In an effort to give you, dear reader, the best possible insight into the dangerous underworld of the DJ, we bravely set out to survey a broad spectrum of two of our friends. We present to you the following pair of interviews, wherein rivalries are inflamed, and true motivations are revealed.
Could you tell me about your DJ name? Were there any you rejected before settling on that?
I’ve always gone by my initials, but originally I went by just MV (short for Mike Valdez), but a good friend of mine, Patrick Napoko (who is a slam poet), suggested I spell it out EmVee, and ever since then I’ve gone by that.
So you never had some super intense other name in mind, like DJ Dr@gon F!$ts?
No, I’ve always liked the idea of being me, not like an identity. I like people knowing me for me. Except people sometimes think it’s DJ EnVee, like envy. Like “look at this jerk, so self centered…”
Where do you usually play?
I play at LaSalles downtown, and I also play up in Redding pretty frequently at a club called O Bliss.
Could you describe to me what the scene is like at LaSalles for DJ nights, for people (like me) who’ve never gone to it?
Yeah. I play pretty predominantly on the back patio, except for on Wednesdays I play inside. I like the back patio because it has a really open vibe I can kinda play whatever I want. It’s a college-age crowd, but not the frat/sorority type people, more like locals… I play mostly hip hop and R&B. I’m an enthusiast of many genres, but that’s predominantly what I like to DJ. The back patio is kind of the perfect atmosphere for that because it’s not super high energy, but it’s good for dancing and it’s a cool atmosphere where people can interact with one another really easily.
What’s the most annoying thing people ever do at your shows?
Telling me to “play music they can dance to,” because I try pretty hard to play all music that people can dance to. Or telling me to “play something good.” I find that pretty insulting. I’m not afraid to call people out on that, I’m just like “don’t ever say that to a DJ. Ever.”
Do they ever elaborate, like “Please play something I can dance to—I only do Irish Step Dance…”?
Actually, the majority of the time when people say that they have no idea what they want to listen to. I say, “Well, can you elaborate on that? What do you want to hear? Like, some top 40, some EDM…?” They’re just like “I don’t know, something different.”
I also don’t like it when people just stand on the dance floor and act awkward, it kills the mood. I really like vibing off people’s energy, so when someone is just destroying that, sucking all the energy from the room, it bugs me. Especially because DJing is a hobby for me. I make some money at it, but I do it because I really like to make other people have as good of a time as possible, and I want to make the best of every time I get to play.
What’s something you see other DJs do that makes you cringe?
The number one thing is when DJs play really selfishly—when they play for themselves as opposed to playing for their crowd… in the end, you lose money for the establishment, and you’re not taking people for a journey that they want to be a part of.
What does that look like?
One example would be DJs who like to scratch a lot, like continuously. To them it’s a really appealing sound and really gratifying, but… And this is something I’ve had to battle myself with: as I started to learn and get more proficient I wanted to show it to people, share my craft, but I had to get over the fact that people don’t care about that. They want to hear the music. They want to hear a really smooth mix. They’re there to have a good time, they’re not there to see you.
Another facet of that: taking requests is a huge thing, a lot of DJs won’t take requests. I’m totally open to taking anyone’s request—although, I won’t always play it, because it’s my job to make a professional decision, if it’s not right for the energy level at the time… like if they want a super low tempo bump ‘n’ grind song when it’s 12:00 and everyone wants to rage and be listening to really upbeat, fun music. You have to know where to take people on certain parts of your set.
Do you have a nemesis?
I do, kind of. Well, there’s a couple DJs that really annoy me.
[laughs] They annoy me more because of the way they carry themselves than anything. They really hype themselves, see themselves as like extraterrestrial beings that are divine… you know. They talk down to other people a lot.
Name me a name! Challenge them to a battle right now!
Okaay. Well, a lot of people know this DJ, his name is DJ Lil 50. We started DJing at the same time, and he just… he never had the right frame of mind, and that bugs me. And he kind of uses people for their connections and things like that. Really has no respect for the establishments that he plays in. He’s one of those selfish DJs that plays for himself.
[tents fingers] Nice…
And I’m fortunate enough now to where a lot of people in Chico do know me, but I still don’t walk around like [in a deep voice] “My name is DJ EmVee.” I mean, when people ask what I do I’ll tell them that I’m a DJ, and if they ask where I’ll tell them I DJ at LaSalles, and sometimes people recognize me as a result. But, I mean, five years from now, will I be famous? No, probably not. This is just a hobby.
Could you beat that guy in a DJ battle? How about a knife fight?
Yeah. Well… I don’t know about the knife fight.
What about Deadmau5, could you beat Deadmau5’s ass? He’s all top-heavy with that helmet on, you could just push him over.
Yes, I could. [laughs] But yeah, I do think I could probably beat Lil 50 in a DJ battle, just because I’ve been more focused on the craft itself over the years, as opposed to promoting myself and creating a persona. By creating that artificial persona, he’s also created a really negative reputation for himself, and people think of him the same way I think of him. And that’s an unfortunate thing, I hope he changes his mentality.
What’s the weirdest show you’ve ever played?
Actually… That would be a 40th birthday party for this woman. They rented out Monk’s Wine Bar. I thought it was going to be like any other birthday party, totally fine, whatever… But, it turned to be the craziest party I’ve ever DJed in my whole life. I played such a vast array of music, I mean, I dug so deep in my crates… I went from like Jack Johnson to Biggie to Tupac to Madonna to Guns ‘n’ Roses to ACDC to Bob Marley… They were asking for E-40 and Too Short… I played every spectrum of music, every genre. Almost everyone, including the bar staff, was dancing on every table top in the entire place. It was probably one of the funnest sets I’ve ever played. The whole group was so open minded. It was a really good time, but super weird and unexpected.
Billy Hopkins (AKA “Simple Science”), has had a hand in the Chico music scene for years. From Beta nights, Bassmint at Peeking, and the Fab Lab, it’s safe to say he’s seen his fair share of what the DJs in town have to offer, and have to go through in the pursuit of dropping those funky ass beats. You can catch his sets occasionally at Bassmint, and at various spots around town.
Were there any DJ names you rejected before settling on Simple Science?
I honestly don’t remember, but I’m sure they were awful. Oh, Glass Jawed Gunslinger. But it’s like 80 letters long. Its more of a gamer tag than a name that anyone would put on anything, ever.
So why did you settle on Simple Science?
It was kind of a fluke decision, frankly. It was just something that I said a lot for a period of time… When I had no argument but I was trying to prove a point, I would say, “It’s simple science!”
Where do you play? (is that even what you call it?)
Oh it’s all play. You could say “spin” or “mix” or “perform” if you want to be all toity about it.
Where do you drop those mad fatty beats?
When I drop those mad fatty beats, a lot of the time now it’s at the Fab Lab. Occasionally at Bassmint. Other random bars and galleries around town for special events. I’m a little more selective these days. Frankly, one of the reasons I got involved with the Fab Lab was that we were tired of trying to throw shows at really gross bars, because we hit the ceiling of what we could do there, and the venue owners didn’t really care about trying to improve the quality of their show. So it became embarrassing to bring guest DJs from out of town who were like, “where’s the green room?” Well, unfortunately the stall doesn’t have a door, or I’d say, in there.
What sort of music? (is that even what you call it?)
[laughs] That’s a great question, it’s not pointed at all! I play a mix of electronic styles. We say “bass music” a lot of the time now, just to keep it simple because there’s so many subgenres. People will argue about the definitions of them, like “that’s not house, that’s electro-house, that’s prog-house, that’s dub step or down-tempo…” or whatever. There’s so many little terms and it’s just not worth it. I play a mixture of underground, I guess you could say, music styles. Drum and bass, dubstep, house, and all sorts of weird stuff in between. But mostly bass-centric. Some people call it music.
What’s the most annoying thing people do or have ever done at your shows?
I’m sure every DJ deals with people requesting music, but especially electronic DJs because unfortunately what they’re playing is pretty limited in style, or what they’re carrying with them at the time. And people just expect them to be a jukebox, like “I WANT MICHAEL JACKSON, RIGHT NOW.” And they’re just fucking mean if you don’t have it, or don’t want to play it. Like no, this is a house music night, the flyer said it was going to be house music all night. “PLAY SOME FUCKING EMINIEM.” People are just fucking mean. So mostly aggressive requests. But also, sadly, venue owners are usually pretty mean to DJs. Understandably so, they don’t really respect them as musicians, so they’re just like “you’re just a jukebox, why do you have opinions or needs? Shut up and go play.” They treat it like you’re just iTunes.
What’s the weirdest show you ever played?
[laughs] Give me a minute… I played a rave at Cal Skate. It was 18+, but it was pretty rave-y, and we were right in the middle of the skating rink. It brought a lot of weird, flashback memories, because the last time I’d been there I was probably about ten. So yeah, a bunch of ravers, smashing to dubstep, on a skating rink.
Were they on roller skates?
No… Well actually, I think maybe some of them were.
That seems dangerous.
It was very dangerous. I’m sure a lot of Mollyheads were falling down pretty hard.
Who’s your nemesis? Could you beat them in a DJ battle? What about a knife fight?
I usually keep it pretty jovial with my cohorts… I don’t know… Swedish House Mafia was always really terrible. I might say Owen [Bettis], just to keep it biblical. We used to be brothers and then we went our separate ways. So we might have a showdown at some point. I could totally take him.
What about a knife fight?
Oh I got that on lock. He’s slow. He’s a father now. He’s nursing children. He’s not out there on the streets like me, fightin’ and scrappin’. He’s gone soft.
What’s something that you see other DJs do that makes you cringe?
A lot of ego for not much talent. A lot of DJs aren’t as good as they think they are, and it’s kind of a silly thing to have an ego about anyway, because at best you’re really good at playing someone elses music. I try to have a sense of humility, because it’s a lot of fun, but people take it way too seriously. It’s supposed to be a fun thing, and when they’re way too proud of themselves, that’s really annoying. Or when they can’t mix. Just fucking mix. that’s all you’re supposed to do. A smooth transition between tracks. Don’t just slam it back and forth and drop it. If you’re actually there to perform and give people a smooth experience, you should take the time to practice and learn how to blend. I would understand the complaints of old school DJs versus the new, where now all you have to do is push a “make this work for me” button on the mixer.
Thank you to Billy Hopkins and Mike Valdez for indulging our curiosity.