2011 US DMC champ DJ Vajra (this pic + all photos courtesy of Joe Conzo)"How long you been practicing?" host Lord Finesse quizzed DJ Immortal at last night's 2011 DMC US Finals DJ battle before the talented turntablist launched into a six minute routine that could determine the path of his future as a DJ. "My whole life," said the Florida DJ born Jamie Keogh, qualifying that ever since he started DJing at age 15 he has dedicated every spare moment to honing his craft as a DJ/turntablist in preparation for an opportunity like last night's big battle. As with each of the other anxious eleven contestants at yesterday's heated national DMC DJ finals, held at Santos Party House in New York City, (and all the other hard-working battle DJs who didn't quite make it as far as this final round) DJ Immortal, who earlier this year triumphed in the 2011 DMC New Orleans regional DJ battle, has spent literally thousands upon thousands of hours practicing the same moves over and over to the point of perfection so as to get to this stage. Indeed it is that level of love for the art, and that type of dedication/obsession that it takes to become a competing DMC battle DJ nowadays.
And while DJ Immortal's jaw-dropping display of rapid-fire, turntable trickery over some wicked hard hip-hop beats and breaks and scratch snippets that ranged from Jay-Z to Marvin Gaye didn't win him the new US DMC title last night (he came in fourth in a tie with 2010 Defending US Champ DJ Etronik from SoCal), it merely proved the high-caliber of this year's battle which was won by Colorado DJ Vajra who will go onto London, England in early October to represent the US in the 2011 DMC World DJ Championship finals. In close second and third place last night respectively were Virginia DJ I-Dee (2005 DMC US Supremacy & 2006 Gong Battle Champ - pictured below) and NYC DJ Precision (of Ill Insanity/ X-ecutioners fame - pictured above). Meanwhile in fifth place was a tie between Maryland's DJ As-One and Colorado DJ Cysko Rokwel. The runners up, all of whom also delivered most impressive routines, included California's DJ Shmeeze, DJ Qbase from Texas, Florida's DJ Concept, DJ Ohm from New Mexico, and DJ Fascinate from New Hampshire.
DJ Immortal (right) & DJ Vajra, 2011 DMC US champ (left). All pics courtesy of Joe Conzo
I-Dee (photo courtesy of Joe Conzo)Begun in the UK in the 1980's by Tony Prince the DMC (Disco Mix Club) battles have evolved from simply being a DJ battle based on mixing skills to ones that encompass the seemingly endless aspects of the hip-hop DJ (turntablist) including variations on the requisite scratching and beat juggling moves. Before last night's US Finals battle began, US DMC organizer Christie Z Pabon (a tireless ambassador of the hip-hop arts who has been instrumental in maintaining & pushing forth the DMC's credibility & importance) stressed to the judges that the focus of rating the dozen contestants should not be just showmanship & stage presence but more about actual skills: composition, creativity, originality, and execution. And of course overall technicality and musicality were to be taken into consideration too. The panel of judges, of which I was one, included DJ Woody, Mista B, DJ Slyce, Donnie Dee, Fatfingaz, Perseus, and the 1986 DMC World Champ DJ Cheese. Not judging but onstage and on the mic at one point was another DJ legend Jazzy Jay. Rob Swift was also in the house. For the battle each DJ would do the standard six minute routine working off of the provided Technics turntables and Rane mixer. For the first year ever in this battle DJs were allowed to bring their laptops to utilize Serato Live. All but the opening contestant DJ Fascinate took advantage of this new ruling. Hence he was the only contestant seen systematically tossing his pile of records onto the floor after he had utilized them in his routine.
Hip-hop legends in the house: L-R: Lord Finesse, Rob Swift, & Jazzy Jay (photo c/o of Joe Conzo)As with the previous DJ battles I've judged typically it's a tough call since the entrants are all extremely talented turntable artists, and this year they were closer in skills than ever before. Lord Finesse labeled last night's "one of the toughest battles" to judge. For the contestants themselves it's even tougher since all of their lives' work leads up to this point where they are on the spot, subjected to numerous variables including what must be the nerve-wracking experience of been under the pressure of those six minutes onstage that you know can make or break your career. Highlights of this year's dozen routines included Precision's (sporting a Roc Raida T-shirt) frantic but aptly precise beat juggling, I-Dee's almost-perfect, skills-driven, crowd pleasing set (done barefoot for extra comfort), the rapid cross-fader shredding of Cyso Rockwel over the spine-tingling bass beats he chose, the dramatic musical composition of DJ Shmeez's set with lots of bugged out sounds, and reigning champ DJ Etronik's set which fittingly opened with a sample of BDP's KRS-One's "I'm still #1" and featured such memorable moments as Rodney O & Joe Cooley's "Everlasting Bass" speeded up.
But ultimately it was the flawless, crowd-pleasing set by DJ Vajra that won him this year's battle. In those six minutes of his, Vajra effortlessly tore shit up on the ones and twos, simultaneously showcasing both his skills & presentation all with a constant keen ear for musicality, that deservedly won him the 2011 US DMC champion title. In accepting his 2011 DMC USA DJ Champ emblazoned letterman jacket plus the other numerous prizes at the end of the night he promised the audience and all his fellow DJs that he would go forward and do his best in representing his country in the 2011 DMC World DJ Championship finals in England in two months.
Surveying the nicely mixed audience at Santos Lord Finesse observed how, "This is the most women I've seen at a DJ battle" - a setting that traditionally tends to be a male dominated "sausage fest." And while last night's event certainly included more women in attendance than typically, onstage it was still a male dominated field with no female contestants out of the dozen battle DJs. But it should be noted that the two main people overseeing the event are both women; Christie Z and DMC Events Manager Sally (Mclintock) DMC over from the UK, plus such other hardworking DMC female staffers as Marilyn Alonzo. Regardless it was a non-stop fun night which, beyond the ever engaging spectacle of the competitive aspect of the heated DJ battle, the entire event (that ran five-plus hours) was a most entertaining and upbeat, fun event; one that amazingly rolled smoothly without one single glitch. In addition to the actual DJ battle portion of the evening, with hilariously funny commentary in between by hip-hop legend/DITC emcee Lord Finesse, who actually started out as a DJ first and DJ's regularly these days, who can justifiably add "stand-up comedian" to his title, there were excellent showcase sets.
These showcase DJ sets included the extended, opening one (a seamless mix of new and golden era hip-hop) by Texas DJ Donnie Dee that perfectly set the tone for the big event, and the three stellar showcase performances that closed the entertaining evening by DMC regular and 4onefunk member, San Francisco's Mista B, two time DMC World champ DJ Shiftee, and Manchester, England's DJ Woody whose spell-binding, mixed-media, Turntables In Technicolor skratch video set had people screaming in appreciation.
And what a fun-filled night it was! As the club lights flickered on and folks reluctantly began to filter out the club and head out into a rainy New York City night outside, Lord Finesse enthused what a "great night" it was and how for the relatively low $15 ticket price ($20 at the door) people got more than their money's worth! For details on the upcoming 2011 DMC World Championship finals in London Oct 8th and 9th, which I am hoping to attend and report on here on the Amoeblog, check out the official DMC website.
Special thanks to Joe Conzo ("Born In The Bronx") for permission to use his wonderful photos in this Amoeblog.
The women of the DMC - Christie Z Pabon + Sally DMC, along with Rosie Lopez (VP of Tommy Boy & co-founder of Tommy Boy's Silver Label) - pic courtesy of Joe Conzo