DJ Chronicles – 3: I, Turntablist.

So I’m fresh out of college with my degree in Creative Writing, and a minor in Music Recording that I was only a few units short of finishing, a pair of ungently-used turntables, a beginner’s-level mixer, and a bedroom full of records. Now what?

Well, I managed to make a few contacts thru working at the radio station, and was invited to a few DJ-themed events. In 1997, I witnessed my first live DJ battle. To me, DJ battles were always much more interesting than MC or rap battles. I’d seen some videos of DJs doing tricks with records, but to see it in person was just plain awesome. Of course, my analytical brain just had to figure out how they were making new beats and patterns by scratching, cutting and backspinning the vinyl and manipulating the cross-fader on the mixer. I went home and started practicing, and through trial and a whole lot of error, taught myself a few tricks. (Here’s a younger, slimmer me doing a simple beat juggling routine with a couple of Wu-Tang Clan records.)

Even though I was a little bit older than the average competitor, I jumped headfirst into the funky-fresh world of Turntablism. By 1999, I was entering DJ competitions on my own. My very first one didn’t go so well; in fact, it was a disaster. I had the exceptionally not-new idea to end my routine by scratching the record using my lips. When I practiced at home it went fine… because I wasn’t wearing a hat. When I tried to do it on stage in front of dozens of people, I was wearing a hat, and instead of my lips touching the record, the bill of the cap I was wearing hit the platter first, and made an altogether unpleasant thud that elicited more laughter than applause.

But, contrary to my character at the time, I didn’t quit. I entered more battles, never did the lips trick again, and managed to place in the running a few times, and even win a couple of local competitions. The most well-known national and international DJ competitions were I.T.F., DMC, and the Guitar Center Spin-Off. Along with New York City, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles was an extremely competitive market. Just being “good” wouldn’t cut it in this neck of the woods; you needed to be better than better than the next guy. The next 10 or so guys, actually.

I never got past the prelims in any of the L.A. DMC battles. I came within one round of advancing to the national level of competition in the short-lived I.T.F. battles (shady judging maneuvers kept me out of that one). In 2002, I won the West Covina Guitar Center Spin-Off, and advanced to the Los Angeles regionals, where I came in… second place. Again, just a decimal point or two away from the national stage.

I was proud of the progression of my talent, and when I moved to Minnesota in 2003, I sought out other venues to show off my sick skillz. I advanced to the Detroit regionals in the 2005 Guitar Center Spin-Off, and came in second, again. I placed third in the DMC when they brought it to Minnesota in ’06 (mainly because there were no prelims, and they brought in a ringer to take first place). Seems I was destined to be always the bridesmaid turntablist, never the bride.

Still, I felt I had given battling my best shot, and I still liked mixing and rocking parties, so, the next stop for me was a headlining gig at a big downtown nightclub.

Or not.

To Be Continued…

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