Popular kids: The making of America’s Best DJ (2009 winner Z-Trip and DJ Times editor Jim Tremayne weigh in)

Z-Trip with his America’s Best DJ gold medal during the awards ceremony inside Ghostbar. (Photo courtesy of N9ne Group)
Z-Trip with his America’s Best DJ gold medal during the awards ceremony inside Ghostbar. (Photo courtesy of N9ne Group)

Hello, world. It’s Vegas here. The landscape of our nightlife scene has made impressive changes and gained the attention of the globe not only as a destination for debauchery, but also as a legitimate force in dance music.

Vegas scored another point this month when DJ Times America’s Best DJ Awards returned to crown its winners with a big-ass, big casino party. Now in its fourth year – the first two award presentations were held in Ibiza and we stole them (despite a few hiccups last year) – the whole shebang was done right this time, culminating with an impressive performance by ABDJ winner Z-Trip at Rain nightclub. The Weekly was there to bring you insight about what the ABDJ awards mean for Vegas, and what Z-Trip’s win means to the DJ from L.A.

The Awards

Imagine world-renowned DJ/producer Christopher Lawrence spinning for about 10 people in a Vegas casino lounge. Embarrassing, right? That’s what happened in 2008 at the America’s Best DJ Awards ceremony after he won top honors. Even his most loyal fans had no idea he was in town. What happened there?

“Last year’s [awards party] was a little hectic because originally the party was going to be with another promoter at another venue,” explained DJ Times Editor-in-Chief Jim Tremayne. The 2008 party was poorly attended and promoted and ended up being held at MGM’s Rouge Lounge, a venue that doesn’t normally host dance music events. But thanks to a call Tremayne received from Paul Oakenfold himself, 2009 saw a fantastic improvement.

Oakenfold, the famous DJ/producer and Saturday resident at Rain, was in New York working with Madonna in the spring when he phoned Tremayne to ask if he’d like to meet for breakfast and discuss upcoming DJ Times events that might partner well with Perfecto Vegas.

“It worked out great,” Tremayne told the Weekly during the 2009 awards party at the Palms. “The N9NE Group has its shit together, and Oakenfold’s no joke.”

At an intimate ceremony inside Ghostbar on September 12, Oakenfold presented 2009 winner Z-Trip with a 24-karat gold-plated Pioneer mixer. “The thing really, really works!” said Tremayne. “That was Pioneer’s idea and I think it was great. You need something iconic: Hockey has the Stanley Cup, we have this.”

Vegas-based DJ Scotty Boy was also in attendance, claiming the number 5 spot for the second year in a row. Also being honored, but not in attendance, were Steve Porter, Qbert and Kaskade, at numbers 2, 3 and 4 respectively.

Tremayne doesn’t deny the ABDJ awards are a popularity contest. After the initial selection of competitors by the DJ Times staff, fans are invited to narrow down the nominees on their Web site. This results in many DJs whoring themselves out via social networking sites and e-mail blasts to gain as many votes as possible. Does the best DJ take home the prize? It’s hard to say, but the competition appears successful in heightening the public’s interest in electronic music. “It energizes people to the DJ culture,” he said. “That’s really what we wanted to do with this.”

What’s in it for the DJs themselves? “I know for a fact that some of them can charge higher fees after they win or place very high,” Tremayne said. “Some of them, it doesn’t impact at all. For example, a guy like Danny Tenaglia or Eric Morillo, it doesn’t really matter how well they chart because they are huge… Erick Morillo makes a million dollars a year just playing in Ibiza. He doesn’t need to win an award. Whereas people like Steve Porter and Z-Trip—who are very much out there slugging it out and playing in America a lot—I think it helps them.”

As far as returning to Vegas and the Palms for the 2010 awards, N9NE Group marketing director Sol Shafer welcomes DJ Times and Pioneer. Tremayne said he would lean towards holding the ceremony in Las Vegas every year.

“Vegas has become the club capital of America in a lot of ways. Miami obviously is huge, but it’s a different kind of tourism. New York is huge, but we’re from New York; we don’t want to do it in New York. Vegas has the glitz; it has all the attention that we want.”

The DJ

The word “mash-up” leaves a bad taste in the mouths of some clubbers, so don’t call Z-Trip a mash-up DJ, at least not in the sense Las Vegas has become accustomed to. Where Saturday nights at Rain are typically for the more electronic dance music set, the ABDJ winner and turntabilist took command of the tables from Scotty Boy at midnight on September 12 and owned the packed club.

So, how did the DJ born Zach Sciacca become America’s Best DJ?

“I don’t feel I ask a lot of my fans… I’m sort of the opposite,” he said prior to taking the stage for his victory set. Z-Trip puts numerous tracks and mixes out for the public to snag for free and said he was surprised to earn the number four spot in 2008 and even more astonished when he earned the title this year.

And Z-Trip puts on a show. The DJ melds tracks live in front of clubgoers, while some other DJs just download and play mash-ups. “Creating something that is unique is a little harder to do, and hopefully more people take the time to go that way because it’s more rewarding to the listener,” Z-Trip explained.

“It’s like, you go to a movie and you don’t recognize all the pieces that went into the movie to make it a great movie, but you walk away going, ‘That was a fucking great movie,’” Z-Trip said. “But you’re not going to shout out, ‘Oh yeah! The best boy and the gaffing crew was fucking really on their game!’”

If his Rain show was any indication, Z-Trip has the potential to pack a local club as a resident performer, and the DJ says that a regular Vegas gig is a possibility (Fridays at Rain, perhaps?). However, it’s up to local DJ booth regulars, Z-Trip says, to drive Las Vegas nightlife in the right direction.

“I have a friend of mine, John Doe, who does The Get Back at the Beauty Bar, and he’s been doing it for years,” Z-Trip said. “He’s a guy I used to play records with, and it’s all funk, real true, real raw. I think having that as your cornerstone is a great thing. I would love to see him in one of these megaclubs, but I think that’s too progressive. Maybe in another four or five years people will maybe have gotten tired of hearing the same fucking music that’s being pumped into the system.”

And pumping something new into the system he did. Z-Trip kept the crowd at Rain enraptured with his set while an LED “Z” shone behind the DJ booth. He even convinced the legendary Pointer Sisters to join him on stage for a performance after meeting them on the plane ride to Vegas. When his laptop crashed, the pro went old school, busting out vinyl records to keep the party going and rousing cheers from the dance floor.

“I never set out to be number one, never set out to make a shit ton of money or get the notoriety,” Z-Trip said. “I just set out to do this for a living. To be able to actually have these accolades and have all these accomplishments is all a blessing. I’m a firm believer that if you work hard and put in the work, good things will come around. The thing is, you never know when it’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen.”

Or if it’s going to come with a gold Pioneer mixer.

(Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly and at LasVegasWeekly.com.)

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