On New Year's Eve, we had an excellent time ushering in 2009 by DJ-ing a huge party at a venue in lower Manhattan that featured a Roaring Twenties theme. (You can see some photos of the party below, and a photo slideshow of the night at Dan's blog, located at www.discjockeynyc.com)
Most guests brought a lot of Jazz Age spirit with them, and it was cool to look out into the crowd and see many of the women sporting stylish flapper hairstyles and the guys adjusting crisp fedoras. The event featured bands playing Dixieland-style jazz, a burlesque show, and even a group performing a fire-throwing routine (not exclusively 1920s, but it does get your attention!).
For our part in adding to the atmosphere, we played original and remixed versions of big band and swing tunes from Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa, Louis Prima, Cab Calloway and revivalist swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, along with rockabilly and rock 'n' roll that had a swing-style rhythm to it, like Bill Haley, Elvis, and revivalist rock 'n' roll bands like the Stray Cats. Even though space was tight, everyone seemed to find enough room to dance, and the sexy vintage mix really went well with the retro Bacchanalia of the evening. And it was great to see the crowd sharing a sentimental moment to the swingin' big band version of "Auld Lang Syne" that we played the moment the clock hit midnight.
DJ-ing theme parties is great fun, and gives you and your guests a chance to delve deeper into genres than you usually can, and if the crowd is into these genres from the beginning, it can be an amazingly unique experience. But, being locked into a few genres for the whole event can also get boring quickly unless you have ways to freshen things up. This is especially true if the theme only involves a single genre or just a couple kinds of music, and if some of the crowd are neutral in their feelings toward the genre(s) that are featured.
Keeping things lively, though, can be done in many ways, such as playing lesser-known songs in these styles that still have a great rhythm; playing more cover versions of well known songs in the specific styles; throwing out a few mash-ups of songs; or finding related music that might not be instantly obvious to play, and stretches the borders of the theme a bit while still feeling right – in the case of our New year's Eve party, this was the "newer" (from the '90s and '80s) swing- and early rock-influenced artists I mentioned above, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Stray Cats.
The most venerable way, though, for the DJ to liven things up and extend the party when spinning at a theme or any event is the remix. And while remixes have been used to extract maximum sweat from dance floor patrons since the disco era, for music from the first half of the 20th Century, this really hasn't been much of an option (save for that irritating version of "Puttin' on the Ritz" and its remixes done by Taco in the mid '80s). But recently, there have been more remix versions being made of big band, swing and rock 'n' roll songs from the '20s, '30s, '40s and '50s. Most of the good remixes of this type add thicker, modern-sounding beats to carefully, stylishly re-assembled versions of the original songs. (An album cover of a compilation of these remixes, Big Band Remixed & Reinvented, is pictured above.) At our New Year's Eve party, being able to sprinkle these songs in our set was a welcome addition, as it gave the crowd something that was at once both familiar and accessible, but also new and different, and our crowd really responded well to this fresh vibe.
We'd definitely suggest including a few of these remixed vintage songs at your event – whether your event is a theme party featuring vintage music only, or if you simply want to feature a set of songs from these older eras at a non-theme event. Ultimately, this emerging kind of "vintage remix" is great to have available, as it re-energizes older genres that can sometimes sound tired to many ears, yet are often wanted or needed at events that feature multiple age groups. Better yet, there's a range of moods to these remixes as well – some more suited for a lounge atmosphere, some for the heavy dancing part of the event that usually comes later on.
See what you think. Here's some samples of these kind of remixes: the first takes the Gene Krupa version of the swing classic "Bugle Call Rag" and attaches to a set of sexy, late-night beats; the second tune is a high-energy, swinged-out remix of the even more classic "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley. If you want the full range of these remixed songs, go to our complete iTunes mix, located here.