For better or worse, Charlotte is nationally known for a few things — craft beer, corporate banking and hopeful professional sports teams come to mind right off the bat. Unfortunately, a thriving nightclub scene isn’t quite one of those things.
In fact, the pulsating sounds of a nightclub DJ reverberating throughout the city is typically reserved for the Epicentre on Saturday nights — not exactly a scene that fits everyone’s definition of a good night. Sure, we have our share of clubs — World, Suite, Roxbury, etc. — but even a Google search of “Charlotte nightclubs” leads you to either The Men’s Club or, inexplicably, The White House.
However, that doesn’t mean that Charlotte isn’t home to some of the dopest DJs on the East Coast, it just means you have to look in the right places to find them.
The Queen City’s party scene is most notably being defended by modern-day samurai DJ Shogun. Perhaps no one in the city controls a crowd better than Shogun, and while being a big party fish in a small pond scene may seem like a blast, it’s a huge undertaking.
Shogun has entertained for celebrity parties hosted by the likes of Michael Jordan, spun at MTV Video Music Awards afterparties and even appeared on VH1, while companies like Microsoft and Beats by Dre producer Monster Cable have publicly endorsed Shogun. It’s not all glitz and glamour for the local DJ, though. You can find Shogun spinning for more lowkey gigs at Sydney’s Martini and Wine Bar or Q.C. Social Lounge next month.
Whether at a celebrity-hosted party full of big spenders or keeping a martini bar crowd entertained, the goal is the same for Shogun. After all, it’s all about the music.
“Music makes the world move, literally, while uniting people from all cultures, faiths and backgrounds,” he says. “I look forward to seeing music continue to be the binding force and catalyst to unite us all.”
While Shogun is part of a DJ scene that has stayed mostly underground, as other cultural movements begin to flourish around the city, the disc jockeys have begun to take advantage of that rising tide.
“The scene is somewhat untapped, has a plethora of talent amongst all genres of music and the arts,” he laments.
“I’ve seen the arts and music scene flourish with such festivals and events as Barnstock, Breakin’ Convention, How Can I Be Down, AfroPop! and the various annual music-driven events that continue to grow. There’s still room to evolve even further as Charlotte continues to physically and spiritually grow.”
As if to prove that point, there is plenty happening in May for any DJs looking to break into the scene. On May 11, for example, the 2019 CLT DJ Battle will take place in the center of Uptown on the corner of Trade and Tryon streets. Registration ended April 22, but the event will be a great way to check out local talent — participants must live within a 150-mile radius of Charlotte — and network with other folks in the scene.
The official website touts the event as a competition that invites all styles of DJing.
“From Hip-Hop to EDM, turntablist to finger drumming, whatever your vibe, if you can rock the crowd, you could be crowned 2019’s CLT DJ Battle champion,” the website states.
DJs from all over the region sent in submissions, and on April 24, organizers announced the four finalists that will compete at Center City for $1,000 in cash and prizes, not to mention coveted bragging rights.
As you may have noticed with the finger-drumming reference in the event’s promotional material, CLT DJ Battle caters to all styles and audiences, which according to DJ Dames, is something Charlotte does best.
“I would say that Charlotte’s got something for everyone — from the college scene to people who love older funk and soul. While there’s not huge clubs like NYC or Los Angeles, it’s got a cool, organic type of vibe,” Dames explains. “The only difference is, the Charlotte scene could do a better job of promoting events.”
You may have seen DJ Dames spinning for a big party during NBA All-Star Weekend or alongside Shogun on a Friday night at Sydney’s.
Dames remains hopeful for the future of the Charlotte nightlife scene. After all, with all those people moving into Charlotte every day, they’re going to need somewhere to blow off steam.
“As the city continues to grow, the nightlife will probably become more spread out and regional,” Dames says. “Hopefully, for DJs, the city growing will create more opportunities for more good DJs to serve as the centerpiece for the nightlife entertainment.”
Just like Shogun, there is a deeper reason Dames gets behind his turntables that goes past the hype and the parties.
“As a DJ, I love to see people having a good time, listening to songs that evoke memories and excitement from their youth,” he says. “I also love watching the younger crowd go apeshit over a bass drop. It’s infectious.
“It’s truly an art form, and not everyone with a laptop is a DJ,” Dames continues. “It takes years of practice, thousands of dollars in expensive equipment and technical skills that go beyond pressing a button. A true DJ is like an orchestra conductor using the same two hands, but instead it’s on the turntables to conduct the crowd and their movements and emotions.”
It’s not always laptops and buttons, either. AfroPop! Nation, which travels nationally but calls Charlotte home, features DJs combining a unique blend of rhythms inspired by the African Diaspora — Afrobeats, Afro-Latino, tribal house, soca, dancehall and Western pop music — paired with live African drummers. For anyone into nightlife culture, AfroPop! is a must.
Catch the third annual AfroPop! Nation BOOM festival after-party at Snug Harbor on April 26, or sweat it out at the (also third annual) AfroPop! Nation Block Party at Camp North End on June 9.
Looking for heat on a more regular basis? Petra’s and Snug are both home to plenty of great DJ events like Hazy Sunday and Le Bang, respectively.
Su Casa, billed as “a monthly oasis for the culturally starved,” features a variety of local DJs spinning soul, house, Afrobeat and funk. That party takes place at Petra’s on the last Saturday of the month.
Petra’s is also a regular host to one of Charlotte’s best-kept secrets behind the ones and twos: DJ Justice. Last April, Justice spun alongside Bobbito Garcia at Snug, and can usually be found at Su Casa or Off the Wall, another one of the monthly parties at Petra’s.
Justice is social media-free, so you’ve got to come out from behind your screen to see him at work.
Whether you’re looking for hip-hop, Latin, house or electronic, there’s no lack of ways to connect with culture from the other side of a turntable and dance your ass off in Charlotte.
As with most of the city’s underground scenes, it’s just about knowing where to look.