William Reed, LA's most prolific DJ, has headlined Oscar afterparties, played alongside world-class producers like Calvin Harris, and helped organize illegal desert raves. Never wavering from DJing as an art form, William takes party-goers on a journey from sunset to sunrise no matter the atmosphere. How does one man play up to 300 sets per year, breathe life into the West Coast, and still manage eight hours sleep? Here's how William Reed does it.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll
“I’m playing sets besides women dancing topless, couples fucking in the booth, and icons railing lines of blow,” says William. “It was straight out of Coyote Ugly.” William Reed, a well-respected DJ based in Los Angeles, brings a rare professionalism to the wildest of atmospheres. Back in the day, he transformed a dive bar into the most bustling blowout in Scottsdale, Arizona. Lines bent around the block. The Smiths, Sex Pistols, and Guns N’ Roses graced the guest list. Every week for five years, William’s sets fueled the Southwest capitol of fighting, fucking, sweating, and screaming.
Before the height of his Scottsdale residency in the early 2000’s, William took the job as a last-second offer. “I got a call from a friend at a local bar saying that they fired a DJ and needed someone,” he says. “They offered me fifty bucks and all I could drink.” He accepted. With no professional DJ experience, William showcased his own style. He had played a few parties, but never for money.
The night of his first set, William walked through the door carrying a crate of records. Few people filled the dance floor. One drunk patron threw ice in William’s direction and yelled: “turn down the suck!” William stayed relaxed. “I wanted to go punch that guy out, but I played it cool and acted like I didn’t hear him,” he says.
As a kid, William lived overseas in Germany. His Father worked outside of Frankfurt. On the weekends, William’s Dad would open the windows and blast classic vinyl. Rolling Stones, Prince, Led Zeppelin, and Michael Jackson shook the walls. “He had a classic analog stereo system with massive tower speakers,” says William. “When you’re young, the first exposure to music leaves a deep impression, whether you like it or not.”
Still living in Germany as a teenager, William began to explore new sounds. He rode the bus into the city and scavenged local music shops. “I wanted something different...punk, synth-pop, hip-hop, any hot shit,” he says. Saving up, he purchased LL Cool J, Run-DMC, and Beastie Boys cassette tapes.
Soon, William and his friends frequented the now deceased Schwimmbad Club in Heidelberg. A four-level venue, each floor had its own theme. Live music, dark techno, alternative, and trance all boomed beneath the same roof. At first, William and his crew stuck to the alternative dance floor. Then, curiosity beckoned them to the basement. Strobe lights built into the floor pulsated through the darkness. Fog swallowed some and skirted others. “I couldn’t see two feet in front of my face,” he says. 16-year-old William was hooked. The group danced hours to trance, acid house and jungle. Electronic sounds unlocked a new world. Chasing the beat, William and his friends trekked to clubs and raves throughout Germany. “We didn’t have to sneak in,” says William. “Everybody went.”
Moving back to the US in the late 90’s, William discovered the rave scene in Phoenix, AZ. Thousands would swarm to the desert for sunrise to sunset mayhem. Every weekend, William would help produce these desert raves. “It was one hundred percent fucking illegal,” he says. Organizers transported colossal speakers, walls of sound. Sandy cities coalesced by dark and disappeared by dawn. No parents, no police, no neighbors for miles. “It was magical,” says William, “like church...a spiritual, out of body experience.”
For four years, the rave scene skyrocketed, untouched by the authorities. Then, in the early 2000’s, the FBI cracked down on mafia turncoat Salvatore Gravano, known as Sammy the Bull, for running an ecstasy ring in the Southwest. The drugs leaked into the desert and became associated with rave-goers. The FBI launched the Anti-Rave Task Force, a special division dedicated to invading raves and shutting them down. Authorities showed zero tolerance and the scene halted. “That period was one of most integral parts of my musical development,” says William. “I DJed my first solo set out there...we ran a good crew with good people.”
After the rave scene died down, William tag teamed local parties and DJed with a friend. The two bought a couple CD players and a mixer from radio shack. With a stack of imported CD’s, they mixed one track into another. “It was wonky,” says William. “We had no budget, but we made it work.”
Soon after, William settled into his now infamous Phoenix residency before catapulting into the LA scene. On top of hosting legendary pool parties, William plays between two and three hundred sets per year in greater Los Angeles. “Where I work is the party,” he says. To keep his health in check, he always sleeps for eight hours and eats a plant-based diet. He wakes up, hits the gym, and works from home before a set. Handling contracts, uncovering new music, and researching shows, William stays sharp on the local scene. From 4pm until 7pm, he either relaxes or socializes. Then, 9pm hits and he flips the switch behind the booth.
DJ sets can last up to five hours. Willam arrives home at 3am, then repeats. “I’ve found a solid balance over the years,” says William. “The older you get, the more in tune you are with your body.” That healthy awareness has kept the prolific DJ from burning out. “I don’t do drugs, but I’m okay with people who do,” he says. “I’m good with my glass of red wine.”
With a wide range of influences, William weaves in and out of multiple genres each set. He does not stick to a strict song order. Dropping in new tracks every week, he displays an eclectic, but tasteful vibe. “For me, it’s educational,” says William. “I want to have fun, challenge myself, and expose the audience to something that they have never heard before.” Keeping a finger on the pulse of fresh sounds, William commands his tracklist to complement the aesthetic of the venue. A great DJ never interrupts the energy and moves in an appropriate direction.
Sometimes, the direction shifts unexpectedly. One night while DJing at The Standard, William leaned over behind the booth to rifle through his record bag. “This guy above me, who I couldn’t see, kept trying to talk to me,” he says. “He requested Aloe Blacc, so I threw on a couple of his tracks.” When William finally snagged a good look at the guy, he saw a heavily tattooed, towering man wearing a dress and a wig. Two hookers flanked his sides. “We made eye contact and I realized he was Dennis Rodman,” says William. “He came over and made it rain dollar bills on the booth.”
From out of control carouses to classy receptions, William stays anchored to Djing as an art form. Reading the crowd, he takes the listener on a journey. He knows what works, but leaves room to experiment. Taking risks at the right moments can recharge the room. “I’m there to create a mood...to get the crowd going and the place moving,” he says. “Some nights it’s Motown, other times it’s trap or new wave.”
Living in a city with dense competition, William embraces a broad musical palette. He is well versed in pop, indie, hip-hop, tech house, disco, and a multitude of other genres. “Depending on the venue, I get into a different head space every night,” he says. “Each spot has its own reputation.”
Having spent thousands of hours honing his craft, William embodies the consistent practice necessary to rise through the ranks. He always looks to enlighten the next generation of DJ’s from his experience. “One thing I wish I did was to start collecting vinyl sooner,” he says. “Learning to DJ with vinyl is more labor intensive, but the sound is richer and better...it keeps you on your toes and there is a demand for it.”
At the helm of world-class events and record-breaking attendances, William values the memories over prestige. Couples have asked William to DJ their wedding because they had met way back at an event he played. “It always fills good when you play a packed house, but at the end of the day, everyone forgets that,” he says. “People remember good times and good people.” William harnesses Djing as a medium to enhance human connection. “Sharing new sounds and passing the torch is what matters,” he says. “Music is the common thread that brings people happiness, brings people together.”