Video by Dan Dempster
When computer engineering sophomore Luke Liberatore came to Cal Poly from Cleveland, Ohio, he had two goals. The first goal was to gain one million plays of his original music on SoundCloud by graduation. If he reached this goal, Liberatore, known by his DJ name Alt9, would consider DJing as a career. His second goal was to become a household name at Cal Poly.
At Spring Stampede his freshman year, Alt9 saw a way to achieve these goals. Standing in line to watch the winner of Battle of the Bands open the concert, Liberatore decided he wanted to be on that stage. The opportunity presented itself at Associated Students Inc.’s event So You Think You Can DJ? (SYTYCDJ) April 21.
“I remember just standing in line and looking out at all the people; there are DJs and big names up there and [thinking that] it would be amazing to DJ just in front of my peers,” Alt9 said. “When I saw the application go up on Facebook, I was like, ‘I have to make this happen somehow.’ So I sent in my application that same week and started working on my set.”
Five student DJ acts performed 15-minute sets for a chance to be the opening act at this year’s Spring Stampede concert. Alt9’s two playlists were a mix of popular songs by his biggest influences: Skrillex, Flume, RL Grime, What So Not and more. With two turntables on either side of him and a mixer in between, Alt9 matched the tempo of two songs to transition one song to another. This technique is known as phrasing and helps transition between tracks without breaking the structure of the music.
“I match up different points in each song. For example, the beat will drop at the same points or the vocals will match up at the same points,” Alt9 said. “Once they’re synced, I’ll start the song I want to bring in and slowly bring it in through my mixer. I can hear that through my headphones and I can make adjustments.”
Playing a mix of popular electronic, rap, hip hop and some of his personal favorites, Alt9 won the votes of the audience at the University Union Plaza by an online survey after the performance.
But for Alt9, SYTYCDJ? and Spring Stampede are just a means to an end. Alt9’s dreams of DJing started long before he got to Cal Poly, back when he was just Luke Liberatore, playing gigs in Cleveland.
Liberatore first got hooked on electronic music in middle school when he came across early DeadMau5 music. As a high school freshman, Liberatore joined the DJ club that performed at school dances and fundraisers. He started playing for his friends, but by the summer before his senior year, he started booking solo gigs at nightclubs and concert venues around Cleveland under the name Alt9. Pressing the “Alt” and “9” keys on some computers creates a circle, which is his logo.
Nearing the end of high school, Alt9 was presented with the opportunity to open for Adventure Club, an electronic duo he admired. DJing in front of over 300 people, he realized his hobby could turn into something much more than performing for friends at parties.
Though Alt9 created an established image for himself in Cleveland, he had to start all over in San Luis Obispo. In the last two years, Alt9 promoted his brand by playing at venues like The Graduate and SLO Brew. His marketing efforts have culminated in SYTYCDJ?.
“So You Think You Can DJ? is probably the hardest I promoted for any event,” he said. “It was amazing to see in less than two years how many friends and fans I have here. Being able to put a number on that and seeing people in the crowd was really cool.”
Slowly but surely, Alt9 is making a name for himself as a DJ while he balances school and work.
“I realized in the past few weeks I’ve been working nonstop since I got to Cal Poly,” he said. “Constantly promoting, constantly working on new sets. It takes up quite a big chunk of my time, but I love it. You know what they say, ‘If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ And it doesn’t feel like work at all.”