Rally the Nets

J Period mixes music for the Brooklyn arena.

March/April 2013

Reading time min

Rally the Nets

Photo: Mike Schreiber

The beginning of the second half at Brooklyn Nets home games is, by design, a multicultural musical experience: part opera/part hip-hop—Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana blended with “Hate Me Now” by Nas. More than just some clever sound mixing, the mash-up is designed to incite emotion, to evoke the epic. “It feels like we’re going to war,” says Joel Astman, the deejay behind the mix.

Astman, ’97, who operates under the nom de riff J Period, serves as music supervisor for the NBA’s Nets. The team relocated from New Jersey before the 2012-2013 season and moved into the brand-new Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn. Two of the key characteristics of New York City’s most populous borough are music (especially hip-hop) and diversity, and Astman’s music seems to mesh seamlessly with those conditions. “Hip-hop has such a rich history that’s constantly evolving, and that’s definitely true in Brooklyn,” he says. “What I produce is meant to be meaningful both musically and culturally.”

Astman moved to New York after leaving Stanford, to work in graphic design. While deejaying an event at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, his music caught the ears of the Nets’ chairman, and he was whisked off to Paris to work a private event at a French castle. Astman suggested the team hire him as music supervisor, a job that—in addition to being unique in the NBA—allows him to supplement the action of the game with audio that fits into the context of particular plays and particular games. Beyond that, his job is first and foremost to keep the crowd energized and entertained: “The people at Barclays Center want it to be a party.”

His deejay career began as a freshman at Branner Hall. Astman, raised in Los Angeles by two educators, arrived in Palo Alto expecting to go into teaching. He double majored in religious studies and an individually designed program called identity, the mind and multiculturalism. While abroad in Israel for his junior year, he met the breakdancing crew Rock Steady Crew and DJ Skribble, who eventually took him to purchase his first set of deejay equipment.

Since moving east, J Period has worked on mixtape collaborations with John Legend, Mary J. Blige, The Roots and Lauryn Hill (he has worked as deejay for Hill, as well), among others. One of his specialties is the mixing of personal interviews into artists’ musical compilations.

The powers-that-be for the Nets and at the Barclays Center wanted an in-game experience that drew on traditional arena motifs—think Dance Cams, Kiss Cams and noise meters—while building a new culture for the Nets in their first season at the Barclays Center. “Part of what they wanted me to do was flip those traditional things on their head.” An arena music program, he adds, should appeal to a wide range of tastes, but not in a cheesy, "wedding deejay" way.

It’s about keeping the fans engaged—and potentially having an impact on the game itself. “The players tune out the music, but they don’t tune out the fans,” Astman says. “My job at its core is fueling the fans to in turn fuel the players.”

Unlike in baseball, where hitters choose the songs that are played each time they come up to bat, basketball players don’t typically influence arena music, other than an occasional request for pregame warm-ups. The NBA has specific guidelines on what kinds of tracks can and cannot be played when the home team is on offense and defense.

Oh, and there’s that Jay-Z fellow. The Brooklyn-born rapper and hip-hop mogul is a part-owner of the Nets, and a good chunk of the music that gets played in Barclays Center bears his stamp in some aspect.

Much of his work is on the production and mixing side, so J Period isn’t obligated to be on hand at the Nets’ 41 home games. He will, however, attend whenever the team has an important contest, and often creates mixes specific to a game. That combative  Carmina Burana/“Hate Me Now” mash-up? Born for a showdown between the Nets and their local rival, the New York Knicks.

His ascension in the hip-hop world hasn’t killed Astman’s fondness for education; this summer, he plans to partner with USC professor Josh Kun to teach a class on music and multiculturalism through Grammy U, an educational program affiliated with The Recording Academy for college students interested in careers in the recording industry.

But first, J Period has some extra work in Brooklyn. The Nets clinched a playoff berth in mid-March and could have home-court advantage in the first round. A postseason run means more multimedia productions meant to stir fans, more creative opportunities for a deejay who lives by the ethos: “You just want to put on a good show.”

Ryan Eshoff is a student in the graduate program in journalism and a Stanford intern.

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