DJ Slowpoke (left) talks into a microphone inside the Lux nightclub while partygoers dance and hold placards with numbers indicating their choice for top song.
DJ Slowpoke (left) talks into a microphone at the Lux nightclub in Oakland at a recent Industry Night party, while participants vote for their favorite some during a playlist battle. Credit: jehN.W.A. (IG: @jehn.w.a_photo)

It’s not Sunday, but Arzo “DJ Slowpoke” Johnson has a choir singing. Whether it’s R&B classics or Bay Area hip-hop favorites, the crowd sings along in unison when he plays a song. Once the music stops, people in attendance raise a white card with a number, indicating their choice for the favored track. It’s just another Monday “Industry Night” at Lux Pub & Club in downtown Oakland.

“Mondays have really just kind of been dead,” said Johnson, who co-hosts the parties with fellow dee-jay, HU. “I decided that I wanted to do a night that kind of helped artists push their music along and get to know people that are in the industry.”

Every Industry Night features a live competition or “battleground,” where two people (they could be professional DJs, musicians, or simply passionate music fans) compete to see who has the better playlist. The outcome is determined by audience participation, taking on the likeness of a Verzuz battle (a friendly music-battle series that took off online during the pandemic). Competitors choose a category, genre, or artist, then compete in a song-for-song battle. Members of the audience use double-sided cards to cast their vote for song one or song two. There are typically seven to 10 rounds of songs. 

The name, Industry Night, is a nod to the fact that the party caters to many people who work weekends in the hospitality and service industries, and typically have Monday nights off—but few places where they can go to unwind.

The name also refers to networking, said Johnson. Industry Night is an event where artists can meet one another and build community; an opportunity to enjoy a night out mingling among peers, without the formality of some networking events. Monday also works well for Johnson, who travels frequently as Oakland rapper Too $hort’s touring DJ, and has personal obligations as a parent.  

DJ Slowpoke talks into a microphone behind a DJ booth.
DJ Slowpoke behind the sound booth at the Lux nightclub in Oakland. Credit: Brandy Collins

The idea for the party originated during the early-pandemic lockdown period. At that time, many people were using the audio-based social-networking app, Clubhouse. ”Clubhouse kind of popped up and became the forefront because everybody was in the house,” recalled Johnson  “You would have these conversations with different people, but it was a means for us to communicate with old friends.”

Johnson credits fellow Oakland creative Leon “DNas” Sykes for inspiring the party’s “battleground” concept. The long-term Oakland educator and aspiring comedian had gotten into a debate over Bay Area music on Clubhouse with who he thought was New York DJ Green Lantern (but later turned out to be Houston DJ Green Villain). About 40 music lovers from the Bay Area listened in on the audio debate and song-for-song battle and used the app to vote on the song they liked the best.

Viewing the interaction inspired Johnson to create a similar event in real life. He even traveled to Houston, where he has relationships with local artists, to host battles. “I’ve been hanging out with these people since 2020,” he said. Johnson then brought the idea home to Oakland in September of last year after HieroDay, inviting people he knew to Lux to network with other artists and music lovers. While Clubhouse can accommodate a digital voting system, Johnson said the in-person version that plays out at Lux is more interactive and fun, while also being easier to track votes.

Johnson’s influence as a culture maker extends well beyond Oakland, although he’s developed a strong local following through his DJing and other activities, which include hosting movie nights at Lake Merritt. As Too $hort’s DJ and the nephew of Grammy-nominated artist and producer Raphael Saadiq of Toni, Tony, Tone fame, he’s also no stranger to the music industry. For 20 years, Johnson has been steadily keeping parties going and pushing new music to the forefront.  

He’s also assisted other DJs in the Bay Area and given guidance when asked, including to artists DJ Millions, Butta Smoove, Jay Twelve, and HU, his co-DJ on Monday nights at Lux.

In addition to co-hosting Industry Night, HU is the creator of a clothing line called Hustler’s University, and also a rap artist. When Johnson goes on tour with Too $hort later this year, HU will keep the Monday night parties going. “He’s always had a musical ear,” said Johnson. “He’s always been dropping records on me that I don’t even know about.”

Industry Night has become a space for emerging artists to get direct and immediate crowd feedback on new music. Those wishing to get their track played at the party can “tip the DJ” $50 to have a song included in a battle.

“The music industry has changed over the last five years with digital distribution,” noted Johnson. “If you’re an independent artist, your distribution network is only so big.” Many artists are working in silos or by themselves, he said. So there’s a real benefit to Industry Monday for up-and-coming artists to get audience attention and immediate feedback on the music they’re creating before they release it on larger platforms.

“I’ve been known to break some music around here,” said Johnson, explaining that he was early to champion Bay Area classics like LoveRance’s “Up featuring 50 Cent, and D-Lo’s “No Hoe.” “There’s this count of [songs] that I was the first one to play,” he said. “That was my moniker at first: ‘I’m DJ Slowpoke but I played it first.’”

Songs played at Industry Night are later put on a DJ Slowpoke mixtape playlist and posted to Soundcloud, where they can reach an even wider audience. “That’s just my way of just trying to show love,” said Johnson. 

Although not all artists may recognize it, he said, even a little attention goes a long way. “If you rap [or sing], tap in with the DJ,” he said. ”Most rooms that I’m in are in front of 230-250 people. If they like your song… it’s just a bunch of ears to get your music played.”

But the party also draws established names, offering fans the chance to hear new music from their favorite artists. In October, members of Grand Nationxl battled each other, closing out their tour opening for rapper Rexx Life Raj. In April, Mani Draper and Kevin Allen returned to play unreleased tracks from their upcoming projects. In March, Padro Classic, an artist signed to Philthy Rich’s label F. O.D Entertainment, hosted a listening session for his new release.

There’s no cover charge before midnight and the door price after then is usually only $5 unless there’s a special or private event. “We try to respect everybody and just make sure everybody feels safe,” said Slowpoke.  

Playlists from past Industry Night battles can be found on DJ Slowpoke’s Linktree. The battle start times are 10 p.m. unless otherwise noted on Industry Night or  Slowpoke’s Instagram pages. Bottle service and hookahs are available. Check the Lux Pub & Club website for monthly party schedules.

Brandy Collins is a writer and public services advocate, born and raised in the Bay Area. She is a 2019-2020 cohort graduate from the Maynard Institute for Journalism, a correspondent for Oakland Voices, a blogger, and the funny one in numerous group chats. She is concerned with civic engagement and leadership development toward making public works more efficient for the people. Brandy is full of Scorpio magic and a self-proclaimed Professional Aunty. Follow her on Twitter @MsBrandyCollins or Instagram @story_soul_collecter.