By Libby Herz
Photos: Shneur Haviv
The simcha starts with soft music. Slowly the crowd warms up. The DJ builds energy until the first dance starts off with a BANG.
DJing is an art of connection and DJ Shatz thrives on feeling the crowd. “It’s all about playing in real-time, reading the crowd on the spot, and taking them on a journey with you,” he tells COLlive.com. Since he began playing at weddings and bar mitzvahs, Shatz has made a name for himself.
“I didn’t choose music,” he says. “Music chose me.” Shatz grew up in a home brimming with tunes. His father was a one-man band who played at simchas. “We had keyboards all around the house,” says the musician. “It was overflowing with energy and love for dancing and singing. I played keyboard as a kid and my parents bought me a flute for my tenth birthday.” He put the flute to his lips and immediately managed to blow out ‘Am Yisroel Have No Fear.’
At a young age, Shatz learned to read musical notes. He quickly picked up the drums, guitar, and saxophone. As a yeshiva student, he used his free time to produce electronic music on his phone and to write music.
At Simchas Beis Hashoeva and weddings, Shatz didn’t just dance; he analyzed the rhythm, the bounce, and those dancing around him. He knew that one day he would bring his liveliness and understanding of music to others. He would have them jumping to their feet.
When he was activity director in a Lubavitch camp, Shatz composed songs and tracks to hype the boys to learn Mishnayos Baal Peh. “This is when I started with studio-level production,” he says.
Eventually, he built a studio in his room where he created original electronic music. “I was spending four hours in one sitting making music, not realizing the time had passed,” he says. He began posting videos of his beats on Instagram, and his positive energy and rhythm shot through the screen.
Shatz’s first live performance was at his cousin’s bar mitzvah. “I didn’t have an assistant to deal with all the equipment,” he says. He shlepped everything into the hall, and set up alone for the first time. Connecting the wires from speaker to speaker was a complicated task, but a few hours in, he was finally ready.
The young DJ washed his face and stood behind his new booth, exhausted and nervous. But as soon as he felt the rhythm of the first song, that all disappeared. Shatz was in the zone. The good energy of the music took over. The boys danced all night and had the time of their lives. The dream of performing music live was now a reality.
AUDIO: DJ Shatz mix of Shuva by Boruch Sholom Blesofsky
Just over thirty years ago, Jewish music consisted of chazzanus and niggunim. But over the years, Jewish singers have added thousands of melodies to the mix, using their songs to inspire and uplift. Using the vast amount of Jewish music released, including traditional tunes from years back, Shatz has built up his library in a unique way.
“I bring a new energy with electronic style,” Shatz says. He often mixes songs with electronic interludes. “People weren’t used to it. But my motto has always been Lechatchila Ariber – go over boundaries. My goal is to innovate and bring DJing to our communities using Jewish music in a frum way.”
DJs use layers of sound to lift pleasant music into the realm of extraordinary. “On top of the actual song,” Shatz says, “I add beats, effects, and elements to make each song more dancey. I add more punch and groove.”
He also plays with full bands and singers. And each time, when he turns up the beat, there is a new level of liveliness in the crowd. The crowd jumps as one. They bond through the positive music, expressing a high level of simcha – this is the DJs specialty. “Smile at someone, you can change their day,” Shatz says. “This is that but on steroids.”
Sometimes, the artist says, it’s not that easy to get the spirit going. He recalls the time he was hired to play music at an overnight camp in California. “It was a hot day. The air was dry and there was tension in the atmosphere. People were just rolling around, lacking excitement. I thought ‘how am I going to get them feeling the positive and exciting energy?’”
The party started and Shatz played his music; the kids tapped their feet awkwardly. Carefully the DJ chose the second song, introducing a little more energy. “It wasn’t really there yet,” he says. By the third song, the chorus came in and the entire camp began jumping together. “The feeling I felt was amazing! Being able to bring good vibes, having people connect in such an exciting way with rhythm and unity is unbelievable.”
That night, a wave of positivity united the kids. They connected with the upbeat energy which became a highlight of their summer. Shatz relates to the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks OBM, “When the soul sings, the spirit soars.”
“Don’t underestimate the power of music,” he says. “It takes people out of their boundaries and it’s a force bringing them together. This is so necessary nowadays. It’s the atmosphere that people remember long after the party is over.”
Jewish DJs are the future of Jewish music. Shatz looks forward to sharpening his skills, releasing his own Jewish electronic music, and filling crowd after crowd with genuine simcha.
AUDIO: DJ Shatz mix for Lag BaOmer