DMC Phoenix DJ Battle to Take Place Saturday; Ordinary Club DJs Need Not Apply

Downtown Phoenix's Monarch Theatre is gonna take on old-school aura this weekend when more than a dozen local DJs and selectors showcase mad turntablism in what could be the first step toward superstardom.

The Phoenix Regionals for the World DMC DJ Championships, one of the most esteemed competitions for the turntablist crowd, goes down Saturday night at the dance club, and it's guaranteed to showcase some of the fiercest and finest scratching, mixing, and cutting in the Valley.

The annual worldwide DJ battle, which has been put on by Britain's Disco Mix Club since 1986, features regional qualifiers in more than a dozen cities around the globe.

Whichever local DJ claims victory during Saturday's battle at the Monarch will earn a berth at the U.S. finals in early August it New York City. The winner of that particular competition, taking place at Hell's Kitchen venue Stage 48, will then move to the DMC world championships later in the year in England.

The eventual winner will claim the honor of being the best DJ on Earth, as well as a custom-built gold-plated Rane Sixty-Eight mixer (pictured above). The list of DMC world champs includes some of the more legendary names in the DJ biz, including Duck Sauce's A-Trak, the Rocksteady DJs -- known individually is Mix Master Mike, Q-Bert, and Apollo -- DJ Craze, and Cutmaster Swift.

Last year's winner was DJ IZOH, a Japanese scratch fiend who practically lit the decks on fire as he blazed through his set.

DJ Akshen, one of six local veteran selectors, both local and national, who will judge the Phoenix regional, says that the it's "like the Olympics of DJing" for turntablists and hip-hop DJs.

"The DMC is the oldest and most prestigious DJ competition in the world," Akshen says.

As such, the pressure is intense, as is the competition. Competitors each get six-minute sessions to impress the judges and the time goes quickly.

"DJs lock themselves in their bedrooms and give up, school, social life, girlfriends, etc., and practice for hours, days, weeks, and months for a whole year, just for six minutes," Akshen says. "Sometimes their whole DJ career is riding on a needle that is smaller than a tip of a ballpoint pen. The pressure is so intense sometimes that you can actually feel it when you walk into the green room where the DJs are before they get on stage. Very little conversation, very little smiles, and mostly silence."

David Dimmick, who DJs as Fact 135 and will also judge Saturday's competition, told Up on the Sun that competitors will be evaluated on their abilities in a number of categories, such as their stage presence, scratching skills, creativity, and overall showmanship. As he mentioned in this week's music section of Phoenix New Times, it also helps if they "own that shit onstage."

"There's just a lot of things involved. You have to be up technically and you want to try to be as creative as possible," Dimmick says. "It's very easy to get overly influenced by stuff that you're watching on YouTube, or by other routines and shit, so its like you definitely want to be very original and set yourself apart from other routines that people have done. You want showmanship, you want people that work with the crowd just like a singer or something."

Needless to say, he adds, competitors "really just have to be good at everything."

"A lot of people think you've got to be this crazy scratch DJ or crazy beat-juggling guy," Dimmick says. "There's a lot more to it than that."

Not only that, but competitors' skills have to better than the opposition, be they local or of the out-of-town variety. Dimmick says that the Phoenix regionals typically feature DJs from outside the state who use our city's battle for their shot at the DMC championship. For instance, last year's winner, DJ Lodus, is from California.

"Arizona's always tough, personally we have such a large amount of high quality DJs outta here but people outside of Arizona don't realize it," Dimmick says. "And you get these people that come in from out of state thinking, 'I'm gonna go to Phoenix and do the DMCs so I can advance,' and then they show up and find out there's all this competition. It really depends on who enters."

One thing that may scare off potential contestants, however, is the fact that doing well in the DMC's practically require ample old-school turntable skills, which is becoming something of a lost art since the advent of Serato.

In other words, you probably won't see your average Valley club DJ participating doing their thing on Saturday night at the Monarch. What attendees will witness, Dimmick says, is expected to be quite a show.

"That's what's kind of exciting about the DMCs, it brings out a tremendous amount of creativity and people try to go so over the top. Sometimes it works great and they pull off some amazing shit, other times you just sit back and laugh when they fuck up. It's all in good fun, though," he says. "If they got the balls to get up on stage and try that shit they get all the respect in the world for doing it."

The DMC Phoenix Regional DJ Battle will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, at Monarch Theatre. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.