The Man Who DJs for Obama, Stevie Wonder and Madonna
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because if these Hollywood superstars loved him, then you should too.
By James Watkins
Finally, at 2.30 a.m. on a Wednesday night over 20 years ago, after bugging a fellow L.A. DJ to let him cover a set for months, Adam Bravin — stage name Adam 12 — took control of the DJ booth in an empty VIP room at Glam Slam, Prince’s personal Hollywood club. Bravin started playing a set of “the sickest funk” that he’d been working on for weeks. As “the biggest Prince fan” since childhood, just playing at Glam Slam was a dream come true, even though the only people in the room were the bartender’s girlfriend and two security guys. Then in comes Prince, lollipop in mouth, who hides behind a speaker and peeks out at Bravin, before dancing out into the middle of the dance floor, alone. Within minutes his predecessor was fired and Bravin hired as Prince’s new resident DJ.
Talented Hollywood club DJs field calls from A-listers, and Bravin can name-drop with the best of ’em: Michael Jackson, Dr. Dre, Stevie Wonder, Madonna … he’s even spun wax for President Obama. But if you don’t frequent the L.A. club scene, you probably haven’t heard of him before, unless it’s through his role as half of dark-wave band She Wants Revenge. Most world-famous DJs “aren’t really DJs now; they’re more producers. Or just guys that look cool,” says Bravin. He certainly doesn’t fit that mold: He is aloof, soft-spoken and dressed all in black when we meet, right up to the fedora that casts a long shadow over his face in his dimly lit Hollywood studio. He struck a similar persona when She Wants Revenge took the stage for a gig on their 10-year anniversary tour the previous week, wearing a beanie hat and chewing gum, blending into the background while covering bass, keyboard, programming and everything else in between while vocalist and guitarist Justin Warfield served as frontman. Although Bravin, in his mid-40s, is a veteran of the L.A. music industry, only now is he embarking upon a solo venture — writing, recording and producing his own record featuring original lyrics and vocals.
It doesn’t get bigger than Obama. Maybe the pope! He did actually reach out to me once.
Adam Bravin, aka DJ Adam 12
Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, just north of Los Angeles, Bravin didn’t have many friends but found solace in music — Prince, Depeche Mode, The Cure. When other kids took a liking to tapes that he recorded off the radio and brought into school, he began investing in his passion. At 15, he DJed his first party, where he met lifelong friend and creative partner Warfield. He learned his craft at backyard teenage parties. “In the Valley,” he recalls, “you had hip-hop kids, punk-rock kids, skateboard kids, new-wave kids, goth kids, cool kids like the jocks and shit, so … I learned really early on to be able to handle a room full of people that wanted to hear a bunch of different things.”
It’s a skill that continues to set him apart: “He really is the most versatile DJ in L.A.,” says radio host, author and L.A. entertainment writer Lina Lecaro. “Any DJ can command different genres, but to fill the floor and build this indescribable, innate connection with a crowd and take them on a journey … that’s unique.” Indeed, Bravin regularly hosts everything from classic hip-hop nights to classy disco parties at Giorgio’s nightclub to late-night darkness at gothic club Cloak and Dagger to pop-friendly celeb soirées and, of course, presidential receptions.
I, with my slightly mainstream music tastes, felt a tad out of place at the She Wants Revenge gig in San Jose. The band’s music has been said to hold whiffs of Joy Division and dark wave; Bravin says nay to both, arguing that it’s hip-hoppy at the core. Nevertheless, when Lady Gaga chose the band’s song for her gory debut on American Horror Story, the dark and intense beat matched the mood of the deathly scene perfectly. Bravin’s solo venture, called Love, Ecstasy and Terror, is several shades deeper and darker. Because of this, it’s unlikely that mega-success as a club DJ will translate into equivalent mega-success of the DJs turned producers whose tracks top sales charts around the world. Indeed, the project was more artistic expression than commercial punt: “I have so much to say that I can’t say in a baseline or a keyboard part or a drum part,” he says. “If people like it, it’s a bonus.” Lecaro is excited: “Knowing what works in a club environment absolutely translates to producing your own music. That’s why She Wants Revenge did so well — their beats were great.”
Bravin is modest and tentative when talking about the potential of Love, Ecstasy and Terror, an emotion that matches his demeanor and the personal intimacy he demonstrates with his fans via Twitter. But, of course, he’s never afraid to name-drop another mega-celebrity he’s played for; it’s impressive, and he knows it. “It doesn’t get bigger than Obama,” he says. “Maybe the pope! He did actually reach out to me once. It didn’t happen in the end, but the fact that it was a conversation is crazy.”