DJ Dillan knows how to hype the GCU crowd

Game Day DJ Dillan Martinez keeps the Havocs' energy high on Tuesday during a basketball game against San Diego State.

Photos by Ralph Freso

The DJ is here, out of breath. Hustling in from his other job at Amazon, he hit traffic.

The DJ is very important here on Game Day. GCU Arena is his dance club, with basketball dubbed in.

“Music is probably one of the most important elements for the game. It has always been a way to hype up the crowd and keep the energy up,” said Spirit Programs Senior Manager Jesi Weeks. “The students just feed off the energy of the music.”

The DJ is very important on the biggest night of year, when the Grand Canyon University men’s team plays San Diego State. And he’s late, but smiling.

“I could do this with my eyes closed,” said Dillan Martinez, a graduate student wearing a black T-shirt and black stocking hat that holds in his wild, curly hair while he plugs in his DJ board and laptop on this crazy Tuesday night, Dec. 5.

Greg Jenkins of Event Services hustles over to Martinez’s bleacher platform perch behind the south basket with a list of what will occur throughout the night between all parties involved – the Thundering Heard Pep Band, Dance, Cheer, PA announcer Paul Danuser, video people, all wearing headsets and jabbering back and forth as the teams warm up.

Pre-game

Hyped students fill the stands, as Martinez hits hip-hop music. “Players tell me to play something lit,” like NBA Young Boy and Lil Uzi Vert.

“There are three audiences I am catering to,” Martinez yells. “There are the players, the visitors and sponsors, and our students. Initially, the players are in here warming up, so I focus on the hip-hop, then when they leave for the locker room, I go the family-friendly music and then when the students come in, I play top 40 or what’s popular.”

And it begins, cue the students. Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us,” as in the ceiling can’t hold the noise from the crowd, is followed up with Pitbull’s “Hotel Room Service.”

Full-throated students sing/shout: “hotel, motel, Holiday Innnn...”

Weeks says it’s important to play the music students can dance to, sing to, “so it feels like a party.” And Martinez is very good at knowing just what music will get them going.

Closer to the game, I start playing all the fan favorites,” he said.

After the band to his right kicks in with its version of Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” band director Dr. Paul Koch communicates with Martinez to work out their fun one-two, Martinez dropping the recorded version of  Bieber’s hit. He said the game-time camaraderie is a big reason he works at GCU.

“This is for the students, after this I will play one for the players,” Martinez said. “It’s a push and pull between everyone.”

He can sense the crowd mood after nearly four years of being a DJ for men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball.

So even when “Family Ties” by Kendrick Lamar doesn’t exactly create a frenzy, he’s OK with it. “Just because they aren’t bouncing doesn’t mean they don’t like it. I see them singing along with the song,” he said. “You have to read the room.”

He plays the classic “We Will Rock You” as the San Diego State players return to the floor. The place is now in a frenzy.

From behind his sticker-covered laptop, Game Day DJ Dillan Martinez programs his playlist at Tuesday's GCU vs. San Diego State game.

First half

Martinez works through the roars during the game, cycling through files, nearly 500, some mixes he produced himself and popular tracks, to find just the right thing for a timeout.

He works the Pioneer DDJ-1000SRTboard that looks like the dash of a fighter jet – knobs for bass and treble, wheels for scratches and seamless transitions, a multi-channel mixer that allows him to blend four tracks at a time – and fingers the laptop keyboard through files like a concert pianist.

“To some people it seems like I am pressing buttons. But everything is very calculated. I try to help the team if they are losing,” he said. “I try to follow the energy of the room.”

He’s up at the 12-minute timeout. Go. “Wobble” (“Baby wobble baby wobble”) gets the students dancing in the stands, followed by the ever-popular sing-along “In Da Club,” when 50 Cent announces “it’s your birthday, and we’re gonna party like it’s your birthday.”

Game Day DJ Dillan Martinez is a pro on the DJ board.

Herein lies Martinez’s masterwork, producing just the right moments in often racy popular songs that don’t offend the family audience and GCU’s Christian ethic.

“Over the years I have been able to determine what is acceptable and what is not. The Havocs help me by coming up with songs that are acceptable but engaging,” he said. “And over the years I’ve developed it to a professional level where I can pick the spots in a song.

“I go through every track and personally edit it. If each track is 3-4 minutes, that’s a lot of time going through producing music.”

By six minutes left in the half and GCU trailing, he senses that “in a game like this, we need something hype. We gotta go. I use every single track to get them engaged.”

So at the four-minute timeout, he spins Flo-Rida’s “Low” and students shimmy to the floor like they’re wearing apple-bottom jeans. And the GCU rally is on.

Sandwiched between GCU Dance and the Thundering Heard Pep Band, Game Day DJ Dillan Martinez keeps the crowd hopping.

Second half

Martinez takes a breather to talk of his early years in Los Angeles and moving to Palm Springs at age 7. He  became the first in the family to leave home, despite being the youngest of four.

“It had a big impact on my family, and it taught me independence. My family has always supported my independence and go-getter attitude,” he said, while admiring his ability to balance his passion of starting a business as a producer while still making a living.

When he came to GCU, DJing was a hobby as he transitioned from theology studies to earning undergraduate degrees in psychology and business management. Now that DJing is a profession, his studies, which include a pursuit of a master’s in business, have served him well for his gigs – marketing, business negotiations, networking. He got better, too, from playing for cut-outs during the pandemic to playing at clubs and events and this ... Hold on. Hype needed.

Martinez puts on a mix of “The Final Countdown” and “Tremor,” crowd berserker anthems the students respond to immediately as the half starts.

While the songs play, he bounces and watches and smiles. A student comes up yelling, “Dillan, play that one” and sings a wordless do-do-dah for recognition.

He plays a Tik Tok song the students love.

“I like playing to the crowd. If you are not playing to the crowd, you are missing half the point of being a DJ,” he said.

With the score 43-42 and the Arena exploding, he locks in, thinking about the music, choosing one that brings them into delirium, as the Dance team behind him dances so hard on the bleachers his laptop and board shake to the Black Eyed Peas' “Pump It.”

Music is a big part of the celebration as the game thunders to a GCU upset over a ranked team that made it to the national finals last year.

“Music to me is so much more than entertainment, but rather, a gift from God that serves multiple purposes,” he said. “I use music to influence myself in such a way that helps me tackle any situation, whether I am working out, doing homework or dealing with a difficult situation like a breakup. I have different songs and playlists that I use for any given mood.”

And the mood with DJ Martinez right now is very good in the closing seconds. Appropriately, he plays Lil Jon’s “Outta Your Mind,” and seconds later, students rush the floor.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected].

Related content:

GCU News: Student leaders create a Havoc-racy of untamed student solidarity

GCU News: GCU Spirit Programs win national title

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