Taste & Culture: Dj Craze Talks
I first came across DJ Craze watching my vhs tape of the 1999 DMC world DJ mixing competition. It was the second of three back-to-back triumphs, the only DJ to do it, despite a particularly memorable performance from the UK's Tony Vegas, as well as DJ Dexter showing off his cuts from 'Frontier Psychiatrist' which would be released by the Avalanches the following year.
What made Craze stand out was his sheer confidence behind the decks. It was just the right amount of bravado combined with clinical precision, signifying a performer in complete control of his environment. Towards the end of his set, his expert manipulation of a drum 'n' bass bassline would foreshadow many of his appearances in the 2000s at drum 'n' bass nights, enjoying the freedom of being able to scratch over 170 bpm and then half-time at 85 bpm.
What you may not be aware of is that Craze's family fled a civil war in Nicaragua when he was three, sparking the journey that would lead to Time magazine pronouncing him "America's Best DJ", an invitation to tour with Kanye West (2008), and in 2010 the launching of Slow Roast Records with music producer Kill the Noise, an imprint of A-Trak's Fool's Gold label.
In 2014 Craze recorded his "New Slaves" scratch routine – a cleverly produced and damning indictment of style-over-substance DJing which is approaching two million views on YouTube and spawned the hashtag #realdjing. It wasn't saying turntablists are the best, or that DJs should scratch to be legitimate, the statement was simply that DJing is a serious artform which should not be abused.
This July sees the scratch giant perform at BSTK (Brownstock) festival in Essex alongside the likes of Annie Mac and Mark Ronson and so we had the opportunity to pick his brains on legacies, festival sets and his favourite DJs.
You're playing at BSTK festival in July – what can people expect from your performance?
I'm very excited to play BSTK festival. People can expect some world class djing and a lot of energy!!
How do you approach festival sets compared with a club? (in terms of records you play and the way you construct a set)
Festival sets are different from club sets because of the amount of people and overall energy. Festival crowds respond well to bigger tunes where as in clubs you have a bit more freedom to experiment. For me its not much different tho cause I'm still playing a lot of new music no matter where I'm at.
How has your style developed over the years?
I'm a dj first not a producer so I'm always looking for new music to excite me and keep me interested in what I'm doing. I started out as a hip hop dj and then moved on to Turntablism and then moved on to Drum & Bass and then went to club music and now Im back into hip hop/soulful/trappy kinda stuff so I've come full circle. Like I said …. whatever keeps me excited is where my style gravitates towards.
When you won the DMC the art of scratching was a little more arcane – picking up techniques was very difficult for the beginner. Now there are lots of online scratch schools and tutorials about. Do you think that's a good thing or is there something to be said for keeping that knowledge more exclusive?
I think its awesome that anybody can learn and develop styles from youtube tutorials. Knowledge should never be exclusive … it should be shared. I wish more people would get into turntablism because its easier to learn now than it was back then.
Who are the new producers or DJs currently blowing you away?
My fav producers at the moment are in no order: Carmack, Teeko, Tsuruda, Kill The Noise, Ivy Lab, Shades, & Troyboi …. as far as djs …. Four Color Zack & Teeko
Do you mix with stems?
I have mixed with Stems but there's not that many new tunes with Stems so its kinda hard. I wish more hip hop artists and labels would mess with Stems so I could have more fun.
Is the advent of stems going to usher in new era of DJing or have turntablists been doing this for years, just without the fancy equipment?
I grew up in the era of only vinyl and a lot of records had Acapellas, Instrumentals and even Dubapellas (acapellas with certain stems in them) So we've BEEN doing this for years but record labels got lazy and that art form of mixing stuff up has been lost. Stems can help with this a lot so I hope it picks up.
Turntablists are often at the forefront of innovation – merging musician and DJ – what do you think is the next innovation going to be?
I think the next innovation for us is ………. TOP SECRET 😉 I can't give out an idea like that for free 😉
How do you envision your own career developing from here?
I wanna keep representing the DJ culture to the fullest and part of that is to keep innovating and inspiring the next generation so hopefully my career will continue to grow like it has been all my career. I would love to get better at production and see my label grow as well.
Is there anyone's legacy you would like to emulate? (or role models you follow?)
Qbert, Atrak & Jazzy Jeff still inspire me for different reasons and I look up to all of them. Qbert because he's still the greatest at what he does. Atrak because of how he's been so successful making his brand so huge and Jazzy Jeff for still doing what he does and being a lot of peoples favorite dj.
Ignoring the laws of physics and economics – what imaginary instrument would you love to invent?
I would love to invent an instrument that makes people wake up from this Matrix that we live in before its too late.