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Taking Over Hollywood, One Beat At a Time.

story + photography / GRANT KLEIN

It’s Sunday night, and like most people I’m normally sitting on my couch watching reality T.V. and eating something carb-related, but not tonight. Tonight I am on my way to meet Masterson at his loft in Hollywood to begin a ghetto-blasting journey of epic proportions.

I walk into his place and immediately notice a dismantled bunk bed sitting in the corner. Masterson catches me looking at it and quickly adds, “It was for slumber parties.” Smiling without giving anything away. Yep, it’s going to be a strange week.

We sit down and bullshit about Twitter, guns, and surfing. More seriously, we talk about how one’s character can alter drastically during a sudden rise of fame. After five minutes I realize Chris is a pretty deep guy. Masterson looks at you in the eyes when he talks to you, which is a rare trait in Hollywood. He actually makes you feel like you are more important than an incoming text message.

I quickly figure out that the difference between Masterson and the other guy isn’t just his good looks. It’s his dependability, work ethic and his desire to perfect his craft. Masterson (aka DJ Chris Kennedy – Kennedy, Masterson’s middle name.) just flew home from Ireland, slept two hours and he’s playing tonight. “I don’t ever call in sick. Everyone is so flakey in this industry.” See, I told you he was dependable.

Masterson practices seven days a week. When he’s not practicing, he’s playing clubs. Elbowing his way through an over-saturated market, he plays four-hour sets instead of the normal two. After only six months of playing small venues, he built a big enough party to get offers for larger clubs and he leveraged that to get better nights. Straight-up hustlin’ the old fashioned way.

You would think his seven seasons on Malcolm in the Middle helped him open a few doors as a DJ. It didn’t. Even having DJ Mom Jeans (Danny Masterson) as your older brother didn’t help. He started off just like everyone else. In a little over a year he went from DJing a small restaurant for twenty people to spinning six nights a week with residencies in L.A., Vegas and beyond.

A good DJ is a wet dream for a club owner. A bad DJ is, well, the auditory form of The Black Death. Owners don’t hand out nights to any DJ, famous actor or not. Confidence and timing are marks of good DJ. Control the music, control the audience and control the bar. If people don’t dance, they don’t have fun, they don’t come out, they don’t buy booze, and we all know, other than the movie industry, this town runs on music, alcohol and money.

Soda Pop at Harvard & Stone

It’s Sunday night and we arrive at Harvard & Stone at around 11pm. A cool, dark club on Hollywood Blvd. reminiscent of the bars you’d see in Downtown LA. Everyone looks strangely familiar and I struggle not to say, “Have I seen you on TV?” A mix of fur coats, cardigans and skinny jeans dress the club. I even spot an imperial mustache. Score.

It’s Soda Pop night – a throw-back to a different era – music from ‘79 and before, no fucking disco. Thank God.

The fun doesn’t start until after midnight. Sexually-charged boys and girls stream on to the dance floor like a long pour from a jigger. Jigger what? People start dancing. They are moving. Masterson’s eclectic mix makes the floor dance and this younger crowd responds. I mean Elvis Presley? Really? Jackson 5’s “ABC” wanders into Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Is this music really working? Yes, it is. And, let me tell you, the people love it.

Meanwhile, Masterson takes the time to educate me on the origins of ska music and he shows me some old school Desmond Dekker and Jimmy Cliff. The response from the crowd gives me hope in humanity. People really do appreciate good music, the classics. No, you won’t hear songs about money, bitches, or Range Rovers at Soda Pop. You’ll hear love songs and an occasional funk mash-up. It’s romantic. L.A. is listening to some really good music right now and for a brief moment next week doesn’t seem like it will suck so hard. I’d say we are off to a good start.

Animal at La Descarga

Monday night, 11pm. We were out until 4am-ish last night. No nights off until Wednesday. I’m already tired. This must be what a waitress feels like when they show up for a night-shift as a stripper.

I walk up the stairs and a model/hostess greets me with a smile like she’s known me for years. I’m directed to walk through a closet to get to the club. Yes, you read that correctly. A fucking closet. Just like in The Chronicles of Narnia, except James McAvoy isn’t dressed up as weird-looking faun jumping around in the snow. The smell of old coats turns into the smell of 5-hour-Energy and vodka. A spiral staircase reveals a beautiful rum bar and all of a sudden, the bass from a tower of speakers is beautifully destroying my vertebrae.

Kennedy opens up with Aha’s “Take on Me” and all of a sudden the dance floor wakes up. He quickly moves into Toto’s “Africa” and straight to Outkast without a pause for reaction. A drunken girl sings off-key to “Ms. Jackson” while her boob hangs out of her dress. White boys are wearing Compton hats. Only in L.A.

Sorting through songs with the skill of an open-heart surgeon, Masterson heals the people. LA needs good music like they need a good liver, and a great DJ on a Tuesday night is a life support system for an otherwise shitty day. The mixes are fast, the beat-matching quick and the people bleed into the bar. “Stayin’ Alive” comes on and the dance floor explodes. Another unexpected “What the fuck” moment, but this is Hollywood, right? It doesn’t have to make any sense – it just has to be good.

The set is over. Hollywood has left and the lights come on and sober the room. In less than 10 minutes the beautiful rum bar feels like busy office somewhere in the Valley. The bartenders count the cash and the bottles. It’s late, but it’s only Monday and we have the whole week is in front of us. Where am I again?

Hyde Lounge.

It’s Wednesday. It feels like a month from last Sunday. My eyes and liver are in questionable shape at this point.

We get to Hyde at 10:45pm. This place looks like a Star Wars set sans Mark Hamill’s bad acting.

The crowd is an interesting mix of people who own Hollywood, and people who want to own Hollywood. The waitresses look like high-end Bangkok hookers. And something tells me that a few of them are going to “accidently” get pregnant by some Hollywood producer tonight.

Masterson throws on a little Jay-Z and it doesn’t feel old. A big flippity-switch to NKOTB (that’s New Kids on the Block for the 20 and younger crowd.). The mix feels so wrong, but so right. I’m in musical heaven.

It’s midnight and the place fills up. Actors and athletes show up with their black cards and the ladies swarm. Hyde banks on bottle service. Which means a lot of fucking money. According to Masterson, it’s usually the guy that orders six bottles that ends up having the balls to put in a song request or two. “Usually Pitbull,” he says with a cracked smile.

Tonight is a different night for Masterson. More Hip-Hop, some Electronic. He’s showing his versatility. Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger – a musical Terminator. Killing the crowd before they realize what happened. Destroying everything in sight.

It’s 2:30am and somehow the club is still packed. There is pressure picking the next song, the night is almost over. The bitches at the club will turn on you like rabid beasts if you don’t keep them happy. Genuwine’s “Pony” comes on. That song is like the National Anthem of clubs; everyone is going nuts.

It is a perfect night. LA-living at its finest. Masterson destroyed and the crowd responded with a drunk dancing fetish like I’ve never seen. The air conditioner is slow to catch up and sweat covers the dance floor. A “Chris Kennedy” sticker somehow managed to get stuck to the wooden floors. The bouncer asks me about it. “It was an accident!” I screamed. I lied. DJ Chris Kennedy deserved it.
The dance floor needed to remember who fucked it so hard.

It’s been three long nights and finally Masterson and I slow down. I corner him with a few questions and a cocktail.

What was your favorite band that you were stoked on seeing as a child?
Well, I’ll tell you that my first concert was Wilson Phillips opening for Richard Marx at Jones Beach. That was pretty tight.

Did you sing along?
Yeah, I did. I sang along to both actually. They were both really big at the time. I was seven and I remember Richard Marx had a jean jacket and a t-shirt with no sleeves. And I was like THAT GUY… he’s got long hair in the back and he’s a BADASS.

Can I expect to see that look on you in 2012?
It’s interesting. I keep thinking that someone should bring that look back, but I realize that look never left. We’ve never stopped seeing that.

Favorite childhood memory?
Losing my virginity.

I think so. I mean, it doesn’t get a whole lot cooler than “Holy shit I’m having sex now!”

How old were you?
13 or 14.

So you lost your virginity in LA?
Yeah. I think LA girls are easier.

Did you have any pull as an actor when you started DJing?
You’d think it would work to an extent. I do see that sometimes. I see places hire someone like in an early slot, or an opening slot or at an event. They will hire someone who is recognizable to play regardless of how well they play. I just never came across any of that and the places I wanted to play at asked, “Where do you play?” I didn’t play anywhere so I said, “Here, if you let me.” And they said, “No, we’re cool. Thanks.”

So then what happened?
So I got a little better and someone came up to me one night and asked me if I could play an event. And then I played an event, and then a couple more. Then I started playing opening slots at My House from 10pm to 11pm before some other DJ. The cool thing about the job is [when you start out] you’re playing music that you like to get people to dance. So during the learning process, the grind process, opening and playing early and playing shitty places, it’s still really fun. You’re not shoveling coal or some shit.
And so I did that and built it, built it, built it and got it to where I was playing better places at prime spots.

How did you get the top nights so fast? What’s the secret?
I talked to some DJs who I respected a lot and I asked them about their careers. They all had a similar trajectory on their career paths, the amount of years it took them to get them where they wanted to be. It seemed like it was fair, but it also seemed like it took a long time to get there. I didn’t want to spend 10 or 15 years to get there. I didn’t want to be that guy, “I’ve been doing this for 15 years man, that’s why I’m here.”

I did some math and realized that if I practiced every day instead of practicing for ½ an hour like a lot of people do, I could practice for 1 to 2 hours. I could play every day, and practice in addition to that. And if I could break down techniques that I felt I would be able to achieve at some point, and go over them like Chinese School, really redundant, things would start to click faster.

So now what? I hear Las Vegas is the Superbowl for DJs. Any LAX > LAS flights in your future?
Vegas is great. I actually start a residency at Hyde Lounge at The Bellagio starting in January. For me it’s all been leading toward that. I get to play for a world audience and the exposure will have me playing all around the world in 2012 (If the Mayans were wrong).

I’m very lucky.

Craziest thing you’ve ever seen in a club?
There was a girl wearing a dress with no underwear and she shit herself right on the dance floor. They had to send in a clean up crew.

What do you have to say to iPod DJs?
Nothing. I think that it all has to do with classification. And there are plenty of circumstances where it’s totally appropriate for someone to just choose cool songs to play. Who cares, play it on an iPod, play it on CDs.

I think what gets tricky is when people go to a dance club with a huge dance floor and the DJ is using an iPod and volume fading in and out of songs it creates this kind of train wreck, it messes up their rhythm and it’s weird. I think there is a disconnect where the patrons and the people dancing and having a good time, don’t quite know what’s wrong, and it doesn’t feel great and they don’t have as good of a time. I think that if that becomes super prevalent, and if people don’t understand what the difference is, it ruins night-life a bit. So, to iPod DJs, that’s cool for a chill environment or lounge music, and I think it should stay there.

“Animal” at LaDescarga, Los Angeles
(open format/no current Top 40 or House)
“Certain People I Know” at Room 86 Lounge, Los Angeles
(open format)
HYDE Lounge, Los Angeles
(open format)
“SodaPop” Harvard & Stone, Los Angeles
(Oldies, 1979 and before/No Disco)

“ANIMAL HOUSE PARTY” at Jane’s House, Los Angeles
(open format/Rap)
“Sub 51” Chicago
(open format)
HYDE Lounge, Las Vegas at The Bellagio
Studio Paris, Chicago
(open format)
Lexington Social House, Los Angeles

See more of Chris in the #4 Issue of Ladygunn.

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