From Astoria to Fire Island to Big Banana to Twitch, DJ Brandon Vescovo keeps the heavy house vocal beat alive. And now that the city is reopening, we might see him back in booth soon enough!
Thotyssey: Hello DJ! Thanks for talking to us today! So, how is March treating you so far?
DJ Vescovo: So far, a lot better than the past year! Got a new day job again–find me waiting on you at Cafeteria. And I got my Johnson & Johnson vaccine dose two weeks ago…so feeling a lot more hopeful!
Ah, the single shot solution. You’re basically ready to be back in society! How is Cafeteria these days?
I love it so far! We’re gearing up for the gradual increase to full capacity, and they’ve really done a lot in terms of outdoor seating capacity. It can honestly handle about twice as many people as it did before the pandemic with all the new outdoor seating.
Wonderful! And I imagine you are itching to get back into a real live DJ booth!
Very much. I can feel the Fire Island season from here. Get me to somebody’s pool deck, STAT.
So where are you from originally, and was music always a part of your life?
I hail from Kansas City, Missouri, and music has been a part of my life since I was a small child. My mother has played piano since she was six, my dad plays guitar and flute. For a brief period, we had a recording studio in our basement when my dad was married to his second wife (my parents divorced when I was seven). I was a choir kid, and have always had a love for electronic music. The earliest pop music I connected with was the Eurodance wave of the late 90s, and I fell in love with trance when I was in high school.
Very cool! When and where did you start DJing?
After years of slowly discovering my love for house music and techno, creating super curated playlists for park gatherings and house parties, and wondering whether I should try to learn to DJ, I began teaching myself with Virtual DJ and a cheap Numark USB controller in late 2017. My first gig was at ICON in Astoria early 2018, followed by some opening appearances at Alan Picus events like Penthaus at Copacabana (Pride Weekend 2018) and Big Banana Thursdays at Rebar. Later that year, ICON hired me on as their Saturday night resident.
What would a DJ Vescovo night on the dance floor sound like under your complete creative control?
An emotional and sexy journey through house, tech house, progressive house and techno. I consider myself a fairly versatile DJ that can–and has–turned out a daytime poolside set, with happy disco vibes or a dark and dirty after hours set. But my core sound is an underground, yet accessible, mix of vocal house and harder beats.
Was there a night or an experience you had in your DJ career that you particularly cherish?
When I was a resident at ICON, working with Boudoir LeFleur (whom I adore) on the night’s drag performance–it was really valuable experience, because it was slightly outside of my comfort zone. I am not really a top 40 DJ, but playing there every week meant I stayed on top of those songs and those remixes–while also serving the regular crowd something a bit different, that they wouldn’t necessarily find if they went to the bars in Hell’s Kitchen. There were several nights where I had the right mix of people in there, and was able to serve not only the modern pop but some house music that they definitely had not heard before… and they went along with it. Sometimes they more than went along with it, and I really felt we had created something they would not have found anywhere else in NYC that night. So that was magical, and fantastic experience for me as a young DJ.
Back in the Olden Days, patrons trusted the DJs and didn’t treat them like Spotify. How do you deal with partygoers who disrupt your vibe with silly song requests?
I am eternally wistful for those olden days that I am too young to have experienced, lol! My go-to line was “I’ll see if I can get to it,” which usually meant no… because even when playing to a pop crowd, I had pretty hard and fast standards about shit that I simply will not play, I’m sorry! I admire open format DJs who know and can play every genre and cater to any crowd and any request, because that’s an art in its own right… but that isn’t me and my brand. However, I loved it when someone would make a request and it was something in line with what I’d been playing, or it actually fit the moment. You’re a representative of the place that’s employing you and you can never been rude, even if they are. But I do wish it were more like the days when people would just fucking trust the DJ to give them something new and different along with what they already know, because that’s the philosophy of the craft I ascribe to.
Well, maybe this upcoming nightlife rebirth will be a chance for folks to relearn dance floor etiquette!
I share your hopes, and already see some positive signs in that regard.
We saw lots of folks in nightlife this past year—producers, promoters, DJs, even some queens—misbehaving to varying degrees with Covid restrictions: from taking the party out of town to less restrictive cities (and then bringing back the virus to NYC), to secret Rona Raves right here. Was that all very frustrating for you to watch, or could you not help but empathize to some degree?
Look, I did my best to try and have empathy for everybody in all this, because I certainly went though some struggles of my own in terms of mental health and substance usage–and I know others did too. And you don’t always behave rationally when you’re lonely and depressed, and the world seems like it’s on fire. I did not approve of a lot of the behavior I witnessed, but at the same time I grew a little bit weary of people who seemed to have nothing else to do in their day but call the employers and mothers of everyone they witnessed engaging in questionable behavior and bask in the likes that this got them. They got their own little dopamine hits from the callout culture, and I won’t countenance the notion they didn’t. I also am friends with some of the folk who got targeted at different times, and the full story really was not reflected in the social media outrage.
So, my ultimate philosophy on this was that empathy and open communication are key–but that generally does not happen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Like, if you know someone and disapprove of their behavior enough to put them on blast, maybe you should private message them and try to talk about it first?
So in 2020, the only alternative to DJing was livestreaming sets on social media. You’ve been serving digital dance parties every Tuesday (8pm) for the past month or so, care of “TECH: TONIC” on your Twitch! How do you like the virtual DJ booth?
It is not the same [as live DJing]. But on the other hand, it’s been an invaluable opportunity for a lot of DJs, myself included, to tell people upfront what we’re going to deliver and then invite them to experience it. You do not get to do that when there is a dance floor, promoter and venue to please. You always have to be prepared to respond to the unexpected. Whereas when you are on Twitch, you can tell people “I am going to serve you two hours of tech house and progressive house,” or downtempo or techno or whatever else, and they can choose to watch or not. I know a lot of colleagues who have really relished this opportunity to show sides of themselves that they didn’t get to in their regular gigs. And for me, TECH:TONIC is an opportunity to show whomever wants to listen what I consider my core sound as a DJ. And that’s valuable. And that’s rare, on a dance floor–at least before you hit a certain level of following and fame.
That sounds like a great experience! And it’s a great way to promote what you do in the purest way. But… there are no cute trade to ogle on a digital dancefloor!
No. there aren’t! Although some of those Zoom parties early in the pandemic were lo scandalo, as the Italians of my ancestral homeland might say.
Speaking earlier of Fire Island, might you be returning this season as a DJ or even just for fun? It seems like with the eased restrictions and lowering infections rates, it could be a little more like old times this year.
So I can’t speak out loud about some of the possibilities… but there were exciting new offers planned for last year, and I am working on discussions about whether those will be possible this year instead. If those don’t work out, I’m pretty sure I will have a lot of private pool parties on the roster, and hopefully the Pines Party VIP Lounge again, like I did in 2019. I was offered that again last year–and I think if it happens this year, I should be doing it again. But beyond that, I don’t want to speculate.
In any case, outside of being a DJ, I cannot wait to spend some more time out on Fire Island than I got to last year. It is legitimately my happy place. It means a lot to me–its past and present–as does gay nightlife and music in the city proper. If it didn’t, I’d probably live someplace cheaper.
I am learning to produce and remix, and hope to have some good stuff to share by the end of the year or some such.
And I want to express my sincere hope that as we emerge from this pandemic, people have taken stock of what truly matters about the dance floor while we mourned its profound absence in our lives. It’s not your body. It’s not your status. It’s not your income, and it’s not your race. The dance floors that transform lives and impact our world for the better are the ones where anybody can find their truth and their meaning, in the positive music and the love that’s being shared. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Those are the parties that have meant the most to me. Parties like Holy Mountain, Ultramaroon and Horse Meat Disco, venues like House of Yes, etc. Embrace the music first, and then all else will fall into place.
Beautiful! Thanks, Mr. DJ!