As DJ Shoulders shovels a double McDonald’s Filet O’ Fish in his mouth while driving and listening to “Eye Of The Tiger,” he finds space between bites to shout with glee, “This is my song, man!” Your Spinal Tap senses should have already started tingling, but whether eating fried fish or exercising throughout a gig, Shoulders’ affect is never anything but earnest. “It just so happens to be aerobics music I’m very into,” he says, and Shoulders’ performances indeed reflect an unholy combination of Richard Simmons energy and sartorial singularity. Also known as DJ LeDeuce, AKA Adam Gruel, Shoulders wears bright orange jumpsuits, a wig, and substantial padding to live up to his name. His antics and insights were captured in an eponymous documentary short directed by Jennifer Kienzler and released in 2006; the doc resurfaced in 2020 with the untimely closure of Chicago watering hole and dance party magnet Danny’s Tavern, where Shoulders was a frequent provocateur.
“He really knows his own secrets” is perhaps the most diplomatic description offered of what exactly it is Shoulders does. It’s a kind of shock art for complacent dancers and especially other DJs, who he chastises for misbehavior like smoking cigarettes while playing: “You’re not waiting for a fucking bus.” He can start a set and knock over a glass while climbing a ceiling beam before the first record’s bassline drops. He scratches records by humping the turntable. He tries and fails to do clapping push-ups, somersaults mid-mix in his apartment with enough force to knock a bike off the wall, and otherwise gyrates and glitches. Somewhere in the chaos, he actually plays records, with party tunes like Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” peeking through. “Last call, last song, does not exist with Shoulders,” says a bartender, but he’s nonetheless AWOL, with Chicago Reader listing only three gigs since 2003. Whenever he does surface, just try to stay out of the splash zone. As he says himself: “You come into some lame-ass place… DJ Shoulders is here, have no fear.”