For some, DJing is about bringing people together on the dance floor by sharing music. For others, DJing is a means to get paid for getting drunk and maybe playing a few records. Justin Gradin falls into the latter category.
Gradin is one of the city’s most endearing and talented characters. In addition to moonlighting as a DJ, he’s a musician, a visual artist, a director of music videos for the likes of White Lung and Pink Mountaintops, and a grown man who has inexplicably dressed up as Dracula every Christmas morning for the past five years. He’s also someone you’ll inevitably encounter if you spend any amount of time in East Van dives.
One such joint is the beloved Cobalt, which every month hosts the venerable sock-hop night Ice Cream Social. There he plays rock and pop from the ’50s and ’60s alongside Cam Dales, Tyler Fedchuk, and Trevor Risk, if he feels like it. But failing that, he’ll certainly be there drinking.
Best gig ever
Every gig as a DJ is the best ever. I play instruments in bands, usually. Doing that you lug gear around, play to 10 people, don’t get paid, and then lug everything back to the studio. DJing is the donkey that chews the golden gum.
Top track right now
“Chicken Necks” by Don and Juan. When I wake up in the morning I put that song on and I stare at myself in the mirror whilst punching the wall. It’s better than food!
Favourite Vancouver producer
666DLA999. He produces rap music from a little wooden shack in the mountains. He actually made his computer out of rocks and sticks. I’ve never seen him live, but these are the rumours. I heard he’s gonna do a tour of Iceland as a hologram in 2019.
A song that cleared the dance floor
There have been so many it’s hard to keep track of them all. But my favourite time was at the Black Lodge. There wasn’t a dance floor, but I was playing to a metal and punk crowd. I remember after playing Gang Green, I played the Golden Girls theme song and it was not appreciated.
What’s up with your screwed-up music videos?
It’s kind of like freezing a dream and then chopping it up and letting another man snort it and then you gaze into each other’s eyes and you see an image reflected back. The image isn’t always great, but it’s there, and sometimes it winks at you and you have to punch it like you’re changing the channel. Two men, beating a gift horse to death on Valentine’s Day.
Oddest request you’ve ever received
Well, at Ice Cream Social there’s always one person that doesn’t get the concept of a theme night and asks “Can you play some Drake? It’d kill right now!” But I think the weirdest request I’ve ever received is from this obese man who wanted me to braid his hair on top of a Dumpster. He said he broke both his legs from tap-dancing too hard when he found out that his cousin was pregnant. After the braids he wanted me to drop him off at the hospital and then drive his car to Deadman’s Island where his sister would be waiting for me. She was gonna set the car on fire and take me to Bellingham in a hot-air balloon. He also asked if I could play “Single Ladies” by Beyoncé.