People don't know what they like. They like what they know.
A program-director friend of mine once shared that axiom with me as he tried to explain why listeners gravitate toward some songs as opposed to others. People are essentially sheeple, he asserted, creatures of conditioning.
I've always thought this pithy sentiment was rather cavalier and stereotypical -- that is, until I saw the maxim in action last Friday night at La Rumba, where, during my guest-DJ slot at Lipgloss, I somehow managed to kill the dance floor with a set of mostly local music.
It's been said that it doesn't take much to be a DJ. And to be honest, this type of deejaying doesn't require the technical proficiency of turntablism. It's mostly just pressing buttons and turning knobs, with a little beat-matching, if you're so inclined. Even so, I've always argued that it takes a certain sensibility to move the masses. It's not the quality of the songs you play as much as it is timing and reading the crowd. And since the Lipgloss faithful are more sophisticated than most, I knew I had my work cut out for me.
Created by DJs Michael Trundle, Tyler Jacobson and Tim Cook in the summer of 2001, Lipgloss is a nationally renowned, award-winning dance party celebrated for its unpretentious come-as-you-are atmosphere. The night, which started at 60 South, quickly grew from one Monday night a month to a weekly Friday-night staple at the then-homocentric club. Shortly after the bar changed hands in March 2004 and became South Park Tavern, Lipgloss moved to its current location at La Rumba, where it's been the hottest brand going ever since. But the night is more than just a weekly party; it's ground zero for the hipster contingent. Aside from introducing the hottest new tracks to the masses, Lipgloss has played host to many of indie rock's past and present icons -- everyone from the Bravery, Franz Ferdinand and Interpol to Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce of the Smiths and the Charlatans' Tim Burgess has graced the decks. Evidently, rock stars are the new DJs. Or DJs are the new rock stars, depending on how you look at it. But one thing's certain: I'm neither.
I arrived at the club with the poise and confidence of Peyton Manning on any given Sunday. Walking into the DJ booth armed with the hottest tracks from Denver's best and brightest, I was absolutely positive that these folks wouldn't know what hit them.
I was right. They had no idea.
I started off my half-hour set at 10:30 p.m. with "Merit," by the Photo Atlas, an explosive homegrown quartet whose material is as ass-shaking as anything out there. It was early, and people were still filing in, so the dance floor was relatively empty. No worries, I thought. By the end of my set, I'd be looking at a writhing mass of bodies who'd no doubt be talking about DJ D-Stroyer -- every DJ worth his salt has to have a moniker, you know -- for weeks to come.
Next up was "Blue Monday," by Orgy. Now, picking a set was trickier than it sounds. While I wanted to turn people on to the best of what Denver has to offer, I also didn't want to alienate anyone. I tried to intersperse those cuts with some more familiar -- if not entirely obvious -- tracks in hopes of luring folks out to the dance floor. And my plan was beginning to work. Orgy's take on the well-worn New Order song prompted a few more people to get their groove on. Unfortunately, this was as close as I came to setting the dance floor on fire.
As the final strains of "Blue Monday" began to fade, I dropped "Lucky Denver Mint," by Jimmy Eat World. And that, friends, was the beginning of the end. Three songs in, I had already begun to lose them. Although Hot IQs' "Firecracker" failed to elicit the type of response I was expecting, it did at least pique the curiosity of a handful of revelers who wanted to know who the band was.
Next, I played "Are You With Me," by Vaux. The natives were noticeably restless. The dance floor was nearly empty. I needed something far less abrasive and more familiar -- immediately, if not sooner. I breathed a sigh of relief as I cued up "Running Out of Time," by Hot Hot Heat. Surely that would bring them back out, right? Not so much. By then, I had completely lost them. And any jock will tell you, once you've lost the crowd, it's next to impossible to get it back. Not even "Positive Tension," from Bloc Party, could incite more than a slight head nod.
By the time I closed the set with "Forewarned," by the Swayback, and Born in the Flood's "Gotta Wear You," the crowd's body language -- crossed arms and the nonplussed expressions on everybody's faces -- spoke volumes. I was ready to admit defeat and crawl through the front doors of La Rumba with my tail between my legs. So I did the only reasonable thing I could think of: I pulled the pin and tossed the most cheesy track I could think of onto the floor -- "Cherry Pie," by Warrant -- and got the hell out of there.
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Shockingly, even that didn't make them dance. It was almost as though they were waiting to return to their regularly scheduled programming. Because as soon as Tim Cook got behind the tables, they came back in force. Of course, he plied them with Modern English's "I Melt With You," followed by "China Girl," by Bowie, and "Bang a Gong," by T-Rex -- but who's counting?
At first I was dumbfounded by the whole experience. I mean, dancers or no dancers, that set was hot as hell. If those bands don't get you moving, you might want to check for a pulse. Then I remembered what my friend had told me way back when. No matter how killer a song is, people are prone to dig what they already know. That's precisely why "Blue Monday" garnered a decent response. In smaller doses, these tracks might've been a smash. I think I just overwhelmed the Lipgloss bunch with too much unfamiliarity.
Either that, or I'm just a really shitty DJ.
Upbeats and Beatdowns: This Friday, December 2, at the Walnut Room, the original lineup of the Christines will get back together to play at this month's installment of Rising Up!, while our own Jason Heller (an actual DJ) spins a special mod-centric set.