Tucked behind a booth, with his headphones, signage-emblazoned laptop, and two-disc turntable, stands the up-and-coming leader of the New York party scene: DJ Danny Rockz. Seen – and heard – at his resident spot at Provocateur, as well as such lauded New York hotspots 1OAK, The Darby, and Gansevoort Park, this master of the mixes subconsciously dictates the tone and rhythm of our every groove, drink, and dance floor- rendezvous. Where there’s slamming tunes, there’s Danny Rockz.
First things first: where did your name come from?
My DJ name was actually a nickname from high school, I had a few people that used to call me: D Rockz, I simply expanded that to Danny Rockz.
How did you first get involved in DJing?
It was something I started in high school. Freshman year I would go weekly and collect vinyls. It was kind of like a side hobby, something I was always interested in but I never directly involved myself in until college, when I got thrown into it. I was more into hosting parties with a friend of mine, and then one day our DJ didn’t show up, and my friend was like, "We really need a DJ for tonight, you have to take over." From that night on, I got thrown into it and I really started to enjoy it.
What where some of your first gigs?
The first residency I had in 2010 was with the Gerber Group
. I was doing Whiskey Park
for them on Fridays, playing all indie-dance and rock and roll, which built into doing Provocateur, which is my main place. I’ve been at Provocateur now for well over a year and a half, four nights a week. That’s my home away from home. I love the venue, the people, the staff. I don’t like their exclusive door policy, but if that’s the worst of it, I’ll take it.
Do you ever DJ out of town?
Yeah, out of town my main section is the Dominican Republic. The guys down there are so nice, the people are amazing, the food, the weather.
What’s the New York DJ scene like?
It’s just so flooded and crazy. You have to make yourself stand out in some way. I was honestly borderline going to give it up at the end of 2009; I had a full-time job, granted I wasn’t that happy doing that but I also wasn’t really that happy with the way the DJ world was going…the parties I was doing, the caliber of the people. So in 2010, I clean-slated everything; I dropped my job, stopped DJing, and just so happened to break-up with my girlfriend. I took the first two months of 2010 to think about what I want to do, what direction I want to head in. I started with a whole new image, new music format, started doing parties that I like, playing music I like, and it all just grew from there. The venues just started coming in.
What kind of music do you play now? What’s your sound?
I like playing a good rock and roll, indie-type set. I also like doing a true open format set where it’s not so slanted toward one particular genre or another, where it gives people a real diverse mix. I’ll play a few hip- hop songs, a few ’80s, ’90s, ’70s, ’50s, ’60s, house, rock, everything.
Is this influenced by what you grew up listening to?
All the music my parents and grandparents used to play, I despised. They listened to everything, from Sinatra, to Dean Martin, disco, to rock ‘n’ roll, ’90s dance, such a diverse mix. And I think that’s what’s affected me, because it’s all the music I like that now. I laugh about it now, because I go from hating it, to loving it, to playing it.
Besides the music you play, how else do you stand out in the flooded scene?
With your look, the job you do, your personality. Personality is the one thing I feel like a lot of people lack. Most people that stand out, stand out for a reason, and personality definitely plays a role. I’ve come across people that are looking to make it in the industry and it’s like talking to a serial killer or something.
Ha! What do you say to them?
I’m like, "I have no idea what you’re doing, but you’re obviously in the wrong field. You need to be outgoing, you need to be enthusiastic." Everyone has their bad days, but if you go into this market with a negative outlook and negative mindset, or if you’re just a negative person, it’s really not a good way to go. You’ll be sick before you even get started.
How do you balance the pre-party music prep with your DJ hours?
I DJ from 11pm-3am or 4am, but all the pre-party work that goes into it all is a full-time job in and of itself during the day. I pre-arrange the music before the party so I can just go to this one crate, organize new music, search for new stuff to play. One of my roommates has witnessed me doing an eight-to-nine hour shift, just searching for new songs.
How do you find new music?
I’ll go through different blogs in French, Spanish, Russian; you name the language and I’ve probably been on a blog that’s in that language. I’ve found some amazing music, some alright music. Most of my music comes from there. I buy stuff from iTunes, Beatport
, websites like Hype Machine
. Sometimes even YouTube, believe it or not. I’ll type in an artist or remix that I like and I’ll see what comes up in the suggestions and go through those.
And do you let those people know that you’re playing their song?
That’s the thing, it’s sketchy. As long as you’re not selling it or giving it away as a promotional tool, supposedly you’re in the clear. But that’s also why I put it on websites like Dubset; supposedly the artists get some money out of it all.
I’d imagine, even if you have most of the party music prepared, you’re constantly looking ahead to the next song just in case you change things up.
Yeah, I like to be two songs ahead in my mind, so I have one song playing, one song queued up, and I’m looking at the song after that and the song after that. I bring a folder, and I’ll have them arranged in a specific order, start the party off at a modest vibe, and then build the energy up and maybe do a little rollercoaster effect where you have your ups and downs.
How are you hired for these parties?
Networking. Being social. I talk to people, meet people, follow-through. A lot of times you have to stay on top of people, but in the sense that you’re not overwhelming or creepy about it. You just want to be cool, just say, "Hey, what’s going on? How are you we going to make this happen," and it’s also hard too because a lot of people like to go for a manager, have somebody represent them. Now, I’m debating taking on a manager. I’ve basically done everything myself.
Is that rare?
It is kind of rare, especially to be working this much. One weird thing I don’t do that lots of DJs are involved in is this whole PR scene. They like to have themselves in huge papers and what-not. I’ve never been about that, not because I have anything against it, just because I feel like it doesn’t do anything for me and it’s a little tacky sometimes.
What’s the craziest experience you’ve had DJing?
I’ve seen everything I could possibly see. For me to see something that shocks me nowadays, it would have to be over-the-top. I couldn’t even put it into words what it would have to be. I’ve seen people get hit with everything in fights – tables, chairs, bottles- to people getting knocked-out. Years ago, I saw people get shot and stabbed.
But I’ve also seen nice things, where people at partiespropose. Off-hand, one of my favorite parties was a corporate party for Halloween during that crazy snow storm. I thought no one would show up; the weather was horrendous, they were expecting 200 people. All 200 people came, in costume, ready to rage, at 8pm. It was the most amazing holiday party I’ve ever DJed in my life. They were such an exciting crowd. One guy dressed up in this wolf costume. It was an amazing outfit, and I kept playing the A-Track song "The Big Bad Wolf."
Just imagine this guy in a wolf outfit, jumping around the room, people cheering him on, people getting hyped and crazier and crazier.
What’s the one song everyone wants to sing to, dance to, hear?
There are so many songs, it depends on the party. My new thing now is playing songs like "Rockefeller Skank"
by Fatboys Slim. It’s such a ’90s breakbeat-ish song, but it has such energy and I love watching people rock out to this, saying, "I haven’t heard this song in so long!"
Do you write any music yourself? Play an instrument?
I used to play piano a little bit, but now I’m getting into music production which is pretty crazy. There’s a lot that goes into that. I’m gonna be creating my own tracks from scratch. I do it all at home using Logic.
Do you feel comfortable in the scene now?
Yeah, I’m very content. I’m happy to see how this year alone, my stats and traffic have grown on things like Dubset
and my Twitter
You are the one of the most prolific Tweeters I’ve ever seen.
I just try to be random and put whatever is on my mind at that time. I’ll mention music, parties I’m doing. Watching lots of growth makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’m heading in a good direction.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
This past week, the only night I had off was Sunday, and I was looking forward to lying in my bed, watching a movie, and that’s it. This winter, I plan on doing several ski trips. I love just being outdoors. I do a lot of walking. Sometimes I’ll just find myself roaming around town for the heck of it, even if it’s just to clear my head.
I’m sure you have lots of followers and groupies. What’s the most memorable thing someone has said to you while DJing?
I had someone tell me recently they watched me DJ for a whole night and said, "I’ve seen other DJs play often, and I’ve never seen anyone quite as happy as you. You just have the cutest smile on your face the whole night." That made me feel really good. It’s definitely my happy spot.