bingo Players that incorporates the “Seven Nation Army” riff.
Just as playing at a bar isn't the same as playing in a dance club, DJing for volleyball isn't the same as DJing for basketball. Few people know that as well as Roueche does.
“Volleyball is a completely different animal from any other sport,” he says. While Roueche only plays home games for the Lakers, he heads out on the road for beach volleyball from late spring until the end of summer. For these events, he DJs for 8 to 10 hours at a time, keeping the music going even while the matches are in play. It's more like a marathon DJ set at a club, where he has to dig a little deeper into his collection to build and sustain energy. He likes to play dancehall, “stuff that has a good beach-y vibe,” along with some of the more pop-minded hits. This season, Fitz and the Tantrums' 2016 song “Handclap” and “Wish I Knew You” by The Revivalists were big. So was “all the new Kendrick Lamar stuff.”
But some things don't change no matter where you're DJing. Roueche gets his fair share of requests, usually through social media. The hard thing to explain, he says, is that a good song might not be the appropriate song for the event. Being a good sports DJ isn't just about reading the crowd — it's about being able to read the game, too.
You can hear DJ Roueche spinning hits and jock jams (and maybe a few requests) at the Lakers' home opener against the Clippers at Staples Center on Thursday, Oct. 19.
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