With the sound of a gun shot and the future champion falling to the floor, everyone in the room knew it was over. DJ Pucuy had just won the Pioneer Digital DJ Battle Asia 2012. Representing Indonesia, he had triumphed over DJ's who had been battling for more than a decade only to eventually concede to the young champion.
Now 6 years after the competition, and with only 1 more round held in 2014, the Pioneer Digital DJ Battle is no longer around with hardly a whisper on the 10 amazing DJs who battled with all their might that night in Bangkok.
Coming from all over Asia, the ten finalists were Pucuy from Indonesia, A Si-C from Israel, Zushan from Singapore, Mass Ramli from Dubai Representing Sri Lanka, ET from Malaysia, Katsy Lee from Philippines, Dear Re-Rock from Thailand, The Popcorn Thieves from Australia, and Kenobi from the UAE representing Japan.
All champions in their own right, the final 10 have since set forth after the competition gracing stages such as the majestic Ultra Music Festival to the much respected Zouk based in Singapore. Walk into a top club in Asia and you just might catch them as a resident.
In this series we talk to the former finalists of 2012 and how the competition had impacted what they've done and how it changed how they saw the future of DJ-ing change.
While some of the finalists are no longer active in their respective scenes, the rest of them are leading schools and programs not unlike the Digital DJ Battle as a platform in grooming the next generation of DJs.
The man behind all this is Kevin Keagan from Pioneer DJ Asia Center. A mainstay in the industry for more than 20 years, he leads the Pioneer DJ effort from the sunny shores of Singapore. A generally quiet man with watchful eyes, Kevin has seen and supported the Clubs and DJ's all over Asia over through the arduous transition from Analog to Digital.
Flying from country to country every few months, Kevin scoured Asia with Pioneer DJ searching for champions since 2003. The competition itself having it's start in the early 2000s by Hideki Ono, Juice Magazine Malaysia headed it for a few years before it went back to Pioneer.
Seated now in a quiet meeting room, we had the chance to ask Kevin about what had lead him to pursue the path that he is on.
ADM: Could you share with us how the Pioneer Digital DJ Battle started and your involvement with it?
Kevin Keagan: The original Digital Dj Battle was started by Hideki Ono back in the early 2000s as a way to encourage DJ's to move into using digital media and help promote them onto a better platform. It came as an idea that started as the Pioneer Asian Laser Karaoke Championship. He thought it was the perfect time to help DJ's transition over to Digital since the CDJ-1000 had just launched. It was the perfect opportunity to show that whatever you could do on vinyl, you could do the same on the CDJ.
At that time it was purely a competition where the top DJ's would all come together to compete and would leave at the end of the competition back into their own lives without much continuity. Eventually the competition ended up in my hands around 2007 when I had officially been transferred to the Pioneer DJ Division who at that time was headed by Connie Tan.
ADM: So what changes did you make to it that helped it grow to what it eventually became?
KK: Initially the competition was very very fierce and it was really all about merely skill and skill alone. When I started with them there wasn't a lot that I could do because of the hierarchy that was in place. So for a few years I observed what I felt could have been done better and then implemented it when I could.
ADM: And what were the changes?
KK: I decided that it would be better for the scene as a whole if everything was much friendlier. The new aim of the Pioneer Digital DJ Battle would be more than just helping the local DJ's showcase their skills and promote them to a larger audience. It was to help them foster a sense of community with DJ's from other cultures and encourage them to work together for a better future.
ADM: Do you think that your changes have had any lasting effect on the DJ's who were present for the Battles that you ran?
KK: Of course! Many of the DJ's that battled together after the change are still friends today and work together as much as they can. I just called a few of them the other day to see if they were interested in doing a reunion performance and instantly all of them agreed to it.
ADM: So how did it manifest into the end of Pioneer Digital DJ Battle and the start of Mix Us Happy?
KK: During the battle I had seen that many of the people in the audience that weren't DJ's were all extremely interested in one day being able to be there as well. You could see the interest to DJ in their eyes as the finalists battled it out. That's when the idea struck me, if we, Pioneer, didn't reach out to them to show them that it's possible who will?
ADM: What else encouraged the change? Wouldn't you be able to do the same just by holding more Pioneer Digital DJ Battles?
KK: The culture was shifting. This was in the early 2010s and that was the start of a health boom. More youths were interested in running marathons than going for music festivals and there was so much promotion on living a healthier lifestyle. It wasn't just that, the DJ's themselves were changing.
Previously in clubs when you went to a DJ to request a song, many of them would oblige and treat it as a challenge to see how your request would fit with they had in mind. Now the habit of rejecting requests was growing and the DJ's would feel that requests were rude. With such actions eventually the audience wouldn't really understand what was going on and would lose interest in the art of DJing.
ADM: So how did that lead to the Mix Us Happy program?
KK: One thing I noticed at the start of my career was that no matter how much you would learn eventually it all had to start with a single step. That's when it hit me, why not teach the audience the basics to better help them understand what was going on behind the DJ console. That way by gaining a better understanding of what's going on behind the console they'd eventually appreciate the DJ more and seek to learn even more about DJing.
ADM: Did you face any opposition when you started this program?
KK: Yes I did. Many of the older DJs were calling me up telling me that I was killing their business, that I'd wreck the scene but I didn't care. Eventually many of them realised what was happening after the first few years and decided to support it.
ADM: Leading back to the changes you did in the Pioneer Digital DJ Battle, was the goal for Mix Us Happy the same?
KK: It is our hope that Mix Us Happy will help change the culture. As the market leader it's our responsibility to really do something for the community to help improve the culture.
Business wise it creates a new market share for us and helps us ignite the passion in the younger generation.
ADM: Could you explain a little more about Mix Us Happy?
KK: What we're doing with the program is to show them a taste of what it's like to be a DJ. No where in any of our entire program do we say that it's a professional DJ competition. We constantly emphasise that it's merely a step in the direction of being a DJ, whether for your own leisure or in some cases professionally.
That said, we have contestants from every walk of life coming in to join and doing amazing things in the 4 months of training that we provide. Even our judges who are all veteran DJs themselves are pleasantly surprised when they see our finalists show off what they've learned.
ADM: Would you say that the program would make the contestants ready to play at clubs and big parties?
KK: Definitely not. It's a different set of skills that you'd pick up when you're preparing to play at clubs and parties and with what you would learn for a DJ competition. But you can't compare apples to oranges.
ADM: What do you mean by that?
KK: Learning to be a DJ today is so different compared to learning how to be a DJ back when I started in 1986. Back then you had to start as a light boy, then a sound boy, then you'd carry crates of vinyl in and out before the DJ might want to show you something. Even then if he did it would be a case of them asking you to watch and learn over actually teaching you anything.
Technology has made DJing so much more accessible now, all you need is a computer and a controller and you'd be able to perform tricks that DJ's from previous generations took months or even years to learn.
Sure a lot of older DJs hate on younger DJs for using technology to better their sets and shows but just like the Auto transmission car, when it first came out everyone hated on it but now almost everyone drives one.
Eventually as a DJ you have to realise that technology and how we DJ will always keep changing even if the basic principals stay the same. I mean wouldn't it be better with the computer helping you with ambient functions so you could pull off something showy and fancy during a set?
ADM: So what else would you say can Mix Us Happy do in comparison to Pioneer Digital DJ Battle when it comes to changing the culture of the scene?
KK: What we aim to do in Mix Us Happy is to show people that DJing is more than what you see in movies and in clubs. We want to help people enjoy and have fun while DJing, not just focusing on getting themselves into clubs and festivals.
We realised along the way we couldn't just focus on the people at the top. There were so many people who wanted to walk the path but didn't know how to start. That's where Mix Us Happy came from, and from there we do what we can to guide them. They have to know that to be a DJ it isn't just going from show to show, the entire journey is one long continuous effort and progression.
In the last 4 years of the program we've seen people from all ages and all walks of life joining in hopes of turning it into something more. I personally think it's our responsibility as the market leader to give it to them.
In life there are only so many things that you can do that you really enjoy. For me, this program is one of them. It lets me do two of my favourite things, building people up to see them grow and having a good time.
The Generation Of Change is a series that focuses on the finalists of the Pioneer Digital DJ Battle and how their lives were impacted by the competition that has led to them leading the change in grooming a new generation of DJ's