In 2004, DJ Martial was spinning vinyl on New Year’s Eve at the lost-to-time Club Exit. It sounded straightforward: Get friends to help him carry 600 records to the hip-hop room, DJ the party, get paid, go home.
Unexpected cover charges, hassles with the doorman over his invited guests and a towed car later, he finally arrived home, having paid his night’s salary in tickets and impound fees, and having ruined the New Year’s Eve of six of his friends.
“I got home at 8 a.m. in the morning, with a $250 ticket from my (car) window, plus the cost to get the car out (of impound),” he says. “Needless to say, I did not make any money that night.”
New Year’s Eve can be complicated — not just for partygoers trying to find the right vibe at the right price, but also for the venues. The evening is a financial windfall that can carry them through slower months.
And in the booth that night can be complicated for the DJs, the sound selectors there to help not just draw people to the party, but keep them there even after the ball drops.
“It’s the opposite of a normal time cycle of a club; people usually arrive pretty late, then they still need some time to create their own personal inebriation, then that’s when it becomes the more live part of the party,” says MICK, who will spin at 1OAK this year. “With New Year’s Eve, people arrive at 11 o’clock, completely ready for 12 o’clock to go nuts. If I do a club in NY, my set is [normally] going to be 2-4 in the morning. On New Year’s Eve, I’ll be on at 11:30, if not sooner.”
The key principles of the art form persist, of course: The DJ gets people on the dance floor and loosens them up. But in order to do that for a room of people who may not be at clubs each week hearing the hottest underground releases, the mentality of the disc jockey has to change.
“I try to find a way to subconsciously recap what happened that year musically,” MICK says. “But you don’t just want to play the Billboard 100 in reverse. Nobody wants to hear just music from this year. But if I’m strategizing my set, I want to find a way to hit those big moments of the year.”
“You’re not playing b-side records of the Fugees, or of Whitney (Houston), that nobody knows,” adds Martial, who by day is Marshall Weinstein, the founder of DJ booking and management firm SET Artist Management, and often works with party promotion company Joonbug to place DJs across town. “You’re playing the hits. You want that reaction, ‘Oh my god, I remember that song from the 80s!’ And it’s all aiming toward that ball drop, when the question is ‘What was that biggest record for 2018?’”
But though MICK says that “you want that 12 o’clock moment to be the most impactful moment, honestly, of the year,” there’s still a lot of party left afterward. How do you get the crowd to stay after the main event?
In some cases it means breaking hallowed DJ rules, “never repeat a song.”
“If you played Cardi B at 10 o’clock and the place went wild, and then you start to see it fizzle out a bit, play Cardi B again,” says Martial. “What’s gonna happen? The party police? It’s New Year’s, all bets are off.”
For MICK, the mentality is simple.
“I would treat 12-2 [a.m.] how I would normally treat 2-4 [a.m.] I want to give you your main part of the night between 12-2. After 2 a.m., everyone who’s left is going to be in a party state. It’s just shifting up, like the ultimate daylight saving time.”
The husband-and-wife duo Sleepy and Boo will have four and a half hours of work this New Year’s Eve, playing late into the night at the New Year’s 2019 Masquerade at TBA Brooklyn. But it’s easier, Boo says, to keep a crowd together in a smaller, more familial place.
“You get a crowd that’s really excited to be there and have this special moment together,” he says. “Other nights, you’re going to have a great night, but it’s not going to have the energy on high all the time like on New Year’s Eve. … Everyone who’s there is kind of in the same state of mind: They want to have a good time, want to hear music, and they appreciate house and techno music.”
But even with the unique challenges of the evening, there are moments of grace. MICK spent a New Year’s Eve high above the city, spinning at One World Trade Center.
“It was just beautiful,” he says. “You’re having that epic New York moment at the top of the World Trade Center. You’re like a zillion stories above the greatest city in the world. You can see everything, even the ball drop from Times Square. And it was when you could still play Jay Z’s ‘New York State of Mind’ and it wasn’t cringe-worthy. It was cool to play that, to be up there and see the entire city.”