It’s impossible not to dance at a Sean Watson show. The professional DJ, a 42-year-old Phoenix resident who has commanded the masses to move for more than eight years, plays a mix of electronic dance music and popular hits that make anyone a fan. He’s just as energetic as his music, smiling and bouncing up and down to the beats, as a stunning visual show lights up the dance floor.
Catch him at his rowdy Friday night parties at Bar Smith in Phoenix every week from 9 p.m.-2 a.m., at Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix Saturday’s from midnight- 2 a.m., and at Civic Space Park in Phoenix Thursday’s and Friday’s from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. He also plays special shows and will DJ a new Thursday night residency at new Phoenix venue The Local, starting at the end of April.
Watson, who’s also a music producer, talked about what it takes to become a professional DJ. Keep scrolling to watch a video of the longtime Arizonan name his five favorite reasons for living in the Valley, too.
What brought you to Arizona?
My family. I was born in Walnut Creek, California and came here when my parents moved here when I was 1 year old. I went to Brophy (college Preparatory) High School and to Northern Arizona University for a couple years.
What’s your first memory of being passionate about music?
My dad is a jazz and Irish folk singer, so I was surrounded by music my whole life growing up. When I got cut from the baseball team my freshman year of high school, my dad bought me a guitar, and I’ve been obsessed ever since. I discovered my real talent was guitar playing. I’m also a mediocre drummer.
How has your music career evolved?
I was in a band for years called Extremes of Violet and became a DJ from there. A friend asked me to DJ one time at a bar, called HT Lounge, because he knew my record collection, and from there, it grew. Someone had come in and heard me and said, “Wow, that’s really good stuff you’re playing,” and I immediately got hired at The Vig around eight years ago. From there, it’s become a career.
Before I DJed, I worked in the industry bartending and serving tables. I did remodels and wood flooring, also.
What’s your record collection like?
I was a huge collector of punk rock albums and SST (Records) albums, with music by the Meat Puppets and Black Flag. From there, it grew into electronic music, which is funny, because I used to not listen to bands if they had a keyboard. Then I heard The Chemical Brothers, and that changed my life. I started collecting a lot of electronic albums.
The mix I like to play is made up of a lot of different genres – you couldn’t peg the set I play on a certain genre, which is a good thing, I think.
What is your gear like?
CDJs, which are like turntables for CDs, so you can treat them like records, and a mixer. I don’t use any computers live when I mix. I like being interactive with the crowd, so I don’t like to have a computer up there.
How much music do you have?
More than 500 records, and I have thousands of audio files. I can’t begin to count the amount of gigs I have. I’m an audiophile, so I have a lot of hard drives in a lot of different places.
How do you prepare for a DJ set?
I try to read the crowd, so it sort of happens when I’m there. I do burn sets before I play, but I bring other CDs and try to read the crowd and go from there.
At Crescent, since I’m playing after a band, I try to make a good transition based on the band that played before.
What do you love about being a DJ?
First of all, the most fortunate thing is being able to be a DJ and look up music. I’m a music head, and music helped save my life at one point when I had troubled times. Music is seriously my true passion, and I’m a concert crier. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to go see music every week, and I’ve been going to festivals and shows for the past 20 years – I even followed the Grateful Dead.
Who’s your favorite all-time musician, and who’s your current favorite?
I’m a huge fan of the Meat Puppets, an Arizona band, because I got to see them so many times. I’m also a huge Beatles fan.
What do you think characterizes a good DJ, and what makes you a good DJ?
I would say reading the crowd and not being selfish. It doesn’t mean you have to play music you don’t like, but you should play for and with the people and actually enjoy it.
What’s the key to reading the crowd?
As a DJ, you’ll know it – hands in the air, if people are leaving or sitting down.
How would you characterize the Valley’s dance music scene?
I love it, because to me, it’s at the beginning phases. There is such a hodgepodge of DJs, and I think Phoenix is starting to get a true identity. Electronic acts are beginning to pull bigger and bigger crowds.
Phoenix has very open-minded people, and a lot of stuff out here sounds new to people.
How do you find new music?
Friends and the Internet. I read Pitchfork and blogs from around the world. I also try to attend as many festivals and shows as I can.
What are your goals?
My goal is to start production. My friend Benny Linsenmeyer and I have started writing electronic music featuring women’s vocals, and we hope to get some things released by mid-summer. We also so have the opportunity to remix for friends’ bands and other artists we love.
What advice do you have for people who want to become professional DJs themselves?
Be on time. A lot of DJs aren’t on time, and that drives venues crazy.
Also, realize who you’re playing for, and play for the crowd. Don’t be selfish, and look like you’re having fun when you’re up there doing it.
Why should people come to one of your sets?
It’s a blast, and the visual guy I have, Matt Castleberry, who’s also my best friend, is amazing, so it’s a fun experience. He’s crafted programs that move to the precise beat and tone of the music being played. During bigger events or out-of-town jobs, he is able to visually map out almost anything from a building, to any symbol we want to create. I am so lucky to have him on my team. It’s almost like a live show, like you’re seeing a band.