Tips from a Headbanging DJ
Alex Kayne is not your typical DJ. His longest residency of note was not at a dance club but a metal/rock venue—Club L’Amour in Brooklyn, where he started spinning in 1979, and from where he is often credited as the first club DJ in New York to spin Metallica, Biohazard, Y&T, The Rods, Queensryche, Manowar, White Lion, Motorhead, Anthrax, and Slayer, among others. Not surprisingly, being a metal/rock DJ comes with a different set of challenges. But there are similarities.
A dance DJ can tell when his set is working based on the floor being filled. How do you determine whether a song or set is working? The floor is already filled with people hanging out. Crowd reaction comes either collectively, from clusters of people around the room, or from individuals scattered about. A lot of it is initial reaction. They will break from whatever it is they are doing to show appreciation for a song or set. I try to read everyone very carefully as reactions can be either loud and boisterous, or as subtle as a smile or someone mouthing the words to a track, or tapping hands or feet to the beat. I try to “move around the room” in the set to illicit reactions from all of these combinations. I do get dancers at times and when that occurs I try to keep them dancing as long as possible without dominating the programming.
As you know, many dance DJs “rotate the floor” to maximize drink sales by manipulating BPMs. Do you rotate the floor? If so, how? In a rock room there is more of a natural rotation in that when a live band finishes playing, there is movement to the bar or restrooms and then back to the floor for the next band. In this case my job is to keep the crowd interested in between live musical acts. Sporadic rock dancing can be rotated the same way a dance DJ does.
How do you rotate a moshing crowd? With a moshing crowd or a wall of death crowd, certain heavy tracks have breaks that will start the crowd off. Maximizing drink sales at a show like this is done through manipulating a set of songs dictating when to start moshing, how long a pit lasts, and manipulating the rotation speed of the pit by alternating tracks with different tempos. The part of a track that gets a crowd moshing is called a breakdown, which describes what is happening perfectly. It is a departure from a tracks typical lyrical or chord structure that moves the track from melodic to primal. Carnifex’s “Collaborating Like Killers” at 1:25 is a great breakdown, as is Elysia’s “Filthy” at around 2:55. Slayer’s “Angel of Death”, or “Reign In Blood” always works. Pantera’s “F*ckin’ Hostile”, or Walk”. Testament’s “Into the Pit”. Anthrax’s “Caught in a Mosh” is cool and their mosh classic “Indians” has a world-class breakdown riff that gets ’em going. Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls On Parade” is another great track. The younger crowd likes to throw down with breakdowns from Lamb Of God’s “Redneck”, Dying Fetus “Grotesque Impalement”, and bands like Suffocation, Hatebreed, Parkway Drive, and Cannibal Corpse. Exodus “Toxic Waltz” and Sepultura’s “Refuse/Resist” are mosh pit pleasers too, as is Soulfly’s “Jumpdaf*ckup”. Stormtroopers of Death (SOD) and Dirty Rotten Imbeciles (DRI) are excellent sources of mosh pit material. For the Metallica fans, “Battery” is a big favorite.