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On a recent Wednesday, if you were playing (or being played) at Voodoo Lounge's ladies night and looked past sweating ice buckets, through the dance floor, and to the DJ table above, you would have seen Cato K -- baggy jeans, T-shirt, baseball cap -- spinning his South Beach mix. "The way I play, I never think like I'm DJing," Cato says. "I dance around. Go crazy. I kind of lose myself."
And if you bought Party 93.1's Anthems 2 CD, released last week, you're also carrying around Cato K's seamless mixes of the radio station's annual hits compilation, including songs from Motorcycle, Paul Van Dyk, and the late Celia Cruz. "I wanted to start with a bang and finish with a bang and mix the songs in a way that there would be nonstop energy," he says of the CD.
Like many DJ coming-of-age stories, Cato K's energetic presence can be traced through an evolution of musical tastes and technical skills. However, this coming-of-age story originates in a very unlikely place. "I was the last person expected to be a DJ," Cato admits, "until I joined the Army."
From 1994 to 1997, Cato K, or rather, U.S. Army Specialist Joshua Cataldo, was stationed in Germany. There, he occupied a much smaller space than the stage of a Himmarshee dance club -- a four-man M1A1 Abrams tank. He was a driver. He was a loader. He was a gunner. And he was twice deployed on Eastern European peacekeeping missions, spending a year in Bosnia and five months in Macedonia.
Living in a war zone, having your machine run over antitank mines, and being on the receiving end of small-arms fire -- this gives a person a distinct kind of cred. On its website, the U.S. Army reveals that the design of Cato K's M1A1 Abrams tank included "a nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) protection system that increases survivability in a contaminated environment."
However, the website doesn't explain that you can rig a Walkman into the tank's intercom system to listen to the Wu Tang Clan as you plow through that contaminated environment. Music choices were determined by the tank commander. One commander was into classic rock. Another was a reformed biker turned Christian soldier. "I remember driving into Bosnia, an environment you can't imagine -- the buildings, everything covered with bullet holes," Cato says. "It was a country destroyed. Gospel music wasn't the worst thing you could be listening to."
And war-torn cities weren't the only unfriendly destinations. "German clubs wouldn't let us in," he says. "They were worried we would get drunk, puke, and start fights." The one accepting club they found took their IDs for security. But it was worth it. It was the mid-'90s, and the techno bleeping out of the speakers at those German clubs grew on the young soldier. That's when Joshua Cataldo, dabbling with barracks equipment and accumulating a booty of European techno CDs, became Cato K.
In 1998, when he came home to the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., to attend college at George Mason University, Cato K started working frat parties and college nights in local bars. He spun in Georgetown's preppy bars and in more international dance clubs like Nation and Club Zei. In 2001, with a B.A. in communications, he set out for the beaches of South Florida, sometimes working gratis before landing regular gigs at Fort Lauderdale's Café Iguana and Coconut Grove's Iguana Cantina. Cato went from interning at 93.1 to mixing morning and evening rush-hour sets.
Like the origin of his techno-love, his DJ name also came from his time overseas. "There once was a pissed-off drill instructor who couldn't pronounce Cataldo," he says. "He said, 'OK, your name's Cato. '" And the name stuck. The K? People would just throw it out there. They'd say, 'Hey Cato K!' It comes from nowhere."
But his musical tastes came from everywhere. Growing up in the suburbs of D.C., he lived in predominantly African-American Oxon Hill, Maryland. "I was a head banger there," he says. "Aerosmith and Metallica." When his family moved to white-bread Manassas, Virginia (not one but two bloody Civil War battles were fought there), he backed into hip-hop. In the Army, Cato had the Wu Tang Clan's emblem tattooed on his arm. And there was techno in Germany and trance in college. "Now I listen to everything, including hip-hop, reggae, classic rock," Cato says. "But funky, peak-hour house is my favorite music in the clubs, as well as what I personally like to spin."
Like his musical tastes, Cato K views his career as a steady evolution. "I might have thought I was a decent DJ two years ago," he explains. "Now I look at myself totally different. It's just like playing a guitar or some other instrument. The more you learn, the more you can manipulate the music."