Chris Karns, aka DJ Vajra, got his first set of turntables about 8 years ago and has not looked back since. Now at the ripe age of 25, DJ Vajra has become an integral part of the turntablism scene, following suit amongst his predecessors like Qbert, Craze, and the X-executioners.
But it was the early days of Yo! MTV Raps and someone closer to home – Colorado resident DJ EK77 – which has really influenced his art of vinyl manipulation.
By day, DJ Vajra is the hip-hop, R’n’B and battle break buyer and poster sword champion at a local vinyl shop in Boulder, Bart’s CD Cellar and Vinyl Attic, where he constantly keeps his ear to the ground seeking out the goodies of old and new. The remaining hours of the day, aside from eating and sleeping, he’s working diligently in his bedroom on new routines, scratches and juggles.
This dedication to the craft has paid off not only for himself, but also for the local DJ community and hip-hop culture. Vajra’s launched a local DJ competition called the Bart’s Battle, and has received national recognition for his deck finesse after making the USA Heat DMC/Technics World DJ finals for three years running and participating in the World Beatdown Championships last year.
Vajra placed second at the USA Heat DMC Finals in 2003, and many expect him to not only take the number one spot at this year’s Colorado regional DMC battle coming up on Sunday, April 18th at the Fox Theatre, but to win the number one spot at the nationals. Whether the guy is in his bedroom or on stage wowing fans of hip-hop and turntablism, there’s not doubt why Vajra took his alto-ego moniker from the eastern religion’s Sanskrit word for “lightning.”
DJ Vajra spent some time reflecting on why and how he does what he does, the upcoming battle, and deflecting my attempts at a battle of the Braveheart kind.
Kaffeine Buzz: What do you want to be remembered for? What are you trying to say with your art? What do you get out of it?
DV: It’s personal for the most part. 90% of the time is spent behind closed doors. It’s nice to be able to go out and share stuff with people. It’s a good feeling when people like what you are doing and see how people react to stuff. I would do it with no audience. If everybody decided that they never wanted to hear it again I would still be doing it as hard everyday…just as hard.
KB: Where do you see music going?
DV: Well, I guess it just depends on how you look at it. There’s a lot of things going on right now that very few people know about, yet it’s thriving in certain areas. Of course you have the mainstream, [it’s] going to stay what it is. I would have to say that it’s going to start becoming more interesting…like when jazz music came around, people started doing something amazingly complex, musically and rhythmically. I think that turntable music and scratching is going to follow suit and start getting more complex, and people are going to start advancing the instrument to newer heights over the years. As far as the turntable itself, it’s only been something like 25 years since anybody ever scratched. You have to compare that to people who play in jazz bands and what not. There’s guys that will play for 30 or 40 years and are still advancing. It’s still just gonna get better. Some people think that it’s peaked, but it’s not. Not at all.
KB: How do you feel about the direction the hip-hop culture has gone, and do you think our forefathers would be pleased?
DV: A lot of people are pleased, for sure, with the way that it’s going. I think that there’s a lot more young people that have been spending their whole lives listening to hip-hop. It’s just a matter of more people doing more positive and creative things in hip-hop… that needs to get more of the exposure just because it needs to set an example for people…set an example for these kids that are growing up listening to songs about tits and ass, ya know? Let’s get some more light on the positive side of things.
KB: Who would you say is doing that?
DV: Well, I would have to say the Procussions, of course [laughs]. There’s a lot of good stuff…. of course, some people are real people, their positive people but they may have some negative subjects. I mean Dilated [People] are positive people.
KB: Like Digable [Planets]…the Roots…
DV: Oh yeah, there ya go…like Jurassic 5…I dunno, there’s a lot of instrumental hip-hop that’s being made and you know that can’t really be negative…it’s just beats.
KB: Who do you think is holding it down with the instrumentals?
DV: I like D-Styles beats for scratching over…I like Mike Boogie…his beats…I’m likin’ Mad Lib as a producer.
KB: How do you feel about The Procussions coming up in the ranks?
DV: It’s really good music. That’s why I wanted to be a part of the group to begin with. It ‘s definitely good to see a group of really good guys get that kind of exposure…for people to have a chance to listen to them. It’s all thanks to vinyl and college radio and DJs playing their stuff. It’s not thanks to MP3s or any of that stuff.
KB: What do you think about Outkast?
DV: Man, those guys are awesome. It’s just so good to see a group that’s actually pushing their music further and further each time that you hear them, and for them to be able to do that and be as successful as they have been says a lot about what those guys are doing. To be able to change your sound every album, and each album is more successful than the last. That’s a pretty amazing thing to do.
KB: What do you think about the progression that has occurred with the technology of music? What do you think about the changes that have taken affect on the DJing scene, like CDJs, MP3 players…
DV: I think the funniest thing about products like the CD turntable and Final Scratch is that these companies are spending thousands and thousands of dollars to develop this technology that will just equal what a turntable can already do and is already completely capable of doing. It doesn’t make sense to me. Why not just feed the technology that already works? It’s a good technology I guess. It’s just kind of a preference for you at this point. As far as the MP3s, I think people should pay for those for sure because you gotta support the artist that put that stuff together, or it’s just not going to be done anymore.
KB: What do you think about artists going with the MP3 format for their albums and releases?
DV: It’s cool for sure. The thing is with this new type of format of just single song buying means a group could not have to have another song written, recorded, practiced, rehearsed or anything and have a hit single. It’s going to really change the way that the music industry works. They are not going to be pushing people to do albums anymore. It’s gonna be completely about the single. 50 cent might as well not have the filler songs on the album anymore. Just put out the hits and that’s it.
KB: How do you think that will affect vinyl?
DV: I don’t think anything is going to threaten vinyl at this point…especially the amount of used stuff [being sold]. These people who are collecting vinyl are all consumers and they want to buy new music as well. New vinyl is also selling better, and not even just because of the DJ culture. It’s just people who love the sound of records, and they love having records around. It’s a lot better than if this was a rack of CDs [motions to records]. It just doesn’t even feel right.
KB: Would you say that the DJ culture was a big reason for vinyl coming back, or would you say that it stayed about the same regardless?
DV: No, I really think the collectors and vinyl enthusiasts didn’t go away because the mainstream culture told them too, and told them to switch over to CDs. As far as a lot of young people becoming interested in vinyl, yes, of course. If there were no DJs, who the hell would have given a crap about vinyl, growing up without it?
KB: What do you think about the battle scene?
DV: Now more than ever, there’s so many crappy battles…so many huge corporations that are throwing DJ battles so they can get those DJs in there to buy their DJ equipment. It’s like their advertisement, like cigarette companies throwing DJ battles. They won’t charge you to go see a Kool Mix, and they’ll have huge groups play like Mobb Deep, and it’s free. And they are just handing out free cigarettes. It’s pretty disgusting, ya know? The funny thing is I don’t blame DJs for entering those competitions because you can win up to like 10,000 dollars. For most DJs, you are not making a lot of money if you are a DJ full time, unless you are like Qbert [laughs]. I am pretty sure that there is going to be a battle this year that might actually bring back some dignity to battling and give people something to really aspire for other than cash or prizes…something with a little bit of prestige. There’s not really that much out there like that. Hopefully all of those Kool cigarette battles will be counterbalanced by something that is doing it for all of the right reasons.
KB: Speaking of which, we’ve got the DMC Regionals coming up for us soon. Do you know who is going to be competing this year?
DV: A lot of local guys like Cisco and Tense, all of the Krunk Brothers. Some up and comers and people from different areas around Denver, not just in Denver or Boulder. It should be pretty interesting to see how many people show up. I think the thing that’s going to differentiate this battle from past battles is that there’s going to be competitors coming from all over. We’ll see…things are definitely going to be affected by the fact that the Kansas one and the Salt Lake City one are on either day of the Colorado one. That’s definitely going to affect how many of those people come out. It’s gonna be a lot of local people and should be good.
This Sunday at the Fox Theatre, 3 DEEP Productions, House of Blues Concerts, Radio 1190 Basementalixm and KGNU will present the DMC/Technics American Battleground 2004 and 2004 State Wide Supa Supremecy MC Battle. Confirmed contestants are Brad Fredickson, Chris Robisch, and Chris Karns, aka DJ Vajra all from the 303; Travis Newhouse from the 801, John Wolking from the 605, along with Vincent Espinoza and Shawn Dixon from the 719.
For more information on the DMC/Technics Battles and to see how Vajra did, go to www.dmcworld.com.
Gabriel Ratliff is also a fellow music buyer at Bart’s Cellar in Boulder, a fellow DJ of a different kind, a member of Denver’s Drop The Fear, and an expert poster swordsman.