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Teenagers often have little, if any, idea what they'll do when they grow up. Not so with Kristopher Chupp.
The late Valley resident decided in his early adolescence he wanted to become a DJ. As Chupp told Phoenix New Times in a 2010 interview, he made this life-altering decision during his a visit to now-defunct local rink Skate World in the early ‘90s.
“From the first time I went to [that] roller rink, all I ever wanted to be was a DJ,” he said.
After picking the stage name DJ Steel (“It sure sounded good to a 13-year-old me”), Chupp began following his dreams. It led to much success in the local DJ/dance scene and became his lifelong pursuit almost up to his death on July 12 due to complications from COVID-19. He was 42.
Chupp was a longtime staple of Valley nightlife. He amassed a lengthy resume of residencies at Tempe and Scottsdale clubs – past and present – over the past two decades, including such bygone joints as the Crown Room, Pussycat Lounge, and American Junkie. He also traveled to Las Vegas for gigs at the old CatHouse nightclub at The Luxor and other Sin City spots.
Chupp loved to perform, particularly at Scottsdale clubs. "As a DJ, you feed off the energy of the crowd,” he said during his 2010 interview with New Times. “There's nothing like a special event in Old Town; it's something that I am lucky enough to be part of and am grateful for every night I work.”
For the past few years, Chupp was working at all three Dierks Bentley's Whiskey Row locations in the Valley as a resident DJ and entertainment director for the chain of country bars. (He also performed at its Nashville location.) Chupp built a following in the local country dance community with his weekly sessions spinning country and rock tunes at the Whiskey Row in Gilbert.
Long before he was getting people scooting boots on the dance floor, though, Chupp was cutting his teeth at parties during the ‘90s heyday of Phoenix’s rave scene.
Jonathan Valdez, better known as DJ Akshen, remembers interacting with Chupp in those days and how he had a willingness to learn the finer points of working a turntable.
“He was just a teen back then, but he had a lot of ambition,” Valdez says. “I remember he came over my house and I was showing him some cutting and scratching and he would bug out and try to absorb as much as he could.”
Chupp threw parties of his own, too, including booking rave pioneer Frankie Bones and local legends Z-Trip and Emile of the Bombshelter DJs in 1999 at the Nile Theater in Mesa. Valdez also performed at that rave.
“Man, that was one hell of a party,” Valdez says. “[Kris] was really hands-on at that thing. He did his best and made sure everyone was having a good time and took care of all the DJs.”
That was Chupp’s thing, and not just with his fellow selectors. Local DJs and longtime friends all speak of his generosity, kindness, and unselfish nature.
Joe Valiente, who performs as DJ Soulman and in local rap-rock band Phunk Junkeez, says Chupp “was a skilled mashup cat, not afraid to genre-hop, good on tables and CDJs and that’s rare these days." “He [was] a DJ’s DJ and also a crowd-pleaser [who] knew his craft well. I would see him in Old Town or Nashville smiling ear to ear. Sometimes, [he’d] tell you what you didn’t wanna hear.”
"It’s crazy how vulnerable life is," Valiente says. "Artists have like him shine bright for many people on many dark nights, and when that light goes out and the show’s over, you can only hope you have people remember you."
Valdez says Chupp was always friendly and always upping his game as a DJ.
"As the years went by, we would see each other at different bars, clubs, and events in Tempe, Phoenix, and Scottsdale, and he would always show me respect and I always appreciated that," Valdez says. "He was ahead of his time when it came to trends. Who knew country would be a thing? He did, and he cornered that market. I’ve always respected him for that."
Chupp’s influence wasn’t limited to DJs. Hip-hop/R&B artist Kyle Collins, who performs as Sincerely Collins, described on Facebook on July 13 how Chupp helped launch his career.
"You were one of the first to invest your time and energy into specifically helping me succeed. You shot my first music video ever when DSLRs first came out. You had me performing in clubs on [Mill Avenue and Old Town Scottsdale] before I was 21 years old. You even got me on the radio when I was 19," Collins wrote in the post, which was dedicated to Chupp. "I will never forget the impact you had on my life and so many others feel the same way."
Chris Birkett of Scottsdale was stunned by the news.
"We were talking pretty regularly, like about when things were going to get back to normal. And he was fine. He wasn't sick at all," Birkett says. "Then, a week or so later, I saw a mutual friend posted [on Facebook] about how we should pray for Kris. And I was like, 'What?'"
Numerous other friends and local artists have posted tributes to Chupp on social media since word broke in early July that he was fighting for his life. (According to a GoFundMe campaign launched by Chupp's wife, Jessica, he was placed in the ICU on June 26.)
Below, we've collected some of those memories of Chupp, as well as words about him from original interviews.
Steve Lueder (DJ Slippe)
Co-owner of The Hot Chick in Scottsdale
I met Kris about 20 years ago. At the time, electronic music was being played [more] at warehouses and desert parties. I met him through that scene. Eventually, some of the rave DJs started working their way up the ladder and got various gigs on Mill Avenue and I was fighting for some of the same spots that he was. Kris always had open arms about everything. In an industry where it’s every man for themselves, he always operated from a love and abundance perspective. In his eyes, there was enough for everyone to be successful.
I became very close with Kris and he [knew] my old roommate DJ Earth. We all worked our way up the food chain for many years together until finding various jobs in the Scottsdale scene. He always helped younger DJs find their spot and gave a lot of guys their first gig. I remember when I first got hired by the Diamondbacks to DJ, he called me just to say “Congrats, you deserve this.” When DJ Earth passed on in March, he messaged me and told me he’d auction off his personal turntables to help with funeral costs. Selfless. I can’t tell you how many times I took a gig that I wasn’t prepared for [musically] and Kris would send me a folder of music to make sure I was at my best. He was a class act and a stand-up guy. His passing is a tragedy. He’ll be missed.
Sean Badger (DJ Senbad)
Co-owner of Bar Smith and Monarch Theatre
Rest easy, Kris. I don’t really have words to express how much this sucks. We’ve been DJing together since ’97; you were still a teenager back then. I know I’ve always given you shit about being commercial and jumping around scenes and shit, but there was never a day when I didn’t love you like a little brother. You were an amazing person. I’ll miss you every day until I see you again. Which is going to be a long time, because I have so much to do still, like teach my son to be as good a man as you.
MoniQue Hoffman Local country swing dancer and Whiskey Row patron
There are so many good people in this world. There are also many who impact the lives of hundreds of people. Kris Chupp was one of them – one of the good ones. Sadly, he (like many) was taken from us by COVID-19. He was young, full of life, fun, influential, and more importantly, a family man. He loved his family, which I appreciated very much.
He also loved his family of country dancers, and we loved him, too. One of my fondest memories of my early days in country swing dancing was being encouraged and welcomed by this gem. Trust me – I fought “going country” for decades, but this group of dancers and people, especially Kris, sucked me in. Now, these memories are some of the ones I will remember forever.
I remember our events at [the Pussycat Lounge], Martini Ranch, and American Junkie. You were the staple for being one of the first in the Valley to bring VJing into this industry. Wednesday nights at American Junkie, you rocked the open format, and I enjoyed all the videos you would strategically craft with your sound.
The last time I saw you was last year at Whiskey Row Gilbert where you held your residency. Before that, I hadn't seen you in years. Nonetheless, I walked on the dance floor and I look up at your goofy ass smile and hear "Portilloooooooo!!" You invited me up to the booth and we danced the night away. I never realized that would be the last time I saw you. You'll be missed brother. May you rest easy.
David Sankey (CIK)
Though we ran in two entirely different circles, the few times I did [cross paths with Chupp] he was always the nicest guy and very warming and welcoming. We have two dozen in common friends and he always treated me like I was one of them, [even] when I was just a friend of a friend. His shows [were] in the early day of electronica music shows here in Phoenix, so they were still very underground and he was building a future for all of us. He was one of the well-versed DJs; he could throw down anything.
Such a good man. I met him a good 20-plus years ago while he was throwing [parties] and DJing at events. When my company Eventvibe first started back in 2001, he was one of the first DJs that DJ’d our events, and he used to book our Eventvibe girls to dance at different promotions and events. Never an issue. Always professional. Always positive. This is a sad, sad day for a lot of us in the industry. Especially the older ones. Kris was the dude. He paved the way for a lot of people.
Corey Eaton (DJ Mr. Eaton)
This man gave me my first REAL start as a DJ. I'll never [forget] the call. “Hey bro, you want to DJ at Margarita Rocks in two weeks?” The rest is history. He gave me my first two upgrades to my DJ system. Didn't ask for a dime of money, just believed in me. He was always the one I'd call for advice and he was all willing to tell me the truth, even if I didn't like or agree with it. All the fun times with the bike rides, DJ times, and [just] hanging out. This man was one of my mentors and always my friend through good and bad. He and I have gone [through] both. Keep the party going, sir.i
Because of the shutdown, he wasn’t DJing [and] wanted to go live online [to perform for people and give them] the feeling of going out but staying at home. I had just bought some new lights and [a camera]. He wanted to know how he should set his up, so I showed him how I’d set it up with mine. I said, “Sit down and I’ll record you talking and you can see how it looks.” I am glad I was able to capture a moment of him talking to a friend and being himself. He’s great guy and it’s evident with the outpouring support. He talked about a lot of projects that he wanted to do. I am just sad he will never get to finish them.
Reading all these stories and the impact Kris had on this community is amazing. He personally did so much for me. I first met him while he was in a bike ride, believe it or not ... and I was under his wing ever since. He would give, give, give, and help in any way possible. He never asked for anything in return ever. He taught me to stand up for what you’re worth and don’t take shit from anyone. He was kind, cool, and funny.
I owe a lot to this guy and will be forever grateful for the moments we had, including one crazy 24-hour trip to Vegas to open for Weezer; the man hit every color or number on roulette between nine to 10 casinos that day. Naturally, he took care [of] everyone even more. He was just a dope-ass dude.
Local wedding DJ
People would come up to Kris all the time at Whiskey Row and say, "We want you to DJ our wedding." And he'd turn around, give them my phone number, and send them my way. He's told so many people about me. Just such a classy move. Very generous. He was always up for helping out a friend. He had that perfect balance where if you needed to have fun, he's ready to have fun. If you needed to chill out, he was down to chill out. He was so understanding and accommodating. He never had an unkind bone in his body. I'll never forget his face, his spirit, or his energy. All I know is that, on the other side, they sure just got a rad DJ to jam out at all their parties.