Now I wanna see y'all on ya baddest behavior
January 20, 2010 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Help me totally beanplate a good dance playlist for a house party. Looking for strategies to get people to shake their asses, and hot tracks if you want to share.

I've got a house party coming up, but I've never tried to engineer the shaking of funky booty, and I'd love your advice. I've seen this and this, but I'm not specifically looking for music (though I'd love to hear what's getting you moving, January 2010 edition)--I'm more thinking about technique from people who host more parties than me.

Specific questions--
1) Say your party "starts" at 8:00. If you're going to start with filler, when would you expect that a critical mass of drunk enough people will be ready to start dancing? People will be arriving and boozing for hours before dancing commences in earnest, so I'd like to just sort of target a time that music would start getting more dancey so I don't have to mess with the playlist (see technical hiccup in #4 below).

2) How do you actually build a dance mix? I realize that this is why DJ'ing is an art, but gimme the crash course. Let's say you're an average MeFite, with a mix of musical interests--some old school and new school rap, some modern and vintage electro stuff, some ridiculous club remixes of Belgian reggae that only you and 20 other people on the planet know, a few semi-ironic Lady Gaga and Britney tracks, some soul, you know the drill. Should I be building the playlist based on tempo (and if so, do you build waves of rising and falling tempos)? Mood? Theme? Width?

3) Do people really dance only to the things they know? Because that ridiculous club remix of Belgian reggae is burning a hole in my playlist and I so totally think everyone would love it, but my GF (a house party dance veteran) thinks that whether or not they love it, they ain't gonna dance to it if they haven't heard it before.

4) Any tips on tech? I have been planning run everything off of iTunes over an Airport Express that streams to my stereo--but the result is that there is a one- or two-second pause if I interfere with the streaming (i.e., I change a track, rather than allow iTunes simply to go to the next track). I can't hook it up with a wired connection; is there a way of working on the fly without interfering with the streaming?

Any other words to the wise? Thanks!
posted by Admiral Haddock to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
What is the story with the people? like how dance-friendly, how varied are the age ranges (and consequent ideas of what constitutes dance music)? Like are we talking about your old school mates, or more like a wedding-level range of everyone you know in your life? Also how much do these people booze?
posted by jeb at 1:48 PM on January 20, 2010

Response by poster: Good point--it's a mix of friends of mine and my GF. Age range is probably mid 20s to mid 30s. It's a typical mix of people MeFites might know--some hipsters, some artists, some nerds, etc. Mix of races and nationalities, but probably a good number like to shake their cans. There will be some solid boozing, I think, but not too messy.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:53 PM on January 20, 2010

The crowd I run with would have no idea what to do with belgian reggae. My ideal dance mix would be a few poppy top-100 bits from the last few years, blended with upbeat stuff from late high school/college for this crowd. I wouldn't bother trying to match tempos, but I'm lazy. Personally, I'm less likely to dance to songs I don't recognize, and I think many of my friends are the same way.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:56 PM on January 20, 2010

3) Do people really dance only to the things they know? Because that ridiculous club remix of Belgian reggae is burning a hole in my playlist and I so totally think everyone would love it, but my GF (a house party dance veteran) thinks that whether or not they love it, they ain't gonna dance to it if they haven't heard it before.

Dancing has a kind of inertia. It can be hard to get people to start dancing, but once they do, it's easy to keep them going. I'd recommend concentrating some fun, popular, familiar songs near the beginning of the dancing portion of the night.

Also, a high proportion of mashups (though kind of done to death) can be a great way to introduce some new music-- there's already so much going on that if you slip in some Belgian reggae, it won't seem abrupt.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:00 PM on January 20, 2010

i usually keep it low key for the first hour and a half OR 70% of invitees in attendance and vaguely soused, whichever comes first. then i pull a dick move like "my sharona" or something everyone knows and loves OR something nobody knows but will def. love. but i never announce i'm gonna do it, so it's spontaneous.

if it's one of those come-and-go parties where people keep coming throughout the night, i generally wait until the crowd has sort of figured out the lay of the land (knows how the house works, knows where the booze and bathroom are, have started talking to new people, basically is settling in and okay with expressing themselves in a new place).
posted by patricking at 2:10 PM on January 20, 2010

Sorry, Admiral, but I can't really answer any of your specific questions -- I often wonder the same things myself.

BUT, I can recommend one specific track that just makes me Gaga crazy: "Jump Up" by Major Lazer. Please please please include this.
posted by the NATURAL at 2:26 PM on January 20, 2010

It's good to seed the dance party with people you know will dance at the first opportunity and won't be afraid of being the only ones dancing. That way everybody else will see how fun it looks and want to do it too and they won't have to be the first ones to get out on the dancefloor.

I also agree with the above comment that dancing has an inertia. If people are already dancing, if a good dance song comes on they will continue dancing, even if they don't know it already. I vote for putting on that Belgian reggae.
posted by ekroh at 2:43 PM on January 20, 2010

the J.B.s always gets them moving. Never, ever fails. Imagine an era of James Brown music that is pretty much unknown to most people. That's what it is.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:43 PM on January 20, 2010

MASHUPS! I love the Best of Bootie series (although 2009 was a little weak). The best ones mashup contemporary pop/R&B/hip-hop with old classics. Very awesome.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 3:03 PM on January 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

Often you can trick a dance party into starting by first luring the girls onto the floor with fun nostalgia songs from their youth. For the mid 30s crowd this would be 80s classics (can't speak for the 20 somethings). Play Go-Go's and Jesse's Girl and almost instantly they'll be in a little mob facing each other on the dance floor and dacing in place a little and singing together (hmm... this works with the white suburban former college partygirl crowd anyway - don't quite know how a MeFite demographic would differ).

Then once they're happy and on the floor and dancing a bit, you suckerpunch them all of a sudden with some cheezy pop rap like Bust a Move or Wild Thing and they all go AAAAAH! and start making that duckmouth face and putting hands in the air and doing hip swirls in earnest. This is when the guys realize they need to get out there and also have an excuse to and then BLAM, you've got yourself a dance party. Alcohol + nostalgia + cheezfun is the way to go.

From there it's just proper care and feeding with infectious singalong stuff that they know. Big accessible hits that make people smile and sing. More cheez pop rap, one-hit wonders, the newer ubiquitous pop ditties you mentioned, and a smattering of that stuff where people actually start thrusting their pelvises with abandon and meaning it - may I suggest Yeah, by Usher. And once you get into that phase, go with three of those in a row before doing something from another style. A lot of this is the stuff that might make you roll your eyes and shudder when you drive by the dance club, but once you're buzzed and among friends and having fun, it's just the ticket.

If you have to use your Belgian obscurities, let that be background tone-setting atmospherics in the pre-dance drink/talk phase early in the party. It may get comments like "this is interesting, what is it?" during that phase - that's when you can introduce people to new stuff. But later, buzzed/happy people want to dance to what they used to hear on the radio. It's hard to have enough emotional attachment to something new or odd in order to truly get down. If you try to slip that in there, people will take that opportunity to go pee or get a drink or something. It has to be hit after hit in an unbroken string to sustain an extended dance flo' crescendo.

Once you see people drift off right after a song starts, you know you messed up. Don't try to fool yourself - your only job is to keep the booty moving, so adapt ruthlessly or people will go for their coats. Keep some secret recovery weapons at the ready - you might even want to cut off a dud song mid-track with one of them for the save. I don't normally tell people this, so don't spread it around - but you can almost always mount a full and immediate recovery by playing I Want You Back by The Jackson 5. Other ringers are Groove Is in the Heart, Love Shack, and of course Sir Mix-a-Lot. If you must go nuclear, and I'm begging you - don't squander this - go with DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat". Even people who have never heard it will know that THEY MUST GET ON THE FLO' RIGHT NOW! Use it at a crucial point, when all the factors have a aligned, and you will be elevated into party DJ Valhalla, a hero for the ages.
posted by Askr at 3:13 PM on January 20, 2010 [18 favorites]

If you have an iPod Touch or an iPhone, you can run Itunes DJ on Remote. You can then set out the iPod and let people request songs to be added to the queue or reorder the upcoming songs. It lets the dance party hivemind dictate where things will go. Of course, it depends on your willingness to send your iPod/phone out among a crowd of partygoers, so it's not for every scene. I think other people can also use their own iPhones to request songs from your library using Remote, but I've never tried that.
posted by hilaritas at 3:15 PM on January 20, 2010

Yeah, Askr has it. In my experience, 80s dance hits work really, really well for 20 somethings, too. Unfortunately, we grew up in a terrible decade with little decent dance music, except for slow R&B songs and a few cheesy pop raps :( so all the stuff played when we went to dances was from an older period.
posted by muddgirl at 3:18 PM on January 20, 2010

Oh, the nostalgia. This used to be my One True Calling, but that was, oh my god, twenty-five years ago.

Back then, we would generally make cassette party tapes, so that no records need be handled, and anyone could keep the music going. Tape done? Flip it or replace it, hit play, stagger away.

We would make four 90-minute tapes for a house party. The third was the "Mayhem Tape", which kicked off the peak dancing hour-and-a-half. This tape always started with "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting", so that no matter where you were in the house, you knew when it was time to grab the person you were with and run to the living room to get shakin'.

On the flow, Askr covers it well.

I recall one glorious party in Dinkytown where some young padawan was all hot to play something that I knew would clear the floor. It might have been "Fascist Groove Thing" or "Atomic Dog". I took him through some sequence of songs, pretty closely predicting what was going to happen ["we'll lose that group, but gain more than 10"] and after twenty minutes or so got all the Skynyrd fans in the room dancing to the Gang Of Four or whatever it was. It was DJ Valhalla.
posted by chazlarson at 3:30 PM on January 20, 2010

just jumping in to give you a free track from Funk L'Amour. If this doesn't get everyone dancing late at night they have no souls.
posted by Frasermoo at 3:31 PM on January 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Low sophistication: use iTunes along with Askr's recs. Sad but probably works.

Mid (my default): find some mix CD's / mp3's on the interwebs. These are especially useful if you want more "real" dance music by real DJ's but neatly ordered and cut for you on a CD. I'm thinking the Fabric/FabricLive compilations, any compilation by Gilles Peterson, random stuff on music blogs, and so on.

High: hire a DJ. probably not an option unless you are in a music scene, in which case you probably wouldn't be asking this question.
posted by mezamashii at 4:42 PM on January 20, 2010

If you're going to play music, please do so from the beginning. You can start the volume lower and turn it up later for people to dance to, but there's nothing more awkward than crowd noise (or worse, silence) and then a blast of music. From my experience, people will be more likely to start dancing if they hear the music from the beginning and can choose when to, instead of you dictating it.
posted by kro at 6:42 PM on January 20, 2010

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