Taking a spin around Rutland’s DJ scene

DJ Mike C

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 9/30/10]

A couple of Fridays ago, I headed to downtown Rutland with some friends. Our plans were vague and our expectations modest: have a few beers and maybe catch some live music.

It was Fair Week so there was already an ineffable weirdness in the air. Anyone who has been out to Rutland bars when the fair is in town knows what I’m talking about.

There’s a strange calm that falls over the downtown scene – like being in the eye of a hurricane where everyone wears shirts with the sleeves cut off and everything smells like fried dough. The energy is just different somehow.

I only mention it as a way of trying to explain the other phenomenon I witnessed that night: the absence of live music downtown.

No bands. Not a one.

There were, however, within a four-block radius, no less than five DJs spinning. This left me scratching my head.

My knee-jerk response was indignation. Where was the love for the people who like bands? For the people who aren’t into the club scene? For those of us who avoid places that are too loud for conversation and over-populated with pushy drunk girls and guys who I will politely refer to here as hambones?

My friends and I retreated to the deck at Two Shea’s where we rode out the rest of the evening commiserating with other refugees from across the street.

Clearly, I’m not a club person. Other people (a lot of them) dig it, and that’s great, but it’s just not my thing.

My personal musical preferences aside, I do recognize that DJs have become an increasingly significant aspect of Rutland nightlife.

As much as the preceding paragraphs might have led you to think otherwise, I’m no hater. Dance music is an essential part of the mix in any vibrant nightlife.

Nonetheless, these guys are doing something right. So I decided to talk to a couple local DJs to see what the Rutland scene is all about.

I started with Mike Coppinger, a.k.a., DJ Mike C of MC Sounds. Mike’s been in the business for four years playing bars, clubs, weddings proms and other events around Rutland and other parts of Vermont.

Indeed, all the DJs around here lend their talents to traditional private events. Spinning Lil Wayne at Downtown Tavern may build your street cred, but it’s Lil David’s bar mitzvah that pays the bills.

This reality can also cause a split in personas. To be successful, DJs need to have a diverse client base. That means they must be careful about how they market themselves – from the photos they post to their websites or Facebook to the name they choose to spin under.

Mike C’s website, for example, features separate sections for each style of event – nightclub, school dances, etc. On the “school dances” page, he notes that the music will be “edited and age appropriate.”

While some people may poke fun at DJs, saying all they do is play iPods, that criticism is unfair and ill informed. Keeping people on the dance floor and having fun isn’t as easy as looks.

“A good DJ can read crowd,” Mike C says “You’ve got to play the music the crowd wants hear, not the music you want.”

In Rutland, Mike C usu ally spins at either Jilly’s The Alley, where the crowd’s tastes can vary wildly depending on the venue and the night. For Mike C, that means playing anything from the newest Lady Gaga single to old school 90s hip hop to full sets of classic 80s hits.

Mike C also uses audio software to create what is called “beat mixing” – that is mashing songs with the same beats per minute, or bpms, together to keep people dancing from one song into another.

Advances in technology have also allowed DJs to grow their libraries and fill requests with increasing ease. Songs are stored on laptops and external hard drives, they are mixed and manipulated on the fly with software and, with an Internet connection, virtually every song ever written is available in a matter of seconds.

The result creates an experience for the crowd that goes far beyond pressing shuffle on one’s iPod.

To be sure, Chris Ryan, a.k.a., Kris Kul of 2kUL Entertainment makes this very distinction, boasting on his website that 2kUL’s DJs “have been meticulously trained in all aspects of DJing” and are able to beat mix and emcee.

You can see Kris and his 2kUL crew in full effect most Friday and Saturday nights at Downtown Tavern.

While you can build great sets with beat mixing and other digital sleights of hand, it’s not the only way to keep the party moving. Dave Hoffenberg, a.k.a, DJ Dave of Artist Entertainment Agency, says it’s all about song selection and knowing your audience.

DJ Dave is a veteran of the Killington scene. He’s been spinning for more than 20 years, with a dozen of them spent on the hill, more specifically in the DJ booth at the Wobbly Barn. It was there that Dave, who also has a degree in broadcasting, learned how to work a room and throw a party.

Dave also enjoyed a stint as an on-air personality at WEBK 105.3, the now-defunct adult album alternative commercial radio station that afforded DJs the freedom to program their own show with few restrictions.

At WEBK, Dave learned how to build sets of music that effectively created a mood and how to seamlessly transition from song to song with nothing more than good timing and a quick hand.

“There are DJs out there who are technically better than me,” said Dave, giving a nod to those around town who employ beat mixing. “But I don’t think I need it. My strong suit is the mix of music. I play everything and always take requests.”

Whatever he’s doing it seems to be working. Dave manages to keep the dance floors full both up on the mountain at newer joints like Jax and Moguls, as well as in DTR at The Alley.

At the end of the day, both DJ Dave and DJ Mike C recognize the DJ’s place within Rutland music scene, but agree that it’s good to have a balance. When not spinning, both are music lovers, and support local musicians whenever they can.

“I think there’s a happy medium between DJs and live music right now,” Mike C said.

Over the last year, however, Dave has noticed a definite surge in the number of DJs and the amount of venues hiring them. He notes that currently in Rutland, DJs outnumber bands in terms of bookings – an ominous sign for those of us who prefer George Nostrand to Boy George.

As another weekend approaches, I’ll head down to DTR as usual. I may not be tearing up the dance floor like so many others, but I can appreciate the fact that these guys know how to throw a damn good party.

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