Spinning Night to Day: The Minds Behind The Music
One minute you’re comfortably perched atop the bar stool, enjoying your libation of choice at one of Lansing’s nightlife hotspots. The next minute, you’re suddenly aware of a beat your tapping toes haven’t been able to ignore. In quick succession, the same emerging beat seduces you to the dance floor where you lose yourself to the innate rhythms of your body and sound.
If you think it’s pure luck, think again; there is a snake charmer behind those sounds, one who understands the power of music and can read the subtleties of your tapping toes or gently shaking shoulders. Lansing is fortunate to have a population of resident snake charmers in the form of DJs, bringing new sounds and experiences to our area every weekend. Join us as we take look at just a sampling of the minds behind the turntables and learn about the folks who charm us with their beats.
When Steve Swart came to MSU in 1992, the population of his hometown Otisville dropped to 599 residents. You wouldn’t expect one of the most established DJs in the area to hail from Smalltown,Michigan, but it was early influences in that town that sparked his eclectic musical interests.
“When I was growing up, I had some older friends who were break dancers,” Swart explains. “They battled in Flint with all these crews and came back and shared music with me right at the beginning of hip-hop.” As a teen he played in punk bands, but DJing had long been a dream of his. He recalls cutting pictures of turntables and equipment out of music magazines in middle school.
Swart got his first gig in 1994, right at the beginning of the second wave of hip-hop in the area. At that time, the Wu-Tang Clan was his primary inspiration. “That was the stuff that brought me back to hip-hop. I got excited for that kind of energy that bridged the gap between punk and hip-hop,” he says.
Those bridges are not unique to his musical ventures. Swart spent many years as an anti-racism activist, experiencing several arrests as a result of his demonstrations. Once during that time, a friend asked him to DJ in a talent show at Highfields, a camp for at-risk youth. It was there he was able to translate an unsustainable, global passion, into a more individual, long-term service.
Steve spent the next eight years at Highfields as counselor and continues to work with at-risk youth at Ingham Academy
as a behavior specialist. In his two years at the academy, he has been crucial in helping children go on to lead normal lives, which he says is a big deal and a major measure of success for the kids he works with.
As DJ Ruckus, Steve spins regularly at Xiao
on Friday nights and plays a range of venues across the state.
You wouldn’t expect it, but music professionals need creative outlets, too. A successful music producer, John Beltran shares the evolution of his experience in different arms of the business. Beltran is a Lansing native, graduating from Eastern high school and is currently living in the neighborhood in which he grew up. Music was part of his upbringing; he played piano at an early age and became absorbed with all things music.
“I’m a musicologist first,” he explains, “I was a fan before anything else. My mind was somewhere else growing up, so much into music that I even flunked classes because of it.”
That love of music translated into a profession: Beltran began his career in the early '90s as a music producer, releasing 10 albums between 1995 and 2006. John called both LA and Miami home at certain points and left heavily influenced by Latin and jazz rhythms. His textured ambient music took on many flavors as a result of his diverse tastes and experiences, and opened many doors for him.
“I wrote music for Oprah for six years,” he says, “and currently have one of my songs as the theme to Oprah’s Next Chapter.”
Successful as the recording business was, he craved the creative interaction live performance affords musicians. Restaurant owner friends invited him to play some sets locally, and so, a DJ was born in the late '90s. As one of the original lounge DJs in the Lansing area, Beltran prides himself on the diversity he brings to the music he drops.
He smiles widely as he says, “I love blowing people’s minds and dropping an unexpected selection.”
Life is lived at a relaxed pace now for Beltran, with most of his time happily devoted to his young son. He’s got a regular gig at The Exchange
on Thursdays and is excited for a regular gig at the newly opened Black Rose, also downtown.
If it weren’t for perfectly aligned stars and one of the DJs profiled above, there most likely would be no DJ Rachael
. After returning home from living overseas for several years, Lansing native, Rachael Parker, just happened to grab a drink at Tavern on the Square
on a night when none other than John Beltran was playing.
She laughs, “I was on my way back to the bathroom when I looked and saw that there was an actual DJ playing! I basically started stalking him.” The two became fast friends and cultivated a mentor/mentee relationship.
Parker was bitten by the DJ bug while living in London; house music was popular in the West End pubs and the process intrigued her. She’d grown up playing an assortment of instruments, but there was something different about dropping selections that caused her to take notice. Intrigue became obsession after co-workers gave her the gift of a DJ course.
“I was hooked after two lessons,” she says, “I went right out and bought all of the gear.” Though, at the time, her interest didn’t go beyond just wanting to play around home.
“I never had the intention of playing in front of people. I didn’t think I’d ever have the guts!" After meeting Beltran, Parker developed her skills under his tutelage and was eventually offered a full-time gig at Tavern after she’d proven to be a crowd favorite. She’s been there on Saturday nights for the last two years.
She was recently awarded second place in the City Pulse Top of The Town Awards
. Parker feels lucky, not only to have been quickly welcomed on the scene as a music professional, but to love her day time job as well. When she’s not DJing, Parker is passionate about her PR/marketing work for TechSmith Corporation.
Her area of focus is in education, specifically how educators are using TechSmith tools in their classrooms. She explains:
“Our main product is a screen capture/recording program that allows educators to record lectures while instructing on the computer screen. Educators are using these lectures as homework outside of the classroom, which allows for more interaction between students and teachers in the classroom. It is by far the coolest, most awesome project I have ever worked on in my life.”
Parker eagerly tells the story of a Michigan school that experienced a 66% reduction in discipline rates in one year after ‘Flipping’ their classroom. In addition to her Saturday nights at Tavern on the Square, Parker spins at The B.O.B
in Grand Rapids and can be seen volunteering her talents at many of the events around Lansing.
Veronica Gracia-Wing is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains.
is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
DJ Rukus at Xiao
DJ Rukus with the tools of the trade
John Beltran at Tavern On The Square
DJ Rachael at her night job, and at her day job at Tech Smith
Photos © Dave Trumpie