Dancing in a club, surrounded by people, is one of those things you just can’t recreate at home. But approximating the feeling is good enough for now. Zoom parties, DJ livestreams, and virtual venues like Resident Advisor’s Club Quarantäne are bringing people together to revel in music while keeping a physical distance. With a little bit of technical know-how, you too can get in on that digital club action, whether for your friends or an official stream. You don’t need pro gear or previous DJ experience to throw a good online party—you just need a vibe and music you love.
Stuck indoors with a beginner-level Pioneer controller, Harry Gay and his roommates/fellow DJs Wacha and Passer started the weekly Zoom series Queer House Party in March, as a way to make rent following canceled gigs. It’s since grown into a 1,000-person-strong weekly event, broadcasting every Friday night from their London apartment. They don’t need a lot to pull it off, and neither do you: a stable internet connection and virtual DJ software or a controller for playing the music. “Having a premium Zoom account gives us the tools we need to run the party we want, and to keep people safe from racist trolls and Zoom-bombers,” adds Passer.
Zoom is also convenient for digital dance parties because it allows you to broadcast your computer audio directly, which is a must. Playing audio into your microphone will lead to garbled audio, even if you’ve got great speakers. To redirect audio from your computer on Zoom, click Screen Sharing and navigate to Advanced, where there’s an option that reads Music or Computer Sound Only. From there, you can play your set using DJ software like Algoriddim djay, or Spotify or iTunes in a pinch (it’ll be less like a set and more like a Turntable.fm session). And remember, free Zoom accounts have a 40-minute limit on group calls, so you’ll need a subscription if you want to go longer.
More experienced DJs may want to reach for their vinyl records. Lugging crates to the club might have been a hassle, but when the DJ booth is your bedroom, that limitation vanishes. If you want to stream using turntables or CDJs with an analog mixer, you need an audio interface like the iRig Stream (which accepts a standard RCA input), but otherwise it’s largely the same. If you’re using Zoom, you can then select the audio interface as your microphone input in the audio settings; make sure you enable the Turn On Original Sound option in the settings as well. Passer recommends an app called Loopback to manage your inputs and outputs with ease.
If you choose to take it to the next level and livestream—opening up the party to anyone who wants to tune in—download the Open Broadcaster Software of your choice. Keep in mind each platform’s approach to copyrighted music: YouTube is notoriously punctilious when it comes to copyright violations, while Twitch will simply mute copyright violations in archived broadcasts. And Periscope or Instagram have typically offered more lax restrictions.
The energy is just different when you’re livestreaming versus Zoom. “You have to imagine the party, visualize yourself in it, then play to it while trying to communicate the energy you see in your mind and hopefully feel in your heart,” says the Black Madonna, who’s broadcasted sets for Boiler Room and United We Stream from her London home since the beginning of lockdown. “There’s a little bit of method acting, I guess. You want to completely identify with that moment you’ve visualized and then react with as much sincerity as you can to the music.”
While this may sound next-level for the newfound DJ, the point stands: be the party. Besides the obvious (a killer set!), one thing that can help set the tone is some simple set design. “The decor is our key to success: shimmer curtains, a cardboard cut-out of Susan Boyle, anything you want,” says Passer of Queer House Party. “Make it fun and camp. Obviously we’d be dancing anyway, but I think it’s nice for the audience to see us really enjoying ourselves.”
A dark room and a disco light can go a long way, but if turning your room into a rave sounds like an ordeal, don’t be afraid to take cues from the pros. Last month, Guido Sartoris of Argentinian techno duo E110101 broadcasted an all-vinyl set in his kitchen while cooking up a meal. Whenever hip-hop producer Just Blaze goes live, you can find his studio covered in green screen, staid acoustic panels replaced with space-age graphics. Make sure your visuals fit the music you’re playing, and that you play what you really want to hear yourself.
“This all sounds trippy, and it is, but I can tell you that if you aren’t feeling it—whether you’re on a webcam or in front of a crowd—the listener will know,” says the Black Madonna. “The difference between a DJ who is playing from the heart is the difference between an AM radio and front row tickets in a great theater. Play songs you feel urgency about. Anyone can smash a button and most people can learn the mechanics of DJing or find some kind of program to approximate beatmatching. There’s something about loving something so much that you have to play it, which gets transferred over to other people and it can’t be stopped by distance or technology. What you can’t fake is feeling.”
Originally Appeared on Pitchfork