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DJ KAAOS on hip-hop's golden era, sticking with vinyl and playing with a drummer

DJ KAAOS stands apart from the crowd with his arms full of tattoos, toting stacks of record crates (which apparently require a dolly). As a DJ, he's fully committed to respecting the past, while also forging his way into the future with MF KAAOS (and no, that isn't an MF DOOM reference, in case you're wondering), a live DJ and drums combo he's part of with his brother-in-law, Matt Fink. We recently caught up with KAAOS, a guy who got his start playing in bands, who believes the '90s is when hip-hop was at its best, who hasn't made the transition to Serato and who, when the weather dictates it, literally has to ice his records to keep them from warping.

Westword (Rachel Romero): Who is DJ KAAOS?

DJ KAAOS: I broke out in late 2005 into 2006, desiring to be a scratch DJ in a band, and to have the opportunity to get out as a solo act, spinning my flavor for the concert-goers. Since then, I've managed to do just that.

In 2009, I set it off when B Money was at one of my shows at the Gothic, and invited me to play a set on Basementalism Radio. It was at that point last year that things really began to shine for me in the hip-hop community. While I don't look to be a battle DJ, I'd like to put a stamp on my unique flavor, and keep evolving in what I'm rolling with today, in hopes of gaining the recognition I need in this talent-filled hip-hop DJ community, to get out and playing as often as possible. Currently, you can catch me playing the lounges, college clubs, ski resort clubs and, with my drummer, at the concert venues.

Ww: You first started deejaying as a member of local bands UmConscious, Boondok Saints, Rhythm Vision and the Flash Mob. Do you think there's a greater benefit to getting your start solo or with a group?

DJK: In my experience, most definitely in the band scene. I started with Boondok Saints, which was my brother-in-law, Matt Fink's band, which, fortunately for me, had an awesome following. With that, I was able to get in front of hundreds of heads at shows.

Once I was established, I would actually open the concerts we played as a solo DJ, which really got me out there.After a couple of years of Boondok not being together, I was able to sit in with heavy hitting hip-hop band, UmConscious, who, once again, got me in front of hundreds of heads, and who also had me open concerts as a solo act.

Ww: You've said that 1993 was the best year in hip-hop and have been adamant about your refusal of Top 40 tracks within your DJ sets. Why is this?

DJK: Don't get me wrong; I really love a lot of the underground from today, too, and 70 percent of my sets today consist of the 2000's underground. Whereas when I first broke onto the scene in 2005-2006, 70 percent of my set was mid- '90s underground. I loved '93-'95 so much because a lot of really dope records dropped one after the other, and I haven't seen that happen since.

For example, just to name a few records within those two years, we had Illmatic, Enta Da Stage, Resurrection, Midnight Marauders, Liquid Swords, The Infamous ... and these records dropped one after the other. Yes, when you listen to Top 40, especially today, wow! You definitely have to stick with underground hip-hop just to reassure yourself that hip-hop has progressed, because today's Top 40 is awful, and has absolutely no feeling to it.

Ww: Who or what is to blame for today's Top 40 music being "awful?"

DJK: That's easy ... Sean Combs, Jay Z, 50, Marshall Mathers ... I can go on. Look, I understand that music is always going to progress with the times. I truly understand that, and I appreciate the progression of rock music, blues and jazz and where those genres are today. I've never liked the Top 40 selections in rap, but especially today. There's no soul, or feeling to the music, and the lyrical content shows no skill or creativity, in my opinion.

Obviously something is right about it because these cats are multi-millionaires, but just coming from my own opinion, I can't get into it, and I feel the really good hip-hop to be playing happens to come straight from the '90s to current day underground where pure beats and rhymes are the standard. Don't get me wrong; not all underground hip-hop is bangin', but the majority of it is, with soulful, hard-hitting beats and creative lyrics and flow.

Ww: Anything as of late catch your ear?

DJK: Yes! My favorite single in the past year is "Addicted" by Waldek, which is better known as swing hop or electrojazz. There are lots of hip-hop elements in the production. Some of the other tunes you can hear me incorporate into my sets are [songs by] Pretty Lights, Miss Li, Wax Taylor.

Ww: You're one of the few DJs around town that hasn't crossed over into the world of Serato. A few weekends ago at The Spirit of Hip Hop Park Jam, you had to ice your records to prevent a literal meltdown. Do you feel like using only vinyl in a world of MP3s restricts you?

DJK: Not at all ... Vinyl is my preference. One of my favorite things about it is seeing the 12-inch cardboard sleeve cover when I'm digging for my next track. While I might not be able to find a piece or two here and there, I'm reaping the benefits of coming up on record collections from cats who've gone Serato, or digital in general.

If I can't find a record I want, I don't worry about it. I have over 600 records, and I play them all. I'm not a collector, digger or beat maker, so I don't have this cellar full of records. I role up to shows with a dolly-truck full of five or six crates of vinyl positioned directly behind me when I'm playing, which also makes for a cool stage presence. As far as literally keeping my records on ice, yes, it was like 100 degrees that day, and they would have warped for sure. I've had it happen!

Ww: What's your most cherished piece of vinyl and why?

DJK: This just happens to be one of my top five hip-hop records of all time: I have an original release, sealed Hard to Earn double LP, signed by the late Guru. Now, I just need to cross Premo's path and get him to sign it, too. An incredible moment for me, and most definitely my only cherished piece. Oh and by the way, Hard to Earn was released in '94 [laughs] -- there's that damn '93-'95 era again.

Ww: What's the best track to throw on for a less than enthusiastic crowd?

DJK: I can always, and every time, get reaction when I throw on a track called "The Bay" by Lyrics Born, which, in turn, can change my entire set flow, but sometimes, it's needed.

Ww: The Colorado DJ landscape is full of world-class turntablists - how have you set yourself apart from the turntablist DJ scene?

DJK: Tell me about it. I'm blessed to be surrounded by cats like Cysko Rokwel, B Money and Vajra, to name a few real deal turntablists. I think the biggest thing for me is that I get a lot of love and attention on the flow and track selection in my sets.

These cats write and prepare very hard to execute their battle routines, and I do the same when I'm getting ready for a show in prepping a really hot set. Half of the time, I bring along a live drummer to rock with me, so that alone, definitely sets me apart, and gives me my own identity.

Ww: Speaking of your drummer, Matt Fink, what is MF KAAOS, and what can people expect from a live performance?

DJK: MF KAAOS is a project that my brother-in-law, Matt Fink [MF] and I, put together. I spin a non-stop, one hour, hot, upbeat, underground hip-hop DJ set, which consists of a very clever arrangement of tracks and transitions -- beat mixed, smashed and scratched into each other, accompanied by a very heavy handed, ill, live drummer taking over the drum track of each joint I play.

I was actually inspired by the DJ AM/Travis Barker project, and thought we could bite on it, and make it our own. It's amazing to witness live, and we make for an awesome main supporting act. We're not an opening act quite yet, but a main support act, in hopes of having our own headlining shows in the very near future.

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Ww: Would you rather rock with a live musician or with a rapper? Why?

DJK: I vibe on the energy of the crowd I perform in front of. If I'm not providing music that makes a head nod and some bodies move, I'm not doing my thing. With that being said, I prefer to rock solo or with my drummer, where I have complete control. I don't mind sitting in with a rapper occasionally, but I don't get the satisfaction I desire from the crowd with just a DJ and a rapper. That's why I left the band scene -- very little reward for a DJ in a band!

Ww: What does the rest of 2010 hold for KAAOS?

DJK: I want MF KAAOS to blow up, but most importantly, to me, in 2010, I want to be heard!

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