justSPIN! DJ Mana

Interview by Jenkin Au and Alan Ng
Words by Ryan Goldade and Alan Ng
Photography by Jenkin Au

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Tell us about yourself

My name is Adam. DJ Mana. I’ve been DJ’n since ’93. I used to do a lot of DJ competitions. That’s how people know me mainly, as a scratch and hip-hop DJ although I’ve been DJ’ing over 17 years so I’ve been doing other styles of music. Mostly known as a battle DJ from my ’03-’04 DMC, ITF… This and that. I did the battle DJ circuit in the early 2000’s. I opened a DJ school in 2004. I’ve been running that since.

What did DJ Flee and Rob Brown do to inspire you?

Oh! You know those guys? DJ Flee is my brother. He doesn’t go as DJ Flee anymore. He spins in Toronto. Rob Brown used to DJ quite a bit around the Montreal circuit. He’s in the rave scene, house scene. More dance floor oriented stuff. Break beats then house… you know? My brother taught me how to DJ. He does a lot more electro/house, I do a lot more turntablism. I started getting into doing more tonal turntablism.

How did the whole turntable and DJ culture evolve since ’93?

It just went bananas in many ways. There are so many subgenres. Everything we used to call subgenres are genres in themselves now. It’s just branching out and branching out. Stuff is getting better and better… and worse too. You have all these extremes and in the middle you have stuff that still sounds the same. It’s just the natural progression of things, especially the technological side.

How was the switch from traditional vinyl to newer technology?

It’s not really a switch. We’re talking about something designed after the design of the turntable so it’s not really that much of a switch. If you’re talking about Ableton Live where people are using controllers… that’s completely breaking out of the traditional two turntables and a mixer paradigm.

What is Ableton live?

Not necessarily just Ableton but it’s a culture called controller-ism. Back with turntablism, we used turntables like an instrument. Now it’s like live production using different kinds of controllers and having almost limitless possibilities with how you can interface with the music. You can do it with a keyboard or a pad. You can program this key to crazy stuff on that pad, etc. It’s all contained within a small space as well. I think it’s really cool.

With all this change in technology, where do you see turntablism in the future?

I just think of it as another controller. A keyboard is a certain controller. It has a certain shape and feel. Some people might prefer that, where turntablists might see it as another controller or another thing to add to the package. Serato is really just a controller for your computer so you’re not really playing a turntable anymore.

You’re known for using different genres of music. What is one style that you tend to stick towards?

I don’t know. Maybe someone else could tell me that better than myself. I like to listen to a lot of stuff. I started with electronic sounds. I like hip-hop now, I like house now… Really, I go through these phases. If I’m at home and chillin’ out, I’ll listen to Indian sitar music. Depends on the context. If I’m in the club playing for club people, I’ll play commercial rap but I don’t listen to commercial rap. In the realm of urban electronic music, I like glitch-hop. Music-wise… It depends on what I’m doing.

Why do you consider turntablism an art form?

It takes time to master, first of all. Everyone I see doing it has their own signature style. They have a certain sound in terms of identity with what you do. If you get someone on the turntables and you turn your back, you can still tell who it is.

Being influenced by some of the biggest turntablists like Q-bert and Mix Master Mike, how did you manage to stay original?

I don’t know. I don’t think I’m that original. I think I bite a lot of moves from other people. When you start off, you’re going to bite other people. If you keep biting people as you get better and better, you’re going to have so much vocabulary that you can’t even manage it. So you’ll end up having your own style anyways. If you have a limited vocabulary of just one person, you’re going to sound like that one person. If your vocabulary came from all over the place and you bite everybody… If you only have five minutes to do something, you’re going to sound like yourself. It’s just vocabulary. I don’t see it as belonging to anybody. It belongs to us if we hear it; it belongs to the listener. I don’t try too hard to say this is my style or that is his style.

With Soul Mechanics, how does it help people where others have learned from the grassroots level?

It gives more access to people that couldn’t learn at the grassroots level. Maybe they just couldn’t teach themselves where there’s the smaller population of guys that could teach themselves. There are a bunch of people that just want to learn it from someone else.

Tell us about the origins of Soul Mechanics and why you chose to start this school

I started it to give people the opportunity to learn it in a more formal setting with a curriculum etc. It helps to push the art further, you know? The more I teach, the more I learn by organizing all the information and creating a standard. You can say that all the people who passed the first level are this good and have this amount of knowledge. Other DJ schools will teach totally different things than I do, which is great! I have some students of mine that have taken classes at other schools and they go around and observe different things. It’s cool to hear about the different techniques and even the stuff that’s the same.

Tell us about Nocturnal Sound Crew. What have you learned from being in that crew?

It was cool to have a team. Most of what I was doing was battling. It kept you in check because every time I was practicing, they had their own perspective. It was helpful to have more ears.

What was the transition like as you got into the battle scene?

To be honest, when I was younger I thought I was the shit. I was like “yeah man! I’m the only one that can mix in my grade.” I was in grade 10 or something. Everyone started getting into scratching and I was into the house stuff. I couldn’t do it so I felt like a little guy again. Just competitive ego stuff. At the time it was all ego stuff. I just wanted to prove that I was better. I just scratched and practiced and got better than all of them.

Through your many battles and victories, what aspect of turntablism would you say you have the advantage over others?

I don’t even think of it in that way anymore… I’m not very competitive anymore. During that time though, I learned a lot… I guess what I had that others didn’t have was that my scratches were very technical. Very technical scratches and patterns and stuff like that. There’s something about battling… if you try something hard, it’s easier to fuck up. There’s a balance between doing something too easy and boring or something too hard or too crazy and you don’t pull it off. You need to have something that’s hard, really crazy, you can pull it off and people can understand. I excelled on a technical level but there were obviously other things I didn’t or I’d be the best in the world.

Your victories in 2003 and 2004 at the DMC’s is definitely a huge achievement, but recently, the competition has lost a lot of attention. Why do you think this happened?

I think it’s technologically based. Things are on Serato now. The tradition of turntablism for the DMC’s is to do it on vinyl. To be honest a lot of people just want to go dancing sometimes and don’t want to go watch a DJ competition where they don’t understand anything. No disrespect to the DJ, but when one screws up it sounds like shit… and it’s easy to fuck up when doing something hard. People don’t like that and they can’t dance to that. It just wasn’t marketed properly… there’s a bunch of shit. Look at it this way: when electric guitars first came out, there were shredding competitions… How long did that take to get old?

What is HYPE?

It’s a psychological state that captures multiple people about one focal point.

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DJ Mana

DJ Mana

DJ Mana

DJ Mana

DJ Mana

DJ Mana

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