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Thursday, August 27, 2015

L.A.'s DJ Expo on How to Throw a Successful Event and the Impact of Michael Jackson

Posted By on Thu, Aug 27, 2015 at 10:10 AM

click to enlarge MAGDALENA ZLOTOS
  • Magdalena Zlotos
Starting his DJ education at 12-years-old by watching DMC competition videos and seeing the talents of renowned turntablists like Mix Master Mike, Qbert, and the Beat Junkies, DJ Expo spent a whole year studying the culture before actually ever touching a pair of turntables. Lucky for him at the age of 13, his father decided to bless him with his own DJ setup. From there, he began a regimen of countless hours of practice, starting from scratching and eventually factoring in mixing, beat-juggling, and other tricks.


At 18, while still in high school, he got his first big break when he connected with The Root Down collective, and got taken under the late DJ Dusk Uno’s wing. He was made an official crew member in 2005, and his career soon took off across the U.S. and the world, including several gigs in Europe. These days, he’s can be regularly seen holding down Motown on Mondays parties in L.A. We got a chance to talk to Expo about 16 years of DJing, the Root Down Soundsystem, and his upcoming Michael Jackson tribute party. He plays this Friday, [8/28], for Down With the King at Mighty. 

Describe the style of music you spin.
I’m a hip-hop DJ. That doesn’t mean I only spin rap music though. I spin hip-hop, funk, soul, reggae, Latin, house, disco, rock, and more. I love music and have always had an open ear to anything old or new.

Where did you come up with the name Expo?
The definition of exposition is a comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory. In a novel, the exposition is what brings forth the meaning of the story. I’ve always found it important to tell a story when DJing and the ability to do so is what makes the difference of a good DJ and a bad DJ. Also “expo” is an exhibition, usually on an international level. Traveling with my craft was an early aspiration for me.

How did you connect with the Root Down crew?
I first learned about The Root Down when I was in high school, through a DJ friend named Severen Hayward, son of Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward (drums sampled for A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum.”) Severen was friends with the younger brother of Root Down co-founder, Miles Tackett. After hearing stories about artists Root Down hosted like Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, Beat Junkies, People Under The Stairs, Root Down became this legendary haven, which I was just hoping to attend one day. I got to check Root Down out for the first time when I was 18. After attending a few nights I really wanted to DJ there. I got to meet DJ Dusk after my first couple of nights going to Root Down. Dusk took me under his wing after all our conversations about music and him hearing some of my mixtapes. He was impressed by my skills and knowledge that I possessed at such a young age. I worked with Dusk on several after-hours parties he was throwing at rooftops, warehouses, and lofts around L.A.

After being invited to DJ a couple times at Root Down, I eventually started opening every week. One night Dusk inducted me as an official member of the crew, which was like a dream come true for me. Dusk, as well as Miles, both taught me a whole lot about music and DJ etiquette. Root Down gave me the opportunity to open up for many of the talents that inspired me and I owe it to Root Down for helping shape me into the DJ I am today!

You also started throwing events at 18. What have you learned about what it takes to put on a successful event?
Early on, I wanted to create a few shows for the hip-hop group Arch Druids I DJ’d for, as well as give myself a few opportunities to DJ in public. I wanted to book some of my favorite DJs, plus artists I was meeting within the community as well. Throwing events is still a learning experience for me sometimes. Over the years I have learned that a successful event requires a strong team of talent, lots of support from your peers, a proper space for whatever the purpose of the event is, and creating something that people value. With a regular occurring event, originality and consistency all go a very long way, which can help you with earning the trust of your community. It’s important to create a sense of family with your regular supporters, because an event is nothing without people there to support and experience it.

What's the worst club faux-pas you've ever seen?
There are so many to list (laughs). One that comes to mind right now, was back when Lil Wayne dropped "Lollipop.” I heard a DJ mix from that song, into East Flatbush Project’s “Tried By 12." Very awkward moment in a club… people stopped dancing and even the host expressed a, “Wow,” on the mic to acknowledge how weird that decision was.

When did you start Down with the King, a party you’re bringing up to Mighty this weekend?
Down With The King started last year. I decided to start doing this event in SF after seeing the amazing response received from the Michael Jackson birthday tributes we’ve done at Motown On Mondays in L.A. every year. The first year of Down With The King received a lot of love so we’ve made it an annual event now.

What MJ song has had the biggest impact on your life?
“Bad.” Not my favorite song of his but it defines my generation. I was born just a year before the Bad album was released and the title cut is the earliest memory I have of MJ’s music. I was of course familiar with the Thriller album too, but Bad had a much larger impact on me growing up. I partially blame that on watching Moonwalker all the time at my babysitter’s house when I was a little kid. Something about the energy and groove of “Bad” always makes you want to sing and dance along to it.

Why do you think his songs have a timeless quality?
Michael created original music and his unique sound can never be replaced. His music saw no boundaries of age, race, gender, religion, etc. Michael has inspired and influenced a huge amount of the music released over the past few decades including music today from Justin Timberlake and Pharrell to Kendrick Lamar and Jay Z. Children that have never experienced MJs music love it when they hear it. We still hear much of his music played on radio, TV, movies and more today. He is the first artist to have a hit record in five different decades. Michael spent his entire life devoted to music and he is loved across the globe for the beautiful music he brought to the world.

Lastly, what's your favorite rework/remix of an MJ song?
I’d have to say that J Dilla’s beat for Q-Tip’s “Move,” which sampled from Jackson 5 “Dancing Machine.” is one of my favorite reworks of an MJ song. Can’t even explain why except for the way Dilla chopped up that song. I also really enjoy the re-edit that Reflex did of Jackson 5 “ABC”, which is a lot more DJ friendly version of the song.

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Christina Li

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