Director of Community Engagement, Deanna Duxbury
Hint: There’s a song recommendation at the end of this interview!
Deanna: Hey Chris! Thanks for meeting with me. I’ve never interviewed a DJ before so I’m excited to learn more about what you work on and your role in the show!
Chris: Thanks! I love fashion- I follow it online but not more than that. I have extensive background in all kinds of events so the P[h]assion Show, for me and my role, is much more about what type of music and style I can bring in for the crowd. I’m really excited to set the mood.
D: So, what is your history with being a DJ? How did you get into it and what is your sound?
Chris: I started about 5-6 years ago. I was 15 at the time and so young. I got into Avicii. His break out song was Levels, and one of my very close friends used to listen to a lot of house- I used to despise house. Like I could not listen to any type of sound that did not have lyrics in it. And then he gave me Avicii and I thought this was kind of cool!
I started listening to deadmous5 and the first time I read the name I pronounced it dee-add-moose-5. I didn’t know anything about them! So I started getting into the culture of EDM around 2012.
All the popular DJ’s we know now were upcoming like Swedish House Mafia etc. I started to think about becoming a DJ through watching YouTube videos and seeing what they do. I was like, “This is insane! It’s just one person at 4 decks, controlling thousand and thousand of people! I want to do this”.
So my cousin got me a little board, like one of those cheap little boards, connected it to my laptop and I started playing around with it. That was also when Sweet 16’s were happening right. So, one of my close friends invited me and I asked her if she wouldn’t mind if I played. It was somewhat of a disaster because my sound system broke down and I didn’t know what was going on back then. From then I evolved and started playing more Sweet 16 gigs.
Actually, honestly, I got my start by playing 50th anniversaries, like wedding anniversaries. Like, my starting crowd was 75 and above. So I have a very unorthodox way of coming into being a DJ. It’s only now that I’m performing for huge crowds and clubs and parties. I still do wedding, baptisms and Sweet 16’s though.
D: Out of curiosity, how did the above 75 crowd take to your music? What was your sound like back then that it would appeal to that kind of crowd?
C: So I actually had to sit down with my mom before those shows. I come from an Armenian and Egyptian background so a lot of the crowd was from that background as well. She just looked at me and said, “Look, Chris, you can’t play what you think you’re going to play”, so I said “Yes mom, I know”. So we sat down and said we need to research old music- like old school Middle Eastern artists and French artists.
D: That’s really cool! It gave you a great base to really get into your cultural roots.
C: Oh definitely. I feel I’m much more flexible when it comes to the crowd than most. I don’t mean that in any kind of offensive way but when you get into playing so many different crowds with culturally different backgrounds and age differences, you get used to being flexible and easy.
For example, tonight I’m going to play for first year counsel (IRC), but like I haven’t prepped for tonight. I’m bringing my laptop and coming in and going to do what I do best. I don’t prep for any gigs other than weddings most of the time.
C: Fair, yeah. I mean I listen to what’s in right now (Spotify is my baby right now). That helps me keep up with the music trends.
D: It’s really interesting that you have that base of diversity and base within your own culture. Do you bring that out when you’re making your own mixes or songs? How much is your sound situated in your cultural background?
C: Yes, I actually realized that when I got into the club scene more.
Just for the record, I don’t have a residency anywhere. I decided not to go through that path. I decided to play private events, I think it’s much more rewarding, in terms of the connection you make with the crowd.
In terms of sound, when I was getting into clubs I thought I could only play EDM but I realized I ended up tending towards playing things with Spanish and middle eastern influence. I mix them in a way where you don’t feel the cultural influence that strongly.
D: Like you’re not culture shocked by the sounds (if you’re used to receiving more of a mainstream house vibe) but you’re enjoying an ethnic experience.
C: Yes! Feeling like the crowd receives it well. They have the initial, “This is different. But I enjoy this”.
I feel like there are two types of DJ’s; the type that really wants to bring out their own sound sand go about it their own way and the DJ that likes to gage the crowd. And, for me, the priority is to get people dancing. So, I always have that consciousness where my duty is to the crowd first and then to me.
That’s why I separated my online persona from what I do live. That’s why when anyone asks me for my Sound Cloud to listen to my stuff my first response will be, “That is not what I play live”. I use that as an outlet to really move the sound towards what I prefer or what I feel.
D: It’s like your creative space but not your commercial space, where you perform live.
C: Exactly, but I enjoy both equally to be perfectly honest. I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing anything through either route.
D: You feel as if you’re not selling out. You enjoy your own music and the experience of catering to the crowd.
C: I enjoy it because whenever the crowd is dancing I feel the crowd pushing and I keep pushing and I get to feed off that energy. It just gets lit.
D: Haha, yes lit.
C: I had to bring it in!
D: What would be your favourite event or venue to play? Do you have a favourite experience as a DJ? Or a favourite type of event you like to cater to?
C: I like to play the mainstage. Not to say I don’t love playing events like weddings-
D: But in those situations you’d be creating someone else’s moment.
C: Exactly. When you’re on a main stage it’s a whole different dynamic. There’s that physical hierarchy level where you’re a bit above and get to watch the whole crowd.
That’s really cool.
I experienced that for the first time about 3 years ago. My first large crowd was 1000 people. Then I moved on to 5000 the year before.
D: Would I know some of the places you played?
C: Maybe! I’ve played the Olympia twice, I’ve played a couple clubs here in Montreal. I’ve done Belmont, Jet, La Boom 3 or 4 times, Telus Theatre was my first big one where I went ham.
The Telus Theatre was really cool because it was a CEGEP event. I was repping my CEGEP at the time. It was 5 Anglo CEGEPs that got together and each one sent a DJ. I was sent from Marianopolis College. The headliner was actually an artist I used to follow on Facebook so I was shocked. I was like, “Oh my god! I’m opening for him! Literally an hour before him!”
Another cool event is the Armenian festival here in Montreal. It’s like 5-10 thousand people that show up. This year one of the biggest stars from Armenia, Arman Hovhannisyan, came to perform and I was his opening DJ. I got the opportunity meet him and his band, and that was probably the largest crowd.
D: It’s like a festival feel!
C: Yeah but really, really, really hot. So yeah, he was a really sweet guy! Really, really sweet guy!
D: It’s always great when someone you look up to is really nice. I guess, on that note, do you have fans? Is that a thing that you experience?
C: Haha, no. I have my friends, I mean I consider my friends my fans. They always keep me up and make fun of my name. Yeah, they keep me happy about this.
D: Your DJ name?
C: My actually name is Christopher. So my DJ name is Chris24. So they make fun of me for that. I wouldn’t say I have fans, but my friends are a solid fan base. I’ll go to them and be like, “Guys listen to this please, tell me what you think.”
D: So are you your own manager and self-starter?
C: Yes, I do everything freelance.
D: In that case, for anyone who is trying to start out in that industry, what advice would you give on getting work?
C: Word of mouth. Word of mouth, a lot of the time. A lot of networking. Know the right people. Always be humble.
D: That’s a great piece of advice.
C: Honestly, I’ve seen a lot of DJ’s be cocky and it doesn’t usually go over well. They aren’t liked. I mean, I’m a management major. I’m at Desautels right now and one of the key things I can takeaway is that, more than what you do, if I like you as a person I will believe you and trust you enough to do the work for me.
Honestly, when I started playing for the first year and a half I wouldn’t get paid anything. People would ask me why I wasn’t monetizing this.
D: Of course, now everyone wants to hustle and monetize their every move.
C: Yeah but for me it was more about having fun first and the money coming later. When the opportunity presented itself, it was great but sometimes I still look for the opportunity over the monetization. It’s a lot more rewarding sometimes.
D: Would you bring this into your career? How do you think this plays into any future plans you have?
C: Honestly, I don’t know how it plays in. I’ve really just been seeing how this goes along. A lot of people will ask if I’m a full time DJ and I say no.
D: Sorry if these questions about the future sound like your family at thanksgiving.
C: No, no! I enjoy these questions; I haven’t been asked many of them before.
I always say that if I were able to produce a song that hits millions that would be super rewarding as well as being a kick-starter for a career in DJing. I don’t see myself doing any of that any time soon.
Honestly, I enjoy DJing more than I enjoy producing and in the current market space (and this is for any up-and-coming DJ) no one playing the mainstages has reached where they are without playing their own music. DJing has become an outlet for producers to actually express their own music and own cataloguing in art.
With the technology now, the volume of producers has increased. Sound Cloud, of course, is a major outlet for any producer. Kygo, that’s the example, he launched his career off of Sound Cloud. I remember him 4-5 years ago and then Firestone came out and he went off of that.
3lau. Best example. He was one year out of business school, sick GPA, almost got a job but left it to go play a year and now he’s making bank and living off of what he loves. He got into it by making mashes in his dorm room.
I mean, I enjoy much more playing in front of the crowd than sitting in a studio for hours.
D: My last question would then be about your own music background. You seem very self-taught, but did you have any formal training to get where you are now? Do you think it’s necessary?
C: I actually used to play the piano before anything else. I did that for 10-15 years. Not professionally but I dabbled and took courses in school. That was back when I started DJing.
Ironically, I don’t like playing the piano in front of other people but I like DJing in front of massive crowds. I feel nervous when I’m playing the piano but when I’m DJing it’s a different environment.
D: I think it’s a different culture as well. There’s a different expectation with the audience you have and the music you play.
C: The performance would be different was well. When you play the piano you’re in your own bubble trying to interpret the music but when you’re DJing you’re actually exchanging energy.
I feed off of the crowd’s energy so I usually like to open for myself rather than having an opener to get the crowd going. I love opening and closing and playing everything in between, even if it’s 5-6 hours. I like getting my crowd pumped up and ready for my own set and then be able to switch gears when it’s time to hit the main stage and hit the main music. I get to see the crowd go from 0% to 100% and to 0%.
D: Did you want to add any last advice about the fashion show, being a DJ, inspiring artists?
C: Yeah, I guess I want to say I’m really excited for the fashion show! It’s the second fashion show I’ve played. It’s a different setting because it’s not a dance setting but I still need to get people vibing with it. It’ll be interesting, I’m going to play a lot of stuff I don’t normally play live. And there’s a lot more room for me to manipulate the music than what I’d do live. I’m ready to take on whatever!
So, for advice: work work work. Have fun! Fun first, monetization later. Stay humble. No one likes someone that’s cocky.
D: Thanks for meeting with me. Lastly, any song recommendations I can add in here?
C: What do you listen to?
D: Classic/Alternative/Indie Rock?
C: I’ll give you one song. It’s an oldie but I still hear it played in DJ sets now. It’s by Pendulum and called The Island. It’s the artist from Knife Party who actually switched gears.
D: Thank you!!
Note: I loved the song.
Ready to get pumped at P[h]assion?