NEW YORK — When DJ D-Nice decided to start playing music live on Instagram amid countless closures due the worldwide pandemic, he did it in part to ease his loneliness and boredom given his own gigs had dried up.
At first, the audience for his hours-long sets was no more than a few hundred, mainly friends. But then word spread, and it grew to a few thousand. Then tens of thousands. Then the celebrities started showing up like Janet Jackson and Jimmy Fallon.
“By day four, which was Friday, it just took on a life of its own, you know, where Drake popped in,” said D-Nice. “Everyone’s in it like, ‘Whoa, what’s happening here?’ And then it just started to build and it was building.”
Even Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey popped in on what would become known as #ClubQuarantine as the audience exploded.
“Best party of 1 and 100k I ever been to! Thanks @djdnice #ClubQuarantine,” Winfrey tweeted.
D-Nice, whose real name is Derrick Jones, says he’s been overwhelmed by the response.
“I’ve been in the music industry for a long time, but this was a different kind of experience where it was is more global than just like even making records, like the impact that it’s had on people just through playing great music and allowing people to feel good feeling connected during this time where we are all so separated (and) isolated,” said D-Nice.
He began his career in the 1980s with the influential Bronx hip-hop crew Boogie Down Productions and had a solo career but is now known for spinning beats at the hottest parties (he played the afterparty at the final musical event hosted by the Obamas at the White House in 2016). But like most performers, his work came to a halt amid the call for social distancing and worldwide shutdowns to try and halt the spread of the coronavirus (For most people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia).
So that’s when he took to Instagram. When he first began playing on the social network last week, he had no professional equipment. He only used his iTunes, pressing play and pause while talking about the songs.
Eventually, he grabbed his actual turntables, and what began with about a couple hundred people exploded into more than 100,000 listening to his nine-hour set on Saturday, and 160,000 joining his six-hour set the following day.
While Jones is no stranger to performing for celebrities or world leaders, he was taken aback when Mrs. Obama’s account joined his performance, freezing him for a moment as he figured out what to play (He went with a “Shining” by DJ Khaled featuring Beyoncé and Jay-Z.)
Another surreal moment was when Stevie Wonder tried use the “join” feature to be on screen with D-Nice and interact with him. Even politicians’ handles popped up, like Joe Biden’s.
Missy Elliott tweeted her approval with plenty of emojis Sunday, writing: “Hangover from #ClubQuarantine last night! Every1 was in the building! It really felt like the good ole times! @djdnice we needed that energy let me give you your flowers.”
D-Nice believes his virtual parties were special because “everyone was in VIP,” and he was authentic. Between shouting out personal friends and famous names, he also frequently acknowledged the healthcare workers while reminding everyone to “wash your hands!”
“When I started shouting them out, one of my friends told me that they were playing the audio in the emergency room to uplift patients and the spirits,” he said. “Sometimes that’s all it takes to just lift someone’s spirit. And this is a beautiful thing to experience.”
Nice, who began with a respectable 200,000 follower count, has now assessed more than 1. 5 million. Party attendees even began randomly sending him donations after a friend encouraged listeners to “tip the deejay” as if they were actually in a club and proceeded to post his Cash App link.
Nice, who lives in Los Angeles, said #ClubQuarantine will have to take a break because technically, streaming music via social media violates music industry laws, and on top of that, he’s physical tired. But he plans something special for Wednesday, and he said #ClubQuarantine has proven the healing power of music: “It’s just magical.”
Follow AP Entertainment journalist Gary Gerard Hamilton at twitter.com/garyghamilton
Gary Gerard Hamilton, The Associated Press