By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Thursday, October 15, 6:50 p.m. I’m in Vegas, on the way from airport to Palms Hotel. In half an hour, the DJ Hero battle will begin: West Coast Sound vs. Z-Trip. Focus. I’ve had 10 years to learn Technics technique. Countless hours in front of the decks, matching beats, absorbing breaks, tweaking pitch, all leading up to this moment.
7:18 p.m.: Arrive at Z-Trip’s room. The highly anticipated DJ Hero game is released to the public on October 27, but DJ Z-Trip has made tracks for it, so was able to score an advance, and an X-Box, which is set up in a hotel room.
Z-Trip’s practicing on his (real) turntables in an adjoining room. The following night, he will debut his weekly Friday residency at Rain, a Vegas mega–dance club. It’s a bittersweet entry: Rain is one of the most high-profile DJ club gigs in the country — Paul Oakenfold holds court every Saturday night — but Z-Trip will be assuming a residency that, tragically, became open after DJ AM died in September.
7:24 p.m.: Double beds, big flat screen, X-Box sitting on the desk, with two little toy turntables the size of textbooks. The round record platter has three color-coded buttons on it: green, red, blue, and next to it, a crossfader like you’d find on your everyday mixer. Pretty basic setup. Z-Trip is still next door practicing, psyching me out.
7:26 p.m.: Z-Trip — real name Zach Sciacca — arrives. He looks vaguely superstarish, with the confident air of someone who gets flown to Las Vegas to perform — like Frank Sinatra, Elvis or Celine Dion. We shake hands. He’s not so tough. I will smush him like a bug.
The contestants: West Coast Sound’s largest-ever crowd performance was about 700, at a warehouse party in St. Louis (Big Pink Brains, people!). Specialty: minimal German and Detroit techno, microhouse, Chicago house.
Z-Trip’s resumé is long: too many massives to mention. He’s the creator, along with DJ P, of the influential Uneasy Listening mixtape (which begins with a beautifully deranged version of Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” reworked as “Rhinestone B-Boy”). His decadelong ascension has been gradual and deliberate. He’s done Coachella, has toured the world. He once deejayed Bonnaroo — between sets by Phil Lesh and Phish. (That takes balls.) He not only knows how to get the party started, he knows how to sustain it, push it, bring it to a sample/mash-up/chaotically organized fever pitch.
7:29 p.m.: Z-Trip shows me a little scab on his finger. “I cut my finger making a salad the other day.” So what? No excuses.
7:35 p.m.: The game allows you to pick your DJ avatar, as well as its outfit, turntable setup, turntable skins, and some other meaningless extraneous information. You can pick whether the event is at a big club or a block party. Z-Trip’s avatar is a skinny, meth-head, Mohawked hillbilly named Cletus Cuts. I pick a very muscular Marine-looking dude, named, oddly, Jugglernord, and am wearing camouflage like an S1W.
7:40 p.m.: Battle No. 1. Like in Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the games that DJ Hero so closely mimics, you follow along with music and do maneuvers based on aspects of the song. In Guitar Hero, you strum and fret and move while, say, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” plays. In DJ Hero, you thump fingers, scratch, crossfade and tone-bend while, on the TV screen, players follow the needle along the vinyl groove. It’s a pretty cool setup, actually.
Z-Trip is in command from the start. Within 30 seconds, he’s leading. Punch with greater accuracy, idiot! Get rhythm. Here comes a scratch moment. I hit the blue button and zip the platter back and forth, causing a scratch to roll along with the 2Pac bed. Oh, yes. Funky. We plonk along. I’m gaining ground, taunting Z-Trip: “You DJs are frauds, all of you! This is easy!”
7:44 p.m.: It is. It’s too easy. Between beats, Z-Trip starts freestyling, scratching like he would at a club. But wait a minute. I’m winning now. Apparently his freestyling was costly, and points were deducted for playing outside the lines. We opt to start over.
7:47 p.m.: We up the ante, and move to Medium. Now we’re dealing with the crossfader as well. We begin, and I’m clumsy from the start. The mash-up is Daft Punk’s “Le Funk” vs. “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen. It’s getting a little trickier: We’re expected to punch dots while scratching and sampling, and the crossfading comes while all this is happening. I fail miserably. I’m all over the track like a text-happy sorority girl on a highway.
Z-Trip wins No. 1 big time. He brushes off the victory like a true star: “I didn’t even see it happen,” he jokes. “I was talking to a chick.” Battle No. 2, however, something happens. Maybe it’s the track — Fedde Le Grand, “Put Your Hands Up for Detroit” vs. Sandy Rivera and David Penn, “I Can’t Stop (David Penn Remix)” — but I get on a roll with the scratching and the fading, I’ve found rhythm, and take a huge victory. Z-Trip acknowledges what is obvious: “You schooled me.”