DJ Mel Talks About Being "Obama's DJ" In iEDM Exclusive Interview
DJ Mel has played many events, but some that no one else has had the opportunity to.
Named "Obama's DJ" Mel played the 57th Presidential Inauguration. He also played the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Election Night 2012 at Obama HQ, Obama Farewell Address, White House Easter Egg Roll 2013-2016, 2015-2017 NFL Draft, and works year round with The University of Texas.
He plays festivals across the country and stopped by at Bonnaroo to chat with us.
iEDM: Is this your first Bonnaroo?
DJ Mel: Yeah, I've never done it before. Roo has been great. I've done most of the major festivals, but this is my first time here. So, it's definitely an interesting experience.
iEDM: What's been your favorite part so far?
DJ Mel: I did a four hour silent disco set last night. That was great. It was fun. I didn't even get to see U2, but I was like maybe 50 yards away behind the stage, and just hearing, it was kind of surreal. I was just sitting there going, "Wow, there's U2 playing and I'm not even watching them, but I'm hearing it, this is weird."
iEDM: How did you wind up performing at all of the political events?
DJ Mel: I have a friend back home in Austin that worked at political events. I didn't know to what extent. When I found out that he helped produce Obama's first inauguration, the only thing that popped up in my head was that I just want to meet him. I told him, "hey, I would love to meet President Obama one day."
That was it. This was my buddy that I would hang out with, and then one day in November, he calls me. A few days before election night and he's like, "Hey, what are you doing on Tuesday? Do you want to play for Obama at his headquarters on Election night?"
I was like, "Of course!" Then, next you know, it's Tuesday and I was there. I didn't have a frame of reference. When I got into the convention center and when I saw the bleacher-type area for international and domestic press, then I knew it was real, because it went on forever.
iEDM: How do you put together a playlist for an event like that?
DJ Mel: They gave me like 40, or 50 songs that the White House approved. It was a little bit of everything. There was current stuff, country music, and some old Motown stuff. They're like, "Hey, we want you to play this stuff. This is approved by the White House, just run with it." I played all those songs while the states were reporting the results. Then I ran through that list of songs twice. It got to the point where it was pretty clear that President Obama was going to win. It took a long time for Romney to concede, he just didn't want to concede.
My buddy told me to be very mindful of what you play. The internet started going crazy about it, because I guess on certain networks there would be no commentators. There would just be straight audio, and you could hear what was going on in the room. Even with some of the reporters, you could hear the music in the background.
So, all of these people were wondering who the DJ was. Big dudes like Quest Love and Mark Ronson. All of these people who knew me were like, "Ay, it's Mel from Texas." It was nuts. Then Romney conceded, and President Obama did his acceptance speech. Then there were literally like 30,000 people in this room, just dancing. When you're in a room like that, and even like here at a festival cell coverage sucks. Everyone's on their phones. I had no cell coverage in the building. When the room cleared, my phone was like this, like, "Vrrr, vrrr, vrrr." My Twitter followers had jumped to like 2,000 followers. The internet went crazy over it.
iEDM: Would you describe this as your most surreal moment?
DJ Mel: Yes. It was surreal. Even to this day ... and that was five years. I still can't grasp it, to a certain degree. It was such a big deal and then everything that happened after it. People were talking about it. Even people from VH1. It was so cray, and a lot of people started reaching out.
iEDM: You also performed for a Texas athletic team, right?
DJ Mel: I DJ for UT Athletics, the University of Texas Athletic Department, the basketbal and football team.
iEDM: How would you compare events such as the political events you've played, the sport events you've played, and events like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza to each other?
DJ Mel: I think each setting is very important in its own way. I have to really apply my knowledge as a DJ and as a music nerd to each setting, because you obviously can't play what I just played over at the other stage at the White House. You know what I mean? There's just no way. I can't play a trap set for the President.
iEDM: Do you go mainstream with it?
DJ Mel: I just have to keep it really clean. You know what I mean? The last Easter Egg Roll, it was interesting because I had all of the kids doing the Whip/Nae Nae. Silentó was performing and all the kids were doing all that, dabbing and all that kind of stuff. Jay-Z and Beyoncé were there. It's never going to be like that again. You'll never see Silentó performing at the White House, or kids dabbing, or anything like that now.
iEDM: How would you describe your style?
DJ Mel: That's really a tough one. I've definitely had so many musical phases in my life to where I can play each style of music without sounding like an outsider. I think that my DJ-ing has always been rooted in hip-hop. I do a lot of cutting and scratching, You know, technical stuff.
Then, back many years ago, I was the only hip-hop guy in an all house DJ crew. So, I hung out with house dudes for years. I would watch them play deep house, and so learning from them, and just learning everything about house music has also added to what I can do. I think the word DJ, it's thrown out very loosely, if you will. I think that, with that said, people have this weird idea of what a DJ is, because basically nowadays anyone can be a DJ, so ... I don't know. I can't even really describe my DJing. I just feel like if I had to put a title to it, I would probably say just an all purpose DJ. You can throw me into any situation.
It’s interesting, because when I play events like that, such as the NFL draft, I’m jus background music. There are times when the NFL draft has this initiative with kids, to get them to be more active. All of those kids come to my stage, and I’ve played a bunch of Drake and trap music. They just dabbed and did all their dances.
iEDM: Do you get miserably tired during the long sets that you play?
DJ Mel: Yes, but it’s always worth it. Yesterday was crazy, because the silent disco started off strong, it was packed in there when I started playing. They were going off, and then all of a sudden it cleared out. I was just like, "God, did I do something wrong?" "Did I play the wrong song?" Then, one of the silent disco guys were like, "Major Lazer is playing." As soon as Major Lazer was done, dude, it was packed again, and the rest is history.
iEDM: What's the biggest show you've played?
DJ Mel: It'd probably be Election night, because everyone was watching. It wasn’t just the people physically there. Festivals are one thing, but this was a national event with a worldwide audience. Everyone was watching, my parents, my family, my ex girlfriend. Everyone. That gig changed my life.
iEDM: Do you ever play abroad?
DJ Mel: I'm playing an after party in Paris, for Lollapalooza Paris, which is happening 10 days before Lollapalooza Chicago.
iEDM: Any other future plans?
DJ Mel: VooDoo Festival in New Orleans. I’m really excited for that because I’ve never been there. Texas football and then basketball, which I work with year round. I’ve been so busy since January until now. I’m excited to just chill for a minute and get my dog back.
So, just chillin’ for a minute and then back to it.