Hang the DJ: Thank the blessed DJ, because the music (he) constantly plays

Tuesday 31st, March 2015 / 14:21
By Sara Mohan
Hang the DJ mastermind Chris Hewitt’s “goal is to try and keep the dance floor going all night.” Photo: Sara Mohan

Hang the DJ mastermind Chris Hewitt’s “goal is to try and keep the dance floor going all night.”
Photo: Sara Mohan

CALGARY — In a city where the dance-related nightlife often appears dominated by fake cowboys, Armani bros, or dubstep ravers, finding a good place to dance can be a challenge. That said, those who are familiar with shaking their groove thing may have heard rumour about what used to be the “alternative” night that existed at The Warehouse prior to its closure in 2010. You may even know that the night continues to prevail under the title “Hang the DJ” which is celebrating its five-year anniversary at Dickens on Saturday, April 11.

Bar owner and DJ Chris Hewitt, the mastermind behind the event, understood the necessity of having an outlet for those turned off by Top 40 songs and club-techno-dance-trance vibes. With the closing of The Warehouse (which he also previously owned), it was hard on those who went there each week, as it had become a home to a specific crowd.

“It was a great night,” says Hewitt, laughing. “Sometimes I would have to bring an extra t-shirt just from dancing so hard.”

“I knew we needed to bring that night back. I originally called it, ‘Hang the DJ’ (of course after [the lyrics from “Panic”] by The Smiths) as a temporary name, expecting it to be a one-off. It brought back the old Warehouse crowd and the first event had over 150 people turn out, which to me was a spectacular success,” explains Hewitt.

For the first year, HTDJ was planned to be a quarterly event. Soon after, it turned into once every two months. By the time it became a monthly event, Dickens was seeing close to 300 people each time.

“The hardest part about DJing this kind of night is trying to stay relevant,” explains Hewitt.

“I love to DJ this kind of music, but I am constantly trying to bring in new music…. I am always paying attention to how the crowd is reacting. You can tell if a song is going to work within three seconds of playing it. It can be challenging, but my goal is to try and keep the dance floor going all night.”

The crowd ranges from 18-year-olds anywhere to some nearly 50. There is no specific dress code and no discernment. Sometimes Hewitt will play Siouxsie and the Banshees or Skinny Puppy or The Cure (he calls “Just Like Heaven,” “easily one of my all-time favourite songs and one of the high points of any HTDJ. Everybody bounces extra high as soon as this one starts”). His personal classics are Depeche Mode and New Order; three new bands that get him buzzing are Rabbit Junk, Interpol and 3TEETH. It’s frequently dark, moody music that gets people moving and changes depending on who is holding down the dance floor. By the end of the night the room is full of various different characters; there are Goths, punks, art students and others dancing to Billy Idol or The Cure. Of course, they are all screaming along together.

“I don’t know why people call it Goth night. 10 years ago, calling it Goth night would have pigeonholed the night into a fringe scene about which people knew very little,” counters Hewitt. “The Goth scene is going through a huge resurgence right now and people want to be associated with Goth culture in a way that I haven’t seen happen in the last 15 years. But we play some industrial, some ‘80s, retro, new wave, etc. I try not to isolate to one group so we can reach a wider crowd.”

It’s a challenge to keep an event like this exciting, relevant and consistently flourishing, but Chris and the Dickens staff do with special events. There is the Anniversary Party every year (this one is particularly special given the milestone), the anti-Stampede midnight breakfast in July, giant “over-the-top” Halloween parties and annual New Years Eve events. On May 30, HtDj will be hosting their first ever Retro Prom, so be sure to raid your local thrift store for the biggest taffeta monstrosity you can find. Thanks to all of this and a kick ass music selection, Hang the DJ has become one of the most known and loved nights in Calgary. Go down and get acquainted and help them celebrate!

Go dance your ass off at Hang the DJ for their five-year anniversary party on Saturday, April 11! If you can’t attend that event, the next HTDJ will be on Saturday, May 2; the Retro Prom will be on Saturday, May 30.

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