DJ Blake Ward is everywhere these days. Finding him is just a matter of time. Depending on your chosen night of debauchery, you might catch him spinning indie hits, 1980s jams, or pool-party background music. Blink once, and he’s guiding Beauty Bar’s Saturdays through its wildest dance parties, laying down bass at Ku De Ta, or running through the newest album releases. You can’t miss him. He’s the one flanked by Dallas’ up-and-coming DJs, the one surrounded by smiles, the guy who seems to turn crowds starry-eyed. For at least three nights a week, you can find proof that Ward is one of the hardest-working artists in Dallas. And if that seems a little too frequent for you, you should fret about it. Your ears won’t mind, and Ward certainly doesn’t.
“I’ve always had a weekly since I started DJing,” Ward says.
But when does he sleep, if he sleeps? How does he prepare? Ward is pretty nonchalant about his unrelenting schedule and work ethic. It’s an attitude expected of someone who’s used to hitting the ground running, someone who has found his career thrives on two words: hustle and bustle. It’s always been that way for Ward. His first DJ show was a nervous mix of calculation and genesis. In a sea of fraternities and sororities, Ward found his place in Oklahoma University’s DJ scene. His first live show had been at the request of a friend, but it came with a few learning curves.
“It was the first time I’d ever touched turntables,” Ward remembers. “I literally brought a thumb drive of all the songs I was going to play, practiced a bit on [my friend’s] turntables, kind of figured out what I was kind of doing, and opened up for him.” That night might have been shaky for onlookers, but it didn’t bother him.
“I really don’t remember all that much about it other than it was a college bar in Norman, and a lot of people danced. It was a lot of fun,” says Ward. “That just inspired me to keep doing it.”
Ward kept the gig for a few months while working with local DJs in the area. From there, many positions came and went, and Ward eventually found himself behind a laptop three times a week in support of his current residencies. Each residency is its own universe, complete with its own sounds, community and style. You can show up to any of Ward’s gigs in the same week in search of an overlap, but there’s no guarantee you’ll actually find one. There are, however, themes.
“My biggest thing currently is Beauty Bar’s Glamorama,” Ward explains. “It’s definitely kind of a dance party for everyone who wants to have fun who doesn’t want to go Uptown.”
He describes his Tuesday weekly, The Showdown, as more laid back than the Beauty Bar scene and rife with album release parties. Still, both residencies are wildly different from his Friday weekly, Nite Versions, which varies in both presentation and guest DJs.
“It’s the same people who come out to Beauty Bar, but it’s a completely different setting,” Ward says. “I try to make it different every week. I’m also using that opportunity to play with DJs in town who I think are up and coming–kind of the next generation [of DJs] who are going to replace me.”
Fortunately for Ward, Dallas is potent for up-and-coming DJs and he has no problem finding collaborators. Ward’s featured guests have ranged from larger international acts like DJ Shuttle to fixtures in the local scene like DJ Colly T and Chris Roze. When it comes to collaborations, Ward is moved by friendships, not the prospect of connections.
“I think you just automatically have connections,” he says. “You can’t do anything and not have connections. If I’m into something or I think someone’s doing something cool, I want to be friends with them. There are people in the city who are doing cool stuff and I want to promote them. We all try to work together.”
The work keeps Ward busy in between his residencies, where he’ll play everything from “yacht-rock parties” to art gallery openings to kid-friendly events. Such a wide array of work demands an even wider repertoire of genres to play, which isn’t a problem for Ward. His style is a loosely-curated free-for-all, based on his go-to favorites of indie, dance and house music. He’ll branch out frequently, and with guests rolling through constantly, nothing about his residencies is allowed to be stagnant. In his own special way, Ward ties everything together, but you’re not going to find him poring over playlists for too long. “I download a bunch of songs and listen to them in my car, then I show up and I play them,” he says. “I don’t really have time to practice or put together sets. I just play stuff I like and try to make them sound cool together. That’s basically it.” He assures me that the real magic is in mastering your song selection and “not making jerky transitions.”
It’s in Ward’s favor to keep it that simple. Time is of the essence, and he has so little of it. By day, he works SEO for Standing Dog, a local digital marketing agency. His residencies are sandwiched in-between projects and collaborations, such as the possible release (with local producer Cory Yorke) of a budding online art/fashion/music periodical for his ever-growing community and the Psychic Soundsystem, a revival with local DJ Sean Humphrey. In fact, there are so many potential projects, Ward doesn’t want to rule out any possibilities for his future just yet.
“I’d definitely like to do more production,” he explains. “I really want to DJ museums and runway shows. I’d like to expand to add more show-y aspects to my events; Beauty Bar is great for that.”
For now, the current year’s plans are more succinct
“I just want to make more mixtapes, make more tracks, take more photos, and do less shouting,” he says.
Photo: DJ Blake Ward (Credit: Travis Lilley)