By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
Rule number one for aspiring performers: Always know the room you're working.
After all, Ozzy Osbourne might be the self-proclaimed "Prince of Fucking Darkness," but when surrounded by high-powered, tight-ass pols at the recent White House Correspondents Dinner, he was dapper and well-behaved, with nary a dove sacrifice all night.
Jesse Fiese, better known to local clubheads as DJ Megadef, is another one with a gift for sizing up a crowd. Consider the turntablist contest at the recent Linkin Park show, before a sold-out America West Arena audience. Megadef's opponent, Neverland, delivered a standard set of turntable-scratching, the kind of performance he'd probably dish out at a local club on a weeknight. But Megadef was determined to get the angst-ridden, hard-rock crowd on his side, so he shrewdly took a Linkin Park record and beat-juggled it, shifting back and forth from one turntable to the other, while a pumped-up crowd roared in appreciation. Needless to say, Megadef walked away with the victory.
"It was different levels of game play," says David Dimmick, a.k.a. DJ Fact, Megadef's creative partner, roommate and best friend. "It was like playing old-school Nintendo and then playing a new PlayStation."
When he emerged on the scene four years ago as a cocky teenager, Megadef astounded locals with his outrageous turntable skills. Now, even as he approaches his 20th birthday (May 20), he still looks like a precocious adolescent, every bit the trash-talking, b-boy wonder of the Valley DJ scene. Alienated from his parents in his mid-teens, he had to grow up fast. But he's also been protected by the creative and quasi-parental guidance of Fact.
Short and scrawny, with a blond buzz cut, wire-rim glasses, Ross Perot satellite-dish ears and a crooked cross-section of choppers that he flashes with great regularity, Megadef could pass for Eminem's baby brother. Like the notorious white rapper, he conveys a comic -- almost cartoonish -- aura, even when he's mercilessly talking smack.
Megadef is infamous for calling out rival DJs, flipping the bird and hurling taunts of "fuck you schmuck" while he's scratching records and doing body tricks. On his new sophomore CD with Fact, Just Getting Started, his acknowledgements include a thank-you to "all you shit talking punks that fueled me," and a "special shout out" to "everyone who tried to keep us down -- you know who you are."
This kind of stuff is standard fare in New York, and it's a hard part of the Megadef/Fact approach. Fact grew up in Brooklyn, and took inspiration from the East Coast's artsy, underground hip-hop aesthetic. If Megadef is the technical genius of the duo, the guy who makes jaws drop with his acrobatic flair, Fact is the strategic mastermind. He's the one who's educated Megadef about jazz and blues, imbued him with the East Coast attitude, provided him with heavyweight connections, and tried to mold his colossal raw talent into something world-class.
In more ways than one, Fact is the young turntablist's guardian: creatively, technically -- even legally. Like a protective older brother, he makes a habit of clarifying or softening his friend's statements, so he won't be misunderstood. But even he couldn't keep Megadef from ruffling feathers.
"A lot of people take that personally," says Fact, the goateed, more mature and articulate half of the team. "I was born and raised in New York, and I just have that attitude. A lot of people get upset because they don't realize that it's a healthy level of competition and not that we're just trying to player-hate, or singling people out because we don't like them. Whenever we battle people, we're just trying to keep people on their toes, and stepping up the level of competition."
"No one's gotten physical yet. They're smarter than that. But we've had a lot of people running their mouths off," Megadef says.
But Megadef's penchant for ridiculing his peers has cost the duo bookings, with local competitors reportedly sabotaging their chances with promoters.
"It's a small scene, and things get back to you," Fact says. "I've heard instances where people are trying to badmouth us to promoters -- 'Those guys are jerks; don't book them, 'cause they've got a bad attitude.'"
Hurdles like that can be serious business on a local scene with diminishing options for underground DJs. Less than two years ago, Arizona Roadhouse and Nita's Hideaway had competing Tuesday night DJ showcases, with Megadef and Fact appearing regularly at the Roadhouse. Now the Roadhouse is history, as is Nita's "Funky Cornbread" night.
Meanwhile, the local rave scene has faced increasing scrutiny from authorities since Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano's bust in February 2000 on Ecstasy-peddling charges. Promoters, aware that the rave scene got out of control in the late '90s -- with drugged-out teenagers frequently running amok -- are trying to scale back: They talk of organizing fewer events, with emphasis on quality control.
But even while the Valley's rave scene is turning a corner into the unknown, Megadef and Fact don't seem too concerned. In fact, they took a sabbatical for much of the last year to hone their skills behind closed doors. And though they earn steady income by playing mainstream club gigs at Sanctuary and Axis/Radius, they've got their sights set on world domination.