Going to a hockey game is fun for a lot of reasons: The breakneck pace of the game, the physical game play, the fights, the goals and the music. Let's face it: Hockey has always had a bit of a leg up on the other North American sports for music. While the hegemonic NFL uses a lot of Top 40 and classic stuff, the MLB uses a lot of corny stuff and brief walk-up music, the NBA uses some rap and some stock beats during possessions, the NHL has always been more dynamic. An NHL DJ needs music to play for the team on the power play and the penalty kill, during a fight, after the fight (if the home player wins or loses), if the home team scores a goal or if they allow a goal, and so on and so forth.
For as much nuance the game of hockey has, the craft of putting music to the game requires just as much, if not more nuance. You have to capture the emotions of the game and crowd into a song, for three periods and for a multitude of changing conditions. For Dallas Stars arena DJ Michael "Grubes" Gruber, this is his life.
Only in his second season manning the DJ booth at American Airlines Center, Grubes is living out the dream of so many hockey fans. Grubes' tenure with the Stars was the result of a decade-long build-up. Beginning with cult local sports radio station The Ticket, Grubes made a name for himself in Dallas sports circles as one of the premier audio engineers in the city. His time with The Ticket would give Grubes his introduction with the Stars organization because of the station's coverage of the team's games.
When the music director, Jeff Kovarsky, departed from the role in 2013 to take over as the Stars' PA announcer, the opportunity opened up for Grubes to take a shot at the position. After an interview with the Stars brass which Grubes describes as a "feeling out process," he was named the new arena DJ for the Stars.
"The thing that really that kind of pushed me into the job was Jeff K. We used to work together when we were both at The Bone 93.3 way back in the day," explains Grubes. "So when the DJ position became open, he threw out my name. I had one lunch with the game entertainment director Jason Danby and that was that."
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Grubes has aspired to change the way the Stars approach music. He has done this with a series of initiatives to try to keep the music fresh while making it fit the game of hockey and, more importantly, the Dallas Stars' personality. This is no easy task. First, he phased out a great deal of organ music of the Stars' repertoire. Grubes explains that while organ music works for teams like those in the Original Six (Rangers, Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Maple Leafs and Canadiens), the Stars have only been around for 20 years. Their history is not tied to "old time hockey" as much as their history is their own. For Grubes, it is his mission to make the music scream "Dallas Stars hockey."
Another initiative of Grubes' to help with his mission is the changing of the Stars' goal song. When Grubes took over the DJ gig, he was asked what he would like to change about the Stars' current music program. He immediately declared his intention to change the goal song from "The Whip" by Locksley to "Puck Off" (known to most as "The Dallas Stars Song") by Pantera. In doing so, Grubes changed the song from a relatively stock one (over half the league uses "The Whip" as a goal song) to a song that is intimately connected to the Stars' locale and history. "It's pretty much Pantera or bust for the goal song," insists Grubes.
His third initiative was to incorporate video game music (the genre is commonly known as "chiptune") and movie scores into his repertoire. The result has been met with acclaim. Grubes recalls a recent game where he played music from the Legend of Zelda and a fan tweeted at him asking if that's what he was playing. Grubes refers to use of songs like this as "easter eggs" and is pleased when fans catch it. For fights, he opts to use music from the Nintendo classic Mike Tyson's Punch Out in lieu of the more common Beastie Boys' "Fight For Your Right To Party".
He also refers to the musical scores from films like The Dark Knight and 300 for inspiration and conveyance during games. To this point, Grubes is very conscious of the cinematic aspect of sporting events. After all, a sporting event is a zero sum game being contested at high intensity. Anything can happen. Using music like Hans Zimmer's thunderous Dark Knight score can only help to add gravitas to the game being played.
Some of that includes fielding suggestions from the fans. "I don't know how it was with other DJs. but with how social media is today, fan interaction has become important for me," Grubes says. "Fans have been amazing at giving so many suggestions and ideas."
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At the end of the day, the Stars organization has one goal in mind: the Stanley Cup. This is as true for Tyler Seguin as it is for Grubes. When the Stars were surprise entrants into last year's playoffs, Grubes got to pick the team's playoff anthem: Metallica's haunting "Nothing Else Matters." "It basically became the theme song for the Stanley Cup run," he says. "Everybody went nuts for that because of the nostalgia and cause it's a really intense song." While the team may have been bounced out of the competition early, the mentality has remained the same for the team. Nothing else does matter for Grubes or Lindy Ruff or Jason Spezza.
Grubes does not liken himself to a simple DJ, like one you'd see at a wedding. Rather, Grubes recognizes that his job can help to get a crowd back in to the game or help to keep momentum going. Being an arena DJ is important because it is just as big a part of home ice advantage as the frozen surface itself. Seguin's got his stick, Ruff's got his clipboard and Grubes has his songs. After all, it is a team effort that wins games.
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