The Passion of the Weiss Guide to DJ-ing a Los Angeles Party (No Hipster)
Alex Blagg, one of my favorite bloggers, once wrote an unbelievably hilarious post called "Nobody Cares That You're A DJ," in which he basically called out DJ's for being pretentious, deluded and mostly talentless. It was awesome. But in spite of all the lameness of many DJ's, I've always thought that it looked like a pretty good gig. You get paid substantial sums of money for nothing more than essentially having good taste in music.
Yet being a DJ has other perks: girls generally think you're much cooler than you are (I've heard this from several women whose oninions I highly respect, none named Nicole Richie), you get all sorts of love from the crowd every time you play a half-decent record and did I mention you get paid lots and lots of money for doing very little work (also known as The Passion of the Weiss American dream).
In spite of all the benefits of DJ-ing, I'd never decided to go for it, mainly because it costs way too much time and money. I have other hobbies such as posting vituperative messages on a blog, working on my own creative writings, and balling up Mark Eaton-esque oafs in rec league basketball.
So when my friend Diamond David Gorson approached me to DJ a post Law School Graduation party, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, what says wild times better than a bunch of law students shedding their caps and gowns to cut loose, drink expensive liquor and discuss what day their Bar-Bri courses start on.
Immediately, I knew getting this party off the ground would be tough. First, I didn't have any DJ equipment. At all. Fuck it, I figured. This is the 21st Century, all you need is an iPod and hopefully I'd be able to do what only MC Lyte had done before: Cold Rock a Party.
So doing my best to impersonate a good DJ, I first took my crowd into consideration. This is Los Angeles. Most adults I know that have good taste in music are hipsters and though I like Sufjan Stevens, I'd want to slit my throat if someone put him on at a party. Besides, there would be no hipsters at this party. Strictly Los Angeles folk, a strange amalgam of Law School grads, old high school friends, business moguls-in-training, and talent agency and entertainment assistants. Then there was me, a person whose party demeanor basically takes one of two forms: either I sit in a corner somewhere, intravenously loading my body with Jack and Coke, or I find a bowl of guacamole and chips and generally orbit it for the duration of the affair.
But while making my playlist, I realized the vast sums of time I'd spent drinking myself into a stupor at parties had paid its dividends. I had subliminally absorbed certain various truths necessary to making the roof of any party get on fire. I was certain that I'd hit upon an esoteric mathematics to being a good DJ, one that DJs rarely shared with amaterurs. This one covert fact protected a coven of disc jockeys worldwide: being a good DJ is kind of easy. All I'd need to do was follow a few rules, play a few songs and the next thing I knew I'd be the next DJ AM, being continually showered with love and affection by celebutantes each and every day.
The Passion of the Weiss Guide to DJ'ing A Los Angeles Party (No Hipster)
The Song By the Flavor of the Month Band (Rap Version)
Are you sick of these guys yet? Chances are if you're reading this blog then you definitely are. But you know what? Most people don't read blogs. Shocking, I know. But this means that 97 percent of the population is not sick of hearing songs off of "St. Elsewhere." Meaning that if you play the song "Crazy," chances are people will jump up and down like a bunch of drunken monkeys. Alas, this is an amateur move. Any good DJ would have good taste in music and would seemingly be months ahead of the curve. Any good DJ by now should have been completely tired of hearing Crazy and would probably rather drink a tub of drano than hear it at a party function.
The Pick: "Smiley Faces." Probably the only song off of St. Elsewhere that I can still listen to, this track is not only upbeat and guaranteed to make people happy, but it just might want to make them both bump and grind. I can't back that up.
The Song By the Flavor of the Minute Band (Rock Version)
I don't know if Wolfmother has sold their souls to the devil, but it seems as though I can't go anywhere without seeing their lead singer (the dude with the afro) somewhere. Buses, television commercials, Internet ads. I'm pretty sure that one of these days that fool is going to pop up in my dreams. Hopefully, it will involve me kicking his derivitive ass back to Australia. Jones, I know you're down with this idea.
I'm not sure why Wolfmother is so popular. It's not that they're so bad or anything. It's just that for some reason the band Louis XIV got ripped on for being a complete rip-off of T-Rex, but these guys haven't been hated on nearly enough for being complete White Stripes imposters. The lead singer's voice is identical to Jack White's. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. But the point is, people seem to love Wolfmother and its guaranteed that playing these guys will score you major points in the non-Hipster scene, though you will be labeled "such a conformist east of Vine. Luckily, the party was west. Score.
The Pick: "The Joker and the Thief." I can't deny that I like this song. Just because I don't like a band doesn't mean I can't like some of their songs. I like a few Editors songs too, I just think they're complete knock-offs.
Other Songs Played that Fit This Category: The Arctic Monkeys, "Fake Tales of San Francisco," and "Who the Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys."
That 70s Song
Any good DJ is supposed to have a decent sense of musical history. As 60s music is mostly much too psychadelic and slow to get spinned at a party, the first decade that really made music that you could blow coke to was the 1970s (And as far as I'm concerned the Disco movement should be the greatest anti-cocaine deterrant of all-time)
A lame DJ would play tracks off of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack or something by Donna Summer, or god forbid, Abba.
If you've got to go 1970s, only one choice comes to mind. Marc Bolan and T. Rex. Is there a funkier Jewish man ever? I doubt it. And though "Mambo Sun," or "Jeepster" might be my two favorite T. Rex songs off of the Electric Warrior album, there is only one real party choice.
The Pick: Bang a Gong (Get It On). The band's biggest single, the song is guaranteed to have been heard by most (though prolly because of the 80s cover of it) and it also is guaranteed to make people bang gongs and get it on. This is unequivocally a good thing.
Other Songs Played That Fit This Category: The Stooges "Search And Destroy," Blondie's "Rapture," The Ramones "Blitzkrieg Bop," Bob Marley "Jamming" (just because it makes me think of the weed episode of the Simpsons where Chief Wiggum sings along to Jamming in the closing credits)
That 80s Song
For some reason, people seem to really like 80s music. I'm not sure why. As far as I'm concerned the decade only spawned one truly great band in the Smiths and had several very good ones (The Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Replacements are the first that come to my mind). As for the rest, it would take a good 10,000 words to describe my hate for the 80s.
Fitting that Talking Heads, one of my all-time favorite bands only arrived at success in 1984 after having hit their creative peak in years between 1977-1980. But Speaking In Tongues is still a very good album and if I were going to pick a favorite song off of it, I'd surely go with "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)." But I was trying to be a big-time pretentious DJ, I knew I'd need to pick a sure-fire winner.
The Pick: The Talking Heads "Burning Down The House." Everyone' s heard this song. Until about three years ago this was all I knew of the Talking Heads. Shameful, I know. If you play this song at a party, the house might not in fact burn down, but a bunch of former sorority girls are guaranteed to use the phrase "Oh My God, I love this song," at least three times.
Other Songs Played That Fit This Category: David Bowie "Let's Dance," Jane's Addiction "Been Caught Stealing," The Clash, "Rock The Casbah."
The "If Anyone Recognizes This They Will Hopefully Think That I'm a Good DJ" Song
In 1997, a rather dumb Jon Lovitz movie called "High School High," came and went in theaters without making very much noise. You may recall the commercials that aired involving the song "Rhinestone Cowboy," (I'm sure MF Doom did when he made a song with the same name). However, what most people don't know about High School High is that it had an unbelievably great soundtrack that probably only about 87 people in America purchased. The soundtrack was practically a who's who of late 90s hip-hop with tracks from Pete Rock & The Large Professor, L'il Kim and The Notorious B.I.G., De La Soul, KRS-One, A Tribe Called Quest, Sadat X and Grand Puba, Scarface, Inspectah Deck, and The Roots.
But perhaps my favorite song off the album and the Pick was a Rza, Method Man, Capadonna gem entitled "Wu-Wear: The Garment Renaissance." The song was essentially a four minute commercial for Wu-Tang's brand of clothing, Wu-Wear, but it was maybe the best four minute clothing commercial song ever made. Take notes Jack White. Figuring that anyone who heard this song would inevitably have a pleasant moment of nostalgia that took them back to a simpler and more Jon Lovitz-friendly time, I decided to throw it on the iPod. Even if no one recognized it, I hoped to subliminally inspire a bunch of former law students to wear Wu-Wear.
Other Songs Played That Fit This Category: Beck "Tropicalia," The Avalanches "Since I Left You," Gang Starr, "Dwyck," Souls of Mischief "Cab Fare," Camp Lo "Luchini (This is It), Tha Liks, "Run Wild," The Roots, "Concerto of the Desperado," Slick Rick "Street Talkin," "Soul Position "Hand Me Downs," Chef Raekwon, "Ice Cream," Black Star, "Definition."
The Wild Card Song
The wild card song is the song that in all likelihood no one at a Los Angeles party has heard. You aren't playing the song to make anyone dance or get all happy and dumb. You're basically playing it because you like a band and are hoping that someone might actually go up to you and ask what's playing and might buy the record (or at least illegally download it).
Wild cards are few and far between and should only be employed in great moments of self-indulgency. Luckily, self-indulgence is something I'm well-versed in. I was a natural.
The Pick: Wolf Parade's "Disco Sheets." Wolf Parade's "Disco Sheets." My favorite song off of their EP, Disco Sheets is just a great song and surprisingly very upbeat for Wolf Parade. Even if you aren't a big Wolf Parade fan, this song is worth checking out.
Other Songs Played That Fit This Category: Voxtrot "The Start of Something,"
The Nate Dogg Song
If Wolfmother didn't make a deal with the devil than in all certainty Nate Dogg did. In terms of musicians who who never dropped even one good album, Nate Dogg has definitely been a part of more outstanding songs than anyone. I don't know exactly what it is. His voice isn't particularly excellent. Its not bad or anything, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't think a guy like D'Angelo could technically blow him out of the water. But seriously, if you put Nate Dogg on a song it is almost guaranteed to be a hit. People love Nate Dogg. Hell, I even liked Chico and Coolwadda's "Girl You Make My High Come Down," for a couple of weeks in the summer of 2001 just because of Nate Dogg.
The Pick: "Regulate." Do I even need to explain why I picked Regulate? Is there anyone who doesn't know the start of the song by heart? Is it safe that say that Michael McDonald only existed for this sample alone? Probably. If you didn't like this song when it came out then you may have no soul. It was that good. Sure, it might be a little played out. But you'd be lying to say that after a half a dozen beers you wouldn't at least crack a smile and maybe even rap along when this song came on.
Other Songs Played That Fit This Category: Dr. Dre "Xxplosive."
The "Hey I Remember Liking This Indie Song When They Played it On the OC And/Or a Car Commercial And/Or MTV"
Face it, most people don't find out about songs from the Internet. Sure, a highly educated class of people compulsively surfs blogs, Pitchfork, Stylus and a few other sources to get their musical info, but a hell of a lot of people learn about music from television advertisements and yes, the OC. Think about the audience for this type of programming. Tens of millions of people watch television every single day. How many people look at blogs. A few thousand. How many people read Pitchfork? Maybe 100,000 tops? Nothing compares to television's power to break a band. Sad but true.
However, not all the music that breaks through this way is bad. In this day and age it's tough to criticize a struggling indie musician who wants to feed himself and decides to sell a song for use in a commercial. Its not ideal, but hey, neither is the music industry and anyone who opts for creative control rather than sound scan is numbers is going to have to find a way to pay the bills somehow.
The Pick: Spoon, "I Turn My Camera On," Is this the best Spoon song ever? No. But it's a great song and I guarantee you getting played in a Jaguar commercial gave Britt Daniel and Co. the best exposure they've ever received. Which means that if you play a song like this at a law school graduation party, you'll probably get a whole lot of future lawyers very excited about buying their first Jaguar. Everyone wins. Sort of.
Other Songs Played That Fit This Category: Black Keys, "10:00 A.M. Automatic," Franz Ferdinand "I'm Your Villain/Take Me Out," Bloc Party "Banquet," MIA, "Amazon," (the only great song off of a terrible album), My Morning Jacket "Off the Record," The Walkmen "The Rat," Tom Vek, "I Ain't Saying My Goodbyes," The Strokes "You Only Live Once," (this song being sold is just a matter of time), The White Stripes "7 Nation Army."
The Snoop Dogg Song
If you think you can get away with DJing a party in Los Angeles without playing at least one Snoop Dogg song, you can't. People love Snoop Dogg. Again, I'm not sure why. The man hasn't made a half-way decent album in 12 years but it doesn't matter, people still buy this crap. But in many ways you can separate a good Dj from a bad one by which Snoop Dogg song he picks.
A bad DJ is guaranteed to play "Drop It Like It's Hot," because it's Snoop's most recent hit and it's guaranteed to get people on the dance floor. Such DJs forget one unmistakable fact: this song sucks. I'm sorry but having a guy clucking his tongue in the background does not make a beat. It makes you lazy and untalented. Or it just makes you Pharell Williams who is at the very least just untalented.
A bad DJ is also guaranteed to play "Ain't No Fun If The Homies Can't Have None." While this is an objectively good song, nothing makes me more annoyed than when dumb girls sing along to it, not even paying attention to the lyrics. Seriously, if I have to watch one more sorority girl sing along to Nate Dogg lyrics like, "Because you gave me all your pussy and you even licked my balls," one more time, I'm going to go completely insane.
The Pick: "Doggy Dogg World," off of the Doggystyle album. One of Snoop's best songs ever and one that didn't get too overplayed in the mid-90s. It still sounds great and almost everyone has heard it. A painless way to get over the Snoop Dogg conundrum.
The Dr. Dre Song
Just as you need a Snoop song, you need a Dre song. Its like having bread without butter. Fish without water. Lox without a bagel, tomato, onions and capers. Unlike Snoop's "oeuvre", Dr. Dre is much harder to fuck up, but in reality there is only one Dre song that NEEDS to be played
But you never how a DJ might fuck up. They very well could go with something off of the wildly overrated Chronic 2001 album. Something that just hasn't held up very well like "Still Dre," "Fuck You," or "The Next Episode."
The Pick: The obvious choice and the right choice. "Nuthin' But A G-Thing." This song was a gateway drug for millions of people into the world of rap. The sample is still as brilliant today as it was then. Snoop Dogg would never again sound as cool and confident. This has to be one of the best rap songs ever made. Easy.
The Outkast Song
You can spot a lame DJ a mile away by their burning desire to play the song "Hey Ya," even though everyone and their mother is sick of that song. I'll even bet that most people's grandmothers are even sick of that song. If I had my druthers I'd never hear that song ever again. At one point I heard it simultaneously being played on three different Los Angeles radio stations.
A lame DJ who thinks he's being crafty will dig a little deeper and play a cut off of Stankonia, perhaps "Miss Jackson," or "So Fresh So Clean."
But to get to an Outkast song that hasn't been played to death you have to dig very deep, past even "Rosa Parks," (which I'll prolly be ready to hear again in three years from today) to perhaps the best Outkast party song ever made.
The Pick: "Player's Ball." I get upset sometimes thinking that the average music fan hasn't heard anything by Outkast prior to Aquemini, if they've even heard that. AtLiens is probably my favorite rap album ever made, probably the closest thing I've heard to sonic perfection in my lifetime (and yes this most definitely includes Ok Computer). Their first album is also absurdly good. This track was the single off of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, a classic by any measure. If anyone out there does not have the first two Outkast albums, I can't recommend them enough.
The Stone Cold Classic
There are just some songs that you know will be played in 50 years at parties. Songs too good to not play over and over again. Certified classics have become ingrained in our musical canon and almost everyone knows every word to them. Yet no matter how much we hear them, it's almost impossible for a DJ not to play them at a party. It's as though your house was being broken into by an armed intruder and you had a .44 lying next to you. You just have to use it no matter what.
Out of all of the classic songs guaranteed to get any party audience amped, none are better than this one:
The Pick: Digital Underground's "The Humpty Dance."
All you really need to know is that his name is Humpty. He's really funny looking. But that's all right because he gets things cooking. Damn right, he gets things cooking. Very much like Poochie from the Simpsons, Humpty gets bizzay, consistently and thoroughly. How did Digital Underground make such a great song? I'm not sure, because even though they made a few other gems (Doowhatyalike, Same Song, Kiss You Back) nothing approaches the level of genius of The Humpty Dance. Don't act like you haven't lip synced this song at least once in your life. I know you have.
Other Songs Played That Fit This Category: Ice Cube "Bop Gun (One Nation)," Naughty By Nature "Hip Hop Hooray," The Notorious BIG "Big Poppa," The Pharcyde "Passin' Me By," Sublime, "40 Oz. to Freedom/Smoke 2 Joints," Wu-Tang Clan, "Triumph," A Tribe Called Quest, "Scenario."
The Final Verdict:
So after all this labor, all this analysis, and all of my neuroses, I show up to the party about two hours late, after another law school dinner goes incredibly long and a friend gives me a wrong set of directions. It's 11:00 p.m., but I rush to the event, certain that my music was going to turn the party into something of Studio 54-eaque proportion. I was sure that much like the music played by Bill and Ted's band Wyld Stallions, I would re-align the planets and cause world peace. Or at the very least get a couple people paying enough attention to remark, "Hey, someone's playing some cool music."
But as soon as I arrived, I discovered the sound was terrible. My music was pretty much only audible in one room, where a half dozen people milled around. On top of that, as soon as I arrived, half of the party left in one fell swoop. Apparently, they were going to the Lobby, another cookie-cutter trendy and hyper-exclusive Los Angeles nightclub. And me? I did what I always do, hightail it to the bar to receive a steady pipeline of strong drink. That's Los Angeles for you. As soon as you arrive somewhere, everyone thinks that there's somewhere else that's infinitely better. It's the nature of the beast. The party itself was fun and the mix of music was as good as I'd hoped it would be (at least in my eyes.) But all in all, one thing became abundantly clear: no one cared that I was a DJ.