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In New York there are a few DJs that come up over and over again at the city’s hottest parties. One of those names is undoubtedly DJ Mel DeBarge. No big surprise considering he’s aligned himself with the illustrious dGi Management, the same company that helped guide the careers of DJ Cassidy, Paul Sevigny, Rev Run, The Misshapes and many others.
Niteside got a change to chat with the ambitious young musician about how he launched his career by unknowingly DJing Beyonce’s birthday, what’s coming up next and the pressures of working a room with Prince in it.
New York nightlife is all about partnerships. What are some partners that are valuable to your career and why? Partnerships are an essential part of nightlife, and for me the most valuable is my management. DGi management has been representing every aspect of my career since 2006 and they are an indispensable asset to my career. While ambition and dedication play a big role, the right representation and guidance can make all the difference -- dGi has made that difference.
When you’re not spinning Mel DeBarge is likely… Doing a million other things to further myself. Lately, I've been working on launching a personal blog so I can be a bit more connected to information I want to share and obtain. I take an active interest in social media and the impact it has had in introducing me to a wider audience. I’m also working on producing more and documenting my experiences, travels, events and everything through photography and video.
Favorite place to spin in New York? This is a hard one. I love spinning in several different spots but I'll give it a shot.
I would say The Eldridge is a favorite because it’s home to a wide range of people with a bigger and better taste in music. I can play Stevie Wonder right after Hercules and Love Affair and people will get it. A second favorite would be Avenue because of its ability to maintain a young, hip "it" crowd.
What made you want to be a DJ? Well, quite honestly, I never wanted to be a DJ per se. I was introduced to DJing by my uncle, Disco Dave, so I remember being 11 listening to Evelyn “Champagne” King and getting into it. I never actually practiced. It all came so second nature and easy at first, but it wasn't really until I went to college in Japan that I started taking it seriously and realizing I had a deep-rooted passion for music and DJing.
How did you get your start in New York nightlife? I'm a native New Yorker and as an artist this is the place to be. I got started at Marquee. The story is quite a bit longer than that of course but basically, I covered a night for DJ Cassidy and its been a career since then. Thank you, Cassidy.
Favorite DJ to share a bill with? I've been fortunate to be surrounded by great talent. DGi DJs are household names in the music industry. DJ Ruckus, Cassidy and David Berrie are just a few of the guys I share nights with who are amazing peers, teachers and friends. You can learn a lot by just being near them.
Craziest night out on the job in New York? Actually, it was the same night I got my break when Cassidy let me cover for him at Marquee. ... It was a Friday night and Beyonce Knowles’ Birthday. ... What was crazy about it was that Cassidy was DJing her birthday at another location, which ended up getting shut down due to noise complaints and as a result he suggested they all go to Marquee where I was covering for him. Everything else is a blur. I forgot where my records were, I was nervous beyond comprehension. That to me, was the best night ever. The next day I had a career, management and the respect of my peers.
You have DJ’ed a number of high profile venues and parties. Have you ever been star-struck? By whom? I don't know if star-struck is the right term to use in describing DJing for Prince at The Eldridge. I would use petrifying! Not only because it’s Prince and he has an extremely specific and particular taste in music, but also because there were just five of us at that venue and I was the only source of entertainment. I somehow lived to tell though…
Favorite party to spin at? I usually have the most fun at private events for fashion Industry clients. Fashion and Music have such a long-standing connection. There’s a marriage between the two of the most creative and entertaining industries. It’s always fun to DJ for that industry, that type of crowd. It lets me be a bit more creative with my set, lets me play songs I may not be playing in a nightclub.
Most obscure song you have in the set? Lately, I've been playing 80s soul records in the middle of a club night. I just think younger people should know these songs. Classics. Songs like "Do I Do" by Stevie Wonder or "Rhythm of The Night" by DeBarge.
What song never fails to get people out on the dance floor? I'll have to say, Whitney Houston’s "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." It’s timeless.
If you could collaborate with any artist who would that be? I would love to work or at least get to be around George Benson. I just think he's so musical and I could learn so much from his art.
What’s next for you? I’m excited about so much. First and foremost my birthday party, which turns into a deliriously fun event every year. Tons of friends, great music, an amazing venue. I’m also working on a couple of projects that I hope will show people my world through my eyes. ... A self-shot documentary of all the cities I’m lucky enough to get to DJ, my brief immersion in their culture through the eyes of local, young kids my age ... and a coffee-table type book comprised of all the photographs I’ve taken while DJing different events. And of course, last but not least, I'm looking forward to Fashion Week ... New York, Paris, Milan, Sao Paulo … love the start of a new season.