Campus-area DJs excited to have students back on the dance floor

The Lantern
DJs at the outdoor patio at Midway on High. Credit: Courtesy of Alex Davessar

As pandemic restrictions become more flexible, college students aren’t the only ones excited to get back to their nights out.

DJs at campus-area bars are eager to welcome students back this fall with a mix of their favorite throwback tunes and electronic dance music. After a year of COVID-19 limitations, Mitch Wilkens, a DJ at Midway on High and Ethyl & Tank, said he can’t wait to perform for a student audience again.

“I’m just excited to have a crowd again, honestly,” Wilkens said. “I went a year without playing in front of people and doing live streams and trying to find any way, whether it was making a mixer in my room or doing anything. I love playing in the summer, but having everyone back, being able to play in front of a full crowd on game day again, where the energy’s just ridiculous, is probably the part I’m most excited for.”

Alex Davessar, a fourth-year in business and a DJ at Midway on High and Ethyl & Tank, said he can’t wait to experience the positive atmosphere that comes with nightlife on campus.

“It’s awesome to be able to take requests and hear what people want to hear and be able to deliver on that,” Davessar said. “And again, just make people happy, make their nights, make them smile and help them have a good time.”

Ryan McKee, venue and experience director at A&R creative group, which owns several Columbus bars and restaurants, including TRISM, Fourth Street Bar & Grill, Midway on High and Ethyl & Tank, said patrons will be able to hear a variety of genres and subgenres played at once throughout different areas of the bars. He said playing different music on separate floors of a given bar will ensure there’s something for everyone.

“It’ll be a great experience, where the bars are busy and people can come out,” McKee said. “And they can go hear four different types of music in one night and have fun in different environments musically, and hopefully they can find their vibe.”

Wilkens said he often plays a genre called progressive house at Ethyl & Tank and Midway on High, which has elements of pop vocals, melodic repetition and beat drops. Some notable progressive house artists include Avicii, Calvin Harris and The Chainsmokers.

“More melodic progressive house drops usually really gets people excited just because it’s a song that they’ve heard before mixed with something that they haven’t,” he said.

McKee said he tries to foster a collaborative environment where younger or more inexperienced DJs can gain experience and grow by learning from the more experienced DJs and working with the latest professional equipment.

“We just kind of create a culture that encourages people to learn more about the music industry in itself,” McKee said. “So it’s not just … a guy up there by himself or woman or whoever up on the stage. It kind of makes a little bit of a community behind the scenes as much as possible.”

Although campus-area bars aim to get DJs performing again in an environment that fosters a good experience, McKee said they are also aiming to create a COVID-safe environment for students to make life-long memories.

Patrons were required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken in the past 72 hours to attend Friday’s DJ set hosted at Midway on High, but the bar has not announced whether this protocol will continue in the future. McKee said they will continue to do what they believe is best for the health and safety of their customers as new regulations continue to come out.

“There’s a lot of different approaches to how people are handling things, and we’re just trying to do what’s best for our customers in our current state,” McKee said.

Davessar said knowing how to read a crowd by watching their energy during a set is essential, but last year’s pandemic restrictions made this difficult. He said he typically adapts his set to crowd reactions while they dance to a song, but with people sitting at tables, DJing has to adapt.

Despite changes to DJing, Wilkens said he hopes his sets can provide much-needed stress relief for students during a difficult time.

“Obviously, college is not easy,” Wilkens said. “When you’re studying five days a week and you’re focused on school and everything, and you get the chance to go out, hang out with a bunch of your friends in an environment that you want to be in, it makes the week seem a little less tough.”

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