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djnodjisaband.com

On a windy Thursday night in Lincoln Park, I found myself dancing to loud and unrelenting electronic music at the Tonic Room.

The songs playing were typical for the tastes of the trendy, young 20-somethings that slowly filled the bar. Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” boomed across the impossibly small dance floor before seamlessly melting into the 2005 song ‘DARE’ by Gorillaz, allowing the theme of electronic dance music through the late 2000s and 2010s to continue. At this point, it would be natural to ask which DJ was spinning that night, but here’s the kicker: the electronic music that had the Tonic Room out of their seats and shaking their asses wasn’t blaring through speakers. They were being played on live instruments. By a six-piece band.

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The band in questions is DJ NoDJ, a group of talented and highly experienced artists who created a musical entity out of their shared love for popular electronic artists. However, like true students of music in Chicago, the rockers of DJ NoDJ prefer to cover their favorite Daft Punk and Deadmau5 songs using the tools they know best. At first thought, it sounds simple enough. It can’t be too difficult to recreate downbeats and an overwhelming bass drops on conventional instruments, right? But the more I learned about DJ NoDJ, the more questions arose. How does a band play non-acoustic EDM covers without the synth machines, the endless looping and the seemingly necessary presence of a turntable?

 

Quite flawlessly, to be honest. CUSP Magazine sat down with five out the six band members of DJ NoDJ before their set at the Tonic Room to get answers. With a collective 11 years of being involved in music (2002 – 2013), Kiley, Charlie, Matt, Patrick and Alan dispelled any previous notions I had about their involvement in pure witchcraft. These guys, it turns out, are just extremely talented.

Q&A – CUSP Magazine & DJ No DJ

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CUSP Magazine: When was DJ NoDJ formed?

Charlie Otto: We started in 2012. Alan and I had already been playing in a band together, and we started it with two of the other people who were playing in a band with us.

Kiley: It was based around a Daft Punk set. That was the first idea. Alan and Charlie were talking, and one of them said, “Wouldn’t it be sweet if we played electronic music in a live setting?” Our first show was at Martyrs, it’s like a nice home base for us. I didn’t join until 2013.

Alan: We started off by covering Daft Punk songs. We thought it was a good idea, and from there it became what it is now.

CM: Can you expand on that evolution a little bit more?

Charlie: We started with just the one show. We just wanted to play a Daft Punk set, so we did that. It was fun enough that we decided to keep going. For me, it’s important because it’s the most spontaneous I’ve ever been onstage. Even though we’re playing covers, we don’t write a setlist, and we don’t stop in between each songs. We all like listening to each other, and anything can happen in that situation. It’s all based on songs that we really love, but anything that happens around that is not planned. This band is also the most frightened I’ve ever been onstage. That’s what it’s turned into that’s important.

Kiley: Yeah, and these guys are such talented musicians and play in a million other bands. I think it’s fun and important to have that project where you can just put it out there.

Alan: There’s lots of trust that we put into one another to roll with the punches as you go on for a set, not knowing what’s going to happen next.

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CM: What made you decide to essentially be a cover band?

Alan: People will come out and dance to songs they know. It’s hard to get people to come out to listen and dance to new music. If you’re playing something that people connect with already, that’s a step ahead.

Charlie: We’ve found different ways to be creative. We also have original bands, but when we show up live, we’re like a cover band for our original music. This is more free and creative.

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CM: Does the aspect of spontaneity contribute to that feeling of being more creative?

Charlie: Yeah. What I’ve learned that works with original music is to be simple and precise and not mess with things too much. Nobody’s ever heard it before, so they can’t handle too much stimulus. In this band, when you play songs that are recognizable and then you start being creative with it, people accept that. We’ve just found ways to mess up all those songs that we like so much, in a good way.

CM: With so many members in other projects, how does that contribute to the DJ NoDj band dynamic?

Matt: What’s nice is that most of the side projects we do are with all the same people. It makes things really comfortable onstage when we’re used to each other musically. I’ve known these guys for a long time.

CM: What you guys do is extremely different in the sense that your music isn’t readily available to listeners. If people want to hear your music, they have to come out and see you. Is that challenging?

Charlie: That’s an important point that we need to get on top of. We just need to record any number of songs. That’s a goal of ours. The most challenging part is that I want everyone to read my mind, and if they don’t, I’ll be really upset. [Everyone laughs]. They can read my lips onstage, and we’ve gotten so good at sensing each other and knowing what’s going to happen. Most of the time that means we no longer fall on our face during a set.

Kiley: Yeah, the first couple of years, there were a lot of faceplants.

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CM: What was the worst gig you’ve ever played?

Charlie: We tried to do “Jump On It,” but we were on tour, so we couldn’t really rehearse it at all. I remember being like, “This is probably our lowest point.”

Kiley: That was probably the same time I had been dancing for hours, and I just wanted to take a seat. I actually sat down onstage. I don’t really think I understood what I was there for.

Charlie – “There’s tons of other bands that are combining DJ elements with band elements, but they’re all playing to backing tracks, which I think are bogus. They don’t sound good and don’t sound right. Every band that’s playing to backing tracks, they’re in a really safe place where they’re always tied to a robot that’s always doing the exact thing they want.”

CM: What makes DJ NoDJ unique as a band?

Charlie: There’s tons of other bands that are combining DJ elements with band elements, but they’re all playing to backing tracks, which I think are bogus. They don’t sound good and don’t sound right. Every band that’s playing to backing tracks, they’re in a really safe place where they’re always tied to a robot that’s always doing the exact thing they want. They have to make sure they do everything right, because otherwise the robot can’t usually sense what changed. Again, there are a lot of faceplants because of [no backing track machines], but also limitless possibilities because of that.

Kiley: It definitely keeps us on our toes. Personally, it’s made me a way better musician. It’s so important to listen to everyone and be able to pick out everyone’s parts and respond to it.

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CM: How has being a band in Chicago shaped your creative identity?

Matt: I came from Des Moines. It’s a nice music scene, but you have to really work to get gigs. Whereas here, if you wanna play live music, there’s a place for you to do whatever you want. People may not like it, but you can play live.

CM: What other kinds of music have you guys covered other than Daft Punk?

Alan: All electronic dance music. We try to cover our bases, whether it’s deep house or dubstep. Like Deadmau5, SBTRKT, Justice, Calvin Harris. Mostly it’s music that we like to listen to.

CM: Does DJ NoDJ have any major projects happening in the near future?

Charlie: We’re putting together a set of Justice songs for a set. I’m putting it together, and I’m realizing how much energy is going to be involved.

Kiley: Yeah, it’s going to be great! It’ll be in May at the Double Door. That will be our biggest project so far.

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CM: Is there anyone you think we should reach out to?

Patrick: Genome is putting out an album soon. Our original band Grood is also putting out an EP.

Kiley: There’s also a little group called Babe-alon 5, which is an Andrews Sisters cover band. I also have a singer/songwriter in mind: Jess Marks. She puts out a bunch of music and is a brilliant and original artist.

Charlie: Vince Naples. He goes by the name DrmBt. He’s a wizard of projection mapping, and he’s done a lot with live performance. He’s making it so that videos are interactive, and it’s all tied to music in new ways. He has a space in Wicker Park called Canvas. Also Bifunkal, they’re another super creative band who are experts at what they do.

 

To stay up to date with DJ NoDJ and their many creative endeavors, visit their website and follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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