Beyond Vassar

Hey DJ - Play That Beat

By Rachel Beck '04

For the typical Vassar student, spending an inordinate amount of time in the Mug doesn't lead to a fulfilling post-graduation activity; at least, not a paying one. But for several Vassar alumnae/i, late nights spent in the tiny on-campus club paid off. No, they didn't become exotic dancers; they're disk jockeys.

Most people at a party don't give a second thought to the person who is mixing the music unless it suddenly stops. Yet the DJs behind the sound booth are always attentive to the pulse of the crowd and the rhythm of each track, trying to keep the momentum high and the party going. Ayres Haxton '98, Eugene Cho '98, Ian Lawrence '99, and Ben Butler '99 are among those who have taken their musical skill into the real world and are now spinning for dollars at clubs, parties, and events in New York City and beyond.

Ayres Haxton moves his hand over a record
Ayres Haxton moves his hand over a record

Ayres Haxton

Ayres Haxton, a.k.a. DJ Ayres, started out on the radio in his home state of Mississippi, and continued as a host at Vassar's own radio station, WVKR. But, inspired by other campus DJs, Haxton began to dabble in the art of mixing music tracks. "I learned to blend and scratch and really fell in love with moving a crowd," said Haxton. "Plus my voice was too silly for radio. I [was better off] mixing records and keeping my mouth shut." His junior and senior years he got gigs in the Mug, which taught him "how to rock a party for five hours straight and keep it fresh on a shoestring budget." Currently, DJ Ayres can be found in NYC nightclubs several nights a week, spinning "whatever the crowd is into on a given night." Vassar, he said, "is a great incubator for anyone who wants to produce music, play in a band, or spin records."

Eugene Cho poses at a party in front of his DJ equipment
Eugene Cho poses at a party in front of his DJ equipment

Eugene Cho

Eugene Cho agrees. "In retrospect, the Mug was an incredible gig," he said. Cho, who spins at NYC clubs, also has fond memories of his fifth-year reunion. "Everyone was committed to partying harder than they should have, and Ayres and I played the Fugees version of "Killing Me Softly" about 40 times," he remembered. A producer as well as a DJ, his music has recently been featured in ads for South Park (for which he collaborated with Haxton) and the sneaker company AND1. Although he seems to have found success in his career, Cho has one complaint: "I think Mug DJs should get paid more."

Ian Lawrence, a.k.a. Stimulus, also honed his trade at the Mug, where attempting to please "all of the different people, while trying to play what I liked, helped me learn to read and direct crowds," he said. Practical application of this talent has included jobs at Studio 54 and the 2003 Democratic National Committee's presidential gala. Stimulus plays at NYC venues three to four nights a week, and also works in Washington, DC. Additionally, he is a member of the hip-hop/ funk band Real Live Show. "DJ-ing keeps my ear to the floor and allows me to have fun and make money while making connections that support my career as a musician," he said.

Ben Butler looks sideaways, surrounded by darkness
Ben Butler looks sideaways, surrounded by darkness

Ben Butler

It was Ben Butler's background as a guitarist that got him into DJ-ing. A music major, he said, "I had been performing for some time [but] liked the freedom and anonymity that DJ-ing offered." He was also drawn to the social aspect of the activity. "It was about being out, playing and promoting music that really moved me," he said. Upon graduation Butler leapt right into the New York City nightlife scene, and continues to spin at one of his first venues, the SoHo Grand Hotel's Grand Bar & Lounge. Recently he has also played private events at the Guggenheim Museum, which aptly reflects his personal philosophy about DJ-ing: "Musical trends influence everything - fashion, film, literature, art - and reflect where we are as a culture," he said.

—Rachel Beck '04

When he's not in the classroom, Leonard Nevarez, assistant professor of sociology, can also be found in the sound booth. A radio disk jockey since high school, Nevarez started "beat matching" (blending two songs together) a few years ago. "I had been getting into electronic dance music for several years by then," he said, "and I finally decided to splurge on the equipment for a real DJ setup." His current gigs include summer jobs in New York City clubs, corporate parties, and a tour this March in Germany as part of a multimedia ensemble.

Nevarez's musical background includes stints in various bands, but at the moment he's satisfied to keep his day job. As a freelance DJ, he plays house, techno, and 1980s new-wave music as he pleases. This creative control appeals to Nevarez, even if it did prompt a listener to ask if he could "like, play a real song now?" "I'm very happy now to remain an amateur and not to have to compromise what I want to play or do in order to reach a wider audience and make more money," Nevarez said.