March 27, 2008

Spin That Funky Music, D.J.!: Disc Jockeys and the Cornell Party Scene

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Every weekend freshmen file out of their North Campus dormitories to head down to the big open party; frat bros and sorority gals dress up nice for formals; those lucky enough to have reached that magical 21st birthday (or to have a good enough fake to get past that pesky drinking age law) get their drank on at Dunbars and dance on tabletops at Johnny O’s; architecture students go to obscure house parties; Cornell, as a whole, gets crunk.
But that’s only half the mission. After successfully lowering their inhibitions to the point where they’ve long since forgotten they have two left feet and alienated all of their friends back home thanks to an embarrassing rendition of Soulja Boy — they want to dance. And to dance they’ll need some sweet tunes.
At any real party, be it big or be it small, iPod playlists aren’t going to do the trick; that’s where a small, important sub-class of society comes into the equation — the disc jockeys. Though the typical partygoer might not know it, D.J.s don’t just appear out of thin air — Cornell, and Ithaca at large, is home to a long, strong tradition of deejaying. Student disc jockeys come and go all the time. They play the parties for a few years and then they graduate. And when they go, they often passing down their rolodexes to protégés who keep the music pumping for years to come.
Anthony Mohabir ‘08, who goes by the handle D.J. SiLo, was one such protégé. He started Deejaying in highschool, and continued when he got to Cornell, doing mostly small gigs until he met the students behind (the now dissolved) Absolute Productions. “I worked with them my sophomore year, and then they graduated and pretty much passed all the contacts to me. And with that I started Red Line Entertainment.” As the owner of Red Line Entertainment, which boasts an entire team of D.J.s, Mohabir plays not only frat parties and bars that most D.J.s get, but also does performances sponsored by the University. Enterprising, no?
And Mohabir isn’t the only student running this kind of operation — not by a long shot. Different D.J.s appeal to different scenes, and the more singular the vision of the spin-styler, the more inventive and original the scene. One such group working the Cornell party underground is the Electronic Music Collective, founded and run by D.J. Adam Vana ’09. The Collective shuns the traditional scene — dominated by the same old frat parties — in favor of smaller, more intimate (and unquestionably unique) get togethers.
“Our parties are about depth of feeling, love and humanity,” Vana explained. “We believe all these things come together when you can just be yourself and not have to worry about what’s popular or what’s socially convenient or normal or lucrative.”
The “Risley Rave” was one of the experiences Vana has in mind when he extols the benefits of the path less traveled. The Rave, an underground dance party held in the performing arts residential hall last year, is different from anything most Cornellians have probably ever experienced.
“There was no publicity, so you had to hear about it from someone,” explained Vince Davis ‘10. “I got a facebook message saying, ‘Don’t tell anybody!’” The party was an underground sensation. Way underground.
“Me and like five friends rolled in at like 1 a.m. and had to go behind Risley and down some stairs, and we couldn’t hear any music. So we went down some more stairs into this sketchy basement entryway with a flickering, broken light bulb. And we didn’t hear anything until we got to this big thick curtain, and we could just faintly hear music playing behind it. We pulled back the curtain, and the next room was just showered in black lights, and there was glowing neon paint on the walls, and bottles of water everywhere and Adam Vana was deejaying. Techno music was blaring everywhere and the party was still going when we left at 4:30 in the morning.”
Davis, robust, six-foot-plus feet tall and once recognizable on campus by his trademark dreadlocks (which he had, sadly, shorn off over winter break) knows a little bit about deejaying himself. The sophomore communication major, who began mashing up tracks in highschool, never really entertained the thought of continuing in college until he actually did — he’s proof that you don’t need entrepreneurial ambitions or an outrageously out there vision to get involved in the D.J. scene — sometimes all you need are some turntables and some bros.
“I was pledging Alpha Delta Phi, and we were doing mixers, and one night the music was really bad because people were just going to the iPod and picking terrible songs. And I was feeling bold and said ‘I’m gonna D.J. the next party! Whatever!’”
Now Vince can be seen at two to three parties a weekend — frat parties, bars, house parties and even a gig at Ithaca College next month. From just another guy in a frat to a partymaker.
Just by the nature of what they do and how they perform, D.J.s sometimes become recognizable figures to those they play for, getting picked out days or weeks later just walking around campus.
“Yeah, that’s one of the really cool things,” says Mohabir. “Getting recognized by people after the parties is a pretty awesome feeling.”
But what if the D.J. was already a celebrity before playing the parties? Yaw Joseph Etse ‘08, founder of the Slope Media Group, took up deejaying as a new hobby/part time gig this semester.
“At the beginning of the semester, two guys I know in SAE [Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity] were Deejaying at Johnny O’s, and I told them I wanted to D.J. And since they were graduating, at the beginning of the semester I just rolled in there and started deejaying.”
Sometimes the people who work those turntables are in it for the music, or maybe the money, or even just as a way to experiment in something new. Whatever the case, it’s a glamorous job that attracts a decidedly charismatic, enterprising group of individuals. And there are some pretty cool memories.
“I deejayed a party in Rand Hall once,” Vince recalled.
“I just love, after the party’s over, going doing with my friends to Short Stop Deli, getting some food, hanging out and relaxing,” said Mohabir.
Maybe it’s the moments you’d never expect, like architects partying out in their place of study, or maybe it’s the relaxed moments after an intense party, but something about making and mashing up music has immeasurable appeal for those that call it a passion. And Cornell certainly reaps the benefits of having these talented individuals amongst its students. Casually downplaying the significance of what he and his compatriots create when they hit the turntables each and every party, Etse thoughtfully considered the Cornell party scene and concluded, “I would say the party scene is very reliable, and the music that’s played is generally pretty fresh. I’d say it’s all pretty good.”
And he’s pretty much on target — except when Soulja Boy comes on. Then all bets are off.