DJ Dossier

Sean Essex on Creating the Perfect Mix and How Every DJ Needs to Be Unique

If you hear the sound of rowdy partying mixed with slick electro beats emanating from Spanish Fly on Saturday night during the weekly FRWD party, it means that Sean Essex is in control of the turntables at that particular moment. That's because the local DJ knows how to do with aplomb, it's getting people screaming and shaking their moneymakers inside a club.

Essex's been a regular part of the Scottsdale scene for going on a decade and has performed at such noteworthy joints as Axis/Radius, Wild Knight, and bygone favorites like Myst and Cream Stereo Lounge. He's also pulled spin gigs at some big-time spots in Hollywood and elsewhere in Southern California. We recently spoke with the 30something selector about how this wealth of experience has helped hone his abilities at making the perfect mix and taught him why each DJ in the business today needs to be unique.

Name: Sean Essex

Genres: I play house, electro, progressive, techno, and electro-trance.

What do you dig about the genres you spin? I like the energy and the bass patterns of my tracks. I'm the type of DJ who chooses a phat beat over a good vocal. But don't get the wrong idea, I like vocals, but the constant good bass beat always gets the crowd going.

How did you get started in the DJ game? I started at a young age dancing and promoting shows in the underground and rave scene in 1998. Then, I just wanted to elevate my involvement. I wanted to become that person that everyone was dancing to and feel the enjoyment of rocking the crowd. And I 100 percent taught myself how to DJ.

Do you have a mantra as a DJ? I believe DJs search for the next big room or massive just like a surfer who searches for the next big wave. Performing is addicting and we as DJs and producers are always searching for the next big performance.

Current gigs: You can check me out every Saturday at Spanish Fly for DIP, Wild Knight for Giant Wednesday shows with Relentless Beats, and out in L.A. at clubs like Boardners [and] Empire in Hollywood.

Where else have you performed? It's a long list, but the landmark clubs are Spy Lounge in Miami's South Beach, Empire Ball Room in Vegas [and] Circus Hollywood. [Locally] Freedom, Myst, Cream Stereo Lounge, Radius, [and] Marquee Theater.

What bygone local club you miss the most? I really miss Cream Stereo Lounge a lot. The DJ booth, the Dynacord sound system, the energy of the room, and the people who supported us for Giant Wednesdays and Stereo HD Fridays.

How do the crowds at Tempe and Scottsdale clubs differ? I would have to say that there is age difference, but the clubbers in Scottsdale like to dance and be noticed. And the clubbers in Tempe like to dance and be social, so there is a switch sometimes when it comes to the atmosphere. But I have respect for both, I just wanna see them dance.

What do you like more: Big club gigs or big music festivals? I am mostly a club DJ but I have played multiple festivals like Dayglo, La La Land, the Colossal and the Big Event. I like both equally.

What's the craziest thing you've seen at a gig? Definitely the craziest [was] when I played at Avec Nightclub in Orange County. This girl was so excited and into my set she jumped up on the booth and grabbed me, but was wearing high heels and slipped and grabbed the table that the CD-Js and mixer were on and fell back and took all the gear with her. Luckily, she didn't break anything. But we had to hook everything back up again and I continued with my set and everybody went crazy when the music started back up 'cause no one even left the room.

What's been the biggest gig of your career thus far? The best I would have to say is when I got to play at Club Space in Mykonos, Greece. The night was amazing. But my milestone for opening a [gig] would definitely be [for] Gareth Emery who is a huge influence for my productions and my music today.

What is your dream gig? Well, my dream is to play on the main stage at Tomorrowland.

Do you ever get intimidated opening for big names like Above & Beyond or Steve Aoki? Of course, I mean its only natural. I mean a lot of these artists have made such giant moves and are so picky about the format for their openers. And you really only have 15 minutes usually to make a good impression so that you might be invited back to play with that artist. For example, I have opened for Christopher Lawrence four times, Gareth Emery three times and John O'Callaghan three times. It's a honor every time I have been invited back.

What are the FRWD parties all about? My concept for FRWD parties is about moving on and advancing in the EDM scene, for DJs to let go of their differences, just play some great music, move on, and look to the future. And also represent some great styles of music that you would not hear on the radio as well.

What must DJs do to advance the keep things moving forward? To have passion mostly. Love what you do and continue to produce tracks and keep striving to make yourself unique, even if that takes a major challenge. In the end the scene will respect you for taking a chance.

So Destination TV is going to be doing a casting call on Saturday at FRWD? I know they are doing a casting call they might film as well though.

So what's your advice to any people coming to the party to audition? Just dress to impress and be yourself.

Speaking of dressing to impress, there are a couple pics of you rocking aviator shades on your Facebook page. How often do you sport those? Whenever I feel like covering my eyes.

Um...of course. Do you follow Corey Hart's advice and wear them at night? Sometimes, I mean it happens.

How much work do you put into your mixes? A lot. Ask around if you like, but I am all about the mix verses playing a hot track. The mixes [are] what earns you respect with the crowd and fellow EDM supporters.

What's the key to a good mix? Placement and timing. You have to make n only do you have the beat mix down, but that you pick the right time on the song that you are currently playing. And that the new track picks up the energy and either goes higher in progression or goes to the drop out and the new song begins on that drop.

What's your favorite track of the moment and why? "Everything" by EDX featuring Hadley, the Arena mix. Because this track has it all: Great vocal slamming, bass drives, and trouse melodies on the breakdown that will elevate any dance floor to the next level.

What other artists have been working into your mixes lately? I have been playing a range of house music and techno lately from artist like Sultan and Ned Shepard, Save the Robot, Umek, Stefano Nofferini, and Botnek to name a few

How do you differ from average rank-and-file local DJs? What makes me stand out is that I read the room first before playing a hit track making sure that the dance floor has a great progression and then play the great tracks ! some djs will play a peak hour track at 10 when all there a few people including the staff and bartenders lol I build anticipation in my sets so they will stay till the very end

DJ Sean Essex is scheduled to perform on Saturday night during FRWD at Spanish Fly in Scottsdale. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is free.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.