Justin Baker is a DJ at heart and his love for DJ’ing brought him around the Grizzlies as a freelancer for their BBQ Fest tent and block parties. Before long he was a member of the Grizzlies audio team.
In the summer before the lockout season of 2011, the position Justin now holds, audio team-click effects, became available. He knew the promotions folks because he had been wrapping their vehicles for several years as an employee of VanWraps downtown. As he recalls, “I was just the right person at the right time in the right place.”
Upon showing interest, he got the call and after a little research of what “click effects” was, he took the position in 2011 around Christmas break. The software, the music, and the system were already in place. Baker only needed to step in and start pressing the buttons. As a music aficionado and DJ, he clearly brought his own swagger and style into the position. Being part of the millennial generation, going against the grain, Justin grew up in the 90s and was influenced by rock, alternative, and hip hop music.
In his position, he is responsible for the music you hear during the game play on the court. As I described here, Music Moguls: Part 1 , Nathan Black is responsible for the music pre game and during timeouts. Therefore, the music Justin is allowed to play must be without lyrics, although sound files and sound bytes are allowed.
As a Twitter addict, during the games, I often see game music a topic on my timeline. Also, when the Grizzlies play in opponent’s arenas, one of the most talked about things we as fans notice is the music being played there as opposed to what’s played in FedexForum.
I wanted to get a little more insight into where and how Justin selects the music he plays, his influences and his thoughts on the Memphis music culture.
Your Twitter account is called “DefectiveAgentC”. Where did that come from?
Justin Baker (JB): As a guy who goes against the grain, it is a part of my DJ’ing duo. I am Defective Agent C, he is Defective Agent AB. However, by myself I am Defective Agent C (agency).
Where did you get your start DJ’ing?
JB: I got my start back in the late 90s and early 2000s at raves. Naturally I am influenced by stuff a little off the radar, punk, underground and weird stuff. I knew when I sat down at this computer my first day and saw “Day-o” and “Adams Family” I wasn’t going to be playing those things. I just started throwing out the things that were corny. The Grizzlies style and my approach to this is not cliche nor corny. We’re all about grit and grind. I like to think that shows in our music and the music reflects our attitude. We don’t have “everybody clap your hands.” We have “Wu-Tang” and “Nine Inch Nails” and stuff.
How do you select your tracks?
JB: The first season I was just along for the ride. It was a half season, we got punted out of the playoffs (damn you Clippers) first round, so there wasn’t a whole lot to it. But I got my pace and picked up the pace of the game. I spent most of that season figuring out stuff, getting rid of stuff, and discovering what the “click effects” program had in it. Nate started to show me how to bring in my own stuff; and I immediately added it in. But the next year, when I got to come in during preseason, I spent that whole summer, pouring through all my music, thinking of things in :30 second bits. It didn’t matter if the rest of the song was garbage or had words, I would just think of it in :30 sec bits, breakdowns, riffs, or whatever. I drove around timing songs watching the timer. Songs would get to the :23 second mark and someone would start singing, and I’d be like “crap, can’t use that one.” So the next season (2012-2013) I brought in my stuff. Now if I ever needed something, God bless him, Nate being a library, I can go to him and I know he’ll have it. Between the two of us we have tastes for old school hip-hop and catalogs of it.
Tell me how you and Nate work together:
JB: I think of Nate as the sound track to the game. He’s the songs that you know. He gets the credit for playing the songs that people love and say “I love it when they play ‘You Dropped the Bomb on Me’ after the three.” That’s all Nate. But I think of myself as the score. I’m the instrumental music pulsing over the game and just like the game which goes up and down, there are possessions where we are going to make our stand and walk it up the court, and the suspense builds but then there are times where it’s like go go go go.
What was it like coming from your hobby as a DJ to being on a larger platform like the Grizzlies?
JB: Being a basketball fan and a DJ, it is my dream gig; because yes it can be as easy as you want it to be, just listen to teams around the league with nothing but organ music. But when I got here, I thought there must be some rulebook or guideline telling me what I can and can’t do or play. But I quickly found out, if it’s dope you’ll be fine. If it has some reason not to be good, someone will tell you. With that in mind, I just started throwing in stuff. Some of it probably was never been played at an NBA game, but it’s just a cool hip-hop riff that everybody knows, so I just threw it out there. Bit-by-bit I would get feedback from people who loved hearing the music, saying “Did I hear ya’ll playing Outkast, or RJD2 or DJ Shadow at the Grizz game?” You know, really they’re all just riffs and I know an anthemic riff or beat when I hear it.
How much of an influence do you think you have over the game? Pace of play, etc?
JB: I’ve always wondered (maniacal laugh). I feel like when everything is going well, I walk away saying “That was an A+ effort.” On those nights it’s bigger than the both of us. In those moments I’m just locked in to the rhythm of the game. Sometimes I play a cue, and if I’m really doing it well it should look like they filmed the game, and I went back and laid music over it. That’s when I feel like the 6th man. Yet then there’s other nights when it’s just like a party, which is why I say this is the ultimate DJ gig. If I’m playing stuff at a party as a DJ, and it’s dead I’m not gonna play my loudest craziest stuff, because it’s obnoxious. Instead I groove along, everybody can hear themselves talk, etc. That’s the way the game is. If it’s a meandering game, we’re behind, nobody cares, I don’t give the fans my most rowdy stuff. Well, until that guy walks over and says “Can’t you see it’s dead man, kick it up.”
Do you try to engage the fans then with your music? Or wait and play off of their reactions?
JB: If you’re behind by 15, you’re only going to engage them so damn much. Just tread water, and keep it grooving. I learned the term “going hot” when I came here. That’s when the production changes after a fast break or three and a run that makes the other team call a timeout. All the sudden here comes the Grizz girls and Grizz and the Claw Crew and fans are up celebrating. But if we’re down by 15, it’s a little more somber moment. When we start “going hot” I play stuff for those moments. If the crowd is dead and not feeling it, I will only add so much to the game.
What about the sound bytes? Where do those come from?
JB: When I got here, there was already a bank of soundbytes. Click-effects itself has standard, generic sounds. It seems pretty handy for producing a radio show. You can lay them into place and have them ready when you want them. A lot of the stuff you hear around the league is stock click-effects sound bytes. When I came on, grit and grind was about a year old. We were coming off the Spurs Round 1 win and OKC round 2 loss. The whole culture had changed and was new. I got in on the ground level and adapted our style and sound based upon that identity.
How much of your music is rooted in Memphis culture?
JB: A lot. Grit & Grind is part of our culture now. My background is in turn tables, so I am used to drum, bass and hip hop. I pull a lot from my DJ roots, but during my high schools days I was working at a punk rock dive downtown catching a lot of metal and punk. That’s where a lot of the NiN, Faith no More and 90s stuff come from, watching head bangers ball. I make a point to include Faith No More because they’re my favorite band of all time. It’s a personal satisfaction thing. But being an old school Memphian and DJ, I have enough connections that I was able to call in a few tracks from local bands and add quite a bit of their stuff into the mix. Everybody I can think of whether a local metal band or a DJ producer buddy that I happen to know, I left it up to them to supply me with some tight riffs or instrumentals. Most of those folks thought it was the coolest thing they’ve ever heard. One buddy of mine was so stoked he said “Justin, my father has never been proud of me my whole life. But when I told him one of my riffs was going to be used at FedexForum for the Grizzlies games he got so excited.” You know, that’s cool, being able to make Grizz fans out of music dudes who couldn’t care less about sports. (What’s going on here in Memphis) transcends sports, it’s about grabbing the Memphis-ness of our culture and making the Grizzlies more and more unique to Memphis.
Do you feel that connection to Memphis in your job?
JB: Very much so. When people ask me if I’m from Memphis, I tell them yes. I grew up in Hickory Hill and went to Kirby High. Live in Midtown, and I have worked downtown my whole life. That’s what I know. That being said, (it’s about) hoops, BBQ & Blues. If you’re gonna be a Memphian, you better dig at least two of the three! Growing up I wasn’t into sports. But my dad was a big time Tigers basketball fan, and he would just zone out in basketball season. I never understood it. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I started coming to basketball games with my dad, casually, and got swept up in it. Sitting at Tigers’ games with my pops, my DNA finally came out and the Memphis basketball fan within me emerged. It’s part of who I am and I came to terms with it. So this is where I feel like I’m playing my part as a Memphian. I’m the right Memphian in the right place at the right time. I get to make us unique and uniquely Memphis, and that’s what we deserve to be.
Follow Justin Baker on Twitter here:
I keep watching away games waiting to hear that one team with music where i'm like "damn-i like what THEY do!" Instead i hear Addams Family.
— Justin Baker (@DefectiveAgentC) April 13, 2014
This wraps up my mini series on a look inside the Grizzlies Game Ops. You can check out the other stories by clicking on a link below.