DJ James Graciano
As Usher’s monster hit, “Yeah!” pounds through the speakers inside Reno’s Bliss nightclub, strobe lights lend a staccato accompaniment to the god-only-knows-how-many-decibel beat punching the electricity in the air.
From his perch in the sound booth, DJ James Graciano sets the night’s tone, scratches out danceable hits and ekes out a living in a scene that is to the new millennium what disco was to the ‘70s. While this vignette looks like pure-imitation disco, Graciano quickly spotlights the distinctions between then and now.
“I started in the club business back in 1989,” Graciano says. “From that point til now, it’s a whole different culture, a whole different scene. You could go to any club in Reno, and the band was the focus. Now, it’s basically a DJ culture. In the ‘90s, bands like Mötley Crüe and Van Halen could fill up an arena. Now, a DJ [can]. Disco, now, is considered house music—a whole different genre.”
Graciano concedes though, that—hold onto your Peaches & Herb albums—disco never died.
“It’s still popular, to this day—which I can’t believe. It never stopped. I used to go to clubs and lug, like, 11 crates of music. Now I can take a laptop, plug it into the sound system, and everything’s there.”
With the buttery finesse of a vintage leisure suit, Graciano illustrates his point on a high-tech, dual-turntable system made by a New Zealand-based company called Serato.
“I can take all of my music on my laptop and simulate the movement on vinyl. It’s digitally encoded, so you still have that vinyl, back-in-the-day touch, but now it’s more modern. [Initially], I refused to do it, because I was old-school. But once I finally got my hands on it, [I found] it’s the way to go. Now I don’t have to pay people to carry my stuff.
“[The DJ booth] has everything. You can push it, and it’s screaming loud out there, but it’s real plain. It still gives you room for more.”
Steadfastly devoid of an entourage, Graciano holds court every Thursday at “Blitzed,” Bliss’s college night, as well as at Tahoe nightclubs, weddings and special events.
Graciano has a strong foundation in Reno radio, blazing a trail in 1989 as a KWNZ jock who kick-started the “mix shows” still popular on local Top 40 stations. Alice 96.5 morning show co-host Bill Schulz, who’s known Graciano since the early days, says he’s authentic to the core.
“James Graciano is the godfather of mix-show DJs in this town,” Schulz says.
“Even if it was bluegrass, this guy could mix it. He’s definitely paid his dues. It really doesn’t make a difference if it’s hip-hop or techno. He’s the man for the job, and he does a great job.”
Although working until sunrise in smoke-filled clubs surrounded by youth-obsessed, alcohol-fueled crowds can be a real chore, Graciano isn’t about to switch gears anytime soon.
“It keeps me young,” the baby-faced 42-year-old says as Aerosmith and Run DMC’s remake of “Walk This Way” thumps the walls. “I just love it. It’s exciting [and] keeps me energized. I can’t see myself really doing anything else. I’ve sold cars, been in sales, a bunch of things. But I always come back to this. I’ll be 60 years old, and still be in that booth.”
Whatever booth Graciano’s ends up in—deaf and crippled from a repetitive strain injury in a DJ booth or a nasty case of carpal tunnel working in a toll booth on the Jersey Turnpike collecting fares, call a dance club whatever you want … just don’t call it a disco.