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Interview: Don't play your own songs -- and other DJ advice from Pete Wentz

You're more likely to find Pete Wentz behind a laptop than a guitar these days.

In addition to his role as one half of the L.A.-based electronic duo Black Cards, the former Fall Out Boy bassist spends his time DJ-ing at clubs and parties (and the occasional corporate event). Wentz DJed at Angels & Kings in the Hard Rock Hotel, which he co-owns, and at Paris Club's upstairs club, Studio Paris, during Lollapalooza in August. And he will return to Chicago for Gateway Green's Green Tie Ball, which raises money to create and maintain landscapes around the city, Saturday at A. Finkl & Sons.

What are Wentz's keys to playing a successful DJ set? Here are the Wilmette native's dos and don't's:

Know your audience: “I usually have an ‘A' batch of songs that I'm pretty sure will work after guessing what type of crowd it will be. The ‘B' batch is wishful thinking: ‘I really want to play these, but we'll see.' I'll also have a backup ‘C' batch — these are the songs that will go off no matter what the crowd looks like.”

Go early: “If there are other people DJ-ing before me, I'll get there early to see the vibe of the crowd. And if the DJs play a song I was going to play, people might get tired of it. You have to be ready to call an audible.”

Choose wisely: “A couple times, I've been caught with my pants down. I remember one time I was playing with Train at this really big corporate function and (the people in the crowd) didn't know the songs as well as I thought they would. I played a Lil Wayne-Morrissey mashup … It was not going off. You can see the momentum start to not go off. No matter what age group people are, there are a brave few who start dancing: ‘I'm going to dance. I don't care what people think.' You can build on that or kill that vibe really quickly with the wrong two songs in a row.”

Variety is good: “My songs are all over the place. I grew up on oldies. My dad played The Temptations and The Four Tops, and I got into a lot of Michael Jackson and Guns N' Roses. I think people who just know me from my band think I don't like pop music. The truth is I love pop music. I think it's great when it's a little eclectic, like Miike Snow and Robyn.”

Avoid obscurity: “I don't try to find stuff people don't know. I think there's a fine line. DJs who think ‘Wow, people will think it's so cool that I know this song' run the risk that only one person knows the song.”

Don't rely on your reputation: “People know who you are, so you get a little grace period for a few minutes: ‘I'll give it a shot.' After that, it doesn't matter who you are. There will be crickets.”

Showmanship doesn't always work: “It depends on what number of drink I'm on. I think it depends on the crowd, as well. I feed off the crowd. I played a correspondents' dinner in (Washington) D.C. four years ago and was stage-diving at a party where people were wearing penguin suits. Not sure how well it went over. I think I was crowd-surfing and realized ‘Oh, it's not that kind of party.'”

Don't play your own songs: “I don't think I ever do. If I'm playing somewhere and someone showed up like Gabe (Saporta) from Cobra Starship, I've played a Cobra Starship song. But you can see the person thinking, ‘This is kind of dorky.' It's dorky to play your own songs. Every once in a while a place will use my song as my intro and I cringe. I think I would (play them) if (Fall Out Boy singer) Patrick (Stump) was there and could sing it, maybe. … Nah, I still wouldn't. Maybe if I did party songs, it would be different.”

Twitter @aboutluisgomez

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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