At 5:14 p.m., DJ Automatic slips headphones over his ears and begins to scratch.
“Grove St. Party” by Waka Flocka Flame becomes the soundtrack as Langston Galloway warms up on one end of the court and Nico Mannion on the other nearly three hours ahead of the Suns’ Jan. 28 matchup against the Golden State Warriors. From a turntable in section 111, DJ Automatic shepherds the transition to Drake’s “Back to Back.” Later, Jay-Z’s and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind” slides into Jennifer Lopez’s “Get Right.”
For the start of the Suns’ 2020-21 season, DJ Automatic and DJ Q have been responsible for creating a home-court advantage inside a largely empty Phoenix Suns Arena. They motivate players with personalized playlists, and capitalize on each game’s unique moments and flow by dropping the appropriate complementary jam.
Now added to their mission: entertaining the limited number of fans welcomed back to the transformed arena starting this week.
“I’m looking forward to that tennis match — giving them energy and then feeding off of what they give us back,” DJ Q said. “The fans are always gonna be a very important part of what we do. We want our players to be motivated, but we want the additional support that we get from our home fans.
“We want their energy, too, so we have to make sure that we’re paying attention to what they love.”
The DJs are led by Shawn Martinez, the Suns’ Senior Director of Live Presentation who also has 33 years of experience as DJ Tribal Touch. He conducted a city-wide search to select DJ Automatic, who also spins for Power 98.3, and DJ Q.
From the southeast corner of the lower bowl, both DJs work their magic on a Pioneer DJ Controller for music and a 360 Instant Replay audio machine for beats and dribble-ups. The music carries and bass thumps thanks to a newly upgraded sound system. Fans attending can expect to hear a mix of radio-friendly Top 40, hip-hop, rock and “party jams” that won’t feel like the traditional, repetitive stadium tunes.
“When the mood in the room is right, everything else feels right,” Martinez said.
The Suns’ first 11 home games (including the preseason) provided an ideal training ground for DJ Automatic and DJ Q to get acclimated to the cadence of an NBA game. And their music selections were primarily designed for the players.
Many submitted a playlist of songs or artists that will help them lock in mentally during their individual on-court pregame work. Jae Crowder wants to hear Lil Wayne and Gunna. Galloway’s preferences include 2Chainz and NBA YoungBoy.
Devin Booker’s lengthy list features Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Future, Lil Baby and Drake. That’s why Booker’s warm-up mix ahead of Sunday’s win over the Celtics included Jay-Z’s “Takeover” and “Public Service Announcement” and Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares,” while multiple songs featuring Drake played for Booker before that Jan. 28 victory over Golden State. The Suns’ All-Star also got a personal nod when Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” — the song with the “Shots that I took, wet like I’m Book” reference to Booker — played as the Suns warmed up before the Warriors game.
DJ Automatic has caught glimpses of players grooving to what he spins, which he takes as the ultimate compliment.
“It’s more satisfying than having a whole group of girls on the dance floor — by far,” he said with a laugh. “When you see Chris Paul getting down to whatever you’re playing, that feels good, I’m not gonna lie.”
Then, the DJs must react on the fly to a plethora of game situations. What to play when the Suns are down by one point with two minutes to go (Diddy’s “Come With Me” instrumental) is quite different from what to play when Phoenix leads by 20 (Fat Man Scoop’s “Be Faithful”)or while the referees are reviewing a challenged foul call (Daft Punk’s “Da Funk”). DJ Automatic and DJ Q try to stay three steps ahead, thinking of every possible scenario that could unfold.
Some examples: Between the first and second quarter of the Warriors game, with the Suns leading 36-29, “Just Fine” by Mary J. Blige played. When the Suns and Clippers got in a brief tussle during an early-January game, the crew learned they must play calm music that would not egg anybody on. In between the first and second overtime periods of a Jan. 23 contest against the Nuggets, “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar was the song of choice. When healthcare heroes were honored during a Sunday timeout as the Suns’ first fans of the 2020-21 season, Rachel Patten’s “Stand By You” was the soundtrack to a rousing applause.
“It’s not like DJ-ing at the club,” DJ Automatic said. “It’s not like you can stop and sip on your drink and talk to that guy that’s asking you for a request. You don’t have time for that. Your focus is on the game 100 percent.
“The only time you can actually maybe take your hands away and take a breath is when somebody is shooting a free throw.”
More reps have naturally led both DJs feeling more comfortable and confident. DJ Q commended the constant, detailed communication Martinez provides on the headset throughout the game, comparing it to a head surgeon directing the rest of his team.
They all received affirmation that they were on the right track following an early contest, when Suns general manager James Jones, a former player, came over to the scorer’s table to give Martinez a “dap” as he walked off the court.
“These guys are making an impact,” Martinez said. “(The players) like what they’re hearing when they warm up, and they know it’s different. They can feel it. And that’s what we want to keep doing. Just keep pushing the envelope so they know we’re there for them.”
As the buzzer sounded to cap the Suns’ 114-93 victory over Golden State, Jay Rock’s “Win” rang through the building. That eventually transitioned to Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry,” which faded out as Paul walked off the court following a live TNT interview.
Now, those types of tracks will be the soundtrack for fans leaving the arena following a Suns victory.
“What I always tell people is it really is a production,” DJ Automatic said. “I’ve done theater. I’ve done stuff with Disney. This is a real production and it’s real entertainment.”
Added DJ Q: “It’s a journey. I consider myself a pilot when I’m playing. You start on the ground, you kind of build up the speed, and we’re gonna get up that cruising altitude so it’s safe to unbuckle your seatbelt.”