For my first edition of In the Booth, I wanted to speak with L.A.-based DJ Excel, one of my favorite DJs to watch and hear. He and I are both from Philadelphia. And for years growing up, I saw his name posted around the city and listened to his old mixtapes. In Philly, he's a legend.
We didn't actually meet until years later, at Vibe in Fort Lauderdale one night, after I'd started DJ'ing myself. We became fast friends, like we'd grown up together, even though we had never met when we were young.
He's toured the world; founded one of the most-respected DJ crews in the country, Skratch Makaniks; been the official tour DJ and produced music for pop star Dev; and has been releasing new music under both his own name and as Alfa Paare with DJ Impulse. In anticipation of his January 31 gig at Vibe, I sat down to ask him some important DJ questions.
Adam Foster: We're both from the Philadelphia area. I know growing up there had a huge influence on my musical tastes. How did starting out in Philly affect your musical tastes and style?
DJ Excel: Philly has so much talent. Not just in DJs, artistically overall. The DJs I was fortunate enough to grow up around were all supertalented and masters of their craft -- mixers that could ride pitches forever without touching the record. Scratch DJs that were all unique, fast, and incredibly clean. Club DJs that specialized in everything from rare grooves to house.
All of those artists combined were the blueprint I studied and still are the foundation of the DJ I am today. I'm forever honored to have experienced that firsthand.
What was your first gig ever?
Basement party, New Year's Eve, probably '95, '96. [It was] me and my original DJ partner, OBi-1. All night, all friends, and whatever we wanted to play. A couple of black lights and some Radio Shack police-siren lights. No money, but the fun levels were maxed out! As well as stupid amounts of Mad Dog 20/20, Cisco, and Old English!
How have you stayed relevant and busy over so many years in such an uncertain industry?
That's the tricky part. I feel that's one of the hardest things for many artists. As we get older, the crowds get younger. Let's face it: The weekend warrior is not a young man's game. By the time you're in your 30s, most of the clubgoers have slowed down since most have settled down. The key is to stay relevant with the next generation, 18 to 28. Those are the magic numbers.
As far as working consistently over the years, that's all about relationships. Even if you're in demand, the people responsible for bookings move around the industry. I've had a significant amount of work over the years from friends that I made a long time ago.
I really cherish my friendships in this business. They mean everything to me. The traveling DJ thing is great, but it can be lonely bouncing city to city not knowing anyone. It's way more enjoyable having a network in each city and worldwide. Staying consistent with work flow and content is crucial as well.
In the age of social media pretty much making people careers, if you don't keep up and put out material, you will quickly be overlooked by someone who will.
Tell me about the founding of the Skratch Makaniks crew.
Philly was always known for the lack of unity amongst artists. At least that's what I saw. Not since the early '80s were there any real DJ crews. It was really every man for himself.
All the guys in the crew are peers and mentors that not only I looked up to but everyone involved did as well. It just made sense to bring these great talents together and go after our dreams as a team rather than individually. We all had a similar vision. We all hung out. We all practiced together. We all had been making names for ourselves around the tri-state. It just made sense. Everyone agreed, and the rest set itself in place.
What's your favorite place that you visited in the last year?
Tokyo. I've always been influenced by their culture, food, dedication to perfection, and their appreciation for vintage Americana. I'm really glad I finally made the trip. I wanted to go years ago, but things didn't pan out. Waiting wasn't a bad thing. More people knew who I was, and I was able to make some really awesome friends there who took care of me throughout the trip. Looking forward to going back again this year.
What is your favorite city to DJ in?
Hmmm... That's tough for me to answer. It's really based on crowd and party experience for me. All of the cities I've been to have been a lot of fun in their own way. I can't really pick one city at this point. I love traveling and playing for new crowds. I think in due time, and way more land covered, I can narrow down one city.
What are your goals for 2015?
The goal for every year is to "excel." Become a better person, a better DJ, a better producer. Cover more ground, discover new places, play more parties, bigger crowds, and complete another year of me chasing a childhood dream.
You have played a number of times at Vibe Las Olas. What's special about playing in Fort Lauderdale? Is there anything special? Is the crowd different from other cities?
It's always a blast to play for that crowd and to break bread with you. Fort Lauderdale is a very special place. I'm fascinated by the people and the culture there. It has a vibe and energy all its own. Not like Miami or Vegas or L.A.
The people are always ready to party. They all dance. They're upscale but laid-back at the same time. They love house and hip-hop, EDM, and deep house. There's a bit of Latin/Caribbean flair and plenty of amazing women to go along with it. It's a must-visit city to fully understand and appreciate the speed of life and how unique Fort Lauderdale truly is.
DJ Excel spins at 10 p.m., January 31, at Vibe, 301 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Ten-dollar cover for guys; ladies are admitted free. Visit vibelasolas.com.
You can hear more of his live sets on his Soundcloud.
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