"This kid's gonna be the biggest superstar DJ to ever come out of this place," says DJ Fact, pointing to his partner, Megadef. The two turntablists are sitting at a quiet Tempe restaurant, and the younger Mega, glasses magnifying a baby face, mutters a bashful "We'll see . . ." to the declaration.
It would be an understatement to say Mega looks an unlikely candidate for Arizona turntablism's great white hope. But it's not for lack of style -- the kid sports baggy gear and a crooked New York cap, spitting out street slang that might even confuse Ol' Dirty Bastard -- it's just that Megadef only recently passed his 18th birthday, and prodigies are in such short order in this town that it's a little off-putting to find juniors this talented.
Megadef began his fast education in spinning vinyl little more than two years ago, and quite by accident.
"I was just getting heavy into hip-hop," he remembers, grinning. "I didn't have turntables -- didn't really give a fuck about it; I used to write and shit. And one day I was taking out the garbage and I heard this clunk in the garbage can, and I looked in and saw two old-ass belt-driven Technics. I was like, 'Goddamn, maybe I'll DJ and shit. So I fished them out, went to Style Rock and bought like an $80 Gemini [mixer] and just took it from there.'"
Around the same time Megadef was trash-diving for Technics, Fact was hitting some early-life crises (he's now 24) and looking to channel his frustrated energies into something productive. Like so many other creative births, it came in the wake of a crumbled relationship. Candidly, Fact explains, "I'll be straight up: I was with a girl for a long time; things didn't work out so well after like seven years. I had nothin' to do, I was goin' crazy -- got hooked on a bunch of weird drugs and shit, and decided one day to get turntables 'cause I missed some good hip-hop. It was an addiction from there."
The two met at a record store a year and a half ago, forming a partnership known as T3 -- Technical Turntable Tactics (which also includes their MC, Bazooka Joe). Almost immediately, Fact and Megadef found a certain unique chemistry born of their diverse strengths. Fact comes from a rich musical background and is proficient on a number of instruments; Megadef has no musical background, except, he jokes, "I used to play the flesh flute a few years before." As they explain and their performances demonstrate, Fact hits it up from a musical perspective, shooting for sharpness in the cuts and mixes, while Megadef comes heavy with the technique, then smoothes it out as he goes. The two divergent approaches compensate for each other, expanding the sound as a whole.
Lately the duo has shown up everywhere around town, opening De La Soul's Spitkicker show, playing in artsy venues like Lucky Dragon and recently becoming the Arizona Roadhouse's regular Tuesday-night DJs (former resident DJs Stefascope and My Friend Andy have moved to the Roadhouse's Thursday-night spot). They've also thrown their own Sweat the Technique events, bringing out notorious East Coast DJs like the X-Ecutioner's Total Eclipse and Fifth Platoon's Roli Rho to rock the tables alongside local talents like M2 and Tricky T.
The reference is an important one; it's Fact and Megadef's East Coast stylings that separate them from the majority of the Valley's DJs. They put emphasis on beat juggling, battling and body tricks, while most locals stick with the scratch-and-mix formula. Beat juggling involves alternating segments of two records (sometimes duplicates of one record) to form a unique rhythm. It's a difficult style and one popularized by New York's X-Ecutioners (née X-Men) in the early '90s. "Beat juggling is like algebra," Fact says. "You need to know the theory behind it for it to work. Ninety-nine percent of the kids out here can't do it well; they don't have the mindset."
Battling is another area of turntablism that doesn't get the same kind of play out West. "People can't let it not get personal," says Fact. "Battling is really just about trying to better yourself and the people you're battling. You're exchanging ideas in a competitive way and just trying to make yourselves excel. But out here, when you do it, people take it personally and a friendly battle turns into 'I'm gonna kick your ass after the show.'"
"They get all butt-hurt and shit," adds Megadef.
"But we try to hold it down, because it's an essential part of coming up as a DJ," Fact continues. "You need to battle. It's one of the only ways you're going to get better; if you get beat, you wanna book that much harder to do it better next time."
As battle competitors go, Megadef may be the most proficient in the region. In a head-to-head with Funky Cornbread resident Tricky T at a recent Sweat the Technique show, Mega took the classic New York strategy, juggling insults ("Tricky T, fuck your beat," "Tricky T, you gotta struggle to juggle"), mixing one-handed while flipping off his opponent and busting out body tricks Valley crowds rarely see: spinning around backward, mixing under his leg and sliding the fader with his stomach while both hands controlled the records. Megadef's hand-beat coordination is, quite simply, unbelievable; even while busting the acrobatics the rhythm never flags.