Collective Chaos on Misconceptions About Scottsdale DJs
Collective Chaos: MastaMonk (left) and Thomas James.
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"Four turntables, two DJs, one powerful sound." That's the phrase that the computer-generated vocal drop states at the beginning of Collective Chaos' epic, hourlong megamix "Riot," and it's a pretty fitting description of the DJ/production team of MastaMonk and Thomas James.
The duo, which regularly haunts such Old Town Scottsdale joints as Smashboxx and El Hefe, is mostly known for its high-energy club ragers, which causes the Forever 21-wearing crowd to lose their shit via electro and dubstep-heavy bootlegs and remixes. MastaMonk and James admit, however, that they're in the process of mixing in more original tracks into both their sets and upcoming EP, which should drop sometime later this year.
"At first remixing was our bread and butter, but now we are really focusing on creating a unique sound that people will instantly recognize as Collective Chaos," they say. "With our new EP coming out, I'm sure people will be excited to rock out to our new sound."
See what else that the pair had to say, including why they're a cut above other local EDM/producer duos, in this week's edition of DJ Dossier.
Names: Anthony Martinez Biggers, Jr. and Thomas James Hanson
AKA: MastaMonk and Thomas James
Genres: Collective Chaos combines the electro infused sounds and intricate mixing skills of DJ Thomas James and the live keyboarding, turntablism, remixing abilities, and hip-hop background of DJ MastaMonk to provide an experience like none other.
What's the origin story behind Collective Chaos? We used to be roommates and jammed out together all the time. During that time [we] found out that our different styles worked very well together and decided to try out a duo for fun. A little over two years later and it hasn't stopped yet.
Where have you performed? Collectively and individually we have played many venues, probably too many to name, but a highlight would definitely have to be when we played [for] 5,000 people at Mesa Amphitheater with Lupe Fiasco. It was an unreal experience.
Which bygone clubs do you miss the most? Thomas James: I've had some really good times at Myst. Opening up for Above and Beyond was a surreal experience and being able to talk with three of my inspirations and be spoken to as a peer was great.
MastaMonk: Six. It's where I got my Scottsdale start. Dirty Pretty and PCL are a close second. Being able to see Arizona legends like Fashen and D-JR on a weekly basis...I was spoiled.
What's the craziest shit you've seen at a gig? El Hefe's Sundays get pretty wild, but one week some poor girl was dancing on a booth and fell off to a dull thud. The entire party stopped for what seemed like an hour -- in actuality only seconds -- but then out of nowhere she popped up from what everyone thought was surely death with her drink still in hand and the party went on. After that day they installed a retractable safety bar known as the "Tommy Bar."
No Thomas, we won't pull your finger, but we'll listen to your mixes.
How do you differ from other local DJ duos? Basically, there's always something going on hence the "chaos." The way that we play is like no other duo because we both have a job in the duo and it comes together seamlessly, [hence the] "collective." We are a live remix show, simply put. Mastamonk plays synth leads over tracks and uses his turntablism background to add scratching and loops to songs. Thomas carefully selects the music and mixes the tracks creatively adding effect combinations to make a song that you love into something even better or into something that keeps you guessing what's next.
We treat it equal parts business and art. We want to build a product that is unique and exciting. Treating it as a business is what separates the talented DJ from the successful talented DJ. Not to mention the live synth playing and on the fly remixing.
What are the biggest misconceptions that people have about Scottsdale DJs? A lot of people think Scottsdale DJs are only out for the "booze and bitches." [We] cant say we don't drink, but its not the reason we are in this. There's 21 years of DJ experience between us, we actually care about the state of nightlife and entertainment here in our city, as well as a few others out here.
Best thing about being a DJ, in your opinion? Booze and bitches...just kidding. The best thing has to be being able to do what we both love for a living. Only a select few get to make a career in music their job, we are just happy that we are fortunate enough to do this and wake up with smiles on our faces after all the long nights and crazy parties. But we wouldn't have it any other way.
And the worst? A lot of people don't realize what we sacrifice for others to have a great time. On holiday weekends where others go out and party with friends and family, we are working. We are there making sure you are having fun. Not to mention no paid sick days, no health insurance provided by employers, and other benefits provided to the nine-to-fivers. Also the strain it puts on relationships. It's almost near impossible for our girlfriends to understand what's demanded from us and for them to deal with us and our jobs
How do you go about crafting your beats? We work together on a Logic Pro, using a midi keyboard and a Moog synth.
What's the key to a good gig? Promoting the gig so people actually show up. But honestly the most important thing is to realize that we are also there to play for the crowd, not just ourselves. Too many DJs will only play what they like, all while there are hundreds of people in the club, each with different tastes in music. The key to a good gig is balancing everything that we may like with what people want to make everyone have an amazing time while feeding them a few new tracks they might have never known.
What's your favorite track of the moment? Zedd, "Spectrum"
How do you create energy in your mixes? We play things people know and love, but then add our original spin. We make people feel comfortable by playing familiar, but then we add keyboard, talk box, turntablism, and effects to make our sound powerful, unique, and full of energy.
How do you pick the songs you remix? We generally look for popular songs that might need a bit more energy or a unique spin. People like to sing a long with popular tracks, we just add a build and an infectious drop so people can get really excited about a song they have heard a million times.
Is there a secret to crafting a great set? Craft is a good word to use, because you are actually trying to craft a set that is entertaining. In order to build something amazing you need amazing ingredients. In DJing those ingredients are your songs, your programming, your stage presence, and your overall mixing talent. Put those things together with skill and you'll always have an effective set.
What do y'all do collectively as a duo that you wouldn't be able to do separately? Everything. Thomas has a house background and Monk has a turntablist background, which gives us the unique advantage of combining talents to create something better than we are individually. But honestly it surprises us how many duos exist that play just as well together as either one of them could do individually, there's no difference booking the duo as opposed to booking one or the other individually.
Are there ever any arguments on how to create a mix or lay down a track? We call them "discussions" but that is the advantage of having two heads instead of one in the creative process. We have great communication, which helps us rationally deal with differences and turn them into positives. Each of us as Thomas James or MastaMonk have our own identity and sound, but we also realize that Collective Chaos is its own identity seperate from our own. That is what helps us to differentiate from how we would do a mix or track as if it were our own or if it's as the duo.
Collective Chaos is scheduled to perform at 9 p.m. on Sunday, September 9, at El Hefe. Admision is free.
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