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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Meet the DJs who soundtrack our college experience

Learn more about three student DJs and how their unique sounds and stories are shaping Vanderbilt’s nightlife.
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Daniela Aguilar
Graphic depicting three Vanderbilt student DJs: Aaliya, Zay and DJ Cue, on a backdrop of party lights. (Hustler Multimedia/Daniela Aguilar)

Many of us have been there — lost in the moment at a party where the music seems to pulsate through the air, dictating the rhythm of the night. It’s a key part of what makes these gatherings unforgettable. Yet, amidst the flashing lights and the thumping bass, the face behind the music often fades into the backdrop. It’s easy to overlook the architect of the night’s ambiance, the DJ, who carefully curates every beat we move to. In recent years, as house music experiences a fervent revival, the culture surrounding DJs has surged in popularity amongst younger generations.

At Vanderbilt, this resurgence has not gone unnoticed. The campus has become a nurturing ground for student DJs who balance their academic pursuits with their passion for music. With turntables and mixers as their tools, they help create memories that last long after the final song fades. 

From impromptu dorm jam sessions to electrifying performances at local venues, these students are showcasing the power of music to bring people together. With that in mind, I want to turn the spotlight onto three Vanderbilt student DJs, each with their own unique story.  

Aaliya

Aaliya Ramakrishnan in front of a sunset. (Photo courtesy of Aaliya Ramakrishnan)

Aaliya Ramakrishnan is a sophomore majoring in music composition and math from Mumbai, India. She represents a fascinating blend of classical training and a passion for electronic beats. Ramakrishnan’s musical roots can be traced back to playing the violin at the age of five and later playing in orchestras with her sister. Her love for music evolved into composing and producing, particularly being drawn to the allure of electronic music.

“I was very interested in electronic music production and kind of marrying my two worlds of classical music on one hand, and then the more popular music that I would listen to for fun,” Ramakrishnan said.

Her first DJ controller, a gift from her dad on her 18th birthday, marked the beginning of her venture into creating mixes and playing at casual gatherings. Her DJ style is eclectic, constantly evolving as she discovers new music that resonates with her. Currently, Ramakrishnan is especially loving Brazilian funk, Afrobeats and techno. 

“To me the genre is way less important than the general emotional or creative arc that you’re trying to convey,” Ramakrishnan said. “It’s more about making an interesting narrative or creating a specific tone than it is about saying ‘Okay, I’m just gonna play house music,’ for example.” 

With this in mind, Ramakrishnan’s preparation for a show involves extensive music discovery, often exploring SoundCloud for unique edits and mixes. 

“I’ve been a SoundCloud rat for the longest time, so even three or four years ago, I was finding edits on SoundCloud of songs that I like and listening to mixes which helps me prepare because no one does it better than the greats,” Ramakrishnan said. 

This process helps her create a rough setlist that she remains flexible about, ready to adapt to the vibe of the night and the audience’s energy.

Balancing academics with late-night gigs could easily be a source of stress, but for Ramakrishnan, it’s quite the opposite. 

“DJing has been a great stress relief for me more than it’s been a burden. I feel very lucky to be on a college campus just because it’s one of those unique places where there’s always a demand for a fun night out. Also, I think a college campus is a lovely and relatively less stressful environment to try to get yourself out there and perform,” Ramakrishnan said.

Aaliya Ramakrishnan using a DJ controller at a party. (Photo courtesy of Aaliya Ramakrishnan) 

Echoing her enthusiasm, she appreciates the supportive and exciting atmosphere of college events. Playing at local venues like The Office and various campus events, including the Lunar New Year celebration and Vanderbilt Fashion Week, has allowed her to connect with the community and create spaces that are safe, diverse and accepting.

Beyond the turntables, Ramakrishnan aspires to a career in film scoring, drawing parallels between the narrative elements of DJing and composing music for cinema. 

“I feel like DJing is very similar to film scoring in the sense that you have to reduce your selfishness. In both cases, it’s not always about what you want. It’s about what either the film requires or the night/crowd requires,” Ramakrishnan said.

With a great vision for her future and a deep understanding of the art, Ramakrishnan has valuable insights to share with aspiring DJs.

“Listen to a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t expect yourself to and push yourself in different ways, because the more you expand your mind, the more interesting sounds you’ll find to put into your sets,” Ramakrishnan said. “I would say the last thing you should do is go onto Billboard, look at the Top 20 songs, and just play those.” 

Overall, Ramakrishnan’s journey from the orchestral stages of Mumbai to the DJ booths of Nashville encapsulates a tale of the universal language of music. As she continues to blend genres and bring people together, it’s clear that her journey in music is just beginning to unfold.

Zay

Isaiah Maynard and a friend in front of DJ equipment at an event. (Photo courtesy of Isaiah Maynard)

Isaiah “Zay” Maynard is a senior majoring in environmental sociology from Guilford, CT. He brings a unique fusion of technical prowess and musical passion to the Nashville music scene. His journey into the world of music began early, having been involved in singing, piano and acting throughout high school. 

“Yet, it was always the technical side — that is, sound design and engineering — of EDM that intrigued me, less so the performance side,” Maynard said.

His sophomore year of high school, a friend helped him pirate Ableton Live (a digital audio software) which he used to make dozens of records on a laptop that wouldn’t see the light of day.

“When COVID hit I was pouring hours and hours into those records,” Maynard said. “I began getting a bit frustrated with the entire process, so when a friend of mine brought his new DJ board to my house to mess around with, I was stoked. I was eager to experience the genre I loved in a new way. It was live, it was interactive, and most importantly, it was to be shared with the people around you — which felt especially important during COVID.” 

Once he got to Vanderbilt, he began to play at pregames and frat parties, laying the foundation for his DJing career.  He then learned how to DJ open format (multi genre) because there is a lot more opportunity with it in Nashville. While open format isn’t necessarily what he wants to do long-term, those gigs have helped him become a better DJ in the genres he wants to focus on — house and electronic.

Isaiah Maynard performing on stage at an event. (Photo courtesy of Isaiah Maynard)

Having played at venues like Whiskey Row, Skydeck on Broadway and Dirty Little Secret, Maynard has capitalized on Nashville’s unique music scene, gaining invaluable connections. 

“The music industry is a lot more accessible in Nashville than in a city like New York, Miami or LA,” Maynard said. “I have the sort of network now where I can jump to one of those other cities and have the support I need to grow, which is a dream come true.” 

However, Maynard’s musical journey hasn’t been without its challenges, with the biggest being managing his schedule. 

“My junior fall, I was DJing 20+ hours per week on top of taking 18 credit hours. I’d get home at 3, 4 a.m. on a Thursday night, wiped from a 5-hour set, and have to get up for a 9 a.m. class on Friday,” Maynard said. “Sometimes I’d play on Sunday or Monday nights too. I was taking anything I could get at that time… Thankfully, now I can be a bit more selective about the work that I’m doing.”

Navigating through the hurdles of a packed schedule, Maynard has developed a meticulous approach to preparing for his performances. He spends months ahead of a set diving into music, seeking inspiration from his favorite DJs and live shows. About a week before a show, he begins to put together a “crate,” which is a collection of tracks he thinks he’ll want to play.

“I’ll usually plan my opening and closing songs, and everything in between is improvised,” Maynard said. 

This blend of rigorous preparation and spontaneous creativity allows him to connect deeply with his listeners and keep the dance floor energized. For those looking to follow in his footsteps, Maynard offers meaningful advice.

“DJ as much as you can. Between classes, before bed, on weekends, et cetera,” Maynard said. “Also, support your local scene. Show up to shows early, stay late, introduce yourself to bar staff and security. It goes way further than you might think.”

With this in mind, Sorin Caldararu, a sophomore and aspiring DJ, commented on how Maynard’s journey and success has been a significant source of inspiration for him. 

“It’s really inspiring to know someone like that, because it shows me that it’s actually possible to be successful in DJing if I’m dedicated to it and keep practicing,” Caldararu said. 

Maynard’s influence on budding artists like Caldararu highlights the impact of mentorship and the sharing of experiences within the music community. As he continues to expand his presence both within and beyond Nashville, his impact on the Vanderbilt community remains substantial.

DJ Cue

Emilio Cue performing at The Vinyl Lounge, as photographed on November 3, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Emilio Cue)

Emilio Cue is a sophomore majoring in economics. Born in Mexico City and raised in Los Angeles, Cue brings a vibrant blend of cultures and sounds to the Nashville music scene. Cue’s early musical foundation was built on jazz drumming, a skill he honed over 12 years and showcased on a European tour that included stops in Berlin, Amsterdam and Prague. However, upon arriving at Vanderbilt, he faced a turning point.

“When I got to Vandy, I searched for a jazz band or at least something similar but, unfortunately, found nothing,” Cue said. “Playing in front of a crowd is something I’ve always loved, and I’m a pretty social person. Combining these aspects, I turned to DJing. It’s a blast because it blends my love for music and engaging with people.” 

Adopting the stage name “DJ Cue,” a playful nod to both his last name and a button on DJ boards, Cue dove into the world of DJing with enthusiasm. His style is a mix of Afro-house, Latin-house and tech-house, genres that allow him to weave together the rhythmic complexity of his jazz drumming background with the infectious energy of dance music. 

Embracing the stage as DJ Cue allowed him to not only express his creativity but also to build meaningful connections with fellow music enthusiasts.

“It’s really the social side of things that’s been a game changer. I’ve met awesome folks like Zay and played back-to-back with Bryce Pollock, someone I hardly knew beforehand but now consider a close friend,” Cue said. “Plus, the vibe when you’re playing is incredible — everyone’s there to have fun. It feels nothing like work; it’s just pure enjoyment.”

This philosophy extends to his performances, which have ranged from Greek life events at 100 Taylor to a boiler room set at The Vinyl Lounge. 

“My most memorable [DJing] experience was at The Vinyl Lounge’s boiler room set. If you don’t know, a boiler room is when the DJ is in the middle of the room and everyone is around them,” Cue said. “It’s such an awesome way to interact with the crowd and it’s so cool to see how everyone reacts to the songs.”

Emilio Cue dancing with his fist in the air as he performs in a boiler room set at The Vinyl Lounge, as photographed on November 3, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Emilio Cue)

Building on his insights about engaging with the audience, Cue shares a golden rule for aspiring DJs.

“Have fun with it… Half the job of the DJ is to set the energy and the vibe of the room. And you do that by having fun yourself. If you’re not having fun, the crowd is gonna feel that too. So enjoy yourself and make sure to dance a lot,” Cue said.

With Cue’s lively approach to DJing and his gift for lighting up the dance floor, it’s exciting to see where his musical journey takes him next.

Reflecting on these stories, it’s been incredible to dive into each student’s journey. Through their talents, they have helped provide the soundtrack to our college experience, so make sure to support your local DJs! Their passion and creativity don’t just fill our nights with music — they bring our community closer together.

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About the Contributor
Daniela Aguilar
Daniela Aguilar, Life Editor
Daniela Aguilar (‘26) is a student in Peabody College double majoring in human and organizational development and economics with a minor in data science. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find her thrifting, working on a crossword puzzle or watching a video essay. You can reach her at [email protected].
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The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
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Football DJ
1 month ago

Hey, you forgot about Football DJ!!

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Leo Simon
1 month ago

Where is DJ Bryzunnnnnnnnnnnn