[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Many months before Miley Cyrus caused your grandmother to awkwardly inquire about "the twerking," DJ A-Tron had acquired the nickname "the Twerk King."
It wasn't a testament to the 20-year-old's dance moves but rather a reflection of the "bend over to the floor and touch your toes" reaction that his sets induce. Right now, the Playa del Rey-raised A-Tron might be the most in-demand underground street rap DJ in the city.
Over the last month, he's triggered the turn-up at lunchtime high school pep rallies in South Central, Hollywood nightclubs, rich-girl Sweet 16s, mansion parties and dubiously legal warehouse raves. He has 85,000 Twitter followers and his mixes on Soundcloud regularly clock 50,000-plus listens -- all through word-of-mouth and viral online sharing.
"It's super fun seeing the crowd's reaction and being able to manipulate people's emotions. It's just, like, 'I have this power?' " A-Tron says, a few hours before he's slated to rock the Compton High School homecoming.
It's a rare moment of respite in an increasingly booked schedule. A-Tron is idling by the backyard pool at the Inglewood studio he shares. The nephew of legendary L.A. producer DJ Battlecat, A-Tron wears a variation of the 2013 streetwear uniform: gray "DOPE" sweatshirt, light beard, blue jeans, a Chicago Bulls snapback and Air Jordans.
"The secret is being creative," A-Tron says, trying to pinpoint a reason for his ascent. "Techno and house DJs get creative with their sets, but a lot of rap DJs don't. I've been trying to be that creative with hip-hop.
"It's easy to get music. Every DJ has the same songs. So to be really top-notch, it's how you play them and mix them together."
The last two years of West Coast rap will be remembered for the reign of ratchet. If you're at a party in L.A., odds are you'll hear at least five songs from the genre's producer king, DJ Mustard, during any given hour ("Paranoid," "Burn Rubber," "My N **A").
"People do want to hear things they haven't heard, but it has to be ratchet. People just want to hear the new ratchet sound," A-Tron says. "I just DJ'd an elementary school and the kids were, like, 'We want it ratchet, we want it turned up.' "
So A-Tron abides -- estimating that he must've played more than 100 Mustard songs on Halloween.
What sets him apart is his ability to read the audience and willingness to mix in sped-up old New Orleans bounce tracks and Atlanta crunk to add variety, but still sustain a twerk-the-club-up frenzy.