The atmosphere in the Beta Theta Pi house is buzzing with life, despite the fact that it’s a Monday night. Most of the party-goers are dressed in Hawaiian shirts, but a few are wearing sports jerseys. Everyone is smiling, and some are nodding their heads to the beat of the music surrounding the house.
I went to the party with a friend, and we’d just come through the back gate. The music was so loud, it could be heard from the parking lot 100 feet away.
As we weaved our way through the tightly knit groups of chatty college students, the music grew louder and louder. Finally, we reached its source: Mark Bagdoian, standing proud at his station, commanding the sound pulsing through the speakers like ocean waves.
But it was not really Bagdoian up there. When he gets behind his DJ controller, we call him The Nomad.
“My love for travel and busy life contributes for the persona I portray as The Nomad, because I am always in search for something new and don’t tend to spend a lot of time in one place.”
Bagdoian, a senior from Bristol, Tennessee, spent a good portion of the beginning of his life living in New York on Long Island. Now he spends his days studying criminal justice and national security, and his free time as a disc jockey.
“It’s a life-altering experience,” Coty Edwards, a fan of The Nomad from Bristol, Tennessee, said. “It takes you out of this dimension, away from worries and problems of the world, and sets your mind into a state of peace, a trance where you’re free to be yourself.”
The Nomad hardly notices he takes his listeners on a cosmic journey of sorts the whole time he is focused on his turntables. For Bagdoian, it’s all about the music.
“I have always been interested in music, from what I can remember,” Bagdoian recalls. “I can’t really think of a moment where it all clicked together. But some of my fondest memories all have music related to it. I can remember being picked up from elementary school by one of my family members, who all have different tastes in music, but I always jammed out. Growing up in two very different parts of the country, my taste in music was constantly changing.”
DJing came to Bagdoian long before he found the courage to actually do it in front of a crowd. It started when he downloaded a program his best friend told him about in middle school called Virtual DJ.
“We always pushed ourselves to the limits, sometimes scratching too much or maybe causing a computer to crash in the process but always practiced,” he said. “So over the last six years, I was able to play in nightclubs in West Palm Beach, Memphis, East Tennessee, festivals and some great places here in Oxford. What started out as just a thing for best friends to bond over has really taken off, and I honestly don’t know where this all could have ended without the support of my friends and family.”
Breaking into the DJ business isn’t exactly as simple as it seems. There’s a sort of fight to standout from other DJs, and in a time where virtually anyone can download a music-mixing program on a computer, it can be a challenge to make waves. That hasn’t stopped The Nomad.
He plays a lot of electronic, trap remixes and hip-hop. As I weaved my way through the party he was playing, I recognized a handful of popular songs that normally play around the clubs and house parties in Oxford. But the more he played, the more I was intrigued.
“I try to highlight a lot of the more underground or independent rappers that no one is really familiar with, but always come back with something that everyone knows, something hot and something to get people moving. I occasionally will play something that I produced, to see how the crowd reacts. Every set for me is a learning experience.”
Throughout his time dabbling in DJing, Bagdoian has worked out a sort of system for himself. Every set he plays has to be a unique experience because each crowd is different. One of the keys to being a great DJ is knowing how to work a crowd.
“I guess step one for me is always something soft, something to just get a feel for a crowd because they are always different depending on the setting I am playing in. People sometimes criticize DJs and think it is as simple as just pushing play, waving your hands and jumping around.”
As he plays, The Nomad does his fair share of dancing and grooving, and always in perfect time with the beat. His hands look like two dancers, spinning and twirling around on top of the controller, independent but still in sync.
“The next step is usually when I find the right tempo or groove I start with a song and begin to tell a story of sorts through themes portrayed in the popular music currently using certain samples or audio loops. A big thing for me is crowd involvement, and I judge how I am doing by the energy that I can see from people. I try to play something that will click with someone and maybe bring back a memory through a remix or throwing in something in the mix that everyone knows the words to.”
As The Nomad plays deeper into his set, I watch as the crowd begins to turn toward him, smiling, hands in the air, waving along with his music. A few onlookers shout out, “Yeah, man!” and send approving nods the way of The Nomad. Bagdoian just looks happy to be playing.
“The experience is fun and the energy is high at every Nomad show,” Houston McLain, a sophomore from Chattanooga, Tennessee, said. “It’s sensational, really.”
Bagdoian said he is just going with the flow right now.
“If people like my music they’ll come back,” Bagdoian said. “When the dust settles I want to make sure that I have no regrets and did everything I could.”
For now, that just means letting The Nomad out, and letting himself get lost in the music he loves.
“Music for me has always been my coping mechanism. I can always escape to a song, CD or write lyrics to express how I feel. Music to me is also an ice breaker. I believe that music, no matter the language, is universal. Music will always be a part of my life and will always make me happy, but realistically I can’t play forever, but I know if I can make one person happy and make some memories then I did something right. One of my mentors/ idols is rapper Mike Stud–who I’ll be sharing the stage with soon–once said, ‘Never lose your happiness on the pursuit for more,’ and I try to keep going and keep moving. When it’s all said and done I can pack up, move and find that fresh start. That’s what The Nomad is about,” Bagdoian said.