As soon as he notices people walking off the dance floor, the DJ throws on “Hit the Quan,” by iLoveMemphis. Within seconds, the room explodes with “OMG’s,” and “YAASSS’s.”
But it’s not because the song was requested, or even because it’s catchy, though it is. It’s because the freaking DJ comes out on to the floor and does the whole dance in front of them.
His hair bounces almost as erratically as the light beaming off of his grill while he hits “The Quan” harder than it’s ever been hit before.
This guy doesn’t just play music — he’s a whole party experience. And his name is DJ Bobby Downey.
Over the last eight years, Downey has become a familiar face in the Boston nightlife scene, spinning at places like Highball Lounge, Bond, Underbar (now Candibar), and Naga (now Monroe Lounge & Nightclub). He’s been featured at venues as big as House of Blues Boston, opening for Fitz and the Tantrums. One time, he was even flown out to L.A. to do a party for the Kardashians’ neighbors.
Downey was hitting the previously stated “Quan” at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for a private party he was asked to DJ. But he hasn’t always been that great. And he admitted that too.
While Downey keeps the beat on his turntables and mixer today, it all began with a pair of drumsticks…
Downey’s father, a professional drummer (and karate master), got his son a drum kit when he was 8-years-old and started exposing him to classic rock – Motley Crue, Def Leppard, and the likes. Learning to play drums led to learning guitar, bass, and even this thing called an ocarina.
But Downey’s musical breakthrough happened while attending a technical high school in Easton, Mass.
“When I went there, it kind of opened my mind to a lot of things. It opened my mind to Latin music, reggae music, hip-hop, when in my household, we ‘weren’t allowed to listen to that shit,’” he described.
The nature v. nurture of what music is “good,” affects almost anybody who listens to music. But Downey refused to take sides, and instead embraced both his classic rock roots and his newfound passion for hip-hop.
Downey and his friends would have lunchtime rap battles would even collaborate outside of school with their music.
“It was comradery between the school. We would be in the lunch room and someone would be pounding on the table and someone would freestyle, and it’d be really really cool. I wanted in on that! And there weren’t a lot of white boys that were doing it, so when I did it, it got me cred,” Downey said.
Rapping with friends led to recording, which lead to Downey creating “mash-ups,” or the combination of vocals from one song and instrumental of another song.
The first mash-up Downey created was a blend of Demi Lovato’s “Got Dynamite” and vocals from Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Tech9. After it was finished and posted on YouTube, a Twitter user tweeted it out. Within a few hours, Downey’s mash-up had thousands of views.
At this point, the young artist started to call himself “DJ Bobby.” But buyer beware: he’s not actually a DJ.
“I wasn’t really a DJ… I couldn’t DJ. If you asked me to DJ a party, I couldn’t do it,” Downey said. “My sister was like ‘you need to stop calling yourself that. People are going to think you’re something that you’re not,’” he added.
Months later, Downey was asked to dance at a party by a friend who was DJing. During the party, his friend asked him to take over the tables for a bathroom break.
This was the big moment.
“The first transition I did it was just awful. Second was pretty decent. Because I’m a musician and I’ve dealt with it, I picked it up quickly. I had the ear for the time and stuff,” Downey said. “Literally the next day I went to guitar center and bought the same exact mixer, downloaded everything, and started to do it in my basement, getting better and doing whatever.”
Not too long after, Downey was introduced to a man named Kupah James, who just appeared as a contestant on season 11 on ABC’s The Bachelorette. James heads a company called KLASS Universal Entertainment, specializing in luxurious party services like DJing, ambiance, and anything else that makes for a kick-ass party. For Downey, meeting Kupah James was the perfect opportunity to become a legitimate DJ.
The two agreed to meet for breakfast a few times until James, seeing Downey’s potential, offered him a spot on his DJ roster. Downey had sold himself as a DJ, which is great, except he “totally” lied about it.
TNG: Would you say, “Fake it til ya make it?”
“That’s exactly what I did. But if you’re gonna live by that, you need to be able to stand by it. After that, I practiced NON STOP until I got proficient enough to DJ a party or DJ a club or DJ whatever. But I totally lied my ass off to Kupah,” Downey said.
Finally in the scene, DJ Bobby Downey began to make sense. With talent all around him at KLASS, the young DJ was able to sharpen his skills find his niche as a DJ.
“Talented, professional, and most of all he’s a lover of music and the magic that playing a song can bring complete strangers to their feet, literally. He’s so passionate about each track he plays and he sends amazing energy out from any DJ booth he’s behind, further connecting with audiences and guests,” James said.
Today, DJ Bobby Downey continues to explore the Boston nightlife scene with KLASS, DJing at clubs, lounges, mitzvahs, weddings, etc. Although he says it’s just a side-hustle for him, that hasn’t stopped him from setting professional goals.
“I want to be THE GUY… that there’s not a crowd that I can’t DJ for. I want to be that diverse,” Downey explained.
Downey has debatably crushed that goal already, playing for audiences that range from preteens, high school students, multiple generations of families, or simply the 21+ crowd looking to party.
Downey says he uses a few techniques to help him get to know the room he’s spinning for.
“I could sit there and play what I like all day but it’s all about the people. It’s a slow slow process. You need the layers. you need to work from nothing to something… I look for the shoulders. I look for the hips; people with a little drink talking and all they’re doing is bouncing, small little vibe, and I say, ‘There it is.’ I will automatically tailor my set to that person. That is the person who came here to party. That energy disperses throughout the room,” Downey explained.
Downey chooses to play his music depending on the flow of the night. In his experience, no two nights are the same. Some crowds demands high energy music where some can vary in energy levels.
Ziggy Marley’s JamRock is one of Downey’s favorite low-energy songs to throw into the mix that people keep moving to. But every song is part of the evening’s bespoke soundtrack.
“I love getting a crowd going to low energy music. You get people high, high, high – we’re playing house. High BPM’s around 128 BPM. It’s a fist pumpin kind of vibe. But I really like bringing it down. I like bringing the vibe down to like a hundred BPM, maybe even slower. When you can maintain high energy with low energy music, I think that is the pinnacle of your set,” Downey said.
Above all, the mission is to make sure everyone has a good time. The DJ, the company, and the venue all look good, and the customer goes home happy and hopefully with a few good stories.
“I don’t want them to talk about me while it’s happening… My goal is to be the conversation on the ride home,” Downey said.
RAPID FIRE Q&A
Staple fashion statement?
DJBD: Probably my grill… It’s a little piece of hip hop right in me.
Favorite places to eat in Boston?
DJBD: Fogo De Chao. I eat there and I make noises… oh it’s so good.
Favorite pair of sneaks?
DJBD: I have some custom Nikes. They’re all black, very comfortable and flexible, and inside of the check are all of the Marvel super heroes.
Favorite Star Wars character?
DJBD: Darth Vader… I call Darth Vader my spirit animal.
Favorite series on TV?
DJBD: Oh yeah, Game of Thrones. Huge GOT fan.
Favorite GOT character?
DJBD: I love steel cut oatmeal.
Favorite ice cream?
DJBD: Raspberry sorbet on a waffle cone.
DJBD: I’m obsessed with propel fitness water. Late night drink, Jack… jack and coke.
Apps for a party.
DJBD: Honey BBQ Twisted Fritos, Cheese-Its, and Cooler Ranch Doritos
Time machine – day with anyone – who would it be?
DJBD: I would love to sit and talk with George Carlin at the end of his road.
Your style in 5 words or less?
DJBD: uh… what?