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SHANE BROWN: The Quad-Cities DJ family has lost too many members lately

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Shane Brown, classified advertising and columnist.

Some weeks, I struggle to write this column, cursing the lack of inspiration over the previous week. For once, I kinda wish I didn't have any inspiration -- at least, not this particular inspiration. It's been a rough week.

As regular readers likely know, I spend my weekends moonlighting as a DJ at bars and clubs around the area. I've been doing it since college. It's my only real hobby and the one activity that generally keeps me centered and sane.

It's certainly not the easiest side hustle to get into. For every working DJ in town, there's a dozen bedroom DJs honing their skills and trying to get into the game. Once upon a time, I was one of those bedroom DJs, trying to get noticed while simultaneously being intimidated beyond words by the guys who were already working those DJ booths around town. As a fresh face who moved here for college, it was tough to squeeze my way into a scene populated by talented locals who had grown up together and been friends for years.

As it turned out, the people I was intimidated by turned out to be some of the best friends I could have. When I started DJing in the area, I wanted to hate my competition like Donnie Haggerty and DJ Buddha. After all, we were fighting for the same crowds. Curse my rotten luck when I discovered they were super nice guys. In no time at all, we were sharing tips, tricks, and tunes.

Some of the biggest names in the local club scene got their start hosting ground-breaking hip-hop shows on St. Ambrose's student radio station, KALA. It didn't take long for me to learn names like Mixxin' Mel, GMJ, and DJ Commando. Chris Bone was a staple behind the mic on KALA, and he parlayed that college radio experience into becoming one of the most well-known country radio DJs in town. Eventually, Bone would open up Billy Bob's in the District of Rock Island and somehow convince me to work for him.

There was DJ Dolla, an enigmatic figure equally at home mixing at a Top 40 bar as he was DJing some underground house party at 3 a.m. On nights when Dolla wasn't working, you could often find him making the rounds with fist bumps and respect aplenty, often with his friend DJ Marco in tow. Marco was a wiry little guy with an infectious laugh, a million stories, and an undying love for ridiculous 1980's Miami freestyle music. Whenever I'd see him at one of my gigs, I'd drop a freestyle track. It would invariably kill the dance floor, but it was worth it to watch him freak out with joy.

I also got to know Brian Duex, aka DJ Hi-Tech. Everyone knew Brian, because Brian was everywhere. Duex was a workaholic, grinding every weekend and taking any gig that would come his way. He was a formidable mixer, but his REAL talent was his unbridled optimism. He could take the world's worst gig and spend an hour telling you how much potential it had. His social media is full of shout-outs to other DJs in town. Brian would take it upon himself to organize regular informal DJ meet-ups, where many of the QC's most-storied mixmasters would gather together to tell stories, spin records, and spend quality time in the company of fellow music nerds.

When I contracted COVID-19 last year, Brian was the first to call and see if I needed anything. Through him, I met other local jocks, like Calvin Lloyd, who almost single-handedly kept Muscatine dancefloors bopping for decades. Brian, Calvin, and I became each other's backups, there to help any time one of us needed a night off. Sure, we're all competitors, but the club DJs of the Quad Cities are also friends -- and I don't ever want to relive this past year with my friends.

It started in June, when we unexpectedly lost Chris Bone on the day he was to sign paperwork for his new business venture. November robbed us of Calvin Lloyd, taken at way too young an age. An I-80 car crash on Christmas Day claimed the life of Anthony Mullenberg, aka DJ Marco. And yesterday, I woke up to the devastating and unfathomable news that Brian Duex had shockingly passed. Just days ago, he was DJing across the street from me and we were sending good-natured texts over who had the bigger crowd. Just hours ago, I was rolling my eyes at the eleventy-millionth motivational post on his Facebook page and actually said out loud, "Brian, sometimes it's okay to be negative, dude."

It's tough to process his positivity getting extinguished. It's hard to believe I won't see Calvin's devilish smile ever again, or hear Marco tell me why The Cover Girls should've been as big as Destiny's Child. Quite simply, the area DJ scene will never be the same.

And I guess that's just natural. Some of those bedroom DJs will probably be leaping up, hungry to snatch up Brian and Calvin's gigs, and that's okay. Brian and Calvin and Marco are probably up there somewhere rooting those kids on. The power of music is bigger than the power of any of us. People will always want to dance, and there's always some new DJ trying to be a little bit cooler than the last one. Lord knows I've never been the coolest.

But the next time you pass a dance floor, take a second and think about the feet that have stood there before you, the records that were played, and the hands that played them. I'm sad that my friends are gone, but they wouldn't want us to be sad for a second. After all, nobody needs a DJ at a funeral. They'd want us to keep the legacy alive and the tunes blaring. And if there's a heavenly dance club out there, there's one heck of a DJ lineup this weekend.

Shane Brown writes for the Dispatch-Argus and Quad-City Times. Contact him at sbrown@qconline.com.

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