Michael Del Zotto is in his eighth season as an NHL defenseman and, understandably, hockey takes up the majority of his time. But when the off-season comes around and he has time for extracurricular activities, it’s possible to find him spinning in dance clubs as DJ MDZ. After previously playing for the New York Rangers and the Nashville Predators, Del Zotto, 26, is currently in his third season with the Philadelphia Flyers.
In fact, if you’ve been to a Flyers game this season and heard the post-goal celebration song, you’ve heard one of Del Zotto’s custom mixes. I, of course, DJ on the side with my Animal Collective bandmates, so when I learned that I shared this interest with an NHL player, I decided to reach out.
Brian Weitz: Hi Michael, how are you?
Michael Del Zotto: Not too bad, thanks.
BW: I grew up in Philadelphia and am a lifelong Flyers fan. I’ve seen your Stall Talk show on the Flyers’ website, which is where I learned about your musical hobby. I play in a band and also moonlight as a DJ sometimes myself, so let’s talk about that. When did your interest in music actually transition into getting up into the DJ booth?
MDZ: I really got into it about two years ago. I’ve always been heavily into music, especially house and hip-hop. Years ago I bought my brother a mixer for his birthday when he used to fool around with DJing. He never got into it too much, but I always loved watching him. When I’m not on the road, I have a ton of free time—on practice days I get back from the rink around 1 or 2 and then have about eight hours or so before I go to bed. I used to spend a lot of time watching Netflix and not doing too many productive activities. I eventually got to the point where I wanted to take up a new hobby. I loved music and had befriended some DJs, so I thought, “Why not try it?” I started watching tutorials online and got some wise help from a couple of my DJ buddies that helped out a lot. You know, practice makes perfect, and I heard myself getting better and better. I started making mixes for the guys in the locker room and on the ice for warm-ups. They seemed to love it, and it became a fun thing. Sometimes I’d jump on the microphone and give shout outs to some of the guys. It became a team-bonding experience more than anything else, and then it took off from there.
BW: Do you DJ around Philadelphia?
MDZ: No, not during the season because it’s so busy. I just focus on hockey. I have my tables at home, so I make my mixes there and bring them into the locker room. In the summertime I have a couple gigs lined up and hopefully those will go well and can lead to some other ones. Last year I played two in August and one in September. The last one was a big one; it was for the Toronto Film Festival. A group out of Miami came into town and booked a private venue—more like a supper club—and I was booked to play for three hours while people had dinner, and it transitioned into more of a club. Everyone seemed to love it, and they wanted me to continue so I ended up playing six hours, which, as you know, is a pretty long set. But being my first real gig, it felt like 30 minutes. I had so much fun, and the crowd seemed to respond really well, which is the biggest thing. Nowadays there is so much focus on the negative in the world, and music just puts a smile on peoples’ faces. When I’m up there in the booth and everyone is dancing and having a good time, that’s something I really enjoy.
BW: My band is primarily a live band, but occasionally we do DJ sets and our fans come out. Sometimes they don’t come to dance, but they just want to hang around the booth to interact with us or take photos. We’re always happy to do it because we enjoy meeting them, and we rarely get that opportunity when we play a normal show, but we try and remind them that we’re hoping they’ll dance, as opposed to just treating it as a meet-and-greet or a photo op. Do you have hockey fans come out to your gigs that treat the experience more like that?
MDZ: Well, the Toronto Film Fest one was a private event, so there weren’t too many fans. I didn’t put it out there that I was going to be there. But it was in Toronto, which is obviously a huge hockey market, so there were some fans. As you said, I did experience people trying to take pictures or talk to me while I was trying to perform, and it’s not exactly the easiest thing to multitask in those moments. It was tough saying no, but the majority of people were dancing and having a good time.
BW: Do your teammates or other NHL players come out to see you at these gigs?
MDZ: Yeah, I had a couple hockey buddies in town that came out because it was before the season. It looks like a few of them will come out to the ones I’m going to do this summer, which will make it that much more fun.
BW: Is it a jinx when they come? When we do DJ gigs after shows, we sometimes try to convince our crew—who don’t take us seriously as DJs to begin with—to come as well. They always tease us and say, “What’s the point? It’s not a dance party, it’s just you guys saying hi to your fans.” And we always say, “No, there are actually a lot of killer ones but just never when you guys are there.” So now we have a superstition that if our crew shows up, it’s always going to be a bad gig.
MDZ: Ha, well, I hope that’s not the case. But as this is still fairly new for me, I think having some familiar faces there, whether it’s teammates or friends, will make me feel a little more comfortable.
BW: What are the go-to jams in your sets?
MDZ: It depends on what the mood is or what it’s for. I typically have three different genres. I’ll play some pretty heavy stuff in the dressing room to pump up guys before we go on the ice. I’ll play similar music for our on-ice warm-up mixes. I’ll incorporate some hip-hop because we have guys on our team, like Wayne Simmonds, who really love hip-hop. I have a couple of cool hip-hop/house remixes, so I put some fun stuff on there for him. Personally, my favorite stuff is lounge-ier, like a Vegas pool party. Not too heavy, just a solid beat with good vocals.
BW: We always find that when we DJ, we have a certain nostalgia for the era of our middle school dances. For us, that’s the late 1980s and early ’90s, so we always go back to the radio hits from that time period, many of which were a fusion of hip-hop and house. Do you find nostalgia creeping into your DJ sets, that takes you back to those moments?
MDZ: Yeah, still to this day my favorite era is late ’90s, early 2000s hip-hop. I think nothing competes with that, so I try to incorporate some of that into my mixes. When I hear those songs it brings me back to growing up. I have a brother that is three and a half years older than me, and like any younger brother, I idolized my older brother. Anything hip that he did, I seemed to love as well, so it brings back some cool memories.
BW: How do you react to requests? Do you appreciate them or are you like most other DJs who’s prefer people stay out of it?
MDZ: Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of it to be honest with you. When you get a request, that one person might like it, but you might have other people there that hate it. I like to go off my own stuff and then get a feel for the crowd. You can have some people come up with a ridiculous request, and you don’t want to shoo them away and shut them down, but at the same time, there is more than one person you have to please, right?
BW: Yeah, we’re not into requests either most of the time. Sometimes when we DJ, people will request Animal Collective songs and if we don’t play them, they are disappointed and say, “I thought an Animal Collective DJ set would be more like a listening party where you spin your own songs the whole time.” And we just think, “Why would we want to listen to ourselves?”
MDZ: Yeah, how would that make any sense? I’m with you on that.
BW: So in both our fields—music and hockey—older generations tend to look down on and dismiss the interests of the younger generations. I always get a kick out of seeing someone like Mike Millbury do that kind of thing on TV. How do you think old school guys like Millbury, John Tortorella, or maybe even Bobby Clarke, would react to seeing you in the DJ booth at a club?
MDZ: Ha! Honestly I don’t know what they’d think, even though I played under Torts for few years, and I understand him pretty well. The game has changed so much since those guys were in the league, but anyone involved in hockey likes to see the growth of the game into different areas. I think music is one of those big opportunities. Let’s say I am DJing a gig in the summertime, and someone likes my music, and it turns him or her into a hockey fan. That’s just another way to create more viewers and get more people interested in the game.
BW: Have you ever seen any of the old photos of the Broad Street Bullies going out in their 1970s clothes?
MDZ: Yeah, they’re pretty funny.
BW: Which of the current Flyers would you say have the best and worst taste in music?
MDZ: Claude Giroux is huge into house music, but he likes the heavier stuff. For the Flyers’ goal song that I mixed this year, he was actually the guy I went to. I mixed an Italian soccer anthem with a heavier beat, and I went to him with three or four different options. I had him choose which one he liked the best, and it’s been a big hit. The boys and the crowd both seem to like it, which is great. So he has good taste as far as the heavier house music goes. Worst taste in music would have to be the western Canadian guys like Brandon Manning, Brayden Schenn and Dale Weise. They love country music, and I hate it. A couple of them will put country music on in the room, and it drives me up the wall. They like house music and my mixes as well, but whereas I could listen to tropical house 24 hours a day, they need a break and need to put on some country. I just can’t be in the room when that stuff is playing.