They Work Hard For The Money: Roller Rink DJs

Jul 30th, 2007 // 9 Comments

Skateland%20Mesa%20cropped.jpgThe concept seemed simple enough, a bit of a stunt for a future post: show up at the local roller skating venue (or as I prefer to think of it, the “wheeled-footwear entertainment complex”), take over the DJ reins for an hour or so, throw together a piece about the experience, make a few cracks about how hard it was to pick a track for the couples’ skate. Easy breezy. Everything started off well; the general manager of the three area skating centers called me back and was really excited about the idea. I had an appointment to help out with the most popular skate event of the week at Skateland Mesa, Saturday night’s “Jam Skate.” That’s where I ran into the roadblock that would derail my roller skate DJ dreams: an underage (I assume) kid named Malik.

Malik runs the show on Saturday nights, and while he’s incredibly polite (even to a somewhat creepy 31-year-old white guy hanging around his booth), there’s no way he’s letting anyone mess up his night at the Skateland. Not even if it’s for an article on a Web site he’s never heard of.

This whole idea originated with a comment made on one of the “local” Clear Channel stations here in Phoenix. Between pre-programmed tracks cued on a computer system, the station’s DJ referred to the roller skating DJ as “the lowest form of DJ”. These seemed like big words coming from a guy whose most important responsibility is to announce the “Get Naked With Your Grandma” contest at least five times an hour, but worth investigating. I have to admit, I was thinking along similar lines. How hard could it be to announce the forthcoming limbo contest, play a few songs, then organize the hokey pokey? I mean, the Clear Channel guy likely broadcasting from a bunker in Omaha had no room to talk, but deejaying the roller rink seemed one step and hundreds of dollars in tips away from announcing that Lexus would be on the Spotlight stage up next and cueing up “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” This is probably why Malik kept me as far away from the mixer as possible.

Malik’s probably around 19, but he looks 15, which is why I skipped actually asking him how old he is. It seems like he probably gets the question a lot, and I sense he and I were on thin ice to start. Despite his age, Malik has impeccable taste in ’80s electro and freestyle, which made up a remarkable percentage of the playlist on Saturday night. Despite the fact that a majority of the crowd is in its high school years, and likely short of drinking age, there was a Stevie B megamix early on in the evening that was incredibly well received–and followed by the immortal Debbie Deb hit “When I Hear Music.” Between the blocks of tracks that–likely for me alone–provided deeply sentimental memories of 1984 and the long-shuttered establishment Rollerz on Alvernon Boulevard in Tucson, the rest of the playlist could have doubled as a Cliff’s Notes to urban culture in 2007, with requests flying in early and often for T-Pain, Shop Boyz, and UNK. Malik took it all in stride, saying hello to the crowds of regulars that leaned against the front of the booth, and occasionally handing the controls over to one of his co-workers (who, despite not being on the payroll that night, dropped by to avoid the $8 cover charge), which gave him the opportunity to make a few rounds on the floor.

I was comforted that, despite the nearly choreographed skate routines that weren’t around during my skating heyday, most of the roller rink staples of my youth are still in effect. The reverse skate is announced within the first hour, and the couples’ skate and speed skating contest are also part of the evening’s entertainment. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed the music. Despite the fact that I surfed his shoulder most of the night waiting for an opportunity to show everyone at Skateland how well I could mix Young Leek’s “Jiggle It” and Expose’s “Point of No Return”, Malik had the large crowd–which ranged from older white guys wearing massive gold necklaces to kids who could barely walk–in the palm of his hand, blending “Double Dutch Bus” into “Lean Like A Cholo” effortlessly. Phoenix doesn’t offer a lot of entertainment for the under-21 set, and if I was looking for a place to spend a Saturday night where the music is good, and the atmosphere is surprisingly friendly, Skateland would have been a great choice. Well, at least until I got a convincing fake ID, at least.

One of Malik’s off-duty coworkers let me throw a few songs into the mix (but still wouldn’t let me near the actual controls, in case Malik happened to look over), and my block of “Tootsie Roll,” “International Player’s Anthem,” “Get It Shawty,” and “Pump Up The Jam” went over well enough, until Malik came back and announced the stunting contest. At that moment, it became clear again who was in charge, and it certainly wasn’t the old guy with the notebook.

Skateland Mesa [Official site]

  1. Ned Raggett

    Great post, Dan, and an underrated subject in general. My good friend Stripey wrote a piece for Freaky Trigger some years back on the roller rink/music experience which I commend to all:

    WHAT’S A GIRL LIKE ME DOING AT A RINK LIKE THIS? – The Other Skate Nation

  2. catdirt

    Dan- you are the arizona music blog feature writing jam! what about a piece on the flagstaff diy scene?

  3. Dan Gibson

    @catdirt: Without I Hate You When You’re Pregnant around, I just can’t get that excited about Flagstaff music anymore.

  4. patti

    My uncle used to work at that Skateland, and I used to skate there every weekend. This post made me tear up a little bit!

  5. Chris Molanphy

    Nice piece. The roller-rink jockey is indeed an underrated artisan.

    In effect, a roller-rink DJ was the first I watched up close: my cousin Anthony, whom I found behind the wheels of steel at Brooklyn’s United Skates one Saturday back in 1983. I’ll never forget how the whole place went apeshit when he threw on “Billie Jean.” It was then that I learned how powerful a DJ could be.

  6. rogerniner

    It has long been my dream to DJ at a roller rink… or to have karaoke and rollerskating mingled together. I want to call for the death-by-rollerskate of all morning DJs.

  7. Anonymous

    look at you guys…showing the dj some love!
    [sniff...]
    as a nightclub dj here in pittsburgh (which, believe me, is possibly lower than most peoples estimations of a roller rink dj), i’m encouraged to see you giving the hard-working DJ some props.

    dan, great article. it’s a shame that young buck probably doesn’t read this site and might miss you giving him props for playing “old music”. i’m pretty encouraged to know that freestyle and electro is getting love outside the “hip” circles of dj’s like the Spank Rock guys and the current crop of French phenoms.

  8. Anonymous

    Great article Dan. Remember, invading a DJ’s turf will get you on their bad side quick. He’s not their to entertain your skills……..Pay your dues first!

  9. Anonymous

    You know it’s funny how someone could write such nonsense, Coming from a well unknown Dan “article writer” as they say you are….. Listen hear man, I am a Child of God and I hope that this article put you in your right place to get where you would like to be in life. Which means filled with sin.

    I appreciate the People who talk nonsense about me but there-yet try and cover it with a slight “well done.”

    I get it all the time but you know what? I love it because it keeps me going every single day.. :) Mabye you should try getting to know me first next time.

    May God Bless you!

Leave A Comment