Story by Lacey Larsen
Photos by Lacey Larsen and Brian Corey
“Oh my god, I LOVE this song,” shouts a mini-dress clad brunette as she pushes her way onto the already-packed dance floor. As she jumps up and down to the beat, swinging her long hair back and forth, she disappears into the crowd of other jumping, hair-swinging girls. The DJ, Guy Godefroy, has just dropped a remix of Katy Perry’s “Firework,” clearly a favorite for this particular Saturday night crowd. The middle of the dance floor begins to move, almost in waves, as the sea of people move in sync to the peppy, up-tempo beat. The particular mix Godefroy selected was remixed specifically for its high-energy beat, a song to start the night off by getting a shy crowd onto the dance floor and keeping it there until the people’s collective feet can no longer take it.
Most people will acknowledge that music affects their mood one way or another. Whether it is listening to Marvin Gaye to set a romantic mood or a little Disturbed to release some stress after a tough day, music can be cathartic. But what about music at clubs and bars? Does the crowd’s mood influence what the DJ plays or does the DJ influence the crowds’ mood? What do the patrons come to the club to do? Dance, drink, or socialize?
Twenty-one-year-old Rainie Seenstra, says she goes out to have a good time after a long day serving cocktails.
“I just want to relax and move to the music,” Seenstra says. “I love to dance to R&B or hip-hop. I can dance to the techno stuff, but I don’t prefer it.”
Luckily for Seenstra, the format of the nightclub she frequents on Thursdays, the Royal, is R&B and hip-hop, unlike its counterpart the newly-opened Underground, which holds an 80s night on Thursdays.
Todd ‘DJ Jester’ Hague, the Royal’s Thursday night resident DJ and manager, says he builds his crowd by playing popular tracks that will make people want to get out and dance.
“I throw out a tester song,” Hague says. “I want to see what people are tapping their feet and moving their bodies to. I keep doing that until I get bodies on the dance floor.”
Godefroy, a veteran DJ of 22 years, says there are a few factors to take into consideration when structuring a playlist.
“ I think the style [of what I play] is determined by the crowd, more than what I want,” Godefroy says. “At the start of the night I will start to drop a few songs, it will start to shape the rest of what I play, based off how they react.”
Godefroy says that his mood affects what he will play and how much time he will spend creating a playlist and researching new music. In a good week, he will have the time to spend six to eight hours poring over new release, trending song charts and his own collection to put together the right type of mix for the gig. If Godefroy is having a tough night or is tired, he says that it encourages him to play that much better; it can be like therapy for him.
“If I’m in a bad mood or grumpy, I can work through it,” Godefroy says. “It turns into more of a monster night the harder my week was.”
In the world of nightclubs and bars, a monster night is a very good thing.
Clubs typically have an open format when it comes to what is played on any given night. Most clubs in the Seattle area have specific nights for Top 40, Electronic and Drum and Bass, while clubs in Bellingham usually stick to decade themes and hip-hop. Patrons can pick and choose which clubs they frequent based on the musical style of a particular DJ, and each crowd has a different vibe it brings with it. Bartender Katie Madison says music really does influence how people interact with other patrons.
When Top 40 music is played, the crowd parties together as one big group, Madison says. On Electronic/Drum and Bass nights, the people in the crowd are more introverted, enjoying the music and dancing by themselves.
Patrons looking to experience the music tend to be more low-key and easygoing, while patrons looking for the overall club experience can get a bit worked up when their night does not go as planned.
Hague notes that a DJ needs to observe the whole crowd, not just the dance floor. “If the dance floor is packed and the bar is empty, I’m happy, but the guy signing my check isn’t,” Hague says.
Hague says he typically tries to change out the dance floor, meaning he will play something only some of the crowd will like, giving the others a chance to get to the bar and spend some money. Once the patrons’ thirst is quenched, it is back to the floor for the next round of dancing.
Local radio and club DJ, Jeff ‘DJ Phase’ Mukai says the best way to get a crowd going and on the dance floor is to play for the ladies.
“Always cater to women, period,” Mukai says. “If the women are out there dancing, the men will follow. Women will always be your party starters.”
Mukai says he has a system for keeping his crowd engaged, so it doesn’t get bored dancing hard all night. Mukai starts his night with music women will respond to, like Shakira. From there, Mukai tries to build the crowd up, get it to sing along. Once the crowd is pumped, Mukai drops the popular hits.
“I don’t play like a mountain, all build up and then downhill,” Mukai says. “I prefer peaks and valleys. Run them hard, then bring them down and play slower record. People can get a drink and build themselves back up; DJ’s need to read their crowd.“
After a long night with a happy crowd that has danced their booties off, how does a DJ send everyone away?
“I prefer to play until people leave,” Godefroy says “If I need people to leave, I play some nine minute super deep underground remix where some lady is belting her soul out.”
Godefroy chuckles as he adds, “The people leaving look at me like ‘Not having the same personal experience you are with this song Guy.’”
After a night of dancing, drinking and socializing, does it matter who controlled whom? A crowd without music is just people standing around and a DJ without a crowd is just a person playing music. It is the interaction between the two that creates the shared experience bringing both parties back week after week.