Quarantine's Hottest Party Is in Musician Nick Waterhouse's Living Room

A couple of gin Martinis, a bunch of old 45s and you've got yourself the best part of the day

nick waterhouse instagram dj
Quarantine has forced musicians like Nick Waterhouse to get creative
Zach Lewis

As the days blend together, we’re devising newer and more creative ways to entertain ourselves from the comfort of home. Your couch becomes a barstool for Zoom beers with friends, or you have a dinner party with a few friends over a Google Hangout. It passes the time and connects us with people we miss, but something is still missing. When this is all over and humans can safely return to being around each other without spreading COVID-19, I’ll be fine with never having an online cocktail party again.

The Instagram Live DJ party, on the other hand, is something I’d like to see more of. Especially the ones hosted by Nick Waterhouse.

“I’m a nightlife entity,” he says over the phone. After a decade of recording and performing live, things have changed for Waterhouse and just about every other musician in the world. Closing down bars and sleeping in a different hotel every night has given way to something a little more domestic. “Now I’m not, and basically asleep by 10.”

When he isn’t playing music, Waterhouse spends a large chunk of his life spinning records for people. His tastes line up with what you’d imagine if you’ve ever listened to his music: old soul, some blues, stuff with horns and lots of swagger. Vintage sounds. Perfect stuff. For Waterhouse, it serves as an outlet during these locked-down times: “I have a lot of frustration and that I can’t like get together and work on songs with people, which is sort of how I work. I’m not really a sitting-with-the-guitar type of guy.”

Waterhouse, who was in Memphis in February to record his next album, went back in L.A. to mix it all together. The idea was to put the album out in September, but those plans are on hold, just like just about every other plan. But Waterhouse’s management team told him it would be good to do something, anything, with the downtime. They suggested he pick up n acoustic guitar and play some songs, but Waterhouse knows what people listen to him for, and it isn’t solo jams. He wanted to come up with another plan. “If somebody is giving me their attention, let alone like their money, I just like to give people like what I would consider a good satisfying product or experience or whatever it is,” he says.

The Instagram Live DJ set has become one of the few bright spots throughout all of this. Questlove hosts anther popular one. But while the Roots’ drummer’s sessions feel more like the best basement party on the block, Waterhouse’s is a subdued affair, taking place in his living room. The setting along with the music make it a relaxed affair. The perfect happy hour. And your host also enjoys a cocktail as he thumbs through his records.

“It’s usually a gin Martini. Gin and records goes together. A lot of that comes from being at Dick Vivian’s house, who owns Rooky Ricardo’s,” the record store in San Francisco where Waterhouse once worked. “And I mean legitimately that this is what I would be doing at Dick’s with three to five friends after closing the shop on a Wednesday night.”

I do miss going to bars before they get too crowded and listening as a DJ dips into their collection for some of the weirder cuts, the 45s that might not get the crowd moving but are perfect for enjoying a drink. Waterhouse’s sets have sort of filled that void. And like those random sets I’ll go see, Waterhouse’s are here today, gone tomorrow. He doesn’t record them and there are no playlists left behind. It happens, and then it’s over. It’s part of an old DJ tradition from England’s Northern Soul clubs of yore, but also older radio DJs in the pre-internet days. “I announce the songs when I play them,” Waterhouse says. “But if you miss that, I adhere to sort of the old broadcast standards, which is you couldn’t type into a radio show in the ’50s and be like, ‘Can you say that again?’”

The whole thing taps into something downright comforting. I find myself tuning in to Waterhouse’s broadcasts, and I’m transported to being a kid again, listening with rapt attention to the radio, hoping they’ll play a song I love or introduce me to another. The difference is that now I’m older, allowed to drink and also stuck inside due to a quarantine.

Waterhouse has found a way to tap into something fun and cool that’s perfect for this time and maybe this time only. Will we need Instagram Live DJ sessions when it’s safe to go back to hanging out in bars? Probably not. But for the moment, it’s the perfect way to try and connect. And Waterhouse feels the same way.

“That’s what’s magical about it. That’s what made radio exciting. And that’s what I think is still cool about broadcast, ” he says. “It’s about playing shit and everybody is vibing out on it and you being like, ‘Isn’t this awesome?’ Yes, it’s awesome. And I can’t tell you how many people write me and say they haven’t heard this or haven’t heard this. In some ways I’m happier to do that for somebody, than to sell them my music.”

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