Longform

Quiet Riot

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But the transition from a close-knit hipster scene to a more corporate club environment has been challenging. Earlier on this day, Element had to attend a meeting with club management to listen to such things as corporate philosophy and brainstorm ideas to bring in more patrons.

"In Scottsdale, they're always looking for themes," he says. "Every night has to have its own theme. I'd like it to just be about the music. You know: Every Thursday night you go to this club because it's guaranteed you're gonna hear good music. But it's still a new night. And it's a whole new game plan for me."

Already, some of Element's b-boy pals have been showing up to get the party rockin' -- Element is an honorary member of the Furious Styles Crew, the long-running Valley collective of break-dancers and poppers, who've adopted the break-juggling master as the go-to DJ for all their events. But Element is careful not to align himself too exclusively with that movement.

"I always get that label: 'He DJs for b-boys,'" he says. "And I'm like, 'Well, no. It's about the vibe, not how people choose to segregate the elements of hip-hop.' When I play, I play for the crowd. You don't have to be a b-boy to dance to my beats."

Even when the room's still filling up, Element tries to mix a little something for everybody, playing a bit of the sublime Paul Simpson and Miles Dalto remix of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" for the fortysomething couple in the front booth, then segueing into the Pharrell and Snoop Dogg workout "Beautiful" for the girls making out between the restrooms, finally indulging in a little freestyle scratching -- for himself.

He views the gig like making mix tapes for his mom, a psychological therapist with the reservation who's lately become admirable enough of her youngest boy's work to turn over her favorite jazz LPs and tell him to mix it up his way, a request Element takes as his greatest compliment.

"Here, they expect to hear the latest cuts that are on the radio," he says. "But this place also hired me because I have a bit of a name. They tell me, 'Just do you.' So I balance it. I take the stuff that's out today, and I mix it up with stuff that makes me happy -- which can be anything from '80s rock or '70s funk to some of the more toxic hip-hop, like Run-D.M.C.

"You want to put your own stamp on the music, but if you're taking on a weekly gig, it's also kind of your job to make sure people are having a good time," he adds. "You can't have too much ego when you're a DJ. You almost have to be a little humble."




From the naturally desert-landscaped front yard of Element's home, the stocky former high school basketball player can literally point to where most of his surviving relatives live.

"That's my uncle's place over there," he says, pointing to another manufactured home just east of his. "Got an aunt over there, some cousins over that way. It's like my whole family is all around, in this square."

Element says most of his brothers, sisters and other kin are cool with what he does for a living. "I've never had a regular job," he says. "On the day I graduated high school, I had booked two gigs."

But his dad, who passed away from cancer about five years ago, was the hardest to win over.



"He was old school, 9-to-5, you know?" he says, looking out over the cotton fields. "If it wasn't construction or another kind of labor job, he was always like, 'I can't see you doing this for a living.'

"But what finally turned him around," Element adds, "was when he started going through the treatment phases for his cancer, and he wasn't able to work anymore. He started worrying, 'Well, how are we paying bills?,' and I was able to tell him, 'I'm taking care of it.'"

By that time, Element says, he was playing regular club gigs in Tempe and Scottsdale, and found he was able to take on the family's expenses. "So that's when it finally kicked into his head that I was making a decent living at this. To him, it always just sounded like racket in another room. Like, 'Turn that down! Go to bed!' But he finally understood I had made this my business -- right before he passed away."

For Element, that realization came even later than it did for his dad. "Even then, I didn't look at it as my career," he says. "This was me having fun, and if I was making enough money to pay the bills, great. But I didn't look at it as, 'I've got to get all these gigs to pay the utilities and the mortgage and whatnot.' The work just started coming along at the right time, and never slowed down."

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Jimmy Magahern
Contact: Jimmy Magahern