DJ Risk One on Why Good DJs and Reality TV Don't Mix
Attempting to rock a Shanghai bottle-service club full of dance-averse patrons might sound like a trying task for some DJs, but not SF-based DJ/producer Risk One -- he managed to pull it off for three weeks straight this past winter. As a full-time DJ, Risk One holds residencies from Shanghai to Miami and has been a featured artist for remix service the Crooklyn Clan for the past six years. We recently spoke with Risk One about his thoughts on the DJ reality TV show Master of the Mix, his various residencies, and the current state of DJ battles. He DJs at Slide this Saturday.
DJ Risk One
How did you manage to snag a residency in Shanghai?
The last trip was my second time over there. The first time was kind of a lucky break. Someone hit me up about DJing in Dubai (which never happened) and I started hitting up friends that played overseas to see if I could route some sort of tour. One of my buddies plugged me with his contact at M1NT in Shanghai via e-mail. They ended up emailing me back within about 20 minutes with dates, and that was that. I did well the first time, and they invited me back last November.
Since clubs in Asia have only really come up in the past 10 years, how is the club experience different over there?
The biggest difference there is is no hip-hop in clubs. It's 100 percent high-energy dance music all the time. And by high energy, I mean super-hard electro, big room festival-type shit. The twist is it has to have some sort of mainstream vocals over it, so basically really hard electro remixes of Top 40 hits. That's the Asian club format. And after all that, they don't dance (laughs). It's all about popping bottles and spending money out there, not mingling on the dancefloor.
You were spotted on the VH1 DJ reality show Master of the Mix. How did you connect with that?
Yes, I got my two seconds of fame in the opening credits! They hit me up during casting via my website and Twitter, inviting me to audition. After the terrible reputation it had on BET I wasn't sure if it would be a good look, but since it was moving to VH1 I decided to give it a shot. I made it pretty far in the audition stages, to the point of being presented to VH1 who ultimately selected the finalists. Unfortunately, I didn't make the show, but anyone who's watched knows it's definitely not all based on skill. It's reality TV, so they have roles to fill to make it entertaining. Having 16 dope-ass DJs on a TV show wouldn't be nearly as interesting to the average person.
What do you think of the wavering opinions about that show? What's yours?
Well, the only thing about the show that's better now is the time slot, and that's only because most of us are working Saturday nights at midnight (BET airtime) as opposed to Mondays at midnight (VH1 airtime). Otherwise, I'm pretty disappointed in the show overall. For one, only one of the judges is even qualified to be up there judging any sort of DJ competition; shout out to Kid Capri. No one has even heard of the A&R dude and barely of Mia Morretti, who has no street cred in the DJ circuit whatsoever. Besides that, the editing is horrible. I understand they have a lot to pack into a one-hour show, but showing thirty seconds of each DJ's three-minute set is borderline worthless. They can obviously skew the performances to look as good or bad as they want based on which snippets they splice together. The blatantly poor judging each week is a clear indicator that it's scripted. Decent DJs [are] getting voted off over others that shouldn't even be up there in the first place. My guess is they knew who the winner was going to be before they even started filming. That's "reality TV" for you.
You were also a judge at this year's McDonald's Flavor battle, which you won last year. As a judge and a former contestant, what did you look for?
I caught quite a bit of heat from judging that battle, as most judges do. I wasn't judging the contenders in comparison to each other, but judging them all based on a certain level of skill that a battle DJ should have, especially when competing for $10,000. That skill would include technical ability, track selection, creativity, stage presence, execution, and overall flow of your set. I didn't feel any of them were up to that level, and I wasn't shy about pointing out the reasons why. I definitely hurt some feelings that night, but I think in the long run that's what's going to make you a better DJ. I came up battling, and the criticism is what made me want to go home and practice harder.
What do you think of the current state of DJ battles and skill sets?
I think it's dope that battles are coming back. I started out doing DMC, ITF, Guitar Center, and other battles. But once Serato came around, those were pretty much wiped off the map along with vinyl. Red Bull Thre3style is a brilliant concept because it fuses DJ competitions with modern day party-rocking, which is much more relevant now and appealing to a wider audience. On one hand it levels the playing field for DJs that aren't necessarily the most technical to compete in a DMC-style battle, but can still rock a party better than the next guy, and showcase their creativity in other ways. On the other hand, it's bringing out a lot of incredibly dope DJs all over the world that you would otherwise never hear of or get to see. The stakes get higher and higher ever year, and it's making everyone want to step their game up, myself included. You could be one of the top-rated DJs in the country, but if you get smashed on by some bedroom DJ in a competition you're going to go home with a bruised ego, and maybe bruised career.
Tell me about the newest release in your Stimulus Package series.
I put out remixes and bootlegs fairly regularly, but there's a ton of stuff I make that I either forget to release, or I make for my own personal use to keep my sets fresh and unique. I got to a point where I had a dozen or so bootlegs and edits stacked up, so I decided to give them all away at once. This was around the time Obama created the economic stimulus package, so I used the same name, as it's sort of the same concept -- a little boost in the DJs musical economy. I've done two so far, and [am] preparing to release my third pack this week. I also just hit 100,000 plays on Soundcloud, so I'm dubbing this Stimulus Pack the 100K Bootlegs. It will be up for free download on Friday.
Lastly, what's your current guilty pleasure track to play in the club is?
I'm not going to say the new Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," because I think that's everyone's guilty pleasure track right now, it's so freaking good. Besides that, I'd probably say Icona Pop's "I Love It (Sick Individuals Remix)." I was playing that track before it really caught on and I'm happy that more people are on it now. It's really similar to Justice's "We Are Your Friends" -- it makes people want to close their eyes and sing it at the top of their lungs. I love that. I actually made an edit of it that will be in the new Stimulus Package.