Master Of The Dmc- Tony Prince Talks


Disco Mix Club – widely known as the DMC – is the single most important DJ contest in the world. Since the early 80s every transition in the world of DJing has been charted through the contest, from it's early days as a forum for the most rudimentary mixing, to the hip hop scratch domination of the 90s, to an embracing of digital sound technology that has completely altered the DJ landscape over the last decade. While the rest of the world has often looked on in confusion, the DMC has been a crucible where the future has been forged. Perhaps most surprisingly, this cornerstone of hip hop was started in the UK through a series of unplanned events. Key to it all has been the vision of Tony Prince, a UK radio DJ who noticed the power of mixing one record into the next, and has never looked back. On the day the DMC announces it's first ever Visual Mix competition winner (more on that below) we caught up with Tony to talk through the history of a competition that never looks back..

I wanted to talk to you about the history of DMC. When you first started it, what was the landscape for DJs in England? Was there anything at all out there?

Haha, it was pretty pathetic really. I mean, in those days, DJ’s in clubs, ballrooms, discotheques, whatever you wanted to call them, were really trying to emulate radio DJ’s. So they talked after almost every record they put on and there wasn’t any real mixing going on. I’m talking about the late ‘70s here. For example, in Scandinavia at the time there was an agency IDEA and they only ever worked with British DJ’s, putting them into clubs in Scandinavia because the Scandinavians all wanted DJ’s who sounded like they’d just come off the radio. So at that time, there wasn’t really any mixing going on at all.

So where was your first encounter with this new form of DJing then?

Well I had a couple of programs on Radio Luxemburg and I was also Programme Director and I’d started playing the great US imports of the late 70’s and the 12"s with dub B sides, and that’s when we start the Top 20 Imports show. Then one day I got a cassette from a kid- I got a lot of cassettes from kids who wanted to DJ on the station- but this one was different and it made me curious. There was no talking and I just couldn’t quite work it out, so I left it on my desk that night and it stayed there for a couple of weeks. Then one night I just decided to have a listen to it again as I liked to reply to all of the DJ’s that sent me stuff. So I was listening to this one and it suddenly clicked whilst I was driving down the M4 that he was mixing from one record to another, in sync. The great thing was, that because I used to be a musician it meant that I got it right away, plus it was all in key. It was really sweet and it was all those great American 12”s. So I invited the kid in to see me at the Radio Luxemburg offices in London and I asked him if he’d like to do a mix for a Disco programme that we’d got going, and he agreed to do that. Alan Coulthard was his name. He was a little Welsh kid that used to do a bit of DJing, but not very much I must say, and he just put this mix together in the hopes it’d get him a job at the station. Now, I couldn’t give him a job but I gave him the slot and he started doing the regular mix and then one thing led to another. I started getting loads of mail from DJs, from club DJ’s, who wanted to get hold of the mixes to pay them to their punters and it was then that I got the idea to start DMC.

Okay. So what happened to Alan Coulthard?

Oh yes, he was very influential. But as soon as we started playing his mixes on Luxembourg we got lots of others sent in from other DJs, like Les Adams came into the picture and lots and lots of other club DJs who had got into mixing, unbeknown to me. So it was going on, but it wasn’t rife. Alan did all the early Megamixes for us, the big one was the Michael Jackson Megamix, which was released by Epic as a promo. But we started with Shalamar and then Kool & The Gang and all that kind of stuff for a lead Megamix every month. Then I started a show on Luxembourg called The Disco Mix Club Show, having got this license to produce the music of the major record companies in the UK, it was a unique license and we were the first to get one and that was how Disco Mix Club began. But Alan himself, after a couple of years, he wanted to be a barrister as he was studying law at the time and I think he’s probably actually still involved in law today. He was a big influence though, no question about it. Les Adams would be a good one for you to talk too as well. He’s still doing radio stuff and mixing a lot. We had Chad Jackson as well, he went on to get a #1 with Hear The Drummer (Get Wicked) and he also went on to become DMC World Champion. But the DMC competition began at a convention that we used to run in the Hippodrome in London and the first one we did was on April 1st 1983.

Okay, so originally you were putting out the mix albums weren’t you, just for DJs who were on the mailing list?

Yeah, they were on cassette originally because the record industry didn’t want us to do it on records.

Oh really?

I went to the see the BPI who had a big committee meeting and me and my wife whisked in and sat down in front of these people. Because I was the director of Radio Luxembourg I was actually very influential, so they were actually very accommodating and agreed to meet me to se what I had to say. All I had to say was that I wanted to mix their records together to promote them. But what I proposed was that if they let me mix their records, we would send out three minute versions of their upcoming releases, so we’d have a tape of mixes and tape of new releases. That meant that the DJ would get a cassette copy of three minutes, so that would never be enough to keep him happy and he’d have to go out and buy the record, because at that moment in time they were just sending out free records. I made a very economic proposal to them and they agreed with the deal and gave me a license and the rest was history. The idea of sending out previews of new tracks became huge, we went to four cassettes eventually as there were so many record companies using DMC. The membership grew really quickly and we ended up not only sending them cassettes, but we decided to put together a newsletter come magazine together for them too, and we called it Mixmag.


So Mixmag was born at exactly the same time as DMC.

So how long was that running until you decided to have the convention and the first actual competition?

It was about a year.

So it was quite rapid then?

Yeah, maybe it was ’84. So we did the convention and one day we decided to invite some DJs down to the Hippodrome, we had panels as well, it was a bit like a new music seminar. It was a bit like what Pete Tong is doing in Ibiza now, except we were doing it in 1984 in London. So we had all the experts and professionals on stage; the record companies, the radio stations and it was very much a DJ convention for all types of DJs, not just club DJs, radio DJs as well. In the early days, DMC didn’t really know quite where it was going. I didn’t know whether it was going to be radio or club, but I didn’t think that we were going to be able to continue servicing all the DJs forever. I thought that it would end up levelling itself out over time and finding its own way and it did; the club DJ side of things petered out.

Was there much friction between the old school guys that were talking over records and the newer-school of people mixing records together?

Yeah, there was definitely friction there. The ones that talked after the records thought it was bullshit, but that’s because we were threatening to them you see. I was a talking DJ for Christ sake though; I was a club DJ before I was a radio DJ back in 1963. That meant I knew the value of a personality DJ in a club, but for God sake, once you’ve stopped the record and start rabbiting on everyone would leave the bloody dance floor! So I knew it wasn’t right, I needed something to keep up the atmosphere and the mixes did that; they kept them on the floor for longer. But what the clubs also appreciated was that it gave the punters a chance to listen to music that they couldn’t buy. You had to go to the venue to hear these mixes. So the Michael Jackson Megamix and the Kool & The Gang Megamix could only be heard in the venues if their DJ was a member of DMC. So DMC, within a couple of years, was up to 2,000 members and then in three years it was 3,000. Then after that we became international and started opening branches in America and Mixmag started to grow, record companies started advertising in it and it went from 16 pages up to 32 and from spot colour to full colour. It was like a tidal wave really – everything was timed perfectly.

So was there nobody in America doing what you were doing in England?

There was a label over there that picked it up, but I can’t remember the name of them now and I’m not sure if they started around the same time as us or what, but they didn’t quite do it like we did. They didn’t have permission from the labels, they didn’t have a magazine, they didn’t have a club but they actually sold them to Record Pools. So what would happen would record companies would send a load of records down to these various Record Pools that would be happening in all the different cities and they’d get distributed to all the local DJ’s via these Record Pools. That’s how it worked in America. There’s no doubt in my mind that the American DJ’s were already mixing and that’s where Alan Coulthard picks up on it.

It was very much a British thing, wanting to talk over records, because they thought they were all radio DJs or were striving to be radio DJs and that hadn’t happened in America. I think what happened in America was that there were a lot of DJs who would never go in front of a microphone because they were too shy anyway or they were Puerto Rican so didn’t speak fantastic English, so they just started mixing the records together. Then you start talking about Francois K and Paradise Garage and all the great DJs that were came out of those great venues – they were definitely mixing records together.

It’s quite interesting that the DMC is recognised as the world championship- I see it as Hip-hop competition, especially in it’s later years, and it’s a surprising dynamic that a British company have ended up becoming the gold standard for such an American artform.

I know. It’s almost embarrassing isn’t it. But you what we did in those very early days, we had a great relationship with the record companies and the promotion men and women and made them into the stars. If you look at the early Mixmag, it had features on the record promotion people and made them into personalities in the industry. Then, the music seminar had started over in America; Tommy Silverman of Tommy Boy Records started that one at the Marriott Marquee in Times Square. Branson had also just started his Virgin Atlantic and I actually knew him quite well at the time and we managed to put a great trip together at a decent price for the record industry and DJs to go to the New Music Seminar. So we did that and it kind of created a bridge between the British and the American record industry and we went over there year after year. They had their own conference, which was very much a Scratch and Hip-hop event and we ended up inheriting the guys from that one that then came over to our competition; DJ Cheese and Cash Money. They were big influences. In the first mixing competition that we did, there was no sign of the scratch. Then the second year, this Cheese came in and blew me over. I just wanted everyone to see this and he ended up winning, then a guy from Holland called Orlando Voorn came third.

I actually spoke to him recently.

He was actually quite pissed off because he hadn’t done any scratching, he’d just done some really nice mixing and as I was presenting him with his prize he yanked the microphone off of me and said, ‘What is this, a mixing competition or a scratching competition?’

He’s still pissed off at it! I spoke to him about it a month or so ago.

Well you know what, the following year, he was scratching like the rest of them. He became quite famous for that, but he brought that on himself. But we’ve moved on from all that now and we get people like Cash Money and then Chad Jackson was one of the few Brits who won. But then you get to Qbert and your Craze and these incredible guys, then the Japanese started dominating and my God, A Trak from Canada. It very much became a global thing. But each country would have their own National Championship and then bring their winner to the World Finals. I suppose then, the big brave thing that we did, was that we went to the Royal Albert Hall. That was just an extension of my ego really though, but I knew we could fill it and that we could fill it. I knew the event was great, and we had the DMC Awards and that was a good tactic because it brought the big name artists in without us having to pay a lot of money. They didn’t play, but they came in to collect their awards. We had Run DMC, Public Enemy and then one year I even brought James Brown in. Him I had to pay for though as he didn’t have a record label at the time, so I paid for him and his manager to come across from America and stay in a hotel for a couple of days. It cost us a lot of money, but we managed to keep it a secret until we brought him up on stage at the Royal Albert Hall. The hall was full with 5000 DJs and I still hear people talking about it today – it was one of the highlights of their lives, but that was the spirit of DMC.

The competition has changed even now though. As a kid I used to watch it with my older brother, and I feel it was a lot more playful then – there were a lot more body tricks in the early 90s. But then it became a lot more technical towards the end of the 90s and into the 00s. And now, technology has come into it. How do you deal with that? Technology is changing DJing to such a huge degree now.

We deal with it by embracing it. We never put rules down. We always tell the DJs that it’s their competition and they can take it wherever they want it to go. We don’t have any say. We have an online competition now though too and that is growing to such huge proportions that we’re going to separate it out and have a scratch only competition and one where they can use technology. We’ve now started a team competition online and the most recent one – and this is where I see CDJ’s going in the future – is where we invite visual DJs who are experimenting with film and sound to put their creations up as a competition entry. So we’ve got the first one of these going on right now and in about a week we’re going to be announcing the winner. There have only been around 22 entries so far, but there is some real creativity going on there. These guys know how to use Final Cut Pro, Avid editing facilities or even iMovie and they also know how to manipulate sound through their turntables.

Okay. So is it them mixing the visuals live as well as the audio?

Yeah, they can do it how they want. They’ve got six minutes to do a film and they can remix Madonna to a film of Charlie Chaplin or whatever. It’s just about having fun with music and film, together. I think that’s the future. So we planted the seed this month, and there are 22 seeds out there and I think it’ll lead to other DJs wondering how the hell they did it and then look into it further. That’s what happened in 1983 when we started manipulating sound into Megamixes and mixes. The curiosity of the DJ led to them learning how to do it and I’m hoping that the same thing will happen here.

So obviously, you’ve seen the worlds greatest DJs over the years without a shadow of a doubt. Are there any performances that have really stuck in your mind as amazing, show-stopping moments?

Well, you mentioned the tricks a little while ago and there was a movement away from that because people thought that it was gimmick-ey, and of course it was. But, it was entertaining. I used to get people to make films of the events and those VHS’ would sell around the world because DJs all over the globe wanted to watch up closely what these guys were doing so that they themselves could learn from it and emulate them. That’s how the competition grew. So those tricks, in my opinion, makes it harder to be a good mixer. If you can do a trick and still keep the thing going and then be creative whilst you’re doing the trick, whether it’s your hands behind your back or whatever, so long as you can keep it going. Anyway, the biggest trick of all time was done by DJ David from Germany – he won twice – when he put the turntable on four Coca-Cola cans, on top of the other turntable, then at the end of his performance he got his body into a parallel level with the turntable and then span around on it as if he himself was the record! It brought the place down. The people that don’t like gimmicks or tricks sniffed at that one, but it was the greatest trick of all time.

I miss the body tricks, as it’s what I saw as a kid growing up. I used to love it as it was a bit more playful and fun, but then all of a sudden it got a lot more serious. It’s horses for horses though really isn’t it.

Yeah. It all used to be about speed too, but it’s gone through different stages. People always say about putting rules down, but it’s the DJs industry, not ours. It’s their world and they want it to go right instead of left, that’s up to them. I had Cash Money come and do some judging at one of the more recent shows and he could get his head around it. I remember him saying, ‘What the fuck are they doing?’

So what makes a good DMC judge?

Somebody who understands what’s going on and maybe even someone that has won in the past, be it a local or international competition. They’ve been on the front line; they’ve been through the pressure. That’s what makes a good judge. Hopefully as well, they’ve got complete integrity and they don’t have nay affiliation with any of the competitors. I tend to have quite a large judging team as then you’ve got a better chance of diluting any prejudice towards a friend or towards a certain country. It’s like Eurovision where Poland always votes for Romania. You put a bunch of American DJs on the stage and I guarantee there will be a lot of bias towards them and the same with the French; they will go towards their own nation. You have to dilute then when you put judges in the World Final stages. We do well though, I’m pretty sure we’ve always got it right.

Have there ever been any particularly controversial decisions?

Well, you’ll always get someone who came third who thought they should have come first. You’ll always get that. I don’t think we’ve ever had anything that controversial that such and such person should or shouldn’t have won. It doesn’t fall on DMC at the end of the day – it falls on the judges.

Have there ever been any disqualifications from the DMC? Is it even possible?

I can’t remember anyone ever being disqualified, no. I mean we had that Bad Boy Bill from the US pull his girlfriend up on stage, pull her tits out and then scratch with her breasts. Then he bought a dildo out and scratched with that! I’ve even had guys setting fire to records.

That’s DJ Swamp isn’t it?

You’re absolutely right, it as Swamp. We were going to do a trick with Chad Jackson at the Royal Albert Hall where the record was attached to some nylon thread and he’d set it on fire and then it would end up flying across the theatre and into a box! He’d set it up in the afternoon and then we don’t know if someone had seen him setting it up and then tampered with it, or what, but on the night it didn’t work as someone had burnt through the thread and you could see the little bobbles on the end from where it had melted. So unfortunately, the trick never took place and as it came up to the end of his six minute set I had to call at him from the side of the stage that the end trick wasn’t going to work, so he ended up just throwing a rugby ball into the crowd. It was supposed to be a lot more dramatic than that though… 

The inaugural DMC visual mix competition is being judged today (September 29th). Head over to DMC World to see the first ever victor…