My thumb is too small. Ryan Fontana tells me not to worry, that it’s all in the body roll, the slow release. He gestures toward Club Nikki’s Wednesday crowd of hot women and the men trying to buy them drinks.
“Champagne is the new confetti,” he says, gripping a corked bottle and pantomiming how he and Aaron Cool will soak the revelers after amping them up on thick beats and moves courtesy of MC Hammer.
“We try not to take ourselves too seriously,” Cool says.
Your deck, my deck
This attitude is rare among DJs, something Cool and Fontana both noticed before they ever met. Fontana had been putting a solo act together for about six months when he landed a gig at Avalon, a historic Hollywood club. The only problem was he had never used the setup, so he started going to Guitar Center every day to play with equipment. He often found himself in conversation with other browsers, like a scene straight out of Wayne’s World.
“A lot of people thought I worked there. Aaron happened to be one of the people who came through,” Fontana says.
Both were musicians with an appreciation for DJs such as Laidback Luke, Avicii, Boys Noize and Kaskade, so they exchanged information, thinking they might play some music together. Months passed. Then Fontana booked a show for a Louis Vuitton party, but he didn’t have the right gear. He called Cool and asked if he would bring the goods for a piece of the spotlight.
“We’d had this surface relationship for a long time. But when we hopped on the decks together we realized we kind of have the same taste,” Fontana says. “It’s weird to share that space because it’s so personal.”
Good weird, as it turns out. Early this year the duo joined forces as Sex Panther (referencing the once-fictional cologne made famous by Anchorman). Cool brings more of the electro and progressive house styles popular in Europe, while Fontana mixes in more dubstep and the big club sounds dominating America’s party scene. The result is infectious fun, the kind that makes it impossible to just stand at the bar and watch.
The beats take on new meaning when you step behind the decks and watch Sex Panther work. There are a million buttons and knobs to click and spin, and Fontana and Cool move like they can read each other’s thoughts.
“I don’t know how it works. It’s something you just learn being around that person all the time, seeing their habits,” Fontana says. “People ask if we’re brothers.”
Trickle to flood
It’s synergy born of only six months of performing in clubs from Hollywood to Vegas. The breakthrough came in June at LA’s Supperclub, where the first bottle of champagne was sacrificed. It happened to be Veuve Clicquot, a very nice gift in honor of their first headlining show at one of the city’s hottest venues.
“We were playing this Kaskade song, ‘Angel on My Shoulder (Reaver 76 Mashup),’ that has a really heavy drop,” Fontana says. “It was building up and building up. Aaron looked at me and said, ‘Dude, spray that.’”
Spray he did, the mayhem captured in a video by LA filmmaker William Walsh. It also features mad ladies, sweaty dancing, panther snarling and “I love you man” sentiments from the crowd.
“Spraying champagne is one of the best things ever, like smashing a car with a baseball bat. From then on I wanted to do it every time,” Fontana says, adding that manager Christopher Den Uijl makes sure they have a decent supply of bottles everywhere they perform.
Especially at Tropicana Las Vegas’ Club Nikki, which has its very own Champagne Muse. Sex Panther first appeared there for a one-off event. Thrilled to be on the Vegas stage, they assembled a bunch of rooms, a posse of partiers and a pair of confetti cannons. They sprayed about 20 bottles of champagne before finishing their set and partying in the room until 7 a.m. Now that they play a resident show at Club Nikki every Wednesday (in addition to a Roxbury residency and other gigs in California), they’ve toned it down. They still party, but they also know when to spend a quiet night watching Discovery Channel.
Best of both worlds
The yin yang concept seems to be a theme for Sex Panther. During my champagne spraying tutorial at Club Nikki, they spun LMFAO and Nicky Romero, songs the crowd sang to and others they just moved to. Fontana and Cool are torn between music they love and music that resonates in the current culture. Unlike some of their peers, they embrace the compromise.
“As a DJ you have all these songs you want to share. But people in the club in Hollywood and Vegas want “Give Me Everything” by Pitbull. They want to sing along. There’s a way to give them what they want,” Fontana says.
One spoonful-of-sugar method is the champagne rainstorm. The guys tell me to cap the bottle and shake just before the crescendo. I scramble onto a massive speaker, and the vibration pulverizes any worry about who might see up my dress. The tempo and tension swell until the song blows open. Booze literally rains. It is awesome.
August 24 promises to be even more awesome, according to Fontana. Sex Panther is helping celebrate a VIP birthday party at Club Nikki, involving high rollers and big bottle clients. Do they ever get tired of the party life, the flights from LA with the ever-present clique of strippers in clear heels?
“I look around everyday and am so mind-blown that this is even a career possibility. We’re living the American dream,” Fontana says. “I’m really humbled by the whole thing, really stoked.”