Cali DJ Bleeds Dodger Blue
By Sam Harrington
Los Angeles—Not too many DJs outside of, say, Tiësto, Guetta, and Fatboy Slim can truthfully claim they’ve played to as many as 55,000 people in a night. But L.A.-based DJ Severe can.
In fact, he sometimes plays to that many people several times a week, and more than three million people annually. “It’s a blessing,” says Severe, “and it’s hard to believe a gig like this even exists.”
A gig “like this” means the DJ-in-residence job at Dodger Stadium, which in 2012 saw more than three million fans walk through its gates.
It’s been a long haul for Severe, who was born Lanier Stewart in Pasadena to a father who turned him on to Earth Wind & Fire and encouraged him to play the drums. But when hip hop hit in the 1980s, Severe—then a sixth grader—was hooked.
“Sugar Hill Gang,” he says. “I fell in love with that because of the ‘Good Times’ sample. That’s when you had real DJs on the radio, and they would break music. You’d hear about a new song some DJ on the radio was playing, and it wasn’t out in the record store yet—back then they didn’t play songs every 15 minutes. So you had to sit around and wait for them to play it again, so you could catch it on tape and hope the DJ didn’t talk over the song, so you could tape the length of the song. Back then, you didn’t know release dates, so you had to get it yourself.”
The first time Severe realized that DJing could be a serious pursuit was at a Run-DMC show in Pasadena. By his senior year in high school, he had a pair of Technics, a Stanton mixer, and was shopping for vinyl—which he still does.
“Whenever I meet people and I hear their parents are moving out of their house or something,” he says, “I ask if I can go through their vinyl they’re leaving behind. I like to see what’s there.”
But it wasn’t until years later, when his life took a bad turn, that he decided he needed to pursue DJing in a real way. “I was actually experiencing a down time,” he says. “There had been a death in the family, I was going through a divorce, and I was living in Arizona and came back to California, and the previous job I had in the aerospace industry wasn’t available to me anymore. So, I wanted to put my energy towards positive things, and I thought it might be a good time to pour it into the DJ business.
“My Technics had been long gone, and my uncle lent me the money to get my stuff back. I got my equipment, printed up some cards, and really started promoting myself to do weddings. Slowly and surely I built it up. I call it a blessing. If I hadn’t gone through what I went through, I never would have pursued the DJing to the next level.”
The “next level” arrived a few years ago, when a friend of his, a manager at Dodger Stadium, asked Severe if he’d like to DJ at one of the playoff games. “When the Dodgers make the playoffs, there’s a big party—at every level in the stadium,” he says. “So I started spinning during playoff time, people started hearing me, and slowly the Dodgers heard about me. I did a couple of special events for them, an employee holiday party next. When I was there, my boss met me there and asked me if I could send him a sound effect—a horn. I gave him my card, and six months later, when I was on vacation in New Jersey, he hit me on email, and he wanted that sound effect.
“I sent him every sound effect I had, and I asked him if there were any openings at Dodger Stadium, that I’d really like to get involved. He said, ‘As a matter of fact, there is an opening for a DJ at the stadium for all 81 home games—are you interested?’ I immediately shut down my vacation, and got on board with my web producer and I prepped for this interview, which was a DJ set, really, so I could smash this interview.”
It was the first time the Dodgers were going with a DJ, so it was uncharted territory for them. But Severe, having played clubs as well as weddings, was uniquely qualified. “The difference in sports DJing is you have to be very versatile,” he says. “Luckily, I had gone to Dodger Stadium as a kid, all my life. So I knew what it meant to play music there—and with me DJing at a club, I knew what every level liked—from the luxury suites to the bleachers, I knew what they liked.”
He got the gig—81 home games, enough to make DJing a full-time gig. “Every inning is different,” he says. “You have to keep the fans pumped up, but it also has to be a family-friendly environment, from ages eight to 80. So it’s totally clean, and everyone has to relate to what you’re doing at some point in time. I play a lot of classic rock, old-school hip hop. It’s always safe and it gets people moving—A Tribe Called Quest, Van Halen “Jump, “Enter Sandman.” I play The Beasties’ “Intergalactic” a lot. And when you can mix that all together it makes for a nice marriage.”