[INTERVIEW] True Life: I Spin for The U.S. Prez

Photo: (Greg Corner)

DJs aren’t phased by a dance floor full of VIPs and celebs — but what about bumpin’ beats for POTUS?! Spinning tracks for actual political parties has become a pretty suhweet part-time gig for Chicago-based musician Greg Corner — so we had to get the DL on his Secret Service-approved sets for President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton!

So how did Greg go from undergound party planner to electronic rocker of Kill Hannah to totally offish DJ to the Prez?! Well, turns out if you’ve been busting your butt in the music industry for 12 years like him — you get to know the right people. And one day, BOOM! — you’re being asked to turn up the tunes at President Barry’s 50th celebraish!

He helped Obama ring in his big 5-0 along with Jennifer Hudson and OK GO back in 2011 — and since her man was down with Greg’s DJ skillz, he was asked to spin at a special reception hosted by Michelle this past June. That was a big month for Democratic dance floors — Greg also rocked jams at a Clinton Foundation event in Chi-town that was attended by Bubba himself as well as daughter Chelsea Clinton and Ben Harper.

“I’m totally honored to have DJ’d for the only two Presidents I’ve voted for,” says Greg. Ummm yeah — that is so rad. And of course if you’re gonna DJ for America’s First Couple, you gotta do some research on their fave music. The Obamas both dig Stevie Wonder and U2 — but especially for Barack, Greg made sure to spin old-school hits from Marvin Gaye, Fugees and Bruce Springsteen and at Michelle’s shindig, he featured her most beloved empowerment divas Beyonce and Janelle Monae.

Want to know what other artists get Presidential love? Need some inspiration for your election playlist? (Obama already made one.) Read on for more highlights from Greg’s crazy life as a DJ to the pols!

 Photo: (Greg Corner)

ACT: You’ve DJ’d for Barack, Bill Clinton, and the First Lady. WHOA. How did you get to be the official Presidential DJ?

GREG: Ha, it’s crazy to see that all in one sentence — I still don’t believe it. The truth is I’ve been DJ’ing in Chicago for over 12 years  and I’ve played with my band all over the world since 1997. So I’ve met and DJ’d for a lot of people during that time. When they were putting together the 50th birthday party for President Obama I was recommended by three different people. Then the staff came to hear me DJ at one of my club nights and they liked what I played. After that, I made a test mix for them, passed the background check and then DJ’d the event for the President. The following year I was recommended for the First Lady and Clinton Foundation events which I wound up spinning as well. I’m totally honored to have DJ’d for the only two Presidents I’ve voted for!

ACT: So I have a visual of Michelle running up to the DJ booth requesting a Beyonce song. Did this happen for real? What songs, if any, did the politicians request?

GREG: Ha no, nothing like that happened. Michelle’s staff actually requested a few songs to play as her intro and exit music which included The Heavy, Raphael Saadiq, Arcade Fire, Florence + the Machine, No Doubt and Al Green.

I also did some research to find out what her favorite songs were and I played some of those as well. But as far as Michelle requesting songs and dancing the night away I don’t think she has time for that. Almost every minute of her day is accounted for.

ACT: How did you decide which songs to play? Were there any songs you couldn’t play?

GREG:  For all the Presidential events I knew I had to play music from almost every genre. At the same time I had to create a fun and exciting vibe that a 21-year-old and 61-year-old would enjoy. I tried to pick songs that weren’t played out and had some edge to them because I didn’t want to come across like a wedding DJ. It was pretty challenging to say the least but I loved doing it. I also researched what the President and First Lady’s favorite songs/artists were and incorporated them into my set.

When I submitted my list of songs to play for President Obama’s 50th Birthday Party I think the only song his staff suggested I not play was Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It.”

ACT: Haha! I see you also casually uploaded an Instagram pic with Bill Clinton taken by a Secret Service agent. Were they as intimidating as we imagine? How was it to meet the first President you ever voted for? 

GREG: It was truly an honor to meet and DJ for Bill Clinton. He was the first President I ever voted for but more importantly he’s still doing great things for this country with The Clinton Foundation and I’m glad I could be part of it.

The secret service staff is actually really nice and not as scary as you would think. Believe it or not one of Clintons’ security officials asked to take a picture with me because his wife was a fan of my band.

ACT: Aight, can you give us an election playlist to get us pumped for this November? We’re thinking of great campaign anthems like Foo Fighter’s “Best of You” (inspired by John Kerry’s 2004 Presidential campaign) or songs with important political messages like U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

GREG: Funny you mention U2, they’re one of my favorite bands. I remember being in Grant Park the night Obama was elected President. I really wanted to hear “Pride (In the Name of Love)” when they introduced him as President but sadly it was never played. Three years later later at his birthday party, I got to spin that U2 song right before he was announced on stage. Kind of a surreal moment for me. But to answer your question my top two campaign songs would be “Pride” and “Where The Streets Have No Name” by U2. Both songs still inspire me and give me goosebumps.

As far as cool political songs go, two albums that made me get politically aware were Rage Against The Machine’s first album and Public Enemy’s “Fear of A Black Planet.” After I heard those albums I started paying attention to CNN and became aware of what politicians were and were not doing.

ACT:  Here’s a fun one — what should be Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s DJ names

GREG: Oh that’s a hard one…for Barack maybe “DJ O-bomb” and for Mitt maybe “DJ Mitt-hit” or “DJ Romcom?” All are pretty lame I know!

Okaaay, maybe those names won’t end up in the Top 100 DJs list — but you know what’s really lame?! NOT VOTING. When November 6th rolls around, crank up your power poll tracks and let your voice be heard!

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