Danny Masterson: Inside the DJ Booth
In the mid-1990s, Danny Masterson went to parties in Los Angeles, heard the music being played and knew he could create a better soundtrack for the night. The actor, who’s known in the music biz as DJ MomJeans, credits the bulk of his desire to DJ to the lack of uninspired record spinners playing in L.A. clubs 15 years ago.
“I just started to play the smaller clubs, lounges and house parties,” he tells The BoomBox. “Then I started doing an open format night on Wednesdays. It was ‘anything goes.’ I would play everything, going from LL [Cool J] to White Snake to Public Enemy to go-go and it was packed every Wednesday. From there people just started offering me gigs like, ‘Can you do this birthday party? Can you do this event party?'”
Best known for his TV role as the cynical Steven Hyde on “That ’70s Show,” Masterson has effectively infiltrated the Hollywood music scene as well. His frustration with the tepid tunes at social events prodded the New York native to create mix CDs he would play at gatherings.
“We would just use those as the soundtrack, because you can’t find a good radio station that’s not playing commercials etc.,” he explains. “So I was finally like, ‘Shit. If I just grab some turntables, I can play all the records that I have, grab some new singles and just start [deejaying].’
“There was literally no inspiration at all except for rhe music at all of these parties generally sucks and when I play mix CDs they’re really good so why don’t I play these mix CDs that don’t have a break between each song.”
After about 18 months of rocking parties strictly off of pre-recorded mixes, Masterson had some technical help from DJ AM, a friend who showed him how to blend tracks and mix beats. The new tricks influenced the developing mixer to experiment even more. While AM helped him out, he recalls his mother’s love for varied genres — the reason he has a good ear for music.
“Literally, there was nothing but me, in my opinion, having good taste in music,” he continues. “And growing up in a household where my mom was either playing all old Motown stuff or the Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Louie Blue’s type of stuff. So basically all my memories as a kid growing up in New York is waking up and coming downstairs and my mom had a record going on the record player. She’d just be playing records all day long.”
Even after more than a decade of spinning at everything from People and Vanity Fair parties to small lounges and bars, the “Men at Work” actor admits to having a few missteps here and there, technique-wise.
“Sometimes you have a fucking train wreck while mixing, it happens to everybody,” he says with a sigh. “Sometimes you think you’re in the right spot then the new verse cuts in before the old one was done. Then you just like, rip it off real quick and sometimes you apologize. Sometimes you don’t.”
But there are some really awe-inspiring moments while on the job as well. Masterson owns a bar in Park City, Utah, called The Downstairs. He shares one particular night that he maintains as being one of his best to date.
“One night I was playing and Matisyahu came in and hopped in my DJ booth like, ‘Yo, play me some beats and I’ll just start freestyling,'” Masterson shares. “I was like ‘OK.’ He literally got in the booth, stood on a table held onto the water pipes above him and I played 10 one-minute versions of ’90s hip-hop instrumentals.
“Old Gheto Boys shit, just whatever, and he would just go for like a half hour. It was amazing. I felt like, ‘Oh my God, this is like being a real DJ back in the early ’90s, when people were just freestyling over DJs, break beats and what not.’ The crowd was just… People were going apeshit.”
Masterson prides himself on owning a 500 gigabyte laptop solely for his music and Serato application. In today’s tech-dependent society, a system crash could ruin major plans. Thankfully, having no access to his music has never been an issue. Before Serato though, Masterson had his share of crate carrying, which led to some interesting sets while spinning out of town.
“I play for a bunch of corporations and they’ll fly you places like Tokyo or a city in Norway,” he reveals. “You get there and it’s literally hundreds and hundreds of 50 to 60-year-olds, and you’re like, ‘Aww shit. What do I do now?’
“Once I figured out I could play some old disco and some old ’50s pop songs, they were gonna be fine. But for the first couple years, I only carried crates full of rock, ’80s and hip-hop. It was pretty rough.”
In addition to maintaining his DJ career, Masterson’s TBS show “Men at Work” has just been picked up for a second season. The comedy is currently in production during the week, set for an early 2013 arrival. While he may spin at weekday industry shindigs on occasion, most times Masterson leaves the partying for the weekend, heading to Chicago, Vegas or Toronto on a whim. He jokes that he’ll “sleep when [he’s] dead,” because clearly there’s no time for napping nowadays.
Top Five Songs of the Moment
1. “Big Bad Wolf,” Duck Sauce
2. “212,” Azealia Banks
3. “Two Points,” Eight and a Half
4. “All 2 All (Momjeans Remix),” Broken Social Scene
5. “Thinking ‘Bout You,” Frank Ocean
Top Five Songs to Rock a Party
1. “Man of the Year,” LEN
2. “Lava Lava,” Boys Noize
3. “Gravity’s Rainbow,” Klaxons
4. “Silk and Venim,” We Are Molecules
5. “Lindsay Lohan’s Revenge,” Pase Rock feat. Spank Rock