The DJ may have you “fallin’ in love tonight,” but that doesn’t mean Usher is on the playlist.
For disc jockeys across Pittsburgh, there are definite trends in song requests — and the beats blasted at the next simcha may actually delight your bubby.
The adage of never playing anything more than two decades old no longer holds, explained Dean McAfee, owner/operator of Pittsburgh DJ Company. Now, there’s a “large upswing in old music,” he said.
McAfee, 47, credited several factors with introducing young listeners to new (or not so new) genres, including the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” with its music from the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s.
Derek Galiffa of Galiffa Productions pointed to social media as the reason why so many people want to hear “nostalgic songs.”
“Something goes viral on TikTok, and now it’s heavily requested,” he said.
Neither McAfee nor Galiffa are neophytes. McAfee has DJed since he was 20; Galiffa, 37, since he was 16, but both have noticed an odd phenomenon “creepin’ up.”
It's not uncommon for a 25-year-old, or someone younger, to request Run-D.M.C.’s “It’s Tricky,” or ABBA’s “Dancing Queen," "which is a huge banger," Galiffa said. Previously, if a DJ played one of those tracks, it might elicit laughs; nowadays, "you put it on and everyone goes nuts.”
Certain tracks will get the crowd moving, but Jessica McKelvey — who has performed as DJ Jess nationwide for 19 years — tries to refrain from what she called “cliche event songs.”
McKelvey instead relies on a tactic learned from other DJs: “As long as [people] can sing along to it, they will get down to it,” she said.
Knowing the lyrics to a song isn’t the only recipe for success, though. Keeping mindful of beats per minute is necessary for ensuring a good time, she explained.
“If you stay in the 128s, you will make your crowd want to fall over,” she said. “You got to take them on a little roller coaster of a ride.”
Before showing up at a scheduled gig, McKelvey, 40, curates a researched playlist.
“I will collect info about who will be at the wedding, who are their VIP guests, who is really a part of their story and who do they want to see out on the dance floor,” she said.
If the clients can’t necessarily articulate which genres they prefer, McKelvey will “dive into their socials and see what they like,” she added.
David Lander, who goes by DJ Digital Dave, said he sees definite trends in song requests — but he’d also like to see greater appreciation.
“There’s a tremendous amount of thought and preparation and artistic creativity behind what DJs do; and I think that — not by any fault of their own — a lot of people think that DJs just come in with a list of songs and haphazardly play music. There’s so much prep work and research and thought that goes into not only the songs we play but the order we play them,” he said.
Lander, 43, has performed for 27 years. He started his career in night clubs and now undertakes hundreds of events each year, including luxury weddings, birthday parties and professional and collegiate sporting events, and has shared the stage with some renowned artists, including Ja Rule, Nick Jonas, Sean Paul and Adam Lambert.
Lander’s collective experiences have yielded an understanding about trends in music and the way people move.
“Anything that has an ethnic, cultural or nationality base has stayed around,” he said. Conversely, clients have drifted away from things like the “Cha Cha Slide,” the “Electric Slide” and other line and group dances.
For Pittsburghers who relish holding hands and slowly moving in a circle, or pressing together and hoisting nervous celebrants up in unstable chairs, there’s no need to worry.
“I still definitely see the Hora,” Lander said.
Given the deep cultural, national and historic ties, there’s no reason to fret that the traditional Jewish dance will go out of style anytime soon, Lander continued: “Ethnicities and backgrounds have always been important to Pittsburghers. And that’s passed down generationally.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.