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Interview: DJ Chachi – New York’s #1 Deejay

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Few deejays ever become as popular as the artists they spin on their turntables. DJ Chachi has gained notoriety in celebrity circles, however, as the hand-picked “master of (musical) ceremonies” in some of the United States’ hottest upscale clubs. As New York’s hottest deejay, Chachi currently enjoys residencies at Tenjune and Simyone Lounge in Manhattan, along with several other venues across the nation.

Upon the release of his Split Personalities mixtape, DJ Chachi managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on his early years at No Exit, his personal strategy for “reading” a crowd, and his thoughts about deejaying in the “Serato age.”

When it comes to deejaying, you have a diverse, open-format. Is there a certain philosophy that guides your approach to deejaying?

Well, I think a couple of factors actually go into it, and my upbringing is definitely a big part of it. My older brother and sister were much older than me. My brother is like six years older than me, and my sister is eight years older than me, so I was a little kid dancing to Michael Jackson, even though I shouldn't have really known who Michael Jackson was, or what freestyle was. And let’s not forget about the eighties hair bands!

[laughing] There was a lot of things going on in my house that I really shouldn't have been aware of. I thank God I had older siblings and my parents. My dad would listen to doo wop, and my mom forced me to listen to Toto and the easy listening station while in the car. This diversity spills into my deejaying, especially with the rise of bottle service in clubs, which forces you to play for a diverse clientele. You have the bankers with the money that are buying bottles, and then you still have the young models that are hanging out at the club, and then you have the younger kids that are still coming out to just party. You have to be able to cater to everybody.

According to your bio, you accompanied an older cousin, who was also a DJ, to his various parties. What lessons did you learn from him that you have carried into your own career?

Well, I can't say that there were actually like tips or tricks that he gave me, but I had the advantage of actually going to go see him deejay at parties. You know, there's something to be said for being able to play the right song at the right times to move a crowd. That's a skill in itself. I feel like a lot of deejays miss that where they just think of kind of like forcing a song on people. Or like this song is a big hit, so if I play it any time in the night, it'll be a good record or it will make everybody dance.

But that's really not the case. There's like a time and a place for every song and every mood and every type during the night, and a lot of deejays kind of miss that. It's kind of like sex. You need foreplay on a crowd. You need to warm them up and get them ready, and when the time is right, you need to get the party going.

That's a good analogy! [laughing]

Works every time! [laughing]

As a casual attendant of clubs, I wonder if there is an underground deejay culture, where you share tips and tricks of the trade? Besides your cousin, did you have any other mentors in the business?

You know, the older deejays, they really do like share and mentor. Rest in peace, DJ AM was a really big influence on my early career. Him and DJ Rizz and Scissorhands and Spinbad and DJ Vice, a lot of the older generation deejays who are very, very, very successful right now, they really did take young DJs under their wing and show you the way and show you the trade.

What they also embedded in me was kind of like respecting your elders and showing respect to older deejays. They kind of led the way for us. The only reason we are able to do what we do, and fly to these cities, and deejay these events that we do now is because of them. They broke the mold. So they really instilled respect into my generation of deejays. A lot of the younger kids these days, unfortunately, they don't.

I don't think mentoring or like taking deejays under your wing is like a real passion for the newer deejays coming up. I feel that these are kids. They're like in the Serato age and I think they're, I guess for lack of better words, I think a little bit selfish. Deejaying was exactly the kind of trade where you would share tips and trades and you would hang out all day and show each other different kinds of scratches or mixes or whatever. These days, I feel like most people are really out for themselves.

Even though we live in the “Serato age,” as you put it, a couple thoughts come to mind. On the front end, do you remember your first vinyl? And then, what is your take on the digital evolution of “mixing and scratching”?

Well, the one thing I do love about Serato is that it kind of incorporates the best of the old and the best of the new, whereas we're still using records and we're still manipulating the songs, as we always did. You know, I still scratch and juggle and do everything I used to do on regular vinyl because I still am using vinyl. But the opportunity I have to manipulate songs that I would never be able to have on record, you know, like old Motown and like fifties and sixties is amazing. I can play with Marvin Gaye if I want to, because I can just have it on an MP3. And then, of course, Serato lets you incorporate looping and effects. It really is great. It's not deejaying for you, where it's not like matching the songs for you or anything along those lines. But it's still giving you the advantages of today's technology.

As you speak on the legacy of Motown, I am reminded that on your recent mix, Split Personalities, you incorporated three Michael Jackson tracks: “Dancing Machine” on Disc 1, following by “ABC” and “Rock with You” on Disc 2 . More than any other artist, why do you think it is so easy to insert his songs, no matter the year, no matter the crowd?

Michael Jackson. I mean, losing him, unfortunately, it's slowly like the end of an era of these megastars. Like you can only really, relative to him, think of maybe like Prince or like Madonna, these stars that have been around for like twenty years. I mean Michael Jackson, it must have been thirty years. And his songs, "Dancing Machine," "ABC" and “Rock with You,” they're songs that are never going to go away. I look at music and these artists that are coming out, and they don't really make artists like they used to. Unfortunately, as quickly as they're the biggest thing since sliced bread, they're going to be forgotten.

Unfortunately…

It really is the truth. There is so much cookie-cutter music that comes out these days. The Internet is great, and it gives artists the opportunity to get their music to so many more people, and so much faster. But it really is the truth that you will be forgotten tomorrow.

Akon makes several appearances on Split Personalities, as either the primary artist or as a featured artist. What do you think makes his style or sound so popular on club anthems?

I mean, Akon is kind of really similar to like a T-Pain, whereas there is something about their delivery and their voice where it is so commercially friendly. It's catchy, they have great voices and their delivery is perfect to the point where, you know, people of my age group will love it and then my mom will love the song, and so will my niece. It's just they really do cut across the board to the point anyone and everyone will really enjoy their songs. Honestly, they hit it on the head when Akon came out, and like T-Pain. They really are just great. They cut everybody across the board. There's no one that's really going to be like, "Oh, this song is terrible."

I also noticed that you included a large number of electro-pop artists. And interestingly enough, over these past couple of years, the British, and to a larger degree, European influence on American music has just been crazy. Why do you think artists like Little Boots and La Roux are making such a tremendous impact at this moment in time?

Well number one, they really are putting out like fantastic music. Like La Roux, Calvin Harris, there's a bunch on there. And a lot of the U.K. artists, they really are just putting out quality songs. There's like no way you can just get around from good music. And honestly, the U.S., a lot of their stuff, is you know, it's just very cookie cutter music. So I think right now it's really quality over quantity.

My favorite track is on Disc 1 – the "Forever Boots" mix. Drake is noticeably present on the front-end, but I was unfamiliar with the latter half.

That song is a Justice remix of "Get on Your Boots" by U2. Justice is amazing. I really have a lot of his stuff. I don't know. That beat kind of just got me.

Yeah, that beat is sick! I’m definitely going to check Justice out!

Yeah, I spend a ton of time on like blogs and the Internet, really trying to find like great music that might not be on the radio, but it's just dope. And that song kind of like blew me away.

As an American deejay with a great appreciation for non-American artists, how does this play into the “Split Personalities” title given to your mix tape?

Well, Split Personalities comes from kind of the way I've been deejaying in New York. New York has become pretty split on like a lot of my night will be, or at least the beginning of my nights in like S.L. and Tenjune, I'll definitely play a lot of Indie and like a lot of electro stuff, pretty similar to Disc 1. And then as I move on in the night, we'll get to some other more basic stuff like house.

As I was reading the press release for Split Personalities, I came across an interesting quote, which read: “My turntables are right at the end of my bed.” Do you really sleep this close to your equipment? [laughing]

Honestly, that was the true thing until about a month ago and I actually just moved all of my studio into an office that I basically get up and go to every morning. So literally, my turntables have been three feet from my bed since I can remember when.

Did the closeness of the equipment help you sleep better, or would you just wake up and have ideas?

Well, you know, I would literally just wake up. Same routine every day. I'd make coffee and I would turn on myself and just kind of like maybe scratch or some ideas that I was bouncing around. If I wanted to put two songs together or a new mix for the club or some new remix I wanted to work on. Just kind of like try everything out. And then I would sit down at my desk. I went to school to be an audio engineer, so I have like a pretty small studio in my house, but it was fairly expensive. So I would work on my turntables. Practice something. See if I liked how it sounded, and then I would just sit at my desk and put it together.

Right now, you're known as New York's hottest deejay. But as you and I both know, there's no such thing as an overnight success. Do you remember your first deejaying gig? And at what point did you become DJ Chachi?

Well, I started deejaying when I was fourteen, I think. I wasn't doing anything, to be honest with you. No one ever deejays and becomes good, to the point where my brother wouldn't tell his friends that I was a deejay because I was so bad. I was terrible. My brother actually started to get me gigs doing his fraternity parties in college, which was pretty amazing to me. I mean, they were like the real college frat parties, like back in the day. They were, realistically speaking, they were pretty crazy. They were pretty crazy. And I was like sixteen. Like I couldn't drive. It was awesome. I lived in Long Island, and there was this giant teen night circuit. It doesn't sound really big, but like I was going to these events where it would be kind of like a holiday when, I guess, high schools and stuff were off. And there were 2,000 kids at a club …

Crazy! [laughing]

…and they were really, really big events. I mean, they were huge for me. I mean, I've never been to a nightclub before, but I know. So I started getting involved in those. Then my first actual gig, which wasn't even a paying gig, a friend of mine just kind of let me get on for like an hour. Try not to be one of those teen nights at this club down in Long Beach in Long Island.

Do you remember the name?

Oh, man. I think the club was called Industries. It was in Island Park. So that's really where we started. As the teen night thing grew, my deejay name wasn't even Chachi, yet. It was actually before *NSYNC came out and my deejay name was DJ Sync. And then as soon as *NSYNC came out, I was like, Oh, man. I think I started working for mobile companies when I was seventeen.

I started doing like weddings and sweet sixteens and stuff like that. And I had started working at this company called Body Rap. When I got there, everybody had some sort of a weird nickname. So the owner said, "I feel you look like Scott Baio from Happy Days. I think I'm going to call you Chachi." I was seventeen. I had like three jobs. I was going to college. Like I was just trying to pay the bills. I was like, "You can call me whatever you want. As long as my check clears, I don't give a s**t." So they started to call me Chachi, and it just stuck. Nowadays, nobody calls me Scott. Even my mom and my girlfriend.

When deejaying, how do you “read” a crowd? What specific things do you look for? It seems quite fearless to come into an establishment, especially at a young age, and just say: “The hell with all that. I'm going to switch it up and mash everything together.” What encouraged you to be so fearless?

I guess I was confident in my skills as a deejay. But besides that, I'm actually like a really reserved person. Like I'm really shy. I'm just kind of like a shy dude to begin with. I was just confident in my skills as a deejay. And the funny thing about reading a crowd is really all you have to do is play a song, and then look up. And be like, All right. What have we got? I've got old people in the corner. I've got one rich guy to my right with some girls that are half his age. I've got hipsters in the corner. I've got some Spanish people. You know, really look up and just kind of like take in who you're playing, or like how people are reacting to the song you're playing. A lot of deejays are so worried about what's going on right in front of them, on the turntable, that they miss that there's a whole other club that they should be connected with.

You currently have residencies at Tenjune & Simyone Lounge in New York City, as well as various clubs throughout the U.S. Tell me a little bit about your first residency, how the opportunity came about, and the professional lessons you learned along the way.

Wow, my first residency. Oh, man. I used to work at Exit in New York on Fridays. And it was kind of a big deal because I actually had to take off my weddings and stuff from Fridays to do it. My boss, actually, he was a club deejay and he did it for a while. And he was kind of giving me the "You know, I don't know if you should really do this. The clubs are all really shady and this and that." And I was like, "You know what? I'm going to give it a shot or whatever." And I took off.

I think it was like a hundred dollars a night or some sh*t like that. It was terrible pay, and I had to deejay until like six o'clock in the morning. It was the worst gig ever. But what I really learned from it? There's like one thing I really do believe, and it's kind of like really filled everything in my life, and it's always quality over quantity. And the residencies really taught me about building relationships in New York. Coming in and really doing a good job, not just trying to like come in and show off.

Deejaying is such not a normal job. But the more that I treated it like a job, like being there on time, and like doing a really good job, and like weird, little things instilled from my dad, the better I felt. Like I didn't get all drunk and wasn't sloppy at work, or like not showing up on time and just did a good job. I kind of kept my head down and like just stayed really, really under the radar.

When you look back to your early days at Exit, in what ways has your deejaying style changed or evolved? Had I seen you in action 10 years ago, what would be noticeably different?

To be honest, I think my direction has really stayed the same. Like I really always love to come to the club and just play great music. A lot of times I would actually, especially from my earlier CDs, I would kind of push people's envelope, and try to like play different things and play new things. Back then, you played hip-hop or you played house.

There was no in between. There was no gray area. Like you didn't play eighties. You didn't play rock ‘n’ roll. You just played hip-hop. And when I would play stuff like that, people would be blown away. I always loved doing that. I love mixing house and hip-hop together! Man, I can remember when ["Kernkraft 400" from] Zombie Nation came out. I used to mix [Jay-Z’s] “Big Pimpin’” with it. So I was already mixing genres – at the age of sixteen. It feels like it’s been really a long time, but my approach to deejaying really hasn't changed. I just like to play really great music.

For more information on DJ Chachi, visit his official website.

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About Clayton Perry

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