Hey DJ: DJ Eleven

Fifteen years ago in Brooklyn, a group of DJs decided to put on a party called The Rub with the simple premise of getting wasted to great music with real people. Since then, the party, which Village Voice has famously called, “best party in Brooklyn to dance sweatily to smart music,” has evolved to also include a radio show, guests DJs, and packed monthlies at The Bell House.

We got a chance to talk to one of the founders and residents DJ Eleven about his hometown Oakland roots, over twenty years of DJ experience, and playing GENERATIONS this Thursday. The GENERATIONS five-year anniversary party takes place this Thursday, Oct 12 at The Uptown Nightclub in Oakland.

When did you know DJing was something you wanted to pursue as a career?
After I’d been DJing for five to six years, I decided that I wanted to make DJing my full-time job. I couldn’t get enough of analyzing my favorite DJs’ sets (like Mind Motion, Joe Quixx, and Matthew Africa), watching how crowds responded, and studying how the whole club ecosystem operated. And I wanted to dedicate more time to learning about music, developing my craft as a DJ, and, eventually, making music. Working at a law firm at the time, I knew that wasn’t my destiny.

What are some of biggest challenges of DJing as a full-time job?
Keeping from slipping into a very unhealthy lifestyle.  It’s easy to forget that DJing is a job and not a party all the time.  Staying focused on larger goals and making the party part of a bigger plan is so important.

With over 20 years of DJ experience under your belt, what’s something about your style that hasn’t changed?
I play very fast. Turns out I get bored easily so I often times will fly through songs when I’m DJing.

You’re originally from Oakland. What prompted the move to NYC?
In 1999 when I moved to New York, it felt like there was a ceiling for what was possible as a DJ in the Bay Area. At that time, there was only room for about a dozen full-time hip hop DJs who didn’t have a gig at a record shop or some other day job.   And all of those spots were already taken then. So instead of waiting for an opening, i moved to NYC. It was a bigger market, NYC hip hop was still incredibly influential, and almost everywhere had a DJ playing (bars, restaurants, stores, etc.). There was just more opportunity and, as anyone who’s ever been to NYC knows, the energy there is infectious.

Do you have any rituals or must-go places when you’re back in town?
I ALWAYS make a stop at Mama’s Royal Cafe and the Smokehouse in Oakland and El Farolito on 24th in the Mission. Other than eating, I see my nieces and nephew and family and friends.

What was it like to be able to celebrate 15 years of The Rub this year?
It’s humbling. The Rub has grown to be part of a select group of quintessential New York parties. As a transplant to NYC, being able to have that kind of impact on the city is feels amazing, and is a little overwhelming if I think about it too much. So I try to stay focused on doing what we do as best as possible. My partner (DJ Ayres) and I are always trying to push the music forward, bring in new groups of music heads to dance, and improve the experience of party-goers. Something’s working because fifteen years in and the party continues to grow. We get a great crowd that is super open, down to dance all night, and game for the barely controlled chaos.

Describe to us what a typical The Rub party is like, for those of us that have never been.
The party is at the Bell House in Brooklyn on the last Saturday of each month. We play about 60 percent new and classic hip-hop and 40 percent that’s a combination of disco/funk classics, house, reggae, and other party music. We’re always pushing the boundaries but always with an eye to keeping the dance floor moving. We get about a thousand people out each month and it’s a great mix of all of the people that make Brooklyn one of the best places in the world.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen happen at the party?
Man, I’ve seen so much crazy stuff: people having sex in the bathroom, dancing with barf on their shirt, getting so drunk ambulances have to be called, and starting fights with groups of bouncers they had zero chance of winning.

Share with us your experience of one of the most memorable guests at The Rub.
Over the life of the party we’ve had a crazy number of guests: DJ Premier, Mark Ronson, Just Blaze, Diplo, DJ Scratch, Numark, Fourcolorzack, Hedspin, Cipha Sounds, mOma, Jasmine Solano, DJ Riz, Craze, Tittsworth, Mr. Cee, and Dave Nada, to name a few. There isn’t one that stands out more than the others. All of them have been incredibly memorable to me.

What finally prompted you guys to make Spotify playlists? Does it feel weird to do so, especially with the influx of people discovering music digitally instead of organically?
We’re always about sharing the music that we love, pushing the boundaries of what our patrons know and like, and meeting people where they are. So putting together Spotify playlists was a natural extension. We went from making mixtape on cassette, to CDs, to records, to podcasts, and now to Spotify. The delivery medium doesn’t matter to us; the music is what matters.

You’ll be playing the five-year anniversary of Generations on Thursday. What has been your favorite generation of music?
I don’t really play favorites when it comes to music and have never had top five artists/songs/albums. There’s great music from every generation and the fun is in discovering music that speaks to me and a dance floor regardless of when it’s from.

What’s gonna be extra special about this party, and what are you looking forward to the most?
I’ve had the chance to DJ with Franchise before but never with Goldenchyld and Mind Motion, both of whom I’m a big fan of and who influenced me in different ways. So getting to rock with them is the highlight for me.

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