When you are hosting a house party it's important to be welcoming to guests. For example, try this as an introduction: “Hey, welcome to the party. Please make use of the plastic cups we purchased from Tesco earlier. Oh. You don’t want to drink? Well fine. Feel free to meet my cousin and rack up lines of cocaine on the copy of Cruel Intentions I’ve owned since I was thirteen.”
See, easy? In fact most aspects of hosting a house party are pretty straight-forward. So long as you provide amenities for the varying breeds of partygoers – two separate bathrooms, equal members of both sexes, lots of flat surfaces – and don’t spend the entire evening running round like a Trunchbull with rules against guests wearing shoes in the house, things will be dandy.
However, there's one thing most party hosts seem to neglect: the stereo. At best they’ll throw together a Spotify playlist (on a free account, because who doesn't love Squarespace adverts at 4am) but they know full-well that self-proclaimed musical messiahs armed with iPhones will end up commandeering the music themselves, so there’s no point anyway.
You’ll know who the guys are - they’re easily spotted, sat in the corner, assured they’ll improve the party by taking off a song half way through and putting on something that they just have to hear. It’s fine that these nut-sacks want to control the party soundtrack; let them keep queuing up songs while the rest of us get on it.
But if you are one of these amateur tastemakers who keeps volunteering themselves as benevolent guides through the good times then please head the following advice. This is a basic guide to not fucking up someone else’s party with your wild incompetency.
What Music Should You Play?
The first thing to remember is that no one has ever been to a house party to be schooled on new music. The nuances of your record collection are lost on us. Instead, think of this as a greatest hits set - Blur at Hyde Park, the Watch The Throne tour, Larry Levan at Paradise Garage. Basically your moment to lead the party into an odyssey of unrelenting ecstasy.
With that mission in mind, there are basically three genres that should be played at house parties:
Hip Hop: Aside from minor-theft and confidence-shattering rejection, the one constant at every house party is the moment when a rap song everyone knows comes on the stereo. There’s plenty of opportunities to excel in this area: you’ve got R. Kelly’s “Ignition”, at least three stone-cold classics from Jay Z, and then there’s monolithic slabs of aspirational poetry from some guy “who used to read Word-up magazine”. Play any one of the above songs and you’ll be a hero; play three in a row and you’re basically a demi-god; keep them coming all night and you’re practically the same as one of the DJs on Kiss 100. Just make sure you keep to the classics - no one wants to hear Lil Ugly Mane’s manically cold hearted flow creeping up on them while they struggle to keep Aldi’s finest beer from reversing up their trachea with gut-wrenching speed.
Alternatively: just get over it and fucking play “Hey Ma” already.
House: Because house music created before the internet sounds familiar enough that even the most basic patronage will find pleasure in the comforting thud of a four-to-the-floor beat, and also because Frankie Knuckles is incomparably better than foot-shuffling, this is the only time it’s okay to delve deep into the back catalogue. To be honest though, and I know this hurts to hear, no one at the party is really listening. When it’s 120BPM you can basically play what you want. As long as it’s got a thudding beat, it’ll be lapped up by your audience like over-heated puppies taking to freshly-poured bowls of drinking water.
Disco: Disco is great because it’s nostalgic, embedded in love, and even if you can’t recall hearing one disco track ever, it all feels warmly familiar, like being inside the womb. Basically: "When I look in my parents eyes, I see the disco that gave birth to me. And when they look into my eyes, they see a disco only they remember."
Nostalgia: A handy guide to follow is thinking about what the song meant to everyone back then, and what it could mean to everyone now. For example, never play Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out” because it was a fucking travesty when released and it still is now. Instead, go for songs that will coax those cathartic neurones into overdrive rather than tracks created for comedy. Something like “Set You Free” by N-Trance, Fat Joe and Ashanti, or Shola Ama work best. Other merchants of nostalgia may also want to relive their teen-years by playing Jimmy Eat World or “My Friends Over You”. This is OK, I guess, but make sure to keep it to a minimum because there’s only so much nasal abuse one evening can handle.
Oh, one last thing. Understand when it’s appropriate to play a smash hit again. Music that came out in the past three months? Go for it. Songs that came out more than four years ago? Go for it. But there’s an uncanny valley between these two periods that can ruin a party. Basically imagine someone grabbing control of your iPod and putting on “Get Lucky” and then “Somebody That I Used To Know” and then “Call Me Maybe” and then “Harlem Shake” and then “Blurred Lines”. That’s not nostalgia, that's basic beyond belief.
Or look, you could just put this on, we just made it in 5 minutes but we're 100% confident that it is an objectively perfect house party playlist (that will probably get turned off, but whatever, we tried):
When Should I Cease Control of the iPod?
Some parties have a dedicated set-up: Traktor controller on lock, K2 speakers on deck, folders organised by BPM that’ve been painstakingly prepared weeks in advance. Others just have a shitty little iPod dock in the corner, usually surrounded by swarms of hungry soul-suckers, waiting to reap the click-wheel of energy and everyone else of patience.
Whatever the set-up, these rules apply to everything:
Rule one: Silence is not allowed. That means always have another song queued; never in the name of sweet gurning Jesus stop something halfway through; don’t grab the iPod from someone’s hands and jab your own in there instead. The key thing to remember is that no one is above the vibe. Especially you.
Rule two: People attach themselves to the house party stereo like it’s a secondary-school crush who ruined their formative years only to feign some interest just as they were heading off to university. Basically: they won’t leave the iPod alone and once it’s in their grasp, they become incredibly needy. You politely ask to play a song; they say, “Yeah, after this one has finished,” and then proceed to play anything between three and infinity more songs until you get bored and give up.
Guys, we are at a house party in the kitchen above a Go-Go Pizza, not Sankey's on a Friday night. Let people play what they want. You’re not the boss of anyone’s good time.
Once you’ve got the two essential rules on lock - always share; never ruin the vibe - it’s time to think about who can and who can’t take control of the stereo. For example: bedroom producer wants to test-run their batshit crazy magnum opus? Nah. A malnourished dude asks for some blistering space-age drum and bass? Nuhuh. Some overly-confident chick wants to subject you to her ambient Discogs collection? No entry emoji. However, if a fun-loving trio wants to play OutKast’s “Roses” and elevate the evening into unanimous harmony? Sure! Step right up! Basically anyone who is bringing something the party is severely missing - rum punch, multipacks of straws, Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real” - should be welcomed with open arms.
What Should You Never Do?
- “Wait for the drop”
- “Play this song by my mate’s band”
- "Please, the birthday girl requested you play this song"
- "Oh my god, have you ever heard the Live Lounge cover of this? Don't worry I've got it."
- Refer to yourself as the “DJ”
- Think you're above the vibe. We've already covered this but, judging from every house party we've been to it's worth repeating ad naseum.
What Happens at the End of the Evening?
Obviously when we said there are only three genres you can play at a house party, we were being hyperbolic. The fact is, the culmination of a house party is a fragile time; most people have gone home, the remaining few are clutching to remnants of the past few hours of debauchery and also succumbing to the eventual, empty conclusion of the weekend being over. It’s a lonely time and, unless you’ve got someone or something to hold, music will be the hand that guides you through.
My favourite endorphin-appreciating sign-off comes in a triple threat of Tourist’s “Your Girl”, The Paradise’s “In Love With You”, and Caribou’s “Can’t Do Without You”. For you, though, it could be anything - I’m sure you’ve got your own comedown playlist. Just remember: don’t rewind that General Levy megamix. Play something soothing with sounds resembling feelings. That - or it’s probably time to fuck off home because the people whose house you’re in want to dive under a duvet for the next four days and your racket is keeping them up.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanBassil
Oh and here's a guide to dealing with your comedown.