If college is supposed to be a time to excel at new things, Trey Johnson and Sean Von Ohlen, CC’14, are doing it right. As self-taught DJs under the stage names Vidda and Vonzie, respectively, you may have found true love dancing to their beats at a frat or bar. Moombah mastah Alexandra Svokos watched them create an original house track.
“Ven ve start, you know, ve need a fat kick,” Sean says in what’s supposed to be a Swedish accent, but sounds more like Dracula. Trey, in similar accent, agrees. They deadpan about kicks and sample libraries until finally they break character and laugh. “Or we could do that other kick,” Trey says seriously. The switch from play to business is immediate as the two boys consider the track they’re creating.
Trey began a little over a year ago, while Sean got his start senior year of high school. They learned how to DJ, remix, and produce through a combination of instructional YouTube videos, forums, and actual practice, eventually purchasing legitimate equipment to fit their needs. Since they’ve begun, Trey has put out an EP and Vonzie has put out several singles and is working on an EP.
They both make remixes and original songs. “With remixes you’ll get more people’s attention because they’ll see that famous DJ or producer’s name,” Trey explains. He smiles mischievously before continuing. “Quote this: I was the first motherfucker to ever remix Avicii Levels, I swear to God. I remixed it when he didn’t even have a name for it. It was the shittiest song I’ve ever made, but because they saw ‘Avicii’ it got on so many blogs. But as soon as you make an original, the blogs are like ‘I don’t know this guy,’ and they won’t even listen to it half the time.”
The boys have a tendency towards modesty in describing their work. “We’re both very honest and humble men. We have bravado when it’s called for, but we’re gentlemen in all other respects,” says Sean. “Scholars as well,” Trey adds.
Indeed, Sean and Trey are true Columbians. They assert that they aren’t able to mix as much as they’d like because of school. An original track takes anywhere from 12 to 24 hours of straight work—“that’s like 2 essays’ worth of Columbia swag.” Sean took music theory and a MIDI music production course at Columbia.
In fall of freshman year he unsuccessfully tried to get into the MIDI class and met Simon Herzog, who serves as inspiration to both aspiring DJs—though they gush that there are many talented DJs on campus. It was Herzog who encouraged Trey to delve into production from DJing and set him up with his “most fun gig” at First Friday.
Trey and Sean are mainly concerned with fun. They are friends rather than competitors and enjoy messing around on tracks (and with reporters) together. They don’t take anything too seriously, themselves included. “We still amateur as fuck but we making waves,” Sean laughs.
They have played around campus at frats and bars, where they mix live and without a set plan. Instead they gauge what the crowd is feeling. They have no delusions of grandeur, acknowledging that the typical college audience will be under some sort of influence and describing a build-up as “when everyone on drugs is like ‘I love my life!’”
“If you’re going to pay us we’ll play whatever you want. But if you just want us to play and we want people to dance and we’re doing it for free, we’ll play house or moombahton. And maybe Rack City,” Trey says. Trey likes different genres of house while Vonzie has been getting into moombahton—which he especially likes because it makes people dance. Despite seeming selfish for only playing what they like, they’re actually concerned for their audience.
“You want them to be dancing for as long as possible,” Sean smiles. “You want to give that opportunity for the small, cowardly, nerdy man in the corner to muster up his courage, take another shot, bounce onto the dance floor, and in his drunken stupor to just so gently touch the woman next to him.”
And does being the DJ guarantee girls? Not exactly, they both admit, but they do have tons of party-goers who enjoy standing next to them while they play. For this Trey has some rules: “no guys that you don’t know. And girls can only stay if they’re not too drunk. This shit is expensive!”
Sean and Trey honestly enjoy DJing for the Columbia community and seeing the less-academic side of their peers. “What is dance music, but ‘get-laid’ music?” Sean pronounces in a mock-British scholarly tone. “Most people are really trashed when they hear it and it gets them dancing, and that’s what they were trying to do already but they were lonely in their little bubbles of Columbia intellect.”
Really, though, “as I’ve been sarcastically hinting at, it’s nice to see people find true love.” When asked if they think that’s what they’re really forming, the two laugh satisfyingly before agreeing on “yeah!”
On the spot, Sean and Trey can’t explain why they spend so much time working on music. “It’s hard to put into words why you sit around on a computer for a 6-12 hour session and make a series of beats. It’s art. It’s like fucking Bob Ross, with a computer.”