There’s an epidemic sweeping the land that hardly anyone talks about, infiltrating dining hall parties, Cambridge college bops, reunions, weekend conferences, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and all sorts of other mission-critical gatherings. It usually strikes around 9pm on a Saturday night, when partiers are most itching to get their groove on. Some of these people have taken time off work or study, hired babysitters, and even made nice with their exes to bring this window of free time into existence. And if they’re white, they’ve probably been drinking since 4pm the prior day for the prospect of actual dancing on this fine night. And what do they get instead of a chance to get down? A big fat let-down, that’s what.
I’m talking about the epidemic of crappy djs, which is harshing the mellow of many a partygoer. There you are, hoping to hop around to some thoroughly recognizable party anthem — say, “Vogue” by Madonna. And instead, you are confronted by some unfamiliar pattern of beats and words to which you cannot shake your booty, no matter how hard you try. And you notice that everyone else on the dance floor feels the same way, evidenced by their standing around, mobbing the bar and definitely non-dancing. And yet, the dj seems blithely oblivious to this fact which is as obvious as a polka-dotted pink rhinoceros, as he keeps on spinning song after non-danceable brick of a song.
What the hell is going on here? I could speculate on the etiology of this degenerative neurological condition which makes djs crawl deeper and deeper into the Hole of DJ Snobbery & Pretense, as they try to introduce fresh new tracks to these unwashed masses, and do oh-so-clever beat-matching between songs so unrelated that you will break your ankles trying to dance to them consecutively.
But you know what? The partiers don’t care about your cleverness, or your command of bands so esoteric they hardly exist, Mr/Ms DJ. Really. They think of you in the same way as the bartender, the server, the party planner: staff. Which means that you’re expected to do an unobtrusively good job, but will inspire serious wrath if you fuck it up. Especially if you’re the dj, because everyone is paying attention to your work. And did I mention that they’ve been drinking for the past 16 hours? You definitely want this crowd on your side, brother.
Now if you’re some kinda name-brand dj with an unpronounceable name like Deadmau5 or Aviciiiiiiii that people have paid specifically to hear — be my guest, mess with your audience all you want. Hell, you already got paid your 100 grand — what do you care? But if you’re a hired party dj, you’ve got one job and one job only: to keep the dance floor bumping.
Luckily, being a party dj is not terribly hard work. I know this because I used to do it at the now-mythical house parties I used to throw in Cambridge (MA) many moons ago. I didn’t write any of the songs or play any instruments, and yet the dance floor was always full of sweaty, writhing bodies making out with each other. My point is that it’s not like the dj’s a composer or musician even. You’re just selecting a song and playing it for the audience. Hell, you even know which songs people generally like: they’re called hits. All you’ve got to do is read the crowd a little, and play them what they like. The crowd’s reaction gives you instant feedback on how well you’re doing. Simple.
So if the dance floor empties, it’s not because your audience is uncool. Mark my words: the audience is never uncool. If they aren’t dancing, that means you’re bad at your job, dj.
Fortunately, there is a simple remedy. There are songs out there that are so stupendously catchy and danceable that hardly any sentient being that’s not on life support can resist wiggling to it. These are the Irresistible Boogie Initiator Songs (IBIS).
Now Mr DJ, you may think that these songs are cheesy. Or played out. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. However, people love dancing to these songs. Some of these songs are the musical equivalent of pigs in a blanket: not terribly nutritious, but oh-so-tasty. Forgive the mob their mob tastes, and play what they want. And remember that some of these songs are masterpieces of the pop genre (“Hey Ya”, “Twist and Shout” and anything by Michael Jackson or Prince come to mind).
Generally, if people are able to sing along to a song, it’s a good song to play, so long as it’s somewhat danceable. For example, Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” is only marginally danceable, but when you play it, people will be too busy belting it out huddled around a beer-bottle microphone to notice.
Familiarity is a key criterion here: a solid IBIS will take people back to their college days, to high school, to their first kiss, to any number of pleasant memories associated with that song. And if you do a good job, the party you’re dj-ing will go into that same bin of positive association to draw upon for the future.
Now I know there’s some serious dj out there reading this and fuming: what about crowd-reading, song selection, sequencing and beat-matching — these are serious skills! Yes, but there’s software that can do most of these things now, such that anyone can be a competent dj for party purposes. Hey — if Paris Hilton can do it, then I’m gonna guess this ain’t neurosurgery.
In the interest of protecting all party djs out there from the fulminating wrath of drunken partygoers, I have compiled below a list (in no particular order) of IBISes that will have audiences from 18 to 48 screaming with glee, taking off their heels and grinding on strangers. The songs that will empty the bar and fill the dance floor instantly are marked in bold. And readers: if you are at a party where the dj is sucking, copy this list and hand it to him/her. The guests will thank you for it. And if you’ve got a song that you think I should include on this list, please mention it in the comments! If we’re going to stop the epidemic, we’re gonna need all the help we can get.
- YMCA – The Village People
- Just dance; Poker face – Lady Gaga
- Hey ya – Outkast (quite possibly the all-time champion)
- Shake it off – Taylor Swift
- Groove is in the heart – Dee-lite
- 1999; Kiss; Erotic City; Let’s go crazy – Prince
- Billy Jean; ABC; The way you make me feel; Rock with you; Gonna be startin’ something; Don’t stop till you get enough – Michael Jackson
- All night long – Lionel Richie
- Yeah – Usher
- This is how we do it – Montell Jordan
- Can’t stop the feeling; Rock your body; Señorita; Like I love you; SexyBack – Justin Timberlake
- I will survive – Gloria Gaynor
- Come on Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
- Got Your Money – Ol’ Dirty Bastard
- Cheap Thrills – Sia
- Wake me up – Avicii
- Centerfold – J Geils Band
- Living on a prayer – Bon Jovi
- Love shack – The B-52s
- Tainted love – Soft Cell
- Happy – Pharrell Williams
- Crazy – Gnarls Barkley
- Jungle Boogie – Kool & the Gang
- Heart of Glass, Rapture – Blondie
- Bulletproof – La Roux
- Titanium – David Guetta/Sia
- In da club – 50 Cent
- Wake me up before you go-go – Wham!
- Jump Around – House of Pain
- Here comes the hotstepper – Ini Kamoze
- Hideaway – Kiesza
- A little respect; Chains of Love – Erasure
- Just can’t get enough – Depeche Mode
- Rio – Duran Duran
- Girls and Boys – Blur
- I love it – Icona Pop
- Call me maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen
- Smells like teen spirit – Nirvana
- Brown-eyed girl – Van Morrison
- Take me on – a-ha
- Hypnotize – Notorious BIG
- Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars
- Last Nite – The Strokes
- I’m coming out – Diana Ross
- Get up – James Brown
- Single ladies; Crazy in love – Beyonce Knowles
- Toxic; Baby one more time – Britney Spears
- Dirrrrty – Christina Aguilera
- Twist and shout – Beatles
- Mr Brightside – The Killers
- Like a prayer; Vogue; Ray of Light; Holiday; Like a virgin; Express yourself – Madonna
- Regulate – Warren G
- Don’t you want me – The Human League
- Gold digger – Kanye West
- Mo’ money mo’ problems – Jay Z
- Get Lucky – Daft Punk
- Moves like Jagger – Maroon 5
- I wanna dance with somebody – Whitney Houston
- Dancing Queen – ABBA
- Boom boom pow; I gotta feeling – Black Eyed Peas
- Low – Flo Rida
- Party rock anthem – LMFAO
- We found love; Umbrella – Rihanna