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DJ Roueche breaks the silence, pumps up athletes during an Olympics without fans

Jeremy Roueche, known as DJ Roueche, has the unenviable job of being a DJ.
Jeremy Roueche, known as DJ Roueche, has the unenviable job of being a DJ at a place where there are no fans to enjoy his work.
(Ben Bolch / Los Angeles Times)

It can be crazy fun, pumping up nobody.

DJ Roueche, known as Jeremy Roueche in everyday life, does it in bursts of sound lasting several seconds. The heads bopping and bodies swaying belong to the beach volleyball players scurrying below empty stands.

Understanding his target (and only) audience is a must. Before Nick Lucena’s opening match of the Tokyo Olympics last week at Shiokaze Park’s Centre Court, Roueche played Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” because he knew it would resonate with the American star.

Lucena likes to locate Roueche’s DJ stand before matches, as if the first serve can’t be delivered until he finds the familiar face. Roueche’s might be the only one many players see at these Games besides their partner.

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Unable to draw energy from crowds because of COVID-19 restrictions, athletes at the Tokyo Olympics try to overcome the ‘uncomfortable’ situation.

His sounds are also uniquely comforting.

“He knows exactly what music pumps us up,” said April Ross, the former USC star who is one of the world’s top players, “and so when he plays that, it helps us in warmups and get really fired up.”

Ross favors Imagine Dragons and techno music. Partner Alix Klineman prefers songs with lyrics. Roueche has learned their preferences while working the Association of Volleyball Professionals Tour for the last 18 years, doing his own research and receiving a volley of texts.

He also became the Lakers’ DJ shortly after completing his first Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. Roueche, 44, delighted Lucena in those Games by playing the Florida State fight song when the alumnus of the school was introduced to fans.

Veteran broadcaster Mike Tirico called Roueche “the MVP” of beach volleyball at Rio’s Copacabana Beach during those Olympics, after witnessing his connection with players and fans.

DJ Roueche, the Lakers’ in-game DJ, is finding ways to pump up beach volleyball athletes through sound at the crowd-free Tokyo Olympics.

“I would like to be best friends with Mike Tirico now,” said Roueche, as quick with a quip as he is with finding a song that captures the essence of the moment.

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Roueche was the Clippers’ DJ for 12 years before, as he puts it, “upgrading” to Los Angeles’ other NBA team. He’s stationed halfway up Staples Center behind one basket, though he might as well have set up wherever he wanted before the team welcomed fans back in April.

“I definitely was dominating at social distancing,” said Roueche, who received a 2020 NBA championship ring from the team.

Being the life of the party isn’t so much a privilege as a requirement when (almost) nobody’s listening. Among his primary missions at these Olympics is to avoid the malignant hush that can fall over a vacant stadium.

“Sometimes,” Roueche said, “silence is as loud as noise.”

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Far away from Tokyo, fans are being allowed to attend Olympic sporting events, but public sentiment toward the Games remains rooted in indifference.

Unleashing a sound he described as an electronic house vibe, Roueche is an instant energizer, even if he must occasionally revitalize himself with his own favorite tracks whenever he’s dragging.

Days spent at hot, sticky beach volleyball venues can stretch on like an endless summer. Roueche said each match is roughly the equivalent of working an NBA game, with more music jammed into a shorter period.

Had the stands been filled at these Games, Roueche said, he would have made his mix more interactive. Fans would be asked to stand up, clap their hands and make some noise.

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At many events, Roueche is the main draw. He’s worked pool parties, Hollywood after-parties and other high-profile events that have made him instantly recognizable among celebrities.

Whenever he works a sporting event, Roueche knows the athletes are the focus. He tailors his mix to their preferences only before competitions, when the mood is loose and neutrality is assured. Once the action starts, Roueche tries to remain impartial amid the constant churn of songs.

Matching his sound to the moment, Roueche provides an audible exclamation point to highlight plays. Blunders are accompanied by a more subdued sound.

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A native of northern Virginia with a love of music, Roueche moved to Southern California in the summer of 1997. His roommate was accepted into Loyola Marymount’s graduate school and said wistfully that it would be nice to head west with somebody he knew.

“I’ll go,” Roueche replied.

Several years later, Roueche ran into a former coworker and mentioned that he had gone from dabbling as a DJ to doing it full time.

“She’s like, ‘Oh, I know somebody that needs a DJ for some volleyball thing,’ ” Roueche said, “and that volleyball thing turned out to be the AVP.”

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Roueche has become friends with volleyball veteran Jake Gibb and scores of other players. They appreciate his talents as much as he admires theirs.

“With no fans,” Klineman said, “to have good music going is just another source of energy.”


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