DJ Slaughter’s opus

It all started with a drive to orchestrate the best parties. A decade later, is partying still in DJ Shaun Slaughter’s mix?

Shaun Slaughter: deejay, promoter, partier—basically, the ultimate event conductor.

Shaun Slaughter: deejay, promoter, partier—basically, the ultimate event conductor.

Photo by Shoka

A man shakes violently, as if invoked by stigmata, at the center of TownHouse Lounge’s dance floor on a Friday night. The source of his spasms originates from the deejay booth, where Shaun Slaughter perches behind audio equipment and endless cases of CDs. Large headphones cradle his ears. His right leg bounces as he fine-tunes electronic dance beats with precision. Vibrant lights flash and pulsate on command, illuminating a crowd with far superior dance skills than the guy with spasms.

Slaughter passes the reins to his buddy DJ Jon Droll and migrates to the bar for a vodka-soda water and a whiskey shot. So it goes: Deejay, drink, socialize, repeat—and all this before the afterparty. It’s a familiar routine for Slaughter: His Tuesday gig at Old Ironsides, Lipstick, is one of the area’s most popular dance nights and will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year.

For Slaughter, deejaying is bigger than playing music mixes for faceless crowds. In the beginning, he was inspired by watching “dudes orchestrate parties.” After a decade on the scene, Slaughter is that dude.

But now, as a 31-year-old deejay, throwing memorable bashes isn’t enough for Slaughter. He is entering unfamiliar territory: Keep the party going or hang up his headphones.

Slaughter’s signature woven flat cap adorns his shaved head as he hovers over his laptop at a Midtown coffee shop early in the morning. The screen displays a variety of open windows: Facebook, iTunes, music blogs. He talks at Mach 5, always smiling, his hands transitioning between gestures, straightening his hat and typing on his computer.

“I don’t think I really want to deejay forever, for sure. I’m, like, 31 years old right now,” Slaughter concedes, hardly touching his coffee.

On a typical night, Slaughter crashes at 3 in the morning. The following day, he wakes up at 8 a.m. to design show fliers and post them on blogs, Facebook and MySpace. At the same time, he is trading tracks with other deejays, searching for new music, editing set mixes, coordinating future gigs and contacting PR reps for event giveaways—and this is all before noon.

Most musicians and deejays concentrate on music and leave promotions to the promoter. Slaughter plans every party to the last detail so it actually happens—and happens right.

“It’s good in some ways, because I get to really control every aspect of [the event]; then it’s bad in some ways, because, ultimately, there is so much work to be done,” Slaughter says.

If time allows, he sneaks in a workout at the gym. “The working out is just a counterbalance to drinking all the time and being crazy,” he laughs.

Preparations for upcoming gigs dominate his afternoons, especially on Fridays before TownHouse, which are often themed parties. Slaughter and a crew of friends litter the club’s floor with decorations by 6 p.m. They crack a few beers, turn on some dance tunes and cover the walls with Christmas lights, streamers and homemade decorations. A few minutes before the doors open at 9 p.m., Slaughter dons his headphones and starts conducting the show.

Even in the beginning, Slaughter worked his ass off to throw the ultimate parties.

Shaun Gesicki (no, his real name isn’t Slaughter) was born in Orangevale into a somewhat musical family and always sought to entertain. His dad once set up a curtain in the garage, where Slaughter and his buddies performed In Living Color skits—complete with break-dancing feats and fly girls.

Slaughter has orchestrated Lipstick, a Tuesday-night dance party at Old Ironsides, for 10 years.

Photo by Shoka

As a teenager, he played in punk bands and says that’s all he cared about, until friends dragged him to The Amazon, an all-ages club in Orangevale, for an electronic deejay night.

“The first time I went there … I thought, ‘This is going to be really stupid,’” he says. “And I heard New Order—‘Blue Monday’—and I was like, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever heard.’ … I just started digging, trying to find more electronic music in general, and I got into Aphex Twin, Orbital and all that stuff.”

Soon, Slaughter was throwing his own parties. He got his first gig as a deejay at The Amazon when he was 18. He was hooked. By 2000, the aspiring party conductor left the suburbs for downtown Sacramento to make a name for himself.

But it wouldn’t be his family name. Slaughter acquired his moniker by accident, courtesy of a wrestling-themed birthday party hosted by musician Danny Secretion. “[Danny] asked me to come up with a wrestling persona, and since I knew nothing about wrestling, he named me Sgt. Shaun Slaughter,” he says.

In 2000, Slaughter and fellow deejay Chad Nardine started a Tuesday night gig at The Press Club. “It bombed. Hard,” Slaughter recalls, wincing. Still, the middle of the week turned out to be perfect for music experimentation, and they were asked to return. One year later, the gig moved to Old Ironsides and became Lipstick.

By 2005, Slaughter had a trifecta of regular deejay jobs. He’d party into the early morning and still make it to his mortgage-industry day job. “I was coming in so hung over. I shared an office with another funder—this is hilarious—he was always like, ‘You smell like whiskey right now,’” Slaughter remembers.

Deejay cash flowed while the mortgage industry free-falled, so Slaughter eventually quit his day job and turned music into a full-time gig. And soon enough, the desire to orchestrate parties outside the local bubble beckoned.

In February 2007, Slaughter left Sacramento for the first time for Los Angeles’ burgeoning deejay scene. He quickly made contacts, deejaying for crowds up to 2,000 at times, and even worked as a graphic designer for venues such as The Viper Room in West Hollywood. But it was short-lived.

“I just kind of didn’t feel like I fit in so well there. I definitely should have given it more of a try,” he explains. “I definitely should have stayed longer, because I think I would have gotten more assimilated and relaxed.”

And so, one night, while waiting for a southbound flight at a Sacramento International Airport terminal, he decided to move back to his hometown.

In the dawn of his 30s, Slaughter’s life as full-time party conductor has morphed into something unfamiliar.

“I’d rather not get older and feel like I have to mail it in and play Top 40 just to make money because I don’t have anything else,” he confesses, adding that playing Lady Gaga every weekend to people who don’t give a shit about music isn’t his scene.

Of course, the deejay lifestyle—late nights, cocktails, minimal sleep—doesn’t get easier with age.

“It’s weird, too,” Slaughter adds. “[On] Wednesday, when I’m like, ‘I should be staying in right now’ … I’ll probably end up going out to karaoke at the TownHouse.”

Dating is harder as well. Slaughter admits he is “very particular.” He also tries to avoid complications that arise from his nocturnal habits, like being surrounded by scantily clad, friendly females at clubs.

“It can be an issue. I’m definitely not perfect, and we’re talking about years and years of certain behavior and then settling down. I don’t know. It’s rough. It’s weird,” he says.

Slaughter ultimately wants to shift from deejaying parties to creating original electronic dance tracks. He hopes his new identity, D.A.M.B., will eventually become his main focus and revenue source.

Yet old habits—and childhood dreams of orchestrating the awesome nights—die hard.

And so, this past New Year’s Eve, Slaughter donned a top hat, silver suspenders and a royal-blue bow tie while leading hundreds of fellow partiers into 2010 at The Press Club. The venue was so packed, it sold out—twice. Slaughter smacked the crowd with high-energy mixes and toasted shots with friends at the bar.

Another party, another year, another decade.