June 2010


When a party flatlines, superstar spinners know the tools to break out for instant resuscitation



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It’s hard to get people dancing. Actually, in some cases, it takes a heroic effort. When you look at the skill set of DJs, you’ll see they do more than run through a playlist. Not only can they save your good time, they can save their own ass. They do this by knowing how to read a room, but mostly, they do it by gut instinct.

As parties can peter at any time, all high-profile DJs have had to cut their teeth on a slew of curveball scenarios, from trying to get Sting to dance to revving up distraught basketball fans after a loss. We chatted up some of the best spinners in town—founding members of the modern-day nightlife rat pack Steve Aoki and DJ Vice; DJ Hem, exclusive spinner for the L.A. Lakers at Hyde Lounge at the Staples Center; and rising star DJ Spider—to see how they pulled the party from the brink.

CRISIS: It’s a gent’s sweet-14 party (sweet 16s are so last century), and there are kids scattered around the birthday boy’s mansion. Alas, they’re forming into quiet cabals. The mood is sour, hors d’oeuvres untouched. The kids need a kick. What’s a world-famous DJ to do?

SPECIALIST: Steve Aoki, who spins at Cinespace’s Dim Mak Tuesdays in Hollywood and Fridays at Surrender in Las Vegas.

CURE: After studying the crowd, Aoki calls for a little aggro irreverence and pulls out Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name.” While it might annoy parents, it lets the kiddies know the DJ is on their side. “Boys are crashing into each other while girls are watching and laughing. And when the part comes where Zack de la Rocha says, ‘F--k you, I won’t do what you tell me,’ kids start jumping off tables screaming it out loud, ultimately destroying the backyard.” And that’s a sign of success at any party. Aoki’s golden rule: Be adaptable.

CRISIS: It’s 2006 at the post-Katrina reopening of Saks Fifth Avenue in downtown New Orleans. A strange convergence of runway models, working stiffs and soccer moms are perusing the aisles. After a disaster, nothing celebrates the return to normal life more than shopping, but at such a tender time, the vibe is ripe to become awkward.

SPECIALIST: DJ Vice, who does Saturdays at Tao and Sundays at Lavo in Las Vegas and Thursdays at Playhouse in Hollywood.

CURE: “I am spoiled from rocking big-room clubs and having everybody on the dance floor waiting for me,” Vice says. Not so this time, as it seems no one has heard of him. Stillness is in the air. But after 10 minutes, Vice hits paydirt with Motown. As Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” soars through the room, the floor fills with grooving dancers and the ringing of cash registers. “If Aretha didn’t make them move,” he says, “I would have quit right there!” The takeaway: When in doubt, go old school.

CRISIS: It’s the 2009 Sundance after-party, and Sting is on hand to support his filmmaker buddy Joe Berlinger, who directed the rainforest documentary Crude. Spinning at the ultra-exclusive event is no problem, but making Sting get up and dance? That’s a whole other ball of wax. Gulp.

SPECIALIST: DJ Spider, who can usually be found in L.A. at Drai’s, Crown Bar and Voyeur.

CURE: The minute Spider sets up shop, one of Sting’s friends walks up and says simply, “Sting wants to dance.” The party has just started, drinks have barely kicked in, and the dance floor is a wasteland. But for Spider, there is just an audience of one. Knowing Sting’s diverse tastes, he launches an eclectic barrage—Marvin Gaye, Jay-Z, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, the Ting Tings, A Tribe Called Quest. Within minutes, Sting is up, followed by his friends and, soon, a crowd that doesn’t sit down all night. Spider’s sanity saver: Know all music, not just what makes you tick.

CRISIS: Angelenos hate the Celtics, so surely we won’t let them beat us in our own house. And so a sweet after-party is planned at the spankin’ new Hyde Lounge at the Staples Center to savor the triumph. Problem is, the Celtics win by a point. Try making a Laker fan smile now.

SPECIALIST: DJ Hem, who mans L.A.’s turntables at Hyde Lounge and often Industry, STK, Playhouse and Mi-6.

CURE: “The attitude in this place changes completely when the Lakers lose,” Hem says. “It’s all about bouncing back and keeping everyone from leaving.” Hem brandishes his nuclear option by playing a recognizable banger—“We Run L.A.” by Ya Boy. As soon as the crowd starts feeling like they run the city once again, Hem hits them with “I’m the Ish” by DJ Class (Lakers remix), “I Love L.A.” by Randy Newman and Tinie Tempah’s “Pass Out.” Success—they’re in a frenzy and ready to party. Apparently, Laker fans feel short-term grief. And why not? There’s always next year. Moral of the story: Act quickly—a second too late, and they’re gone.