One of the most viscerally exciting things in life is competition, and music is no exception. While we are more apt to talk about battling in terms of MCs, it's just as important when it comes to DJ culture.
Friday night Red Bull Thre3style Massive brings some of the rising stars in the competitive DJ community to town for a night of beats and party-rocking, all while raising money for Girls Rock Camp Houston.
Headlining the show is a legend when it comes to the world of competitive DJing: A-Trak. Back in '97 he won his first world championship at the age of 15, the first of five world championships he'd collect. Since then he's collaborated with Kanye West and Armand Van Helden, started his own record label (Fool's Gold), and fused the sounds of hip hop and dance music to craft original tracks and remixes that have made him a star in both communities.
While battling may be half a lifetime ago, A-Trak is still a DJ at heart. We caught up with him talk about the past both distant and recent.
Rocks Off: Early in your career you won your share of DJ championships. Do you ever miss the battles?
A-Trak: A little bit, but that scene is not what it was ten or 12 years ago when I was doing battles. It's not even something I could go back to because it was a whole nother time. That was a slice of time where turntablism was thriving and those battles were the center of a whole explosion.
Do I miss parts of it? Sure, but what I miss is the fuel and motivation I got from the battles and the camaraderie with the other DJs. So I just try and transfer that elsewhere. I try to get my fuel from other things. I befriend DJs in other ways, and that's fine with me.
RO: Do you still see yourself as a DJ first/producer second or do you even worry about labels?
AT: What keeps me excited and stimulated and I think what defines what I stand for as an artist is the balancing act of everything. I couldn't see myself as only a DJ. I do think DJing is the nucleus of what I do but I love making tracks and that fulfills another part of my brain.
Even running a record label and getting involved in the artwork to the videos -- it's that full picture that's interesting to me.
RO: How will you remember 2012?
AT: I think it's been a great year. There's a lot of things have been exciting for me this year. Part of it has been the kind of been a return to hip-hop for me and the label that I'm excited about, not that I ever really left it. Hip-hop is the foundation of my music and a lot of what we do at the label.
Another highlight is also quite recent. I put out an EP called Tuna Melt, and technically speaking it's my first solo EP/proper release. I've had songs over the years and I've done a ton of remixes but I haven't really released that much standalone original A-Trak music. To have this EP come out is exciting to me because it's a step toward an actual album.
This year if anything it feels like there's a resurgence of the underground. Electronic music became really commercial last year. 2011 is when the word EDM came out for better or worse. All eyes were on DJs.
And this year there's cooler stuff and more underground sounds coming out in reaction to some of the commercialization. I'm happy to see DJs make weird music. And weird to me is one of the most positive epithets in the English language.
A-Trak performs at the MC Skillz-hosted Redbull Thre3style Massive DJ competition, alongside Toy Selectah, RL Grime, Four Color Zack, Nedu Lopes and DJ Drummer 8 p.m. Friday at Stereo Live, 6400 Richmond, www.stereolivehouston.com. All money at the door goes to our friends at Girls Rock Camp Houston.
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