REVIEW & INTERVIEW: DJ Hero Listening with DJ A-Trak @ My Studio LA 10/7/10

words/photos: Ani Yapundzhyan


Even though DJ Hero 2’s listening party was smack in the middle of Hollywood, on Hollywood Blvd itself, as soon as I walked into “My Studio” nightclub, I felt like I was at a New York bar.

The venue looked like a wealthy person’s living room. A wealthy person with class. Bookshelves covered the walls, with sheik looking books, trinkets and framed photographs lining the shelves.

Electronica was being spun in this dark, full-but not too crowded-environment, and people were really enjoying themselves. Blame it on the open bar, hors d’oeuvres, or video games that were set up everywhere, but this party was crackin’.

On my way to the bar in search of whiskey, I was stopped by a waiter offering milk and cookies. On a record tray.

I passed.

But I devoured the Kobe beef sliders that were served on yet another record tray.

As I was munching on the slider, a big security guard tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, can you get out of the way, please? We’re bringing a couch through.”

He set himself up. I looked up at him and replied, “Fuck yo couch!”

He laughed and gave me daps. This party was fuckin’ awesome.

I walked up to one of the DJ Hero consoles and challenged a complete stranger to a game. Even though I pretended to be DJ Rhettmatic and channeled his skills for the battle, this hipster still had me beat.

Playing DJ Hero is exactly like playing Guitar Hero: It’s fun, you can play for hours and get lost in the game. You can yell obscenities at your opponent. But don’t think you’re going to require any scratching skills and transform into a real DJ.

It’s just a game.

The host of the party was world champion DJ A Trak, and as I followed him outside to the street to do a quick interview, I couldn’t help but notice how grown he looked.

Gone was the rosy-cheeked kid in the oversized t-shirt and baseball cap. In front of me was a 27-year old “tastemaker”, in a black leather jacket, Jordan 5s and a Fedora.

We stepped out onto Hollywood Blvd to get away from the noisy club, but it was louder out on the street.

Resonant tourists were walking around everywhere, horns were honking, buses driving by, and here we were, a guy in a hat and a girl in a hoodie trying to understand each other amongst the mayhem of Hollyweird.


Fusicology: So you’re the DJ Hero “Ambassador.”  What does being ambassador entail? Did you choose the music found in the game?

A-Trak: I’m one of the producers, one of the DJs, that actually made some of the mixes that you play, or perform in the game. And then, when it comes to choosing music, obviously, with a game like this, you have to pick among a selection of available songs.

Fusicology: How do making the actual mixes for the game differ from, say, making a song?

A-Trak: It’s very different because you’re making this piece that has to be played on the console, so it’s not really about the flow of the music as much.

It’s actually extremely ADD. It just always has to have some shit going on. Constant changes. It has to be something for the player to be able to trigger on the remote, on the console. So whether it be a lot of scratches or a lot of changes in the beat, or a lot of rhythmic components that you can reflect on the console, or have music dropping in and out, its just a constant mirage of information.

Fusicology: You grew up at a time where the DJ was basically the background and were around to see DJ’s become superstars, as you have become yourself. What’s it like, being a part of that extraordinary transition in the culture?

A-Trak: I remember when I was first starting to DJ, when I was doing DMCs and stuff, I would say “Oh, I’m a DJ” and people would say, “Are you on the radio?”  like, “talking on the radio?” People thought that the DJ was more of a…

Fusicology: a VJ?

A-Trak: Yeah!  Or a host of some sort. Now people know that the DJ mixes, and remixes, and has a certain amount of influence. In that respect i think its good that the DJ is a bigger part of the public consciousness .

Some of us are taking on being influential and achieving it on a cultural level, even beyond simply the music itself. Being some of people who’s responsibility it is to stay at the cutting-edge of what’s new and interesting and living the culture and lifestyle and bring that to more people.

I think its great that DJs are getting more recognition than before, if anything, I think there’s more of an understanding for the DJ and the fact that the DJ puts in work, has skills.

Fusicology: The DJ went from being the backbone to being the personality.

A-Trak: Like when I was first entering the DMCs it was interesting because the rap world was sooo not checkin’ for the DJ, the rap world was not really paying attention to what DJ’s were doing, and no one noticed that DJ’s had become this huge community, an entity itself.

And a technique was being developed within turntablism in the late 90’s, it got so advanced, and a lot of people didn’t even know about it. Then that kind of went dormant for a while. And then in the last decade or so, the party rockin’ DJ became a personality. What that did to the DJ role, it took it outside of itself, even outside of hip hop and took it to the universe.  DJ; It’s its own thing now.

Fusicology: In the late 90’s, you invented the notation method. What is that?

A-Trak: the notation method was how I came up with a way to notate scratches. I wasn’t the only one; it was like me and two other people.

That’s just an example of how intricate and advanced turntablism was getting around that era, that you were actually able to write out parts. Because there was such a detailed understanding of the techniques of scratching. So I think that’s just indicative of how much the technique developed.

With that,  A-Trak disappeared back into the dark club.

At the end of the night, as I was walking the 20 blocks back to my car, my very own DJ Hero tucked under my arm, a homeless man huddled in a doorway on the street looked up from his sleep and said to me, “Sleep well, Hollywood.”

I looked back and replied, “Sleep well, Hollywood.”

The homeless guy smiled, “Awww, thank you…” and went back to sleeping under the Hollywood sky.