Parties all start the same, whether it’s in a club, reception hall or basement. There’s always a suspension of time between when the music starts and when people will actually dance.
DJ Kevin Kohrman, aptly named DJ Double K, says his job is simple and envious – he gets paid to party.
Kohrman likes to observe the crowd, testing the energy of the room. It’s an intricate balance – too much energy at the beginning of a performance depletes the crowd by the middle of the set, but if the energy never builds up, no one will ever cross the dance floor barrier.
Kohrman spins Cupid Shuffle, a square dance disguised as a dance club sensation to break the ice. But anyone could do that; the 20-year-old Kohrman increases the song’s speed, challenging dancers to keep up to the new beat.
Kohrman, a DJ for six years, spins electronic dance music and has begun experimenting to create his own sound.
Sometimes it’s just by accident, or sometimes you think to yourself, that would be cool if I do this, Kohrman says. If it works, and you like it, you stick with it.
The dance floor is a laboratory, and DJs are experimenting with electronic dance music more than ever as the scene begins to rise from the underground in Fort Wayne. The local trend reflects the takeover of dance music on the Billboard charts by DJs like David Guetta and Calvin Harris, who are becoming just as recognizable as the artists they work with.
Scott Demarko, known as DJ Trend, is a good friend of Kohrman. He says that two years ago, there wouldn’t be a club in this city that would risk playing anything over 128 beats per minute.
DJs don’t really talk about genres – they talk in bpm. The average hip song will hit around 80 bpm; your slower ballads will come in around 70 bpm. But when a track pulsates at nearly 128 to 140 times in a minute – it’s not your usual Top 40 toe-tapping ditty.
That’s what a DJ defines as dance music – and genres like hip-hop and pop music are both embracing it. Challenging the status quo, Fort Wayne’s electronic dance music scene is beginning to establish itself at local clubs and radio stations.
It’s definitely making the dance floor more fun, Demarko says.
A few years ago, an electronic DJ like DeadMau5, with his synth-heavy sound and his Mickey Mouse-inspired headgear, would be a risky sell, but in 2012 the DJ performed at the 54th Grammy Awards, becoming the first electronic artist to do so. Deadmau5, also known as 31-year-old Joel Zimmerman, joined the ranks of Celine Dion and Elton John last year with his own Las Vegas nightclub residency.
Demarko says he read a Shortlist.com article that said that DeadMau5 wasn’t just this generation’s Frank Sinatra – he made more money with his one-year contract than Ol’ Blue Eyes made at his peak in Las Vegas.
Five years ago, a DJ making $100,000 a night would be insane, Demarko says. Nowadays, it doesn’t seem so strange.
Kohrman says the electronic music scene is starting to get better, but it is going to take local audiences to be more open-minded for the scene to really take off.
When you’re from Fort Wayne, it kind of gets ingrained in your head with what there is to do in the city, which is I what I don’t like, Kohrman says. People need to take chances and see if they like a kind of music that they never heard before.
Kohrman began teaching himself how to DJ at 14 and started his own business, Magik Sounds, at 16 years old.
I started off small with the basics and slowly built it up. Once I learned one skill, I would try something new, he says.
Kohrman says he averages two to three performances a week, including hip-hop nights and weddings. He also performs as the DJ for local rapper Nyzzy Nyce. Though he began with electronic music, Kohrman says a DJ must be versatile to have a viable business.
If you want to be booked in this town, you got to be versatile, Kohrman says. You kind of have to play to the crowd. You’re not always going to play what you like, but you have to play it like it’s your favorite song.
Demarko says his versatility has helped him perform at every club in Fort Wayne over the past seven years. He also is employed as a DJ consultant for Sweetwater Sound and the official DJ for Mad Ants basketball games. He has noticed that clubs that only requested hip-hop or pop a few years ago are now more willing to invite DJs who are able to bring dance music back into their clubs.
He says local promoters, inspired by bigger Midwest cities like Chicago and Detroit, are responsible for the push to a more electronic format.
Clubs like Early Birds Ultra Lounge on North Wells Street now offers an electronic dance night on Fridays, while independent promoters throw shows like Second Saturdays once a month at Calhoun Street Soups, Salads and Spirits, 1915 S. Calhoun St., and Tronic at O’Sullivan’s, 1808 W Main St., every Thursday.
It’s the promoters that enjoy the music alternative to hip-hop that are pushing (the) scene and bringing it to Fort Wayne, Demarko says.
Independent promoters have the luxury of introducing DJs who don’t play the commercial dance music of David Guetta; club promoters have more of a balancing act.
Gabe Meerzo, co-owner of Room 101 on Lima Road, says that even though their underage club has been open for a year, the club hit its stride in January once it opened up its music format to a mix of hip-hop, pop and dance music. Meerzo, whose club hosts all-ages parties on Fridays and parties for patrons ages 16 to 22 on Saturdays, says Generation Y is more apt to fluctuate between genres and artists. Thanks to YouTube, its taste can include global musical trends.
It’s easier for kids to get out and experiment with music. The older crowd is kind of stuck, Meerzo said.
Demarko says that younger DJs will continue to change the local electronic dance scene, too. They have more worldwide access to music than Demarko did in 1996 as a 16-year-old trying to teach himself how to DJ in Kokomo.
Kohrman says even though electronic music hasn’t infiltrated Fort Wayne completely, he still looks forward to the day that his setlist can be as diverse as the crowd.
There’s a lot of people who like electronic and who would love to be called a DJ , but it’s how you can connect with a crowd that makes you a DJ, Kohrman says. You have to give them an experience they won’t forget.