Long Island’s DJ Theo is a seasoned veteran of the dance music industry, one who has not only lived to experience some of New York’s key clubbing moments, but one who has contributed to the scene itself. As a resident DJ for the tony Hamptons’ outdoor venue, Neptune’s Beach Club – with Theo now on his 13th consecutive year as resident DJ, one of the longest such residencies in America – Theo has been both patient and dogged in his intensely personal quest for furthering the cause of dance music.
Born Theo Pisani, DJ Theo honed his radio chops as a college radio programmer and music director for Rhode Island’s Bryant College, where he introduced alternative gems like New Order and 808 State into the stations’ rock-heavy playlists. Later working at New York’s Party 105.3FM Radio station, where he remains to this day, Theo had the opportunity of showing off his club-DJing skills to a much wider audience. In the late-1990’s, Theo’s live DJ sets from area nightclubs were broadcast on the seminal radio station, WLIR, where he also worked. Today, Theo maintains two weekly mixshows broadcast live satellite radio.
Although Theo has devoted years to radio, his true passion lies in clubland. As a club jock, Theo thrills over 3,000 patrons each Saturday during the summer when he spins nine-hour daytime parties at Neptune’s in the Hamptons. Deejaying at this breathtaking site, located directly on the beach in New York’s storied vacation getaway, Theo has cultivated Neptune’s from a middling venue into a contemporary powerhouse where global jocks like Danny Tenaglia, Victor Calderone and Erick Morillo are booked to play. This year Theo is nominated by DJ Times Magazine as one of “America’s Best DJs.”
Clubplanet sat-down with DJ Theo the morning after his release party for Nervous Nitelife: Summer Clubbing2 (Nervous Records) at New York’s Cielo.
Clubplanet: This marks your thirteenth consecutive year as resident at Neptune’s in the Hamptons. How have you maintained the momentum for all these years?
DJ Theo: [laughs] It’s not easy. It’s only gotten easier for me because I’ve had a residency for so long and it’s a big DJ-juggling act. It’s harder playing one venue, week after week, because the crowd is more critical of you.
Clubplanet: You also used to own a club?
Theo: Yes. I owned a club in the Hamptons called Brazil, which later became Amber. Owning a club, seeing what international DJs do, having my own radio shows, and just being around dance music for so long. I have a pretty well-rounded perspective of this business.
Clubplanet: With Beatport and the reach of the Internet as a whole, it seems as though many aspiring DJs are dreaming of succeeding in the international arena. What’s your take on this?
Theo: I don’t think the DJ gets as much respect as he used to. I think it’s a little sad because it means the downfall of clubs and bars. Paul van Dyk thought the club scene died on a larger level when local guys at the smaller bars were playing the wrong type of music. For example, Mauro Picotto’s “Lizard” is a big-room record à la Gatecrasher, but that’s not appropriate for a smaller room. When everybody wants to be “the big DJ,” who wants to play underground stuff? It hurt the smaller, more intimate rooms where you have to create that atmosphere for that size room. I’ve said it a million times at panels: you need to be relevant in your own backyard.
Clubplanet: It’s easy for you to say when you’re getting offers on a constant basis.
Theo: Right now, I have clubs that want me to DJ at night [after Neptune’s]. After I DJ for nine hours on Saturdays, promoters wanna book me at night after the party, because there’s nothing else at night. I don’t want to do it because I’m very tired after such a long day. However, I do feel it’s relevant to have another party going on at night.
Clubplanet: Do you have clubs in Manhattan and other cities, like Miami and Las Vegas, wanting to book you to DJ, year-round? How do you approach a new venue when you’re booked to DJ a club you’ve never played at?
Theo: Any new venue you come into now, you have to watch everything. You have to make sure you’re being promoted, that there are people doing their jobs, just so your job is relevant. I would say to other DJs, “Don’t tell people not to come out on another night just because you want people coming to see you. There won’t be a venue around for anyone to go to if you keep that kind of attitude!” I wish there were 40 [dance music] clubs in the city.
Clubplanet: Speaking about club paradises, have you been to Ibiza?
Theo: Yeah! You go to Ibiza and there’s DC10 and Bora Bora and Amnesia, Manumission…there’s several nice clubs in Greece…in West Africa there are nice clubs, so…I’ve learned to look at everything on a different level.
Clubplanet: Back to the Hamptons. Would you say you’ve helped build Neptune’s into what it is today, considering you’ve been the resident DJ there for 13 years?
Theo: Neptune’s is still around because I did the right thing for the venue and for the crowd to keep people going there over the years. So yeah, over the years, I helped build that venue. Neptune’s didn’t hire me to build a venue. They hired me to spin everything under the sun, but I pushed dance music. We brought in Victor Calderone and Danny Tenaglia. I never would’ve thought, 10 years ago, that those guys would be spinning there! I had to do a lot to accomplish that. I probably sacrificed my DJ credibility doing that.
Clubplanet: Neptunes’ owners didn’t originally hire you to play dance music, but you pushed it anyway.
Theo: I pushed dance. The owners liked alternative music and I spun for WLIR, so I played the best of alternative – Erasure, New Order, Depeche Mode, Axwell – you name it. I could go into those sets and then play new dance music. It was great to go from New Order into “Spin Spin Sugar” and make those owners tolerate what I was playing, because I would get out of it and go into something else. That took a lot of effort.
Clubplanet: And it worked.
Theo: After the summer of 2001, we started having a good dance party. In 1997-’98, I was playing dance, but by 2001, I was playing all dance music. By 2004, we started getting more and more progressive. It’s been a long trip. To this day it’s still a battle, but they trust me to do the right thing, week after week.
Clubplanet: Has being a radio DJ helped you while working at a club?
Theo: I worked at specialty radio and I was lucky with WLIR and Party 105. People take it for granted; they don’t realize what we had. We’re really spoiled in this listening area. Radio’s about the element of surprise.
Clubplanet: Terrestrial radio doesn’t have a lot to offer these days when compared with satellite, meaning Sirius and XM. You hear dance music from those carriers that you’d never hear on terrestrial radio. Do you see terrestrial radio becoming extinct down-the-road?
Theo: Well, you still have to pay for satellite. Also , if there’s not new dance music being played anywhere, how is the dance scene changing?