DJs

MASTERS OF THE MUSIC A SPIN WITH CLUB AND PARTY

September 22, 1991|By Mike Giuliano

"This has gotta be the best job in the world. I have my days off and at night I'm paid to party and judge bikini contests," gleefully boasts the disc jockey who goes by the name Batman.

While the rest of us working people manage a good time on the job maybe now and then, rarely do we have as much fun as nightclub and party disc jockeys.

Not only do these disc jockeys have more fun, but there are more of them out there than ever before. Although the Census Bureau may not keep track of the DJ head count, there has apparently been a DJ population explosion over the past decade. For instance, an increasing number of wedding receptions that once featured a live band now have a disc jockey instead. "DJs are more the norm than bands today, because they cost less and offer a greater variety of music," explains disc jockey Rob Shilling.

As an occupational group, Baltimore's disc jockeys are spread across the musical spectrum, from those who spin Top 40 records at weddings and parties to those who unleash aggressive dance records at clubs where Top 40 is a yawn-inducing phrase.

Indeed, some of the most creative guys behind the turntable play cutting-edge music you will rarely hear on the radio. They rely on European import records, voraciously read music magazines you won't find on the local newsstand, and help shape avant-garde taste rather than follow charted success.

"I play high-energy, aggressive dance music," says one of these progressive disc jockeys, Bump Stadelman. "I try to work people up to a frenzy so they let the music go through their whole body," he says, his own ponytail swinging as he quickly changes TC records at a dance club in Little Italy called Orpheus.

This high-energy, aggressive music favored by trend-setting club disc jockeys has a relentlessly propulsive, synthesizer-laden sound that has been described as being like technology gone astray. It is music you feel with your bones as much as hear with your ears. If teen hipsters call it music to dance to, their parents might call it music to wake the dead.

But if these DJs are progressive in their musical taste, they are regressive in their adherence to vinyl. Like the rest of us, most disc jockeys are taking part in the CD revolution, but for the dance club DJs, the album is still king.

"DJs don't like CDs, because there is no beat mixing involved. It's just pushing buttons. I don't want to be an overseer of machinery," says Bump, who prefers not to use his last name. He likes side-by-side turntables that enable him to gradually take the sound down on one album and bring it up on the next with no break in the music.

Adds another progressive music DJ, Tony Japzon, who works at the midtown dance club Cignel: "There are still a lot of things you can do with a record that you can't do with a CD -- like scratching. There's nothing like the feel of vinyl on your fingertips."

It must be a heady feeling to have so much music -- whether vinyl, cassette or CD -- at your command, and to know that you're the guy up in the booth who has a Svengali hold on the hundreds of dancing feet below. Maybe that's why disc jockeys of whatever musical persuasion have a rep for being hot on the mike and hot on themselves.

"I'm considered the best by far," says DJ Nick Sidiropoulos from his impressively outfitted booth high above the dance floor of a Fells Point dance club called Sanctuary. "That's bragging, but I've earned it."

If a healthy regard for their own talent seems one common denominator for disc jockeys, a second common denominator is that they all seem to use the plastic milk crates that are great for transporting albums, and a third is that this is an overwhelmingly male profession.

One reason given for the man-in-the-booth phenomenon is that, going back a decade or so, most of the disc jockeys were coming from broadcasting backgrounds, which were traditionally dominated by booming male voices. Another reason given is that DJs have to lug equipment and records to all sorts of gigs, and this exertion might be too much for the, er, gentler sex.

But there are some female DJs out there.

"You have to be physically fit to carry all that equipment," concedes Laura Blasetti, 32, of White Marsh, who is a petite 5 foot 1. Ms. Blasetti, who works by day as a seller of vending machines, says working nights and weekends as a disc jockey is a great way to indulge her interest in music, meet people and make some money on the side.

Ms. Blasetti estimates she has been the disc jockey for some 500 weddings since 1985, and that the one song she has become totally bored with as a result is "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang.

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