By the age of 12, DJ Immortal was amassing experience in the business.
"My family moved from New York to Coral Springs," Immortal tells New Times. "I got exposed to Magic Mike and DJ Laz. I saw Laz scratching at Six Flags Atlantis, and I was like: This is what I have to do."
In seventh grade, he started working with his two best friends under his birth name, Jamie Keogh.
"We bought a turntable, a couple of records, and a CD player," he recounts. "We'd get paid $50 that we'd split three ways to DJ a house party, and we were so happy."
When his brother's best friend, Korey Styles, moved into his parent's house, a teenage Immortal was introduced to an entirely new aspect of DJ'ing.
"He showed me all these DMC Competition videos on VHS," Immortal marvels. "I'd seen DJ battles in the movie Juice, but when Korey showed me the tapes, I was like: This really happens? They were scratching with all these crazy tricks. They were doing turntables with their elbows. They were doing it behind their back."
Having been exposed to the world of DJ competition, he set to work perfecting his technique, to the point where by the time he moved to Orlando for school, he was a full-blown addict.
"We had a DJ crew called Fader Ballistix," he says. "Any time there was a DJ battle anywhere from New York to Miami, we'd all get in the car and drive."
Immortal won about 25 competitions during this period — and he has a pile of trophies at his mother's house in Coral Springs as proof. His last hurrah came in 2011 when he won the New Orleans regional battle of that year's DMC World DJ Championships.
Though he put the competitive life behind him, Immortal continued to make a living off his turntables, serving as the director and instructor at Scratch DJ Academy in Hollywood and as the house DJ for the Miami Marlins. He also hosted a weekly radio show on 104.3 The Shark, where he mixed alternative rock like Green Day and Pearl Jam as though they were hip-hop cuts.
Then 2020 happened.
"The pandemic canceled all my gigs — weddings, corporate events. For financial reasons, the radio station canceled my show and furloughed all their employees after five years," he explains.
Even though he considered DJ battling a younger man's game, the 40-year-old father of three got some encouragement from his students to try battling again.
"We would study and critique other DJ routines. We'd watch the DMC Championships, and they'd be like: 'Why don't you enter? You can beat that guy.'"
In the midst of quarantine, he resolved to take up the challenge.
With an all-virtual format, the 2020 DMC Championship promised to be different from its previous incarnations. Still, Immortal managed to outlast hundreds of competitors through two rounds of battles to make it to the finals. Last November, representing Miami, he defeated a dozen other finalists and was crowned 2020 DMC U.S. Champion. That earned him an invitation to the World Championship, where he placed sixth.
He can defend his U.S. title in 2021, but he's considering retiring from battling while he's on top.
"It can be tedious working on a routine," he says. "Nothing's been announced yet on whether it's going to be virtual again or not, so I'll decide when it gets closer."
As rewarding as being named champion, Immortal says gets even more satisfaction from being a father and a teacher.
"I'm blessed to teach this art form. Seeing a student go from the classroom to making it big is the best feeling ever."
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