Highlander/Bri Chew
Highlander/Bri Chew

I had never judged a music contest before attending the FUSE DJ Competition. In fact, prior to the event, I had no knowledge of the nuances of DJing. Nevertheless I was thrust into the world of vivacious dance expression by being asked, along with two other judges, to determine which out of nine candidates would take home the title of UCR’s Best DJ.

Despite my lack of exposure to DJing, the event was just as much fun for me as it was for the passionate attendees. Not only did I enjoy the music but the exuberant crowd itself was entertaining to watch and the hosts kept the entire audience engaged with numerous contests and giveaways.

On Friday, April 29, I arrived at Latitude 55 an hour before the show started to do a quick run-through with Alexandra Villamor, program associate for the Highlander Union Governing Board. She told me that the competition provides DJs the opportunity to showcase their skills … (and) we give out prizes every year. This year, they are competing for a slot at Spring Splash.”

Before the competition, I got to meet the two other judges, Michael Carella and Erik Padilla, both of whom also appeared to have little experience with DJing. Following the event, Padilla even told me, “The experience tonight was very difficult because it was hard to pinpoint a clear winner.” He expanded on his struggle by saying that “each person had a different skill set as a DJ.”

It was only until the doors opened to the audience at 6 p.m. when I realized how big the show was going to be. It seemed like everyone knew each other from the way they easily conversed and shot hand signals to one another while shouting, “Aye!” from opposite ends of the room. It was also possible they had never met before and were bonding due to the energy in the room.

Hosts Bryant Glover and Jessica Gonzales didn’t waste any time at all with getting the audience amped up. As soon as Glover introduced the show, the audience erupted like the Super Bowl had just started, and the first DJ of the night, DJ JasonLo, was summoned to the stage.

The first thing JasonLo did was call up the audience to the dance floor, a tactic that opened the show perfectly; male audience members poured to the dance floor and immediately began to jump simultaneously to the music.

The reaction to the first performance was the greatest depiction of a bro-fest I had ever seen; every single person on the dance stage was male and they were packed together like a can of sardines. I was surprised that they didn’t even need alcohol to get that hyped up. Instead, their behavior was due to nothing less than raw, genuine enthusiasm for hard-hitting beats. JasonLo, meanwhile, looked like an overlord masterfully operating his turntable as he signaled his faithful army to leap at upcoming bass drops.

JasonLo set a high standard that wasn’t matched in confidence or skill until later in the show. In the meantime, I began to notice distinctions in the performances.

One of the criteria for the performances was the DJ’s uniqueness as a performer. This initially surprised me because I had never thought of a DJ as a performer before. However, it made sense since they have just as much stage presence as a singer or dancer. With some performances, like Lo’s, the DJ had a strong presence because they frequently interacted with the audience. Others merely worked the turntables without saying anything, not even an introduction.

Therefore, the entire atmosphere seemed to depend on the DJ’s energy. The performances in which the DJ performed in silence were the ones when the dance floor was empty and people sat stiffly in their seats. On the other hand, the performances in which the DJ actively engaged with the audience and made their personalities apparent were the ones that turned the audience into what resembled the boisterous crowd of a frat party.

Near the second half of the show, the audience became increasingly impatient for DJ Anda, a DJ who was scheduled to perform seventh. It almost sounded like they were inciting a riot from the way that they chanted “DJ Anda” to the tune of “Who’s Your Daddy?” sometimes even right after another DJ’s performance.

Thankfully, Glover and Gonzales were able to contain the crowd professionally while maintaining their easygoing vibes.

On a particularly humorous incident, Glover said, “I need someone to tell me the three big concerts that UCR holds.” An audience member raised his hand and said, “DJ Anda, DJ An-” but before he could continue, Glover swiftly cut him off and looked for someone who had a legitimate guess.

The numerous audience activities, such as a sing-off to Trey Songz’s songs and a dance-off, made the show feel like a party that just got more exciting. People were comfortable enough to be silly in their performances and were actively cheered on by their friends in the crowd.

Finally, the moment that most of the crowd had been waiting for arrived when Anda graced the stage. He instantly differentiated himself from the preceding DJs, some of whom I couldn’t even see in the darkness, when he flicked on the lights of a disco ball on the stage. Out of all of the performances, I could imagine his being played in a party the most due to the songs selected (“All I Do Is Win,” “Down In the DM,”) and it was thoroughly packed with energy from start to finish. Although some earlier performances included more creative selections, the audience clearly preferred Anda’s music over all of them.

The moments preceding the verdict were hushed for the first time that night and I noticed more people looking over at the judge’s panel. Sure enough, the results arrived and all nine DJs lined up at the stage as whispers of “DJ Anda” wafted in the air. The second-place winner, who won a pair of Beats headphones, was announced to be DJ Nomad Navi, the last performer of the night who gave an invigorating set that leaned toward the electronic music spectrum. And to the audience’s jubilation, the first place winner was declared to be Anda, who immediately became engulfed by a herd of audience members. Following the show, Anda revealed, “I’ve been practicing (DJ’ing) since I was a freshman (in college) and I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time … I feel grateful.”
When the show was over, I still had little knowledge about the technicalities of DJ music. However, I left feeling like I had just attended an exhilarating party instead of a music competition and felt inspired by the spirit of the crowd. In this sense, I fulfilled the DJs ultimate goal of unifying every member of the audience into one collective body, whether they listen to DJ music or not.