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Hudson River Blue talks with DJ Mode, music director for New York City FC

DJ Mode, NYCFC's very own in-house DJ, told us all about why he loves the team, the joy of spinning at Yankee Stadium, and, of course, City Beats!

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DJ Mode at Yankee Stadium
DJ Mode at Yankee Stadium
Elizabeth Shrier

Hudson River Blue: How did you originally get involved with NYCFC?

DJ Mode: In February, a colleague I had worked with at the NBA reached out to me. He had come on-board with NYCFC as events director, and he asked if I could help facilitate the sound for the games. I had been working for the NBA for eight years, and I DJ every NBA All-Star Game. They needed a music director, a music supervisor, someone who would come in and create a sound experience for the fans. NYCFC is all about giving value to the fans. They take pride in creating something special that can connect with everyone who's a fan of the club.

HRB: You're a Bronx native and continue to live there. NYCFC is based in the Bronx, and it's very proud of its identity as a New York City team. How do you connect with that?

DJM: It's a dream come true to play music at Yankee Stadium. I grew up going to the old Yankee Stadium, and when the new stadium was built, I continued to attend Yankee games. To go there as a kid, and to go there now, under different circumstances, to be creating music there, it's more than I ever could have hoped for.

It's such a cool experience for me to come back to right around where I grew up. It's a great thing to connect with the fans, to give them something back. I'm inspired by the people, I'm inspired by the culture, and I'm inspired by sports -- that, to me, is really what makes up New York.  Being able to create an experience that connects with people in all walks of life, in all different cultures, it's an exciting and fun thing to do. What more can you ask for in a job?

HRB: Were you a fan of soccer before NYCFC?

DJM: Like many people, I would follow soccer when the World Cup came around. I had a little bit of knowledge from watching Premier League on Saturday mornings. I didn't follow it that closely, but when I was given the opportunity to work with NYCFC, I took a trip to England, to visit Manchester City, so I went to a Premier League game, to try to understand the culture, and where all this is coming from. Being able to see that, made me more into it than I was before.

HRB: What did you see at the Man City match that inspired what you're doing with NYCFC? How do you see the experience as similar to or different from what happens at our matches?

DJM: It's a huge difference. The fanfare generally happens prior to the match. After kickoff, they're totally dialed-in. Aside from the fans chanting, there's no other musical experience. You're not supposed to leave your seats. Their merchandise counter is shut down. After the game, there's a DJ, and there's a band outside. Most of the music experience happens after the match, outside the stadium. Of course, we have City Beats playing music throughout the game. I have yet to see something like that in the Premier League. The short videos we show, the pre-game mix I put together, things like that don't exist there.

HRB: So would you say that what you're doing with NYCFC is more similar to what you do for the Knicks than what Man City does?

DJM: We're dealing with American culture. We crave being entertained, and we ask for more of that. Just like the crowds at Madison Square Garden, NYCFC fans take time out to have fun. If you go to a Knick game, and they win, it's great, but you also have the dancers, people shooting T-shirts into the crowd, and mascots. It's an all-around experience. It's greater than just the game. Our fans are there to have a good time, to have a memorable experience.

HRB: How do you try to speak to the fans with the music you're providing?

DJM: My goal is to create content that evokes emotion and increases everyone's understanding of music. I want them to learn about the different styles and cultures that we're experiencing. It's a melting pot. I want to make sure that I connect, that I touch everyone, that everyone leaves feeling that, at some point, they heard their song, or the music really got them excited.

HRB: What have your interactions with the fans been like?

DJM: The fans have been phenomenal. I've never seen a more dedicated fan base.

It's not just on match day that they get up for it. These guys live it -- it's part of their lives. It's ingrained in their culture, in their way of being. I really wanted to make sure I got to meet them. I'm accessible. I'm not a person high up on a tower telling everyone how things should go. My musical knowledge and experience put me in a position to do what I'm doing, but I'm always open to hearing what the fans are interested in, what they want to hear.

It was interesting to meet the guys from Brown Bag Social Club. We first met via social media, but one day when I stepped into a local bar, they recognized me and called me over. Then, I saw them at another event I DJ'd for NYCFC. It was great. They're regular guys, but they really, really love the team, and they support it with all of their being.

Fans tell me stories of when and where they're listening to the mixes, and stories about how their families react to their excitement about the team. I take that in, and when I make the music, I'm inspired by the stories. It only drives me more, to do a better job, and to create an even greater experience for them. When they leave the match, I want the fans to say they had a great time, not only because of what happened on the field, but also because I played their song, or the video I made got them excited. Those are the things that excite me.

DJ Mode

DJ Mode at home plate - photo by Elizabeth Shrier (@elizabethshrier)

HRB: The fans appear to be very happy with what you're doing, but some people aren't huge fans of City Beats. Some fans think they're competing with Los Templados, the drummers in the supporters section. What is your relationship with City Beats?

DJM: We're taking Los Templados into consideration and placing City Beats in a different location. For a first-year team, there are some kinks to be ironed out. We're all learning on the job. City Beats is open to hearing what the fans have to say, and at the same time, we have to take liberties and do what we think is best for the fan experience.

If a small group doesn't agree, those are the breaks. You can't please everyone. I didn't work with City Beats before teaming up with NYCFC, but after being put together with them, I've used them as a great asset, like an extension of what I do. I put together a set list, and we go in and rehearse together. Those guys work really hard. They've been incredible to work with, and they really care about what they do. They're very talented musicians, and they enjoy performing for the fans, and the connection they have with the fans. We're coming up with new and fun ideas together.

I hope the fans give City Beats an opportunity to settle in and do their thing. They add a really fun live music element to what we're doing, and that's what I use them for.

HRB: How does it feel to DJ for a stadium full of people?

DJM: I always make it a point to take it in. I'm standing on the field where I saw some of my biggest idols play. I don't know the last time there was a DJ playing at Yankee Stadium from home plate.

HRB: How do you determine when you're going to play live, and when you're going to prepare a pre-recorded set?

DJM: It's completely the team's call. I leave that up to the events director. Whenever they need me, I'm there. We look for opportunities, like the home game against the Red Bulls, to give the fans a little something extra, an extra boost, a little more to cheer about.

HRB: Do you interact with the players? Are there certain things the players ask you for, to help inspire them?

DJM: I won't call out any names, but I've received a lot of appreciation from the players. I've been told they really like the walk-out music after halftime, which is a remixed version of "Welcome to New York City" by Cam'ron featuring Jay-Z. The organization has expressed that the team's very content with everything that's going on with the music and the mixes.

We've discussed a few fun things we may do with the players, but I don't want to let the cat out of the bag. We'd like to show the fans their musical tastes, since that's such a big part of their lifestyles. The fans want to connect with more of what the players do on their off-time. We want to create a situation where the fans can connect with their favorite players on musical taste as well, to see how much they have in common in that respect.

HRB: Can you talk about any of the songs you play frequently and what they mean to you?

DJM: The game always ends -- win, lose, or draw -- with Avicii's "Good Feeling." That, to me, brings it all home. Win, lose, or draw, we support the club. Win, lose, or draw, we had an amazing time, in a beautiful stadium, with good people. For me, the instrumental version evokes that feeling and emotion. I'd like people to leave feeling that it all ended well, regardless of the score.

From there, we jump to Odyssey's "Native New Yorker," as a walk-out song. I can't think of another song that resonates like that, that's just so classic, that young and old can relate to. If you've been here, if you've spent time here, if you've lived here, you know what that looks like, what that smells like, what that sounds like. It's a feeling. That song connects people, and I want to make sure that happens. The most important thing to me is that the fans leave with a feeling, with an emotion.

HRB: You've posted your series of pre-game mixes on Soundcloud, for everyone to hear. How do you decide for each match what the pre-game mix is going to be all about?

DJM: When we began, I wanted the series to be thematic, to tell a story. Right out of the gate, with 5 Borough Sounds, I wanted to introduce myself to the fans, to let them know I'm a native New Yorker, and to show them that my tastes are eclectic. I was able to take R&B, Rock, Hip-Hop, and Latin, all by New Yorkers, by New York-born artists, and create a mix from that.

With the Latin Night mix, the team asked me to do that. There will be more thematic mixes like the 5 Borough Sounds and Latin Night mixes in the future. With every mix, I try to challenge myself and not be repetitive. I like mixing the old and the new, and sparking nostalgia. I like to show my range, and to keep people on their toes. I tend to jump genres, like going from a Latin song to a Hip-Hop song to a Rock song, all without skipping a beat, and the groove doesn't stop.

That concept plants a seed in the fans' heads, and it takes root, and then they can connect, and appreciate each other a bit more. There's zero tolerance for any discrimination within the stadium. It's important for me to use music to spread that message. I educate myself daily on the latest music in every genre, and I try to take into account every demographic that we have in the building. Many times, you'll see me walking around the stadium, taking it all in, listening to people's conversations, what they're saying about the music.

I have my own vision, and the type of music I personally enjoy, but it's really important for me to make sure that, within every mix, there's a little something for everyone, and that no one feels left out, that they heard their song, they were able to tweet it out, or take a video of themselves dancing or singing along to it.

HRB: Anything else you'd like to let the fans know?

DJM: We are so dedicated to making sure the fans enjoy themselves. That's our number one goal. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to deliver this fan experience, and for how the fans have responded.

Thanks so much to Mode! We want to hear what you think about the musical environment at Yankee Stadium, including the infamous CITY BEATS! Leave a comment or blow us up on Twitter @hudsonriverblue!