Underdog stories are some of the best ones around. Maybe it's because we all fashion ourselves to be underdogs. Maybe it's the element of surprise of someone or something that's supposed to have no chance make it out on top that fascinates us. What is certain is that the more disadvantaged the underdog is, the sweeter the victory becomes. You could say the same for Chris Karns. The DJ and producer formerly known as DJ Vajra came up from a rough town in Indiana, raised by a single parent, and made it to the top tier of some of the most respected DJs in the world. Now he has the right to call the world home.
"Growing up in Ft. Wayne was tough. It's not really a nice place to live since it has that small town hood mentality, and there isn't really very much to do. I pretty much spent my time playing soccer, basketball, and doing art. My dad supported my family as a one man band, which was kind of like an early form of DJing (that required more talent and practice). I used to listen to my Huey Lewis and Michael Jackson tapes on a daily basis."
That's only a short look into the childhood of what would become a DMC World and Red Bull Thre3style Champion. Chris' father was a big inspiration for him since he was able to create music and making enough of a living to support his family. That admiration would later find a means of becoming a source of inspiration when he started watching Yo! MTV Raps. He remembers watching the show around nine years old for the first time and feeling like the music spoke to him "in a way no other music did." One particular DJ that captured his attention was Jazzy Jeff. In fact, he listened to "He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper" so much that he popped 3 copies of the tape.
From there, he would teach himself how to scratch on a $20 belt drive turntable and listen to hard hitting boom bap like Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome," Nas' "The World is Yours," and Black Moon's "Who Got The Props." When Chris started to watch DMC tapes, he would quickly get frustrated trying to emulate what QBert and Babu did, or a pattern he would come up with in his head. So he did the only things he could do. "Just stand there and try over and over and over again for years until it finally started to sound ok. Still working at it though!"
Soon enough, instead of getting frustrated, he started getting 1st place trophies. He became the USA DMC Champ and the World Champ the same year (2011). He also made an impressive run at the Red Bull Thre3style tournament, coming away as the winner three times. All of this was only possible after he quit his day job and decided to pursue a career in music:
"I never wanted to mix money with music because I thought it would suck the passion for it out of me. About 10 years ago I quit my job at the record store and made the move to doing music full time."
Of all the routines that Chris has put together, he told us that his favorite and most challenging one to assemble was his 2011 DMC Championship set: "I pretty much destroyed my shoulder for life working on the 'faster' routine at the end. It was worth it though!" A couple things that you'll notice if you watch any Chris Karns performance is that he's one of the fastest scratchers around who doesn't compromise clarity and he's constantly integrating new technology. Now, he's looking to add more than just turntables to his live shows, like a full drum kit and a drum pad. If you're looking to match up to his skill level, make sure you excel in the following categories that he listed for us: "Creativity, skills, timing, music selection/knowledge and style. I have respect for most DJs out there, but look up to very few."
As with most great DJs, Chris started exploring different parts of the music industry which included being the road DJ for Yelawolf, touring with Pretty Lights, and producing Dance music. He revealed that Craze made the connection between Yelawolf and himself. While it was an "interesting experience" he doesn't plan on setting up a follow up tour any time soon with Yela. As for production, he's progressed from underground Hip-Hop to Funk and Jazz to Dance music about five years ago. Although it was difficult for him to make that last transition since a lot of Dance music sounded similar to him, he's worked on developing an ear for it and is starting to get a hang of it. You can notice the comfort level when you hear the scratches over Mix Master Mike's speaker shaker "Voltron" or the relaxing vibes of a song like "We Gonna Make It."
2016 will most likely see a ton of more shows and remixes along with original production from Chris Karns. But don't count him out of running to steal the crown from whoever holds it at the next big DJ tournament:
"I would consider battling again, but it would have to be the right situation and timing. I just love the fire it puts under me. It brings out my best. It doesn't really matter what battle, I would do any of them."
1. What is your favorite movie of all time?Usual Suspects
2. As a young DJ, who was the one DJ you looked up to?Too many to name, but definitely QBert has been and still is one of my top guys.
3. As a DJ, what's your biggest pet peeve?It really bothers me when DJs play nothing but other people's remixes and mashups. Make some of your own and be original!
4. What is your current set up at home?DJ set up: I use the Reloop RP-8000 turntables, Rane 62 mixer, and a Maschine.
Production set up: I use an Impulse 49 MIDI keyboard, Oxygen 8 (for knob mapping), Saffire Pro 40 sound card, Dynaudio monitors and sub, the Maschine (yet again), and pretty much any instrument I can get my hands on to record.
5. What's your favorite record of all time?"Manha de Carnaval" by Vince Guaraldi