They’re an integral component of your party-going experience at the 5Cs, but their talent is often overlooked on campus. Meet student DJs Andrew Strait PO ’10, Evan Stalker PO ’10 and Kim Katz SC ’10, whose playlists keep our bodies moving and our energy level high. These musical masters shared their personal stories, their musical styles, and some keys to a really great set list. Despite the valuable role they play on campus, though, all three down-played their skill and emphasized their passion for music.
Strait began DJing three years ago after first getting involved with KSPC. His first experience working at a party was less than stellar. “I did a video flow freshman year and it was terrible,” he said. “Just really bad.”
The summer between his freshman and sophomore years, Strait worked as a security guard to save up for two turntables and a mixer. As a sophomore, he started spinning for CCLA parties, and by his junior year he had worked his way up to DJing gallery openings and other small events in LA.
“I like hearing a fresh, new sound,” Strait said, adding that he often plays sets filled with music he’s never listened to before.
Stalker, who began DJing in high school, prefers electro-house and acid-house. He primarily makes use of the same simple tools and synthetic instruments used in 1980s Chicago, where house music was invented. Katz, on the other hand, describes her style as a mix of dubstep, a hip-hop-influenced dance music that originated in the United Kingdom, and fidget house, a specific type of electronic music.
According to Strait, DJing is unquestionably a blend of art and science. He says it would only take about three days to become competent in the technicalities of DJing—how to blend one song into another, how to use the mixer effects, and other essentials. Katz, who just began getting seriously involved in DJing this past year, agreed. “As a beginner, you definitely have to know some basic formulas,” she said.
The art comes in with the choice of playlists and the ability to play off the crowd’s energy. “The art of picking tracks is like choosing the shots in a movie,” Stalker said. Like film editors, DJs have the important role of setting the tone for the night and “framing the total experience.”
Similarly, the transitions can make or break the flow of a dance party. “It takes more of a creative mind to hear a bass line or a riff and recognize that it would sound good with the intro to another song and then blend it smoothly into the next song,” Strait said.
The process of planning set lists varies depending on the event and how much time the DJ has to prepare. Strait DJed last semester’s Harwood Halloween, for which he roughly planned out which tracks he would play in which order. For smaller events, Katz said she would ideally be very familiar with her repertoire of songs and be able to mesh them together into a coherent yet somewhat spontaneous set.
From a DJ’s perspective, the best events are not necessarily the huge, heavily promoted ones, despite the excitement that comes with big crowds. These DJs say the pressure to play popular, crowd-pleasing hits often limits their style. The consensus on their favorite venue is Table Manners, Pomona’s Tuesday-night social affair that usually features electronic and house beats.
“It allows more creative freedom,” Stalker said. “You know a lot of people there and there’s this really friendly, warm vibe.”
All three agreed that DJing requires a different attitude toward music than that of a casual listener. For instance, a DJ might listen to just 15 seconds of a song before deciding to use it in a set, Katz said. Instead of following artists or even listening to whole albums, Strait says DJs scour Internet blogs, follow labels, seek out singles, and stay in touch with other DJs to stay updated on new music.
“DJs interact with music in a totally different way,” Stalker said. But, Katz was quick to point out, “It doesn’t really take away from the fun of the music. It’s just a different way of looking at it.”
Though DJing may seem like a solitary experience—playing music while everyone else is on the dance floor—Strait, Stalker, and Katz say that the experience is actually very social. Katz believes it’s a great way to get to know people. She is interested in the social networking aspect and plans to stay involved in the DJ scene in LA after graduation. Though none of the three are music majors, they all plan to make their passion for DJing part of their futures—whether it means DJing at occasional events (Strait hopes to find gigs in London, where he will be studying next year), or simply sharing and playing music with friends.