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Spotlight on student DJs: Eli Brotman `25 and Ethan Versh `27

Evan Hein
From left: Ethan Versh `27 and Eli Brotman `25 take turns DJing, showing each other aspects of their respective techniques.

Whether in Gardner Lounge or the former Grinnell Church of Christ, that is now home to Pedal Grinnell headquarters, student DJs Eli Brotman `25 and Ethan Versh `27 mix tracks so the Grinnell community can listen and bop their heads to electronic music shows. For both artists, the medium allows them to explore their own interests and entertain their crowds.

Brotman began playing on campus last year and said that most people took note of his work when he performed around a five-hour-long set at an annual Christmas party called “Bizmas.” For this event, Brotman went by the name “DJ Biz Kringle.”

Brotman said that DJing appeals to him because of the ability to work with any musician’s songs. “It’s really a privilege to kind of take other people’s work,” he said. “From the performance sense, to be able to piggyback on someone else’s vibe that they create and amplify it and change it can be pretty magical.”

Though he said his own music taste defines his spinning style, as he incorporates songs he likes into his sets, Brotman also described the electronic genre’s capability for expression through any kind of music.

“You can load up any song from anywhere and put it on a DJ board, add the same effects, loop it and then bring another track in on top that is from the other side of the world,” he said.

The student DJ said that something that sets the medium apart from others is the depth of sound. “For me, the amount of layering you can do, it just fills my whole head.”

Brotman said he wanted to add that in the town of Grinnell, there is a “great community” of DJs and music lovers, which he joked is made up of “a bunch of dads.”

“I’m on the Iowa DJ Facebook group, and it’s like all dads, and they’re super generous,” he said. “It’s really people wanting to share their livelihoods, and it’s not a competitive thing.”

One of Brotman’s connections to the Grinnell community comes from performing at the Grinnell Middle School and Grinnell-Newburg High School.

“The middle school was probably one of my favorite gigs,” he said, mentioning that the middle school students “went crazy” for “Party In The U.S.A.” by Miley Cyrus.

A view of the live DJing setup. (Evan Hein)

According to Versh, a younger student DJ, Brotman has been generous, giving advice and lending equipment.

Versh’s on-campus debut of his mixing skills occurred at 10/10 this past October. Though his setup broke halfway through the event, he played soon after, at a “Haunted House” Halloween Gardner party that featured house music.

Versh said he appreciates smaller crowds because of a lowered expectation to play certain, more well-known songs. In these settings, he feels more able to “do his own thing.”

Never having learned an instrument like guitar or piano, Versh said that DJing, “is a way of sharing why I appreciate music or how I appreciate music.”

One element of the medium that appeals to him is its accessibility. At a smaller Cowles Hall apartment party that he recently performed at, he used a counter for his DJ board, and in his room, Versh’s music setup takes up his dorm desk.

“The first setup I bought was pretty cheap, and it lasted me until 10/10,” he said. “It’s [DJing] easier to get into than I think people realize.”

Similarly to Brotman, Versh said that finding a way to bring two different musical styles — from different people and places — together almost functions as the essence of the electronic medium. Behind the turntables, he said he likes that he is able, “to have twists, ups and downs and ebbs where you can track the energy, reverse the mood or the speed of the room you’re playing in.”

He said, “During a DJ set, you can kind of do whatever you want. You can be loud and crazy, or you can sit, be quiet and listen,” which distinguishes the medium from others. “It’s a space where people can be expressive and have fun.”

As for pre-Grinnell experience, Versh said that he would play at friends’ houses in high school. One of his favorite gig stories involved a $100 tip from a party host, who had only requested him to play a single AC/DC song.

Both Brotman and Versh said they were excited about collaboration and expansion in the DJ and general music scene at Grinnell.

“I think it only has room to grow,” said Brotman, who added that he looks forward to collaborating with Versh, specifically, but also with anyone else who is interested.

Versh said that he would like to see more opportunities for people to share and practice their music, especially from an experimental side. He gave an idea for a radio and video streaming station dedicated to being a space for students to freely sign up for practice with a DJ board.

“I heard that the best way to improve your craft is just to put it out there, so I think creating more outlets for that would be really cool,” said Versh.

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About the Contributors
Krista Spies
Krista Spies, Arts Editor
Krista Spies is a fourth-year English and Spanish major from St. Louis, MO. She loves writing about the arts almost as much as getting tattooed, and she hopes to turn going to concerts into a full-time job.
Evan Hein, Staff Photographer
Evan is a second-year psychology major from Kansas City, Kansas. He once had to ask his friends to describe him in one word for a psych project. 33% of the twenty-five descriptive responses were the word “ginger,” followed by a small chortle.
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