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Mixing melodies, blending beats: Student DJs develop distinctive sounds

Undergrad artists blend personal style and campus preferences to create party soundtracks

Whether at the Whiskey Republic or on Wriston, Brown partygoers often seek a specific scene instead of a specific sound. But armed with only a laptop and the necessary software, student DJs often fuel these parties from behind the scenes.

On campus, the DJ community comprises students who mix tracks to make a party flow, as well as producers who use the trade to showcase their own music — crafting a distinctive, individual work as opposed to curating a party playlist.


Pause and play

To be a DJ, you are “half DJing and half producing your own music,” Alexander Oberg ’12.5 said. The skill and creativity is what allows the profession of DJing to exist, he said.

“We are just playing music live,” he added.

Oberg,  a music concentrator who  focused in the computer music and multimedia track, said his classes help with the production aspect of the job but added, “I learned to DJ from YouTube.”

With the advent of new technologies, he said, anyone has the technical capability to become a DJ.

Nick Newhouse ’12, who studied the same track, said the program gives students a background in electronic music and modern recording techniques. The skills it teaches “(allow) you to take your niche and run with it,” he said.

But “I would not associate the Brown music department with DJing,” he said.

Benjamin Shack-Sackler ’16 said the concentration track has helped him transition from being a DJ to being an artist — he has learned more techniques to produce and compose his own music, he said.

While he knows other undergraduates in the department who are interested in DJing as a career, he said concentrators have a wide variety of career interests outside of DJing.

Brown was also a source of inspiration for Brenton Stokes ’14. Before college, he said, he was interested in reproducing the sound of 90s underground house music. But the friends he made as a first-year as well as the computer music and multimedia track inspired him to create a style that “marries synthetic and natural elements.”

“I am very much aspiring to be a DJ,” he added.

But student DJs hail from academic backgrounds other than the music department.

Abe Arambolo ’14, who is studying applied math-economics, began experimenting with DJing in high school, but his interest grew while he was at Brown, he said. He began by DJing small parties for his friends and after seeing their positive reaction to the sets he formulated, he began to play larger events.

“Over time, I became more confident in reading a crowd,” Arambolo said, adding that he always keeps the desires of the person who hires him in mind and adapts his performance accordingly.

Tucker Halpern ’13.5, a history of art and architecture concentrator, had produced music before he came to Brown but began only seriously pursuing DJing while on campus, he said. Once he started DJing, Tucker said the people he met at Brown supported his pursuit of a new passion.


Breaking down the beat

While Brown has inspired creativity in some DJs, others said they found the undergraduate community to be restrictive.

Oberg transferred to Brown and came to campus very interested in DJing, he said. He took classes in the computer music and multimedia track and concentrated in the area because he intended to pursue a career as a DJ. But Oberg said his undergraduate experience changed his mind.

“There is a certain level of talent that goes into DJing,” he said, adding that when he first arrived on campus, electronic dance music wasn’t that popular, and people were excited about its novelty.

But two years ago, things started to shift, he said. The popularity of electronic dance music began “deconstructing the myth of the DJ,” Oberg said. “People saw DJing as something anyone could do,” he added.

The saturation in the DJ field caused Oberg to turn to other outlets to explore his interest in music production, he said. He now works with a music-related start-up in Providence.

Like Oberg, Ricky Medina ’16 began DJing when electronic music was just getting released, he said. But Medina said he does not DJ on campus.

“DJing is a big part of my life but not my life at Brown,” he said, adding that people on campus know what they want to hear at parties when they hire a DJ, but he is not interested in making that kind of music.

“I’m not going to subject others to music they don’t like, and I won’t play things that I don’t like,” he said.

A DJ and producer, Ryan Glassman ’15 said he realized he was naive as a freshman to expect to showcase his own music at parties rather than play Top 40 hits.

“Gigs became a lot less fun and a lot more demanding,” Glassman said.

“You get stuck in this situation where everyone is mad at you,” he added. “It’s a little disheartening.”

Brown taught him that “DJing is about the room, and how you respond to it,” he said.


Rewind and repeat

Despite the increase in the number of people seen playing parties, students differed on the level of community that exists among Brown DJs.

Oberg said DJs often are acquainted from performing at parties together.

DJing can be difficult to understand, Glassman said, adding that “it’s weird because it’s so popular right now.”

But having a group of friends that are DJs lets him share that experience with people who understand, he added.

Others said the DJ community is less connected.

“It’s a pretty fragmented culture,” Medina said. “My interaction with other DJs isn’t my social life.”

“No one knows that much about each other,” Stokes said, adding that the DJ culture “is so under the radar.”


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