Brian Jacobson

The Surprisingly Difficult Art of the Roller Derby Playlist

By - Mar 12th, 2009 12:22 pm

I don’t often put myself into an article. I would rather let the story  tell itself. But in this case, a little back story is warranted. Back in September of 2008, I volunteered to help referee the Brewcity Bruisers Roller Derby league.

It had been at least ten years since I put on skates and the prospect of joining a close-knit group of refs and rollergirls was a scary one. The learning curve was sharp and continues to be but I’m still glad I found the courage to do it. One night before a practice, the new stereo system had only a jack for an mp3 player and I was the only one with a working unit. It was an honor and privilege to share my music.

No, wait, it was a nightmare.

My Zune contains over 4,800 songs. Putting it on shuffle would result in Beastie Boys one minute and Nick Drake the next. There is also an album of accordion classics in there. Embarassed that I had no playlist proper for a warehouse full of women about to knock each other around on wheels, I set the player to Fatboy Slim and hoped for the best.

Like Scarlett O’Hara pulling a root from the ground and vowing never to go hungry again, I decided over the next few months to put together some good music for derbying. It became a bit of an obsession. What is produced here illuminates some realizations about the difficult of making a list and choosing the songs within it.

A typical playlist if being used strictly in the course of a bout would have to last 40 minutes to an hour for two halves of a match between just two teams. If it was a BCB match, there are four teams facing off in two 20-minute jams. So now you are up to 80 minutes. Now factor in warm-up time, introductions, halftime, timeouts  a typical bout can last well over two hours.

In that scenario, I leave the expertise up to someone like professional DJ Mike Shank who handles the monthly BCB gigs with aplomb. I consulted him on the idea and took some songs that have been played at the bouts.

Even if just for a practice or scrimmage, a good roller derby playlist tends to evoke memories of a Saturday night at the rink just skating around with friends. It almost seems sometimes as if the right balance of tempo and attitude for roller skating was founded in the late 1970s to mid-80s. The best songs are ones to which you could mouth the words  while carving the big oval.

A few of the rollergirls have said they just need a good thumping beat to go with their workout. Most can’t agree on one format but they appreciate a variety of hip hop, funk, hard rock, electronica, and rockabilly. Folk, Jazz, Bluegrass, and most modern Country doesn’t seem to work.  Occasionally new stuff culled from reading SPIN magazine or cribbing off the left end of the Milwaukee FM dial was peppered into the core list.

In the end, the essence of the playlist is always going to shift. Rollergirls work on strategies that involve both speed and stealth alike. After a few run-throughs, the same songs heard during a weekend morning practice can be cruel. So while this suggested 90-minute list (and addendum list of possibilities) is solid, I will continue to hunt for the next set list. As God is my witness, I shall never let Cat Stevens randomly pop up on my mp3 player during a jam ever again.

For the list, click HERE.

The Brewcity Bruisers next bout happens this Saturday, March 14, 2009 starting at 7 p.m. with doors opening at 6 p.m. Get there early for best seats and bring your own chair or blanket for the closest seats. For more information on advance ticket sales or the derby bus, visit the BCB website.

0 thoughts on “The Surprisingly Difficult Art of the Roller Derby Playlist”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I will be the DJ trying to keep the ladies happy this Saturday night. Your article was fun to read. Let me know how I do…..

  2. Anonymous says:

    the link doesn’t go to the playlist. 🙁

  3. Anonymous says:

    sorry, Nikki. When it got published, the second page got nicked at first. Link has been renewed to full glory.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Have a look at this.
    The band is called Pike – I think you can find the song on their website.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Cool video and good song, Kurt. As I pointed out, my list will always have to grow. I left a lot out of the article for readability sake — mostly about the novelty-effect of many roller derby songs (Leon Russell, Red Aunts, Plecostomus) past and present out there. But Pike’s was right on for it.

    Not the first music video I’ve seen in the last six months that uses derby girls (Redwall’s “Game of Love”, Breeders upcoming one) but it’s a good trend!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I have heard this mix!
    It works pretty well at practice.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hi… I just stumbled on your story about getting a good playlist together for your derby practices and bouts etc…. uh.. ya.. 4 years after it was published! Anyway, if you are still looking, my band has written and recorded a song named ‘Roller Derby Night’. Thought maybe you all could use a good Derby Rocker in your ipod. It’s on our website as above. Or just hit Youtube and seach for Roller Derby Night by Littlehead (one word!)
    Good Luck and Roll on!

  8. Anonymous says:

    The link to the list of songs appears to be dead for me.

    I am looking for a mix to be played at training meets for younger derby enthusiasts, training wheels up to JR.

    any help? I am very computer literate but when it comes to music, clueless.

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