DJ Ayres on Savalas’s Rap Music Ban: “I’ve Been Going Through This With Club Owners in New York City for Ten Years”


Yesterday, ubiquitous New York turntable presence DJ Ayres found his monthly Savalas party, Strictly Hits, abruptly cancelled. The reason? In the words of the club: Savalas is “taking a rap sabbatical.” What this meant became clear when SOTC obtained the email a Savalas employee had sent to club’s entire DJ roster, explaining that “the crowd at Savalas has been changing recently” and the venue’s own regulars were being replaced with “drug dealers, meat heads, [and] dare I say *gasp* New Jersey kids”–hence the club banning what they perceive to be the bridge and tunnel’s music of choice. We reached out to Ayres to see what happened to his party, whether this kind of rap alarmism is a constant in the life of a New York DJ, and whether he has any kind of future with Savalas. This is what he told us:

So Saturday’s Strictly Hits got cancelled. Are you upset?

This is the second time I’ve gotten fired for playing music they didn’t like there, so I don’t care.

I couldn’t figure out from Twitter whether you’d been fired or not.

They didn’t fire me, exactly–what happened was at that they sent out that email and they didn’t send it to me, they sent it to the promoter, who forwarded it to me. [SOTC writer Puja Patel is also involved with the party.] And at the same time, or maybe a day later, they saw that we were doing a specifically rap edition of Strictly Hits, which is something we’ve been planning for weeks. So I think they probably took that as a slap in the face. But it wasn’t intended to be; it was just us doing what we do.

So they cancelled the party.

Well, the owner had the manager call the promoter and tell her that we’re cancelled. There was no dialogue or anything–it was just, “You guys are done.”

Done permanently?

I don’t know, that wasn’t made clear to me. But I’m done permanently now–this is a little too much for me.

Is there a history behind this, or did it come out of the blue?

There’s definitely a history of it at Savalas. They’ve gone the full spectrum of gentrification, from starting out in Williamsburg five years ago when South Williamsburg was a rougher, poorer neighborhood, and they worried about the locals coming in. Back then I DJed at Savalas for like a year and half. And there was a lot of push and pull all the time with the owners, you know, saying “Don’t play too much of this kind of music, it brings the wrong kind of people.” And it just made me feel too hamstrung to be able to do what I do. We didn’t part on bad terms then, but I was out of there for like two and a half years.

And then got brought back in about a year and a half ago, and they were always very nice and very friendly. It was never like a personal issue, it was just–they kind of micromanage their DJs. So this is now the opposite end of the gentrification spectrum, which is not only is it a gentrified neighborhood in 2010, but they have bridge and tunnel people coming to Williamsburg now. Those are the folks they’re trying to avoid. They’re trying to discourage kids that are not local scene kids.

And they think bridge and tunnel kids are more prone to listen to rap music?

I guess. I mean, whatever they said in the email is what they think. I try not to analyze it too much. You know there’s all these assumptions, but the bottom line to me is that the bouncers should take care of that. They’ve got two bouncers there. And if there’s someone they don’t want in there, get ’em out. But I think [targeting] the music is such a backwards approach to that. It’s kind of a way of letting themselves off the hook for saying, “We don’t want you here.” You know, like: “You can come here, but here’s this music that you don’t like. So yeah, you really don’t want to come here.”

Rather than just basically instructing bouncers to say, “You’re bridge and tunnel, you can’t come in.”

Right, yeah–“Don’t wear that tacky hat in here.” But it’s tough.

Do you think they have a point here at all? Or is it kind of ridiculous that they’re blaming rap music for their troubles?

I’ve been going through this with club owners in New York City for ten years. I don’t think that it’s just blaming rap music for being rap music–to them, it’s Top 40, and they’re not trying to have a Top 40 crowd. What’s Top 40 right now? It’s T.I., and Lil Wayne, and Jay-Z. So, I mean, yes and no. I think that they do have a point. I think that they might have gone about it better or fostered a discussion, rather than saying, “Here’s the commandment from high. Do this or we don’t want you.”

Do you have plans to relocate Strictly Hits yet?

We haven’t talked about it. This just happened today. And I’ve got Flashing Lights and the Rub and my record label and my daughter and all this other stuff. This is just a piece of my career–I’m not overly concerned.

Yeah, you don’t sound that bummed out.

Yeah, you know, we do the Rub, and I make five times as much as what I can make at Savalas, because we can fit five times as many people, and I can play whatever I want to. So it’s hard for me to feel like I lost something that I cared about too much. I liked Savalas though because it was small, and it did sometimes feel like a community. I’m not up on a stage. I’m right there, on the dance floor, communicating with people. I think the energy came as much from the people who were in the room as it did from the music there. And I definitely see there being different people as a result of the policy–not as a result of us playing rap.

For context and those of us who don’t know, you were saying before that it’s common for clubs to feel this way about rap?

Oh yeah, absolutely. And it runs the gamut from club owners who are straight up racist, which is not the case with Savalas, to people who just feel like the people who are coming are not spending money. They say: “We want to do something different, we want to attract a more interesting, artsier crowd than what we are now.” But I don’t know–I feel like you should fucking take what you can get in 2010, in terms of getting a crowd in. If you’re making money, what’s the issue?