How to Win a DJ: Q&A with DJ Reach
DJ Reach has been making crowds gyrate for almost two decades. He’s come a long way since he started spinning at the tender age of 13 and now he currently enjoys residencies at Avenue, Kiss & Fly and Juliet Supper Club in Manhattan, Tao and Lavo in Las Vegas and Underground in Chicago. His open-format sets rile crowds up into a frantic frenzy, and he enjoys a global following, especially among the celebrity set, where everyone from Madonna to Jay-Z has tapped him to man the turntables during their after parties and concerts. Reach chatted with Nightclub Confidential about what a top-billing DJ considers when selecting nightclubs for gigs and how to excel in a profession rife with newcomers.
Nightclub Confidential: What should all clubs consider when dealing with DJ talent?
DJ Reach: One of the big things is the staff itself. There’s an aspect of hospitality that you think only extends toward the customers and the clients inside the establishments. But the way they handle hired talent, like a DJ, is a difference that’s entirely noticeable from one venue to the next. Great club owners and managers make you feel very welcome, especially when they go beyond the call of the duty and accommodate.
NCC: What are specific things clubs can do to make a DJ feel at home in their venue?
Reach: All the little things. Like making sure the booth is perfectly set up or telling the opening DJ what your style is so they don’t step on your toes. Personally, I don’t particularly care what the opener plays — I’m going to play what I want anyway — but there are cases where an up-and-coming DJ is trying to make a name for himself and plays all the hits off the bat, which may be some of what you wanted to play later in the night. Clubs can also make sure you have all the equipment you request. Some places go out of their way to make sure your monitor is on the side you want it to be. And some places will oblige your request for only green Skittles in a bowl [laughs], but I never ask for silly stuff like that.
NCC: Is it noticeable when clubs miss the mark on placing proper importance on the DJ?
Reach: Sure. You can tell when the DJ booth was an afterthought, placed off in the corner or facing in a direction where you can’t see the crowd. The worst is when the booth is in another room where you have no interaction with the crowd. And the upkeep of equipment is also a good metric. If it’s broken or hasn’t been serviced in a while, or the turntables don’t work, pitch controls are broken, monitor speakers in the booth don’t work or aren’t in the right spot.
NCC: What are some important things a DJ should always consider when evaluating whether to take a gig?
Reach: You need to know where this club fares in the realm of the hottest spots. Is it prestigious or is it burnt out and passé? DJ peers or fans will look unfavorably on you if that’s the case. DJs are essentially brands, and if you play a commercial club when you’re usually spinning at underground places playing forward-thinking music, then you might lose credit with your followers. So you have to choose a place that’s on par with your brand. You always aspire to be in a more highly-esteemed place than your name is perceived to have.
NCC: Since the advent of digital music, it seems like anyone with a laptop can be a DJ. How do professional DJs overcome the scores of newbies trying to break through?
Reach: It’s true. What sets you apart from the masses of laptop DJs is how you present your show, and it’s not necessarily your playlist. Lighting shows are now crucial. At Tao and Lavo in Vegas, I’ve built a relationship with the lighting guy, who is top notch. He knows when my songs are going to crescendo and uses the lighting controls to build up to the song’s apex and gets the crowd going crazy. Good lighting control makes a DJ look like a rock star. Some DJs do things like bringing an air horn to blow intermittently. Steve Aoki will dive into the room and will crowd surf, which is sick. Deadmau5 wears a mouse head during his sets. DJs are trying to push the envelope and raise the bar on creativity. We all have the same music. It’s all out there. To stand above the competition, you need to be animated and incorporate your personality into your set.