When Wasted Space had some space going to waste, it didn’t have to go far to fill it.
Management sparked the solution by getting a VIP host up onstage and behind what was an idle drum set. As the DJ continued his set in the booth, the host drummed along to the beat and just had some fun—and the crowd loved it.
General manager Leo Mancuso was well aware that Dustin Johnson knew his way around a drum kit long before he asked him to get onstage that night. The mohawk-sporting host had previously convinced his boss to let his band, the Sprockets, play a show using the Wasted Space stage.
“He asked me one night if his band could play, so I let them play on an off-night,” Mancuso says. So, when he needed someone to play with the DJ that night, he knew whom to ask.
The act is now called 51 Fifty, and Johnson performs with DJ Presto One, who came into the picture a few months after Johnson’s “spur of the moment” drumming-with-the-DJ debut. (Johnson and DJ Justin Hoffman also performed together for a while, but “Just Dust” didn’t stick.)
“It was a bunch of different DJs at first, and then Presto One came along and locked it down,” Johnson says.
The two started playing together in November and have gone on to develop a respectable following for their twice-weekly gigs on Wednesday and Saturday nights.
The name 51 Fifty was inspired by Van Halen’s 1986 record, 5150, and Easy-E’s five-song EP, 5150: Home 4 Tha Sick. Presto One came up with the name, figuring if Van Halen and Easy-E could be united by 5150, he (the Friday night resident at Vanity) and Johnson (a through-and-through rocker) could be, too.
The name is about musical diversity. “We cover all kinds of songs, from Jay-Z all they way to Hollywood Undead, Rage Against the Machine and LMFAO,” Presto One says.
The varied set list generates a unique energy during their shows. “It’s a mix between a live rock show and a club,” Presto One says.
“They like it because it’s songs they know,” Johnson says. “It’s dancy, it’s clubby, but it’s live.”
So far it’s working. “The crowd has doubled since we started doing this,” Mancuso says, noting the crowd that turns out for 51 Fifty is generally split 50-50, tourists-to-locals.
Despite their success, comparisons to TRV$ DJAM—Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker’s collaboration with the late DJ AM (Adam Goldstein)—abound.
“We can’t escape it,” Presto One admits. “But we’re definitely not going to make our performance just like theirs.”
Johnson doesn’t fight the comparisons. Instead, he says TRV$ DJAM were innovators and he hopes 51 Fifty will not just continue, but build upon their tradition. “We want to take the core of what they started,” he says, “and take the next step.” 51 Fifty plays Wasted Space at the Hard Rock Hotel on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Their first set starts between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, and cover is $10.
51 Fifty plays Wasted Space at the Hard Rock Hotel on Wednesday and Saturday nights. Their first set starts between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, and cover is $10.