DJ Booth: James Johnson-Brown ’25

James Johnson-Brown ’25, a political economy major by day and DJ JB by night, didn’t plan on becoming one of the most in-demand DJs on campus. During Winter Study 2022, when isolating due to COVID-19, Johnson-Brown found himself toying around with a music-mixing app.

“I had this app that I used to sequence my running playlists… but I didn’t realize it was actually DJ software,” he said. “I started playing around with it because I was bored. And then I made a party set out of that first two weeks and perfected that.”

Johnson-Brown may be a relative newcomer to DJing, but music has always played a big role in his life. Growing up in the Los Angeles area, he was exposed to the lively music scene of southern California. “I am really fortunate to have grown up in that city because there are so many musical professionals out there,” he said. “Before I started DJing and before I [joined] a cappella at the College, I used to be a professional session singer. I’ve been around these amazing musicians, singers, and producers pretty much from day one.”

As a member of the crew team, Johnson-Brown first DJed at an event during his team’s championship season. The crowd’s reaction, he said, was exhilarating to witness.

“I did this one thing where I played the first couple snares of ‘Dynamite’ by Taio Cruz and put ‘Levels’ under it — the Avicii song. I remember making eye contact with people getting surprised and just going, ‘Yeah, this is awesome.’”

Since that first night, Johnson-Brown’s audiences’ reactions have continued to form an integral part of his work — motivating him to continue DJing and also inspiring his individual sets. “The relationship between a DJ and a crowd is a give and take,” he said.

“One of the parties I most enjoyed was a Bollywood Party for the South Asian Students Association. Getting to mix music that I’d never heard of with other popular songs that the Williams crowd would typically know and recognize was really fun.”

Although Johnson-Brown does not have a go-to genre, he said that he prioritizes highlighting queer artists and members of the music industry in his sets. “I do generally try to play songs that I know have been produced by somebody who’s queer, especially a queer person of color like Kaytranada,” he said. “I really want to make space for that.”

He also said that when DJing, he aspires to transform the way listeners experience familiar music. “I love taking pieces of songs that people recognize, putting them together, and making something new for people to hear,” he said. “There is a repertoire of songs that you will usually hear at college parties. But if [a DJ] can find new ways to make that feel or sound different, or give people an entirely new way of hearing the song, I think that’s really cool.”

In the future, Johnson-Brown said he hopes to play a night-long set for a College audience that pays homage to his home city’s club scene, featuring fast-paced music that is newer to his audience. Another one of his goals for this semester is to play a wider variety of music from different cultures. “I want to make sure my sets are not always certain artists,” he said. “What I want to introduce is some of the cooler Bollywood stuff that I’ve heard, for example. There’s just one Bollywood song called ‘Antava Mawa’ that goes crazy into ‘Toxic.’ It’s so cool to hear what is an entirely different structure of music — different scales, different instruments — go into a song that you know and love.”

Johnson-Brown encouraged students at the College to listen to his sets — which feature broader cultural and genre variety — with an open mind. “Be open to [the different styles] and rock with it,” he said. “It’s literally just pitches and rhythms. It doesn’t matter where they come from. Just enjoy the vibe.”