DJs cultivate local movement
By Myra Mathis-Flynn
Free Press Staff Writer
February 16, 2008
It's hard to tell if Zack Johnson (ZJ) and Randy Russell (DJ Russell) are two young talented hopefuls or the latest duo from MTV's "Cribs."
The two disc jockeys fit the hip-hop stereotype: baggy clothes, backward hats, trendy sneakers and even a hint of "bling." But behind their funky fresh facade lietwo local boys with a joint mission: to give the youthful Burlington community something new to do.
And to do that, the duo founded Lotus Entertainment, a professional DJ service for events.
"I remember when I was in high school I never wanted to go to the prom parties because the DJ was always some 40- or 50-year-old dude playing songs off the top-40 list," Johnson said. "It was obvious they were doing it for money, and I wanted to hear more than that, so I started thinking of ways I could make DJ'ing more interesting."
Lotus' DJ crews host parties with the best selection of new beats. In other words -- these are no top 40 jockeys.
"The lotus flower represents itself," Russell said. "It starts off low and in the mud and then turns into something beautiful. That's exactly what's going on with our company."
Before the company took off, Johnson and Russell kept afloat with freelance DJ'ing. Russell, 28, grew up on a farm in Bristol. At the age of 4, he took a liking to hip-hop. When he moved to Burlington, Johnson, 25, scored Russell his first show at Asiana House. "I DJ'd for free just to get the experience," Russell said.
Eventually, after they established names for themselves, Johnson and Russell created an entertainment partnership that played sororities, fraternities and high schools.
Lotus Entertainment became official about a year ago: Maybe they could throw one giant Burlington party and turn a profit? But enthusiasm wasn't enough; Johnson and Russell needed money to rent the space.
Support from Burlington resident and hairstylist Justin Cruz for Lotus' first party last March enabled the fledgling entertainment group to rent the Burlington Factory Studio. About 400 people attended the 007 party, dressed in full Bond garb.
After the success of the first party, they were addicted. "We started to think, 'What if we rented out a boat?'" Johnson said. The Spirit of Ethan Allen complied with their request to throw a "Miami Vice" theme boat party. Johnson said one week before the party, after a trip to the Lotus Entertainment Web site, the owners of the ship began to have second thoughts.
"It's funny, when they called to book the event, we had heard that they played music like James Taylor," said Gwendy Lauritzen, director of sales and marketing. "But when we looked at their Web site, they made James Taylor look like an opera singer! We are a family business."
Johnson said these concerns come up often when people hear the type of music Lotus plays. "It's not rap -- it's hip-hop, and there's a whole culture behind it. People become concerned that the artist is going to bring a gun to the show, or not show up."
Lauritzen said she was concerned about safety and she allowed the event to move forward after assurances that security would be tight. In the end, she said, the "Miami Vice" party was problem-free with about 400 Burlington party-goers on board.
"The bottom line is that they were so professional," Lauritzen said. "They truly restored my faith in young businessmen. Everyone had fun."
The success of that event prompted a Playboy theme party. Johnson said that party proved to be an even bigger hit than "Miami Vice"; they rented out all three decks of the ship.
Lotus has plans to work with The Spirit of Ethan Allen to throw theme parties twice a week this coming summer.
Until then, the duo is concentrating on other unique venues and ways to introduce their DJ's to the local scene.
In November, they tackled South Burlington music venue Higher Ground, bringing in their first national act: Slick Rick, an urban icon and one of the founding fathers of hip-hop. According to Kyle "Fatty B" Tompson, owner of Burlington Boutique Steez and a local DJ, this show was a hit, too.
"I appreciate their efforts to bring national acts that wouldn't normally make their way up to Burlington," Thompson said. "I have DJ's at many of their parties, and they think of acts that will draw everyone from high school kids to people from across the lake."
Johnson said Burlington can plan on seeing bigger and better things from Lotus Entertainment.
"We look at the negatives as a challenge," he said. "We are not going to let them stop us and we aren't going anywhere."