Growing up a DJ – Part 1

I spent my formative years buying records, first for me, then to play in front of a crowd.  I’m mostly retired now, with a wife and kids, but one experience over the summer of 2015 got me to introspect a bit on growing up in the DJ world in Southern California.

The event was a 40th birthday for several members of my old crew.  I’d mostly lost touch with these guys, but by some random chance I got invited to this gathering (even DJ’ed a big portion of it).  The theme of this gathering was to educate their kids on their former lives as DJs.  I started thinking to myself, “If I wanted to do this, how would it read?”  Below is my best attempt.

I started high school at Bishop Amat with my best friend Ray, whom I’d known since pre-school.  As freshman, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves.  We stumbled into our first freshman dance, both looked up at the massive assembly of speakers and lighting, dudes mixing and scratching and were both in awe.  Over time we befriended these DJs, who called themselves Freshstyle Productions, hoping to learn DJing along the way. What we didn’t realize was these guys were at it way longer than we could have guessed, and there was a massive history behind them.

Freshstyle was spawned from Flipstyle, and also associated with Dance Beats Xclusive and Special Effects Productions (out of Eagle Rock) under the umbrella moniker The Untouchables.  Eventually, I met each member of the Untouchables, but at first it was Eugene and his brother Fran from Freshstyle.  Ray seemed to understand musical structure much better than I, so Eugene spent a lot of time teaching him.  I kinda picked up scraps of knowledge.  It became clear that neither one of us could get very far without equipment to practice on, so that was our next quest.

DJ equipment is expensive, even in late 80’s prices.  Minimum setup was two turntables, one mixer, one amp and two speakers.  Average quality rigs consisting of all of this stuff easily ran $2,500.  Ray and I decided we needed to pool our financial resources to get all of this stuff.  We lucked out that an older guy at our school was selling his rig, minus the turntables for $800.  So we ended up with 2 EV 15″ speakers, one Numark PPD-1975 and a Soundcrasftman amp.

Our only remaining challenge was to get turntables.  Somehow Ray found a nightclub liquidator selling a pair for only $600.  Once we had a rig, and word was out at school, people started approaching us for gigs.

Our first few gigs were mainly house parties, and all about paying dues.  I was a horrible mixer for lack of practice and a serious mentor.  I had my personal record collection to bring to gigs, along with a few weeks of stuff I bought at Rockaway records by the time we showed up to our first gig.  We should have and probably would have failed if it weren’t for The Untouchables guys that always showed up, records in hand ready to help mix.

Of course, we were invited to all of their gigs as well, but mainly to carry crates.  They had house parties, but they also had much better stuff like school dances, masonic temple parties (yeah that was a thing) and huge self promoted events at various places.  After tagging along, I knew where I wanted to take my DJing; I wanted what they had.

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To get there I had to develop some skill and an in depth knowledge of music.  Luckily I became very close friends with a DJ named Daryl from Dance Beats Xclusive.  For months we had a routine; meet up at his house after school for practice, then go record shopping in Hollywood after dropping his Mom off for work.  I wasn’t perfect after all of this, but I developed skills in both mixing and finding the right records.  As my skills grew, our gigs got better.  We were on the road to something better, but we didn’t really know much outside of West Covina area.  We continued on like this until we were seniors, then we met up with DJs from another area, and everything changed.

Next time, new opportunties …

 

 

 

 

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