The folks at Red Bull rounded up eight of L.A.'s hottest DJs for their international Thre3style DJ battle at Playhouse Hollywood on Wednesday Feb. 24. Eric DLux of Power 106 introduced Fashen, (Thee) Mike B, Cheapshot, Hoff, Politik, Prophet, Dirty Dave and Morse Code to the capacity crowd of necklaces and baseball caps.
Each DJ had 15 minutes to "rock the party" with a set that contained at least three different genres without computer-assisted beatmatching or mixing though use of Serato was still allowed. Judges J Rocc (Stones Throw), Gary Richards (HARD) and Jeremy Dawson (Shiny Toy Guns) awarded Morse Code as the night's winner. We spoke with him while the afterglow of victory was at its peak.
When did you become a DJ?
I started 13 years ago as a hobby in San Francisco where I'm from. I started digging for records around '95 and I got turntables in '97. That particular time was when scratching was big, battling was getting big and digging for records was getting really big. I came up in that culture and that was the apex of it all with cats like Z-Trip, Q-Bert, Invisibl Skratch Piklz and J Rocc and The Beat Junkies down here. Those were the cats that inspired me.
Amoeba Music in Berkeley was like Mecca for me back when it opened on Haight St. I went to high school down the street from there back in '98 or '97. What's cool is you come down here and dig through the used bins and you find things that you wouldn't find up in the bay area. Anywhere you go all over the world, you're going to find records based on where you're at. It has to do with the region.
When did you come down to LA?
I've been here since 2007. I lived in Echo Park when I first moved out here and now I live in West Hollywood.
How are the DJ cultures different in each city?
It's different in that the industry is here. San Francisco is a really creative place with tons of creative people. I'm fortunate that I still get to go up there to DJ at least once a month. Down here, you have the industry and scene-ish things going on but it's a whole different city. You can find so many different things to get into.
Is crate-digging a lost art nowadays?
It is in some ways. These kids have Serato now and they get lazy so I'm like "cool, more for me!" I still have tons of records and I haven't stopped. Sometimes I'll get a little lazy and stop by a boutique-type store and pick up stuff that's priced a little bit higher because I don't want to get my hands too dirty. I used to go to flea markets back in the day but not that much anymore. That's why I like to say "Y'all got your hard drives and MP3s which means more records for me so fuck it."
They had you guys using Serato on stage tonight. Was it tough transitioning from vinyl to Serato?
It was easy at first in the sense that I got everything that I needed to play at a mainstream club but when I started to specialize in certain types of sets, it became a long, arduous process because I had to rip all my records. That takes a really long time but I enjoy it in a way. Sometimes I'll take a whole afternoon, sit back and go through a fat stack of records. You know that you're getting the highest quality sound out of it from ripping your own records. You don't always know the quality of what you're getting when you're trading MP3's or you might be looking for stuff online but it might be in a low bitrate or it'll sound shitty in a club.
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I try to embrace everything because I feel it's very important to adapt especially when it comes to playing a lot of high-energy dance music. You find that everywhere nowadays. I don't own much of it on vinyl and, to be perfectly honest, I wouldn't want to own it on vinyl anyway. When it comes to records, I want old and rare Funk, Soul and Jazz or classic House or some hard-to-find Hip-Hop 12". Serato's cool because I can get tons of stuff I wouldn't want to own on vinyl. I can just get the MP3.
So what comes next for DJ culture in LA?
I have no idea. It's just like in any really big city, like say New York, where you can find anything you look for. Say you want to find a club where it's all vinyl and Deep Disco; you can find it if you look for it. If you want to go to a Hollywood club where they're all on Serato playing Top 40, you can find that too. You can find anything you want so it's hard to say what direction it's going to go in. Things come and go and it's hard to keep track of it. You just have to do what you feel.
Morse Code will represent Los Angeles at the national finals at Denver, CO in October.