The evolution of music, since antiquity, has been wide and varied and has always been split into two camps—traditional and contemporary. The fight for which reigns has been a tug-of-war battle swinging like a pendulum throughout the ages. In the Medieval Period, the fight was amongst sacred and secular. In the beginning of the twentieth century, it was a fight for tonality as purists sought Bach over Schoenberg, while a movement in Western Music, especially in America, was becoming enamored with the highly syncopated sounds of ragtime (the precursor to jazz).
While the fight continued through the twentieth century, a new sound was developing in New York City and it was called Hip-Hop. Poetry to an ostinato beat, Hip Hop was the offspring of rhythm and blues, funk, and jazz, and it was on the precipice of becoming astonishingly influential both nationally and internationally. It was during this period that two individuals started to fall in love with music—Chris Oroc (Babu) and Carlos Thurston (Mr. Choc). Though born on separate coasts, their paths would eventually cross, and they would become members of the internationally known DJ crew, The Beat Junkies.
Growing up, Chris recalls watching MTV during its heyday, when the music channel actually played videos, and making a conscious choice of pursuing music that appealed to him and that would eventually introduce him to the world of DJing. “I bought Malcolm McLaren & The World Famous Supreme Team because there is this crazy boom box on the cover and, actually, on the flip side of that album was the first time I ever saw a DJ setup. It was the first time I saw a Technic 1200. It was a really influential time.”
Coming from the field of urban dance—breaking and pop-locking—Carlos remembers being fascinated with the music but recalls his first time seeing an actual DJ, “I would hear the records that I had...I knew what the records were but something else was happening to them. I would hear different sounds over them or there were different tricks that were being done to them. I was like wait, what’s the DJ doing?”
The Beat Junkies are considered some of the best in the business when it comes to DJing. But, they’re not the kind of act that plays your cousin’s quinceañera or bar mitzvah. Their type of DJing is called turntablism, in which the manipulation of sounds and beats are juxtaposed to create an art form that turns turntables into a musical instrument that only the late twentieth century could have birthed. And it was The Beat Junkies’ mission to ensure that their new art form was rooted in the basics, where fundamentals were practiced and honed, and each member was pushed to continuously elevate their craft.
And that is exactly what they did. They became pioneers in their field, traveling domestically and abroad touring, playing festivals, making television and radio appearances, competing in DJ battles, and winning awards. But after many successful years in the business, something started to change. Time spent on the road was keeping them away from home—away from their family and friends.
During a conversation with D-Styles, another member of The Beat Junkies, Chris was posed with a question. “What do boxers do when they don’t box anymore?” D-Styles asked him. “They open gyms, man. They train the next generation. And maybe it’s time for us to do that.” Moved by the thought, Chris went home and contemplated his next move over the span of a week. At the group’s next meeting, he informed the crew that he was “200% in.”
Their idea of a “gym” was opening a school—the Beat Junkie Institute of Sound. It was going to be the next chapter in their illustrious careers, a chapter that would allow them to spend more time with their families and educate the next generation of DJs. But this new generation of DJs was coming into the business with a contemporary take on the art and something The Beat Junkies didn’t have, or at least didn’t rely on—computers.
“Everyone feels like they can buy a computer and boom, they are an instant DJ. They feel they can now go DJ anywhere. But it’s not like that at all. This is a craft and you have to learn how to do this craft,” Carlos says while shaking his head. “We feel we are the best teachers because we have our experiences. We’ve done it all under the DJ umbrella.”
Chris feels the same way. This mentality is what drives him to educate students and other DJs. A craft takes skill, patience, and perseverance to master. But his ability to share the skill set he had acquired over the last twenty-five years was something that did not come naturally to him. His experience in the hip-hop world, at times, felt exclusive. Crews held onto their artistic secrets closely and rarely shared them with other artists or groups. “There is this weird competitive side of hip-hop that forced me to not share for the better part of twenty-five years,” he told me. “If I am not battling, if you are not in my crew, or if I am not performing and getting paid, I am not going to show you my stuff. It was a really selfish attitude. And when I started to think about this concept of teaching, I realized I was making a huge mistake. It made me realize I wanted to share everything I knew. What other art form puts those handcuffs on you about sharing art? Isn’t that the point of art?” He went on, “Better late than never, I guess. I find [teaching] so gratifying. Sharing and teaching completes me and has really changed my life.”
Harnessing their new inspiration, Chris, Carlos, and the rest of the crew opened their doors to all in the Spring of 2017 in Los Angeles, CA in the hopes of fostering a community of DJs—young and old, novice and seasoned professional alike. When I asked Carlos what excites him about the school, he started talking about the young kids that take his class.“I love the fact that their eyes widen when they learn something new like they didn’t even know that they could do that,” he says with a wide smile across his face. “It’s a beautiful thing man, it feels really good that kids and people from all ages and all walks of life are coming in here, through these doors, and we are showing them how to do this DJ thing. That’s our thing here, building better DJ’s.”
Cover Photo (35mm film) by Jaime Valdovino
View additional photos here.