Alesso opener shares musical journey
Up-and-coming DJ Mike Lee always performs the same ritual before mixing a new track. Around 2 a.m., he gets a sandwich, drinks coffee and begins playing with his keyboard, looking for sounds that “click.”
He can easily relate these moments to DJ Alesso’s music video “Years,” which shows Alesso’s journey to success and his frustrations along the way.
“I really connect with that video, because that kind of mirrors what I’m feeling. I watch it all the time on my own. I get so sappy about that,” said Lee, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.
Lee, otherwise known as his stage name Vaega, will open for Alesso for tonight’s concert at the Louis Brown Athletic Center on Livingston campus. This is one of Lee’s biggest gigs to date.
“I’m going to have a good time with this,’ he said. “This one’s going to be with all my peers. I’m really happy to see everyone from Rutgers all in one place, all having a good time.”
The concert sold 2,900 tickets on the first day, and is open only to undergraduate students from the New Brunswick campus, said Carey Loch, associate director of Rutgers University Student Life programs.
Lee clinched the gig after a series of fortunate events. Last October, he won a contest for tickets to Sensation White, a traveling tour. But since he already had tickets to the concert, he raffled them off, and a worker from Rutgers University Programming Association learned about him through this.
Lee said his interest in house music grew in high school, and he began experimenting with DJing in college.
“One day, I brought up two YouTube videos by accident and they just kind of matched up,” he said. “It sounded really cool, and I wanted to be able to do that consistently.”
Afterward, his friend Mark Schvartsman, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, introduced Lee to DJing software. Schvartsman, also known for his stage name DJ Brostradamus, will also open for Alesso.
Lee enjoys the styles of progressive and electric house, but he said he sprinkles some extra flavor to his own work.
“I don’t play what’s really mainstream in the house scene,” he said. “I really like funky beats. I like things that kind of just bring up the energy level. I know within the first 30 seconds of listening to a song whether I like it or not. “
He decided to take on the stage name Vaega, a name he created at age 15 as a username for Xbox Live and other video games.
“It’s funny because everyone expects me to be Spanish, and then I show up and they’re like ‘oh, sup. He’s just an Asian dude,’” he said.
Once Lee built up his talent, he started DJing at house parties in friends’ kitchens and basements. His friend soon welcomed Lee to open for him at Celebrities nightclub in northern New Jersey and began performing at other small college bars.
As a house aficionado, Lee would frequent the nightclub Pasha in New York City, which hosts talent from all over the world.
On St. Patrick’s Day last year, his friend won a contest to meet Sunnery James and Ryan Marciano, artists who perform on Pasha’s reputable main floor. Lee idolizes these artists, and meeting them inspired him to push forward in making a name for himself as a DJ.
Exactly one year later, Lee said he performed on Pasha’s main floor himself. He said he wishes he could show Sunnery James and Ryan Marcinao how they influenced his life.
“I used to go to this club all the time on my own as a fan, and then stepping into the booth —woah. This is everything switching,” he said. “Now instead of looking up, I’m looking at the people and they’re looking at me. I’m still getting used to that.”
Although many believe DJing is all fun and games, Lee said the job comes with many headaches, including dealing with many stubborn people. He also needs to balance his schoolwork, musical work and social life by prioritizing what is important to him, keeping a goal-oriented mindset.
“Sometimes you have to stay in on a weekend if you want to network, prepare for a gig. Sometimes you have to choose not to go out, and it’s hard,” he said. “But in the end, you have to decide what you want in the future. In the future, I want to DJ.”
But despite adversity, Lee loves hearing his favorite music on loud speakers and engaging with the crowd. He has set many goals for himself, including playing at a pool party at Miami Music Week.
“I play for myself usually, and people happen to like it,” he said.
His management team is Jordan Pinzolo, a Rutgers Business School junior, Sheldon Smickley, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and Michael Vennitti, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. They help him accomplish his goals by getting his name out and signing him up for gigs.
The group has developed a venture to sell rave gear online, and to become an outlet for DJs to get sponsorship. They currently use blogs to promote Lee, but also work on building connections with club owners and promoters.
“Mike’s going to be one of our first sponsored artists.’” Pinzolo said. “We started bringing a bit more organization to how he gets booked, and how he markets himself online. We take care of his social media, his booking.”