Most DJs refuse to play song requests in nightclubs. The ones that take requests — they aren’t happy about it. But DJ Mike Pizzo is the only DJ I’ve ever interviewed who (let me get this straight) loves requests?
“Bring the requests on!” says Pizzo, who performs tonight with Mr. Bob at club Gallery in Planet Hollywood Resort.
“Throw me something to put me on my toes and keep it exciting.”
Maybe Pizzo is a crowd-pleaser in this way because he’s a Las Vegan. His family moved here from New York when he was 1.
So he grew up in a town of people-pleasing. Musically, he dug into vinyl DJing as a teenager, working his way from playing birthday parties and the Beauty Bar, to DJing on KUNV-FM, 91.5, then headlining at XS with fellow Vegas legends Warren Peace and Dave Fogg.
“We were playing Afrojack records, and Deadmau5 records (at XS) — prior to any of these guys (Afrojack and other stars) stepping foot into XS,” Pizzo says.
That means Pizzo and other Vegas DJs helped usher in electronic music in hotel clubs by promoting “open formatting” at clubs (playing both hip and electronic music).
That was a big deal, those were the days when most crowds expected only hip-hop and pop.
“A lot of our peers were like, ‘You guys are crazy’ ” for playing electronic music in clubs, Pizzo says.
Anyway, Pizzo had to get accustomed to taking requests to please clubs.
“I’ve been in the most stressful environment you can be in, when you have (club) hosts coming at you saying, ‘We need a birthday song right now!’ ”
But then, he grew to like requests.
“Being in that environment got to be fun. I got to the point where I was ready for anything.”
Pizzo understands why other DJs want to deny song requests: to keep their artistic integrity (to mix a set the way they feel is best for the flow).
“But I’m like, ‘Challenge me. Let’s keep it dynamic. Let’s keep it fun.’ ”
He says there is a danger when some DJs get too comfortable with their written-in-stone set lists.
“I don’t want to be the guy who phones in the same set every night,” he says. “People do that. It’s safe and it works. But there’s no excitement in that.”
In fact, years ago, Pizzo was hanging with a DJ who was playing a predestined set of songs, and that DJ told Pizzo he was doing so because “you can’t change the world.”
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Yes you can!’ ” Pizzo says. “Like, ‘No, you don’t have to do this. It’s working, and it’s cool. But try something else.’ ”
As a result, Pizzo is a jack-of-all-trades sound-shifter, capable of reading a crowd and adapting music to fit their moods and tastes in order to excite them — which is exactly how DJing became popular in the first place.
“At Gallery, I do a little bit of everything,” he says. “There have been nights when I’ve done 90 percent house (music), and there have been nights when I’ve done 100 percent hip-hop.
“You just figure out what the crowd wants and go from there.”
Pizzo has also opened for Steve Aoki and other famous DJs on the Strip. That calls on Pizzo to exercise a completely different skill set.
“When you’re opening for a major house DJ, you can’t play the hits,” because the top-billed stars might play them afterward, Pizzo says.
“So you’re looking for those records — those secret weapons — to get the crowd excited, but just enough, and to pull back to let the other guy have his shine.
“You know you’ve done your job when the crowd is looking at you like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah!’ Like you’re gonna take your mask off and you’re going to be Steve Aoki. But then Steve Aoki steps onstage and the place explodes.”
Pizzo also records new songs and releases mixes for the masses. You can find them online (DJPizzo.com; Soundcloud.com/dj-pizzo; and WeAllHitplay.com).
And he does have a few exceptions to song requests from tourists, who can be sadly unfamiliar with what kinds of songs work well in our world-renowned clubs.
“They’ve never seen anything like this before, so you do get people who come up to you and want you to play the ‘Cupid Shuffle.’ ”
What’s the “Cupid Shuffle”? Seriously, you really don’t want to hear it. As Pizzo aptly describes it:
“The ‘Cupid Shuffle’ is a terrible record. It’s just stupid. It’s just terrible. It’s just a bad record.”
Doug Elfman’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.