Hang the DJ

When Brent Crampton, DJ and co-proprietor of hot new dance club House of Loom, asked me to come down on a late Friday afternoon and host a three-hour guest DJ session, I said “no.”

What do I know about DJing? Moreover, why would anyone want to hear what I played? “I'd hate to clear the room,” I told him. “You sure you want to risk it?”

Brent’s response: “I think you’re thinking too hard about it, brother.” He was right.

There are those like Brent who view DJing as an art form. And then there are those who see DJing as nothing more than some guy playing records. My attitude fell somewhere in the middle. I’ve seen how a good DJ like Brent can turn an ordinary room into an orgy of hot, sweaty, bumping bodies just by knowing what musical buttons to push. I’ve also seen self-described DJs whose sole purpose was to prove that they know more about music than everyone else in the room and, as a result, turned a party into something akin to an insurance seminar.

Over drinks on the patio outside The Boiler Room, I asked Crampton the philosophical question at the heart of the matter: What exactly is a DJ? He pondered for a moment. “It’s a relative term,” he said. “With technology, whatever kind of boundaries that defined it aren’t there anymore.”

He said when he started a decade or so ago, DJing was a vinyl world that involved turntables and records and a sizable investment in time and money. You had to have the equipment, but just as important, you had to have the records and a knowledge of music.

And then along came CDs, and CDJs. “I remember all the vinyl DJs saying, ‘Screw them, that’s not what a DJ is.’ And I felt that way, too. I was taking on the purist role.” But one by one, DJs embraced technology and switched to CDs. “Then I figured all the rules were broken.” Next came mp3s and laptop DJs. With the Internet, everyone had access to just about every song.

But being a DJ is more than just playing songs. You need to know what to play, when to play it, and how to play it. “It all goes back to reading your crowd,” Crampton said. “You’re put in a room with a bunch of people to get them to dance or to set a mood. You have to know how to speak to them and provoke them.”

He pointed to one of his personal DJ gurus, David Mancuso, who hosted house parties in New York City in the ‘70s at a personal space called The Loft. “People say Mancuso told a story through music,” Crampton said. “Think about a whole night’s worth of music like a roller coaster. You go up, and then come down a little bit, and then go back up, and then down, all the time arcing slowly upward toward the peak, before coming down. Within that are the lyrics to the music, the messages you can communicate, how you reference a theme throughout the night.”

Then there’s the technical part, the “How.”

“Do you play a whole song or repeat a break?” Crampton asked. “With technology you can loop parts and add effects or take away the bass to add tension or release.” Ultimately, that leads some DJs to remix entire songs and create new music, something that Crampton has avoided. “People get on me about why I don’t produce,” he said. “I never felt it was my calling, and in hindsight I know why. I’m more of a business owner. That’s what DJing has led me to. My main motivation is bringing people together, and House of Loom is a greater manifestation of that.”

So then why would Crampton ask a shlub like me to come to his temple of dance and “DJ”? Called the Friday Afternoon Club, the promotion is a low-risk experiment. “It’s a chance for people to have a cocktail after work in a chill environment with friends,” he said. “We take people in the community we admire and respect and who have great taste and do interesting things in Omaha and give them an opportunity to play music. There’s a certain excitement since they’re not DJs. It’s a cool gimmick.”

Cool gimmick? Now that’s something I can get behind. So I changed my mind and said yes. And my turn in the booth is this Friday, March 30, between 5 and 8 p.m. at House of Loom, 1012 So. 10th St. I’m still not sure what I’ll play, though I know I’ll be drawing on my 30-plus years of listening to music.

Going into it, I asked Crampton for his best advice. “I would like to see an interesting arrangement of music, stuff that you’re into and want to share with other people. Watch your volumes from track to track. It’s such a laidback experience, you can’t screw it up.”

Can’t I? Come to House of Loom Friday after work and find out. 


Beyond Lazy-i is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on arts, culture, society and the media. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@thereader.com.

posted at 03:23 pm
on Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

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