On a typical night with Sean Battles, aka DJ Battles, you might hear some Kate Bush synching with Italian disco, The Cure blending seamlessly with sweet synth-pop beats, Prince in the same groove as Judas Priest, or Selena and post-disco jams.
“I try to mix aggressively,” Battles says. “I want to hit people hard track after track so they’re stimulated and, hopefully, singing along.” To keep dancers on their toes, he never stays on one track too long. Just as one mix hits right, you’re hurried on to the next.
Part of what makes Battles so beloved is his ability to jump from era to era. When he’s spinning, a modern funk vibe might give way to breakdancing beats, disco, Spanish tunes, or ‘90s hip-hop.
Battles, who studied music at Portland State University and has a background in songwriting, brings genuine artistry to his sets. “I’m always listening to what key each song is in, which allows me to mix, say, Blondie with a hip-hop song,” he says. The results are surprising, energetic and exciting mixes that get people moving—and for Battles, the energy is happy-making and contagious.
For several years, Battles tended bar at Dig A Pony, where he became known for finishing his shift and then hopping over to the DJ table. “They were 12-hour days, but it was really fun,” he says of the now-closed bar.
Battles used the 2020 service-industry shutdown as an opportunity to shift direction. He joined Portland Fire & Rescue as a firefighter, and while he waited to get back into DJing, he spent a lot of time focusing on what he wanted to do next: write and produce his own music. That led to his 2022 EP, Roni, a four-track pop collection with a lot of his signature energy and a little cheekiness.
Roni, which is also available on cassette at Future Shock Records, is replete with worthy collaborators. The EP was mastered by Portland’s own Aaron Bergeson (who also did the cover art), you can hear guest guitar work by Kevin Rafn (of Seance Crasher), who is also Battles’ partner for live shows, and DJ Lamar LeRoy pops up on “The Perfect Crime.”
“‘The Perfect Crime’ is about a torrid love affair, infidelity, and how one tends to stay in a messy situation when it feels good,” Battles says, noting the “gilded cage” mentioned in the second verse.
Battles is excited to start recording and playing more of his own music, but his love of DJing will always remain. “I don’t want listeners to get too complacent,” he says. “I want to surprise them.”