DJ Action is an artistic fixture at Toad’s Place, New Haven’s premier nightclub. He hails from Chicago and graduated from Colby College. By day he works as a physical therapist and by night he acts as the grand master of nightlife at Yale.
Yale Herald: Thanks for talking to me! You’re kind of a campus celebrity.
DJ Action: I feel like a lot of people know the name, but they don’t actually know who I am.
YH: How did you come up with the name?
DJ: I saw the paid-for campus jobs and I was like, “Yeah, nah, this isn’t going to work so well for me.” So I decided that, you know, I would hang out with a couple of the guys who DJed. And we’re sitting there, and we’re talking, and they’re like, “Wow, man, you know a lot of music.” They said, “Man, you should come out and DJ with us!” That’s what happened. So next thing you know, I’m dating this girl—back to dating this girl—and she’s like, you know, you’ve got to come up with a DJ name. And then she said, “You should be DJ Action Jackson!” And I’m like, that is corny as hell. What if we just leave out the Jackson part? Anyway, it just kind of stuck. (Phone goes off—the sound of turntables. And then— “D… J… Action!”) DJ: That’s my tone. I made it myself. Yeah, I’m corny like that. Like when I’m out and my phone rings, I want to know it’s my phone, you know? Everybody’s got the same phone these days, so when my phone rings, that’s my phone.
YH: What’s it like, working here? What’s the community like?
DJ: Everybody’s just super cool. A lot of the other places you have owners or managers that pretend that they’re DJs, indirectly, telling you what to play, when to play it, and it’s like, whoa, time out. You manage the bar. Do I jump behind the bar and tell you how to mix drinks? No I don’t, you know, so why are you in my face about what I need to play? ‘Cause nine times out of ten, when they tell you what to play, you do what we in the DJ world call a “Moses”: you part the dance floor. Pshhhhhhew. Everybody leaves and goes and sits down and you’re like, yep. There goes the manager being a DJ again.
YH: What does it mean to keep the dance floor rotating?
DJ: So the idea is you come in as a DJ, and maybe you just play all the hits, and no one leaves the dance floor. As a DJ you feel like, yeah, I did my job! Not necessarily. Let me give an example. Let’s say, if we take a percentage here, one hundred percent of the people are obviously the population of the club. Twenty-five percent likes hip-hop. Twenty-five percent likes Top 40. Twenty-five percent likes EDM. The other twenty-five percent really doesn’t care. Well, if you’re playing hip-hop, then the twenty-five percent who likes it and the twenty-five percent that is kind of, doesn’t care, they’re probably going to stay on the dance floor. The EDM people and the Top 40 people, if it’s Top 40 hip-hop—like Fetty Wap, he’s Top 40 hip-hop, it’s just what it is—they might stay, too.
YH: Do you change up what you play at all depending on the Yale-to-another-school ratio?
DJ: Sometimes. You know, a good DJ is also a professional profiler.
YH: What have you noticed Yale students being really into lately?
DJ: You know, almost any electro-house with a solid buildup and a hard-hitting baseline pretty much works no matter what they’re talking about in the record. It just works.
YH: It’s funny because I feel like you, of all people, objectively can get away from the songs. Like you can just not play them.
DJ: Oh yeah, I do. I have little contests with myself sometimes. Like last week I was like, I’m not going to play Fetty Wap. And I didn’t. I didn’t play him at all. And I got away with it! People were on stage, so I must have done my job halfway right.
YH: How do you make your sets? And when do you make them?
DJ: I pretty much make them up on the fly. I don’t ever go into a night saying, yep, I’ve got an hour and a half to play, this is what I’m going to do. Never do that. I just look at people. Good DJs have all sorts of tricks. Some of mine, for example: I just watch how people react to songs. Like I said, professional profiler. If I play Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” there is a pretty good chance I can get away with Major Lazer’s “Lean On.” You kind of look at people and see how they vibe to a song.
YH: How have you seen the vibe change over the past ten years since you’ve been working here?
DJ: It kind of hasn’t. You ever seen Animal House?
DJ: Is it really so different from what’s going on now? I mean, seriously, maybe they had a toga party, maybe you don’t do as many toga parties anymore—but the way people acted, it was the same. And what’s kind of cool is like every four years it refreshes itself. ‘Cause most undergraduates tend to stay in school for four years, unless they’re a super senior, or you have to take a year off or something. So no, it hasn’t really changed, except musically, more than anything.
YH: Do you recognize people week to week?
DJ: I do. I do, yeah.
YH: Do you have any memorable stories or moments from DJing here?
DJ: There’s a lot of them. I have some really good ones, I’ve got some that were like mmmnnnn, didn’t want to see that. So I’ll give you a couple, ok? I want to say it was like an alumni weekend, and this place was going crazy—it was like super duper packed, you can’t move. And I kid you not, I forget what song it was that I played, but everyone got to yelling and screaming so loud they literally drowned out the PA. I’m like, that’s like a 30,000 watt sound system. That thing is loud. And the cheering alone drowned it out! I’m like, wow. How about some interesting moments. I don’t believe they have it still—I haven’t walked in the Rainforest Room in like, years—I know, I’m here all the time but I very seldom venture around—we used to have a pool table back there. And let’s just say I saw a couple on that pool table… yep. Exactly. Ok? Is somebody going to tell them they maybe need a room, or should I do that?
YH: What’s your experience been, or what’s your perception, of Yale students and dance floor make-outs?
DJ: They’re no different from anybody else. I think the difference is, certain other schools, they’re like, yeah I did it. What are you going to do about it? Whereas Yale students are kind of like, especially the girls, we’re Yale, we don’t do that. But Yale’s lightening up with that, honestly. You really are. And I’m seeing a lot more same-sex couples making out in public. So I guess, for me, that’s really cool because it’s kind of become the norm. It’s far more accepted, perhaps, than what it was years ago. And I would attribute that to various television shows—I mean, I’m showing my age here, but like Will and Grace. That was the first show I can remember that said, hey, yeah, this is a woman living with a gay guy, and it’s okay, it’s cool.
YH: What’s your favorite part of the night?
DJ: If we’re talking about a Wednesday, it’s about that 12- 12:15 timeframe because everybody’s here. If it’s a Saturday night, it’s almost packed the whole night anyway, so I don’t really have a favorite part. I guess my favorite part is when I’m DJing, ‘cause I have the most fun.
YH: Awesome. Thank you so much. I really appreciated that. One last question—why does it always end with “Living on a Prayer”?
DJ: That’s actually Brian! The manager insists on that. It’s a tradition.