Southern California DJ EtRoNiK took the 2010 US DMC DJ Championship title Saturday night in New York at an entertaining DJ event that included not just scratching, beat-juggling, body-tricks and mixing, but also nunchucks & handcuffs, plus laughter & booing. By becoming the new US DMC Champion, DJ EtRoNiK, who hails from Pico Rivera in Southeastern Los Angeles County, is the first DJ in the US to represent the World in all 3 DMC World Battle Categories. The skilled and seasoned DJ was the DMC US Supremacy Champion 2006, DMC US Team co-Champion (The Angry Exs) 2008, and DMC West Coast Champion 2010. The runner up in Saturday's US Finals was Lakewood NJ DJ Steel, who is part of the Brick Bandits Crew and whose battle titles include the 2009 DMC New Orleans Champion, and the 2010 DMC San Antonio TX Champion. In third place was tireless veteran battle DJ Grandmaster Supreme, who back in 1991 took the NMS (New Music Seminar) DJ champion title (the year before Mixmaster Mike won the title in the legendary & long defunct NYC based annual NMS battles) and whose impressive battle routine Saturday night included a lot of dramatics and body tricks, including flipping a pair of nunchucks as he simultaneously worked the turntables.
Running from 5pm to 10pm at Santos Party House (the downtown Manhattan club co-owned by Andrew WK), the fun-packed five hour event included, in addition to the actual DJ battle, several impressive showcases. One was a jaw-dropping opening set by Rockin Rob. This old school hip-hop DJ, who plays 45s exclusively and all rare funk and breaks seven inches, is a sight to see as he effortlessly cuts and juggles (lots of quick mixes) without ever missing a beat. Everyone in the house loved his set, including the host (and unofficial star) of the night, the ever entertaining Kool DJ Red Alert. The pioneering hip-hop DJ, who used to host the DJ battles way back in the day and thankfully is back doing it again, is the perfect fit as host of the big DJ battle. He is both funny-as-hell and knowledgeable in the art of hip-hop battle DJ'ing, but more importantly, he's well able to good-humoredly deal with the contestants and the audience if and when either need to be kept in check.
"I went by the school, not to school," quipped Red Alert as he had difficulty in pronouncing contestant Juyadek's name during the competitors' introduction. For the US Finals twelve DJs, who had qualified from the US regional battles over the past several months, each got to perform a six minute routine that would be judged by a panel of five including DJ Roli Rho, Precision, DJ Slyce, Mista-B, and myself. As a judge I can testify that it was often difficult narrowing it down to just a top three since so many of DJs displayed equally high skills. In addition to the three that rated in the contest, my personal other favorite routines were by Florida's DJ Concept, South Carolina's DJ Swift, Denver's Cysko Rokwel, and DJ Notch, whose wonderful routine included working off a pair of Crown City Rockers 12" records.
Sometimes a long DJ battle event can be trying for even the most attentive audience, but host Red Alert never allowed things to lag and always kept the pace moving by peppering the proceedings with his witty quips. When any of the DJs ignored his "six minutes, time's up" notice to stop playing he simply leaned over the contestant's shoulders and potted down the mixer's sound for him, simultaneously making a smart comment at the offending DJ's expense. And when DJ B Money finished his overly expletive-based lyrics routine he shook his head and questioned why he had to have so much cursing in his set, especially with many kids in the all ages event. Around that same time in the evening he reached out his mic to let a seven year old DJ fan in the audience, who was up near the stage with his parents, say a quick hello. He then gave "much respect" to all the parents in the house who either both brought their offspring along with them or had encouraged them to get into hip-hop music, recalling how when his son was young he would bring him to his radio show. In fact, right after the battle the longtime NY radio fixture Red Alert was heading over to KISS FM to do his midnight two-hour old school show.
Of all the DJ routines of the night the most dramatic was by Grandmaster Supreme, who, based on the numerous battles I've seen him in over the years, can vary greatly in quality. On Saturday he was totally on point every step of the way with a set that included theatrics of the aforementioned nunchuck flipping body tricks, plus him smashing a record on the ground after he finished his set, after which he began to jump up and down onstage like a crazy man. The audience, many clearly already Supreme cheerleaders, loved it and screamed along in support. "What the hell is going on here?" asked Red Alert as the riled up audience continued cheering and screaming.
As the judges tallied up their individual votes and DMC organizer Christie Z Pabon in turn tallied up all of our votes to determine the top three, the music kept going with two tight sets by DJ Slyce (one of the night's judges but also the 2008 DMC World Vice Champion) and Mysterio. "The Hitchcock of Hip Hop" is how Mysterio bills himself but he could also be called the Houdini of Hip-Hop since part of his set Saturday night included him hand-cuffing his left wrist to his turntable yet still managing do his turntablist tricks. Impressive!
Even more impressive was the 30 minute showcase set that followed by the reigning DMC World Champion DJ Shiftee, who proved why he deserves his title and more. He had an action-packed, genre-shifting, jaw-dropping routine in which he magnificently manipulated two turntables, a mixer, a laptop, Traktor Scratch Pro, Maschine, and Kontrol x1. Afterward he told me, "I use Maschine and the Kontrol x1 as midi controllers for Traktor. In particular I use them to jump to cue points, load songs, turn on and off loops, and interact with effects in a more natural way than mouse and keyboard." His set also included his "Team America" routine, which was to encourage people to vote for him in the upcoming "America's Best DJ 2010" competition. (See his funny video all the way down the page.)
DJ Shiftee's set was so amazing that legendary hip-hop DJ Jazzy Jay from Soul Sonic Force fame, who was to follow Shiftee as the headlining final performer of the night, shook his head and said into Kool DJ Red Alert's ear, who was equally in awe/disbelief, "How am I supposed to follow this shit?" But before Jazzy Jay got to do his party rocking set, which was really good and the perfect end to a wonderful night, Red Alert took to the mic to announce the top three. And as he prepared to read off the three finalist's names, all the dozen contestants, including Skip Ripkin, DJ Image, and Jeff C, looked understandably anxious.
When Red Alert announced that Supreme was third in place, fans of the veteran DJ started booing and continued as Steel was announced runner up and EtRoNiK the winner. And the booing kept going intermittently even as the new US DMC champ was giving his acceptance speech. As EtRoNiK made his humble and gracious acceptance speech he gave sincere props to all he contestants of the night, especially those who were new to the battle, and as someone rudely booed loudly he said that it was reactions like that which only made him stronger and more determined to practice and get to where he was that night.
Earlier today I caught up with EtRoNiK, who had just arrived back in the LA area, to ask him what the next two plus months would look like for him as he faced an opportunity to take the world DJ title. "As soon as I came home from NYC I have been creating new sounds and thinking of new routines that can help make a better set for me than the one I did in New York," he said of his preparation for the World Finals in London in October. "That's just how I am; I am always trying to improve myself. I am so close to my goal, so 24/7 practice is my only option!"
The 2010 DMC World DJ Championships take place October 17 & 18th @ KOKO, 1a Camden High St, London NW1 England. For more info click here or read here. Thanks to "original hip-hop photographer" Joe Conzo (Born In The Bronx, etc.) for use of his photos in this article.
DJ Shiftee's Vote for America's Best DJ 2010 video