Entertainment, Live Music, New Orleanians

Club Couch: How DJ Raj Smoove brings the beats during the quarantine

The local DJ legend has taken his live virtual sets from his living room to Gallier Hall.

It’s lunchtime on Thursday. Raj Smoove is on the 1’s and 2’s — the purple glow of The Fillmore’s chandeliers glow behind him as he bounces back and forth to the groove of old school hip-hop beats.

Any other week, we’d be at lunch, with not a care in the world about what DJ is going live on social media. But not in the times of the quarantine, where we’re confined to our homes. At the top of Smoove’s live stream is the name of his set — appropriately titled “You Gots To Chill.”

Mimosa on your Sofa

The name for the throwback Thursday set is just one of the monikers given to Raj’s virtual DJ experiences, brought about by the closing of clubs and bars.

“As soon as all of the venues shut down, all of the DJs, you know we have a text thread that we’re on,” he said. “Everybody was talking about what are we going to do because if all the venues are closed, we have no source of income. So, we started talking about live streaming with Facebook and Instagram, which some people had kind of done in the past with varying results.”

Earlier that week, Los Angeles-based DJ Derrick Jones, better known as D-Nice, streamed a DJ set that reached more than 100,000 viewers.

“I was like, ‘Well, if I can’t go to the club and DJ, I’m just going to set something up in the house and go live on the internet.”

The first Friday the quarantine was in effect, Smoove went live.

 

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“I had maybe 700 or 800 people turned in,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this could actually be something.’ So, me and my team started talking about different events that we could do and came up with the brunch idea and the “Mimosas on your sofa” tagline. I was like, ‘Yo, that’s amazing, we definitely need to do that.”

The quarantine allowed Smoove the creative freedom and time to pursue ideas he hadn’t moved on yet, like a “Quiet Storm” Tuesday night set, akin to the former WYLD-FM weeknight program.

“I missed that,” Smoove said. “I was like, that’s something that I would love to do for me and I think other people would appreciate it. The throwback Thursday — I’d been trying to do a throwback Thursday party for the longest. My girl Amanda was looking through Spotify and saw ‘You gots to chill,’ and I was like, ‘That’s perfect because you gots to chill at home. You don’t have a choice.”

From the Foundation Room to the Fillmore

After Smoove and his team came up with monikers, he started thinking about how he could take his sets to the next level for people at home.

“I started thinking, ‘Well alright everyone is recording from their house, how can I kick it up a notch?’” he said. “I started thinking about all of the venues that are closed, maybe they might be willing to let me come in there by myself with my setup since nobody is there. We still have the social distancing thing going on, and let me broadcast from just inside the venue. That would give them some visibility, keep them on people’s minds and be another layer of imagination to people’s fantasy since you can’t go out.”

Smoove approached management at the House of Blues, who were interested but concerned, especially since the city was now under a stay at home order.

“So I was like, alright, let me see if I can reach out to City Hall. If I could get the mayor and the city is ok with it, then they might be willing to do it,” Smoove said.

He called the Cultural Economy Office, who by chance had been tasked by the mayor to find ways to keep the music and culture going while everyone is on lockdown. Smoove got the green light from the city, which turned into the #InYourHouse set that evening from the House of Blues and bringing Sunday’s #MimosasOnYourSofa to the Foundation Room.

“Then, in the midst of me talking with the city about doing these other things, they were like, ‘Do you think you’d be interested in doing something from Gallier Hall? I was like, ‘Sure, that could be cool.’”

Smoove was the first DJ featured on the Mayor’s Lunch Mix — a Friday virtual set from Noon until 2 p.m. The weekly set has since been DJ’d by DJ RQ Away, with local DJs lined up for at least the next three weeks, Smoove said.

“It give DJs a chance to work and make a couple of dollars, and people get the chance to hear some music,” he said. “It’s just something fun to take people’s minds off of what they’re going through.”

The online presence has branched off into more opportunities for Smoove.

“I’ve had a couple of virtual bday parties on Zoom that I’ve been able to do,” he said. “Inspire NOLA school system reached out to me and we did something like a little teacher’s appreciation social media party last night. I’m supposed to be doing something for Dillard University, since all the graduations have been canceled. Graduation is a big alumni drive for donations and that helps fund a lot of things so they are still trying to do some fundraising. I’m just going to bring my setup and set up in the middle of campus by myself, and just stream from their social media.”

Virtual Vibes

If you tune into Smoove’s “Quiet Storm” set, you’ll see candles around the room, setting the mood. When it’s time to “go home,” Smoove leaves the turntables, blowing out the candles. Everyone in the comments starts to say their goodbyes like you would in the club.

 

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“I go back and I read through all the comments and people are so happy to be able to party in their living rooms,” he said. “The chat portion has kind of become like a real-life social gathering like people pretend like they’re actually in the club and talk about going to the bar and getting drinks or going to the section or somebody stepped on their shoes. Its become like a real getaway for folks.”

The music gives people a sense of being together while they’re tuned into the live with their friend.

“It’s a community and the audience is always an important part of music in the city,” he said. “The crowd and the people who are observing it have just as much to do with the experience as the person on stage that’s performing. Second lines — you couldn’t have a second line without the people. The band is there, but the folks that are dancing and in the environment, all of that makes the event what it is.”

But how does that translate when you’re a virtual DJ — playing to an empty room? Smoove says it’s all about the music.

“Music is special because music, and our sense of smell, always takes us back to memories,” he said. “When you hear a song it takes you back to the first time you heard it, or the first time you fell in love with it. The first time you went to a party and had a great time or the first time you fell in love with somebody. Music can take us back to those really important and happy moments in our lives. I think being able to get people to focus on that instead of the fear that lives outside of the door… it makes it a little bit more bearable.”

You can see Raj Smoove’s DJ calendar by following him on Instagram and Facebook. If you’d like to tip him, you can do so via Cashapp or Venmo @ RAJSMOOVE.