disc jockey

Disc jockey Mel Cavaricci has been a part of the Austin party scene for over 15 years. Most recently he DJ’ed for President Obama’s election party in Chicago (Photo Courtesy of Mel Cavaricci).

Austin-based disc jockey Mel Cavaricci, known as DJ Mel, has been a part of the city’s party scene for more than 15 years. He’s done just about everything: performing at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, CounterPoint and Lollapalooza music festivals; befriending DJ maestro A-Trak; and, most recently, DJing for President Obama’s election party in Chicago, Ill.

He’s surprisingly nonchalant about it all, grateful for the opportunities he’s been given but not expecting any newfound fame because of his most recent accomplishment.

DJ Mel spoke with The Daily Texan about DJing President Obama’s election party, replacing The Weeknd at this year’s ACL and future performances.

The Daily Texan: You recently DJed at President Obama’s election party in Chicago, Ill. How did that gig come about, and when did you find out you landed it?

DJ Mel: I’ve DJed a couple of political events in the past. I did the California Democratic Convention last year, and I did the Democratic National Convention in September of this year. On the strength of those two events, a friend of mine that works for the Obama camp suggested I DJ at President Obama’s election party.

I did not know I had landed the gig until two, three days before the event. They called and asked me if I wanted to DJ, and I said, “Uh, yeah.” (laughs)

DT: What was the initial feeling you had when you picked up your press credentials and prepared for the night?

Mel: I realized how serious it was. I’ve been DJing for a long time, and I’m used to just receiving my pass or wristband and then setting up to perform. But after receiving my pass and seeing the venue fill up with national and international press and Obama supporters was when I realized how big of a deal this event was.

DT: Were you nervous when you began DJing?

Mel: At first I was, because during the event they had told me to just play it by ear and be mindful of what I play. It was nothing like playing at the club, you know? I can play whatever I want and not have to worry about the lyrical content or it being clean or dirty. (laughs) It was a completely different setting there. In a way, I was not really playing for the crowd; I was playing for the president. So anything that I played was, like, a reflection on him.

DT: How did choosing “Twist and Shout” as the celebratory song of choice come about?

Mel: I had just lost my mind when they announced that President Obama won. I was so happy. I was jumping up and down, and so was everybody else. So spontaneously I just decided to go into “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles, and it worked. The sound people were giving me the thumbs-up, letting me know that the producers of the event liked that I chose that song.

That entire moment reminded me of “Ferris Bueller” because the movie takes place in Chicago and “Twist and Shout” is such an essential part to the movie. The crowd in the movie was just as diverse as the crowd at the election party, and it reflected what was going on when Obama was announced as president.

DT: Prior to your election party gig, you took over The Weeknd’s spot at this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival. How did that gig come about?

Mel: Early Sunday morning, the day The Weeknd is scheduled to perform, I get a call from one of the producers for ACL, and he tells me, “Hey, The Weeknd just canceled their ACL gig. Would you like to take over their spot?” I said yes, still half asleep, and only realized what I had gotten myself into when I woke up a couple hours later.

Looking at the crowd, I just played a lot of trap rap and dance music, and it worked. Four or five songs in, and the crowd was into it. I was really happy it worked out.

What does a high octane performer, who conducts wild, bacchanalian dance parties every night to masses of drugged out youths, have in common with a chubby, Fat Joe look-a-like called Khaled, who spends a lot of time in his office arranging musical collaborations between people?

They’re both technically DJs.

In its current context, the term DJ can mean a number of things. Originally the phrase served as an abbreviation for disc jockey, defined by the proverbial Webster’s Dictionary as “an announcer of a radio show of popular recorded music.” This definition is worthless for reasons outside its grammatical redundancy. The phrase DJ has been used to the point of ambiguity, leaving the thoughtful music fan to ponder, “What exactly is a DJ?”

Some artists have made playful jabs at the designation, exemplified by Girl Talk’s popular contractionless T-shirt mantra, “I am not a DJ,” and up-and-comer Donald Glover making beats under the pseudonym mc DJ and playing off the triteness of the two-lettered hip-hop terms.

Puns aside, the question persists: What delineates a DJ? Outside of the traditional Webster’s definition, the term runs the gamut. The most common definitions of the term come from traditional turntable DJs such as Mix Master Mike, A-Trak, Shadow and others who operate within the synonymous category of turntablist. They generally do shows featuring a variety of mixing tricks off record turntables or some equivalent, spinning and mixing prerecorded samples and songs.

Then there are the DJs that play synthed-up rhythms backed by bass that will literally damage your hearing to a point no audiologist can repair. These include the likes of Armin van Buuren, Paul van Dyke, Sander van Doorn and other guys whose names include lots of vowels and even more Vans. Even their cliche trance-based hooks over simple beats garner them the title of DJ, because their work requires some base level of musical skill and technical mixing ability to conduct, no matter how silly their music sounds.

The last of the most common associations with the DJ label is the ever-popular mixtape DJ who doesn’t do anything on the production or original composition side of the music, instead opting to create a carefully drawn out playlist of beat-matched music. DJ Drama comes to mind here. The mixtape DJ relies on scores of lasers, air horns, explosions and a litany of other explosively annoying samples to amp the crowd up.

While these all make relative sense, the DJ designation becomes increasingly harder to define on two particular fronts: the mash-up artist and the case of DJ Khaled. Mash-up artists pose a problem in that they do fall into some aspects of what DJs do, like cutting and mixing pre-recorded music, but they don’t always label themselves as such. The reverse is also the case. A-Trak, for example, spins traditional turntables, but his mixtapes are mash-up based. Despite the fact that he does not completely conform to the definition of a DJ, he still takes on the DJ label.

Some artists don’t even concern themselves with the semantics of the term.

“I don’t really know what defines a DJ,” said Chris Rose, a UT alumnus and mash-up artist known as DJ Car Stereo (Wars). “I actually only added the word ‘DJ’ in front of ‘Car Stereo (Wars)’ to distinguish myself from a band of the same name from Australia.”

On the other side of things, electrical engineering senior Nick Carneiro of local mash-up group Beat Logic, completely rejects the DJ term.

“Being frequently referred to as a DJ is a frustrating reality of being a mash-up artist,” Carneiro said. “While we have great respect for their art form, it is technically distinct from what we do. The only thing I spin is the platter in my hard drive.”

The most interesting question, though, is where DJ Khaled fits into this giant mess of definitions and functions. At first thought, it appears as though DJ Khaled is a prolific producer with his name on a multitude of hip-hop records. In actuality, DJ Khaled produced only two of the 12 songs on his last record, and one of them was the intro.

Musically, he did nothing else on the record, with the exception of yelling “We the best” and “DJ Khaled” over several tracks so you wouldn’t forget he was there. In Khaled’s defense, he is responsible for arranging an elite team of superstar artists to collaborate on each album. Generally though, people like Khaled are given business titles. Under the Khaled mode of logic, every CEO of a hip-hop label should be referred to as a DJ. This would be fitting, as they mix marketing strategies and crank up profits.

Thanks to Khaled, and other people’s similar desire to get in on a piece of the disc jockey action, the DJ phrase has acquired more definitions than the English language accounts for. In certain instances such as the CEO-DJ scenario, this becomes a problem. Outside of these types, though, it might not be such a huge deal.

“I don’t know if I’m a real DJ,” Rose said. ”I don’t use records. I hate scratching. But I like playing music for people, so maybe that’s all it means.”