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CENTERPIECE: Ventura County | MUSIC

Spin Masters

Local deejays find they're in demand by clubs that like to cut costs, play the right tunes and keep dance floors full.

September 17, 1998|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In case you hadn't noticed, there aren't many nightspots anymore featuring live bands playing original music.

Many club owners love deejay music because they offer a number of advantages compared to a band. First, there's usually only one person for the owner to argue with and only one girlfriend to add to the guest list.

But more importantly, owners hire deejays because they're cheaper and the dancers like them. Also, a deejay with an unlimited repertoire can play any number of songs just right.

It's the musical considerations that make the difference, according to DJ Paul, who has been at Yucatan Cantina in Westlake for five years.

"If you're a deejay who only plays a certain kind of music, you limit yourself. You become almost like a band that plays just one type of music," he said.

"Deejays have to have a broad range. You have to know hip-hop, you have to know house and you have to know techno. That way, you're like a lot of different bands, and if you have a broad range, it increases your value to the club," DJ Paul said.

DJ Hollywood, who works at Metro Nite Club in Ventura, continues the thought: "I think a deejay is more appealing to a club owner than a live band. For one, a deejay is cheaper and can appeal to more of a crowd. I can play stuff from the '70s to the '90s."

About one-third of the county's clubs regularly use deejays. There are a lot of classic rock cover bands out there, getting as many gigs as the bands that play their own songs. Plus, the dreaded karaoke still lives.

But to DJ Paul, his purpose is entirely different than a band's.

"We're appealing to a totally different crowd than a band. It's hard to get anyone to see a band these days, and we've tried live bands here [at Yucatan] a lot of times. I think the live band thing is over."

To DJ Scratch, a radio deejay, it's simple: He can do it better than a band can.

"A live band is never gonna sound like Prince or Snoop Doggy Dogg. I mean, who's gonna try and rap like Snoop Dogg? It's ridiculous. There's only one Prince, one Michael Jackson. I think live music is for an older crowd, over 35."

Then again, when a band does perform, a deejay plays between sets to prevent that phenomenon abhorrent to clubs--silence. According to DJ Guy, who works at Chicago West in Ventura, many musicians appreciate deejays.

"The more bands have been on the road and been together for awhile, the more they tend to appreciate deejays. They think I'm doing them a favor because they don't have to work as much. The more we spin, the less they have to play. But younger bands tend to get jealous and think we're stealing their glory."

Successful venues such as the Metro and Yucatan have become regular destinations for dancers. And it's those deejays spinning tunes at local dance clubs who provide a fitting soundtrack whereby the single under-30 Biffs can meet the Buffys.

Dancers, the majority of whom are women, love deejay music. And wherever there are women, dating rituals unfold as the females attract a fan club of hopeful males.

It's a deejay's job to enhance the setting by playing the right stuff. Familiarity may breed contempt, but it can also create a packed dance floor, according to DJ Guy.

"People want to dance to something that's familiar, with no thought involved," Guy said. "If they have to listen to a live band, then decide whether they like them or not, and then whether or not they should dance, that takes all the fun out of it. Now when I play 'White Wedding' by Billy Idol, everyone's heard that one before."

In the Conejo Valley, according to DJ Paul, a lot of people are signing up for 12 units at the Yucatan.

"School just started a couple of weeks ago, so it's sort of slow because it's that time of the year. We get a lot of students from Cal Lutheran and CSUN. Everyone is real serious about school for about two or three weeks, then it's time to party.

"The Yucatan is a local hangout and a sports bar that just happens to have a dance floor. It's a Top 40 place. People won't dance unless they've heard it 30 times on the radio."

If you arrive at a club early, usually before 11 p.m. and definitely before 10, the dance floor is mostly women, singly or in groups, the occasional couple or some really drunk guys already dancing like oak trees. There's a simple explanation for this, said DJ Paul.

"Women come to dance, guys don't dance unless they're drunk. Women come in and start dancing even before they order a drink, while guys will have a drink, and then another, as they try to work up enough nerve to dance," said DJ Paul.

This bizarre dating ritual, punctuated by lots of drink and loud music, tends to lose its unisex nature around the third set, or after all the beer kicks in.

"I think the only reason guys dance is because the girls like it," said DJ Guy. "For guys, dancing is just a means to meet girls."

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