Former doorman turned casting agent wants to pull aside club culture's velvet rope
As SPIN reported yesterday, the casting director behind an as-yet untitled reality show about DJ culture is Doron Ofir, the man responsible for discovering the outsized personalities behind Jersey Shore, RuPaul's Drag Race, Millionaire Matchmaker, and dozens of similar series — a man whose claim to fame, you might say, is making other people infamous.
Nevertheless, he assured SPIN in a breathless phone interview yesterday that his intentions in seeking talent for an EDM reality show (working title: Superstar DJ) are anything but exploitative. In fact, Ofir himself is a former club kid and nightclub doorman. According to Salon, it was during his years manning the velvet ropes that he trained his eagle eye not just to sort out the drab from the fabulous, but the will-bes from the wanna-bes; his sixth sense for detecting garish characters is what eventually gave the world Snooki, JWOWW, and the Situation. Now, Ofir says, he wants to utilize those same talents to help make the world of dance music a more dynamic place — while inviting the entire television audience behind the velvet rope, as it were.
As it turns out, Ofir's own personality is as flamboyant as the characters he unearths for the screen. "You guys are wrecking me, stop it!" he exclaimed upon picking up the phone, laughing as he feigned deep emotional injury. "I just saw your article, and I was like, 'Really? Mean!'"
Without revealing many details about the show or its production company, which plans to make a full announcement later in January, Ofir spoke at length about his intentions for the competition-based series, as well as his own decades-long involvement in dance music. "One of the greatest moments of my life was Carl Cox at Marbella in Barcelona, watching the sun rise," said Ofir near the close of the interview. "I'll never forget it, because he broke Laurent Garnier's 'The Man With the Red Face' that night. I have a million of those stories, so understand that I'm going to do my best to make this legit."
What can you tell us about the EDM reality show you're casting?
I can give you broad strokes, because the main announcement's coming in January. The only affiliation to Jersey Shore [is my casting company], by the way, because it is not the production company behind Jersey Shore. They're going to call me any minute and be like, "What are you doing?"
Can you share who the producers are?
It's under wraps until the third week of January. They want to announce it and legitimize all the people who are involved, and it's a lot. I'd like to say that it's the titans of the industry. But there's a reason that I'm casting this over any other company, because I understand this world probably better than anyone else in the television entertainment pop-culture universe. That's a really important factor to this, because any way you slice it, dance music has been here since the mid-'70s, when the birth of disco started.
I actually think that Jersey Shore helped sort of reduce the influence of hip-hop currently. Jersey Shore brought back that sort of beat-the-beat, that throw-your-fist-and-dance, to a mainstream perspective. Now. Electronic dance music is a worldwide phenomenon and has been sorely under-recognized in the United States. So that's number one. Number two, my background is from nightclubs. That's what I did. I broke artists long before there was ever an agency system that was actually representing electronic dance music culture. I broke my teeth with Jellybean Benitez, all the way up through Skrillex. I started in New York, Sound Factory bar. Sound Factory. Twilo. Limelight. Tunnel. USA. Chaos. Envy. Jet Lounge. Everything from innovative house music — let me go even further back. Everything from freestyle — so Louie Vega, David Morales, Frankie Knuckles — to the birth of bass house to electronic dance. Then I moved to Miami in 1991 and helped launch the Winter Music Conference for DJs, which is now the largest dance music convention in the world. So there's an element of passion and truth that I have. That's why they tapped me, to at least be able, with a discerning eye, to weed through the nonsense and actually be able to create something that will help bring music to the forefront and back to television in a way that's actually legitimate.
That's interesting you say that, because I had wanted to ask how you intended to represent the history of DJ culture on the show.
Oh my God, you posted that article, and suddenly I'm like, "I'm being hated on," and I was like, "OK, I get it." But when you think of things like the Electric Daisy Carnival, and, like, Coachella, when Coachella first started, it was a rock venue. Now there's massive tents and it's electronic music all the way. There's an entire industry that has been built to cater to this. We have been trapped in a world of what I consider the ultra-lounge for a decade. Finally we get to bring back the soul of music that comes from the point of view of dance as a celebration, not as a sexual outlet — do you know what I'm saying? By 1994, what had dominated large-scale dance fizzled and ended. And then what we had was '94 to 2000, which was sort of the rave scene, but that was really, really young. And now they have evolved into the next generation. The time has come to actually educate the world of music about its formidable past. If you're going to sample Etta James in a dance track, they should know who Etta James is. There are legends and heroes and kings in the world of this music, and it wasn't born yesterday. So it's time to define the impact that dance music has had over the last 35 years to a much larger, worldwide audience. That's my goal.
Do you know how the show is going to try to do that?
All of this will come about. And by the way, I would never have signed on to this project if I didn't actually believe in the people who are putting it together. The main announcement is coming in January, and it'll come in phases. But [the people involved] are legends, they are true to the craft. From a television point of view, there are decades of experience in the television formattable side of it. But there's a lot of emphasis, a lot of sensitivity, to the community itself to make it legitimate.
The question of legitimacy is strangely interesting. Because you've got what I consider your garage DJs that are spinning in really small venues in small towns all across America, that are incredibly innovative, that never in a million years would have the opportunity to be heard. So they can put a podcast up tomorrow, but without any actual recognition, no one knows what they are doing. And whether they are fusing in mashups country hits, and they are the king and queen of SXSW, they'll never really transcend into a warehouse space in the Bronx. Because dance music is arbitrary. People like different things. Just like a dance floor. When you break up the dance floor, you see it: There are the people that dance by the speakers, that dance in a circle, there are those that just throw fists staring up at the DJ. There's an entirely different subculture and a hierarchy that exist on the floor itself, and it's all based on individual tastes. So this is a way of expanding that world and showing all the different variety that exists within dance music currently — but with a bit of talent, because these are the future producers that will be making the next wave of music.
So you're looking for talent as well as just strong personalities.
Of course! Ultimately, they have to have talent in order to be able to succeed. You have to understand the mathematical and engineering prowess that it takes to be a DJ now. This is not about creating the perfect song list on your iPad. This is about understanding the dynamics of music in its ultimate foundation and building from there and letting others know how this is done.
How do you translate that to television?
This is going to be an interesting challenge for production to create. However, it's just as visual as anything else. For a real DJ to start out and to be able to show their vision, it's not just about the music. They have to understand the room. They have to understand the design elements of a room. How music saturates the floor. What kind of emphasis and color, light spectrums, everything that creates the actual experience that you're about to partake in. If you're Swedish House Mafia, you don't just sit up there and play, you control everything from its concert direction. So it's so much more than just being what people consider a DJ. We're not looking for the Bar Mitzvah DJ — which, by the way, if there's a brilliant one out there, I'm totally willing to hear him! It's giving the opportunity to everybody for the time to make the dream a reality. Because not everyone's going to get the Vegas contract. Not everyone's going to get to play LIV in Miami. Not everyone's going to be able to play Pacha.
I wanted to get back to the competition aspect of the show —
You're trying to figure out how it's going to be done? That is yet to be determined. For me, I don't know, because I'm not there episode 5. My job is to be able to present the greatest opportunity to the general public, and then hopefully use some of my expertise and the production's expertise and all of the people involved, including the network, to be able to find the best talent to move forward. Now, you could say this is Top Chef 2 — you never actually learn to cook, and you never taste the food. But you understand the dynamic of what is happening on a show like that, which is a multi-Emmy-winning show, and it's now in its what, 14th season? So there's an element of that, and the difference here is there's actual trial and error.
The one definitive answer I could say about this, is there's definitely a competition basis to this. There is an elimination process. Only one can be the winner. But the exposure in this is unlimited. And ultimately, I'm assuming at this point, it will transcend what they do. Because it's one thing to play music; you also have to be a master of ceremonies. In this day and age, these superstars are also visual acts themselves. For the first time in history, we're actually giving the opportunity for people who are all of this. They have to have the personality to engage an audience. They also have to have the talent to back it up, and they have to have the vision in order to transcend and create something bigger than themselves. Which is why this is a star-making vehicle.
Well, you've sold me. I'm eager to see the pilot.
Well, I'm still pissed! I was like, "What is this article?" I had been waiting 20 years, by the way, for the return of large-scale dance floors where, honestly, you can feel the love. That, to me, has always been the definition of dance music: An audible manifestation of soul and love. It's non-violent. It's not negative. It's not derogatory. It's only positive! And that's a really interesting thing that has lost focus in the world of dance music. You don't see color, you don't see sexuality, you don't see anything. The legends in the world of dance have always been that. And the venues have always been that and they've always transcended that, whether it was Ministry of Sound, Cream, Roxy New York City, the Probe in L.A., Cherry in L.A., Cro-Bar Chicago, Paradise Garage, Body and Soul… These things are legends. Studio 54 in its heyday, Danceteria in its heyday, even the Parrots, Green and Red Parrots. It's a crazy thing, and there's a lot of kids out there that are 15, 16, 17, that don't understand the sacrifice that has come to bring music to this point. So this is not a death knell to it, it's actually a celebration of it.
There is a foundational history and there's something about the musical journey. When you go out, when electronic dance music fans go out, they don't necessarily go out to hook up. It's not that. They go out to experience an escape from their day-to-day lives and become something bigger and better. They transcend it. Their energy is awakened on the dance floor and they become connected to each other in a way that's almost tribal. Which is why there are so many variations to the history of dance music, whether it is tribal or drum and bass or, you know, dubstep, which is so electronically saturated. You go back to some of the gospel house, these epic voices and old-school piano tracks. There's so much to this world. The truth is, regardless how this show plays out, it has to have a television appeal. It has to make audiences want to be engaged, which is the most important part of this. So they will engage in the process of this.
By a voting system?
I'm going to leave it at that. That was a gift. OK? So if you could help me out, and spread the word? I appreciate the press for what the press does, but I hope they see something bigger in this, and don't think of it as, "Oh no, they're going to kill the genre." I think NOW 18, the dance-music compilations, are what ruin music. [Laughs]