Stuart McMillin, aka Sound-boy, has high hopes for his "Old School vs. New School DJ Battle" Friday, June 27th, at Neil's, he just doesn't expect to crown a winner. "This competition isn't your average DJ battle," he explains. "I want people to come showcase their skills in a positive environment."
"Memphis has so much untapped talent," McMillin enthuses, "but so many of my friends are [so] discouraged by the drama that they forget about the music. There are so many different cliques, [the overall DJ scene] gets divided. I'm not appealing to one clique. I just want to get the people who like the music."
Many of the promoters and players on the Memphis scene are people you may not have heard of. While the Memphix collective and such people as Jason Sims, Brad "Stylus" Johnson, and Graflin are familiar names around town, folks like Merlin, Double-O Dave, and Mary Jane remain virtually unknown outside the insular DJ community.
"Mary Jane Smith is one of the most respected figures around town," McMillin explains. "She's been spinning for 10 years, and she's one of the most recognized names in the Memphis underground. She knows her business," he says, noting that Smith ran Millennium Records for years. "Mary Jane has really nurtured the scene," McMillin adds. "She's starting up her own record service, Elektrik Soul Patrol. She's a real connoisseur. Her DJ style is very versatile, but she's best known for techno and trance breaks."
According to McMillin, Smith will be one of the old-school DJs on hand to judge Friday's battle. "She'll be there, along with Brad Stylus, Jason Nix, Graflin, and DJ Armis," he says. "We've also got Jacob Braden, Brian Clark, Analog, Merlin, and G. Dellous representing the old school, while the new school includes Indo, DJ Josh, and Fresh Bake. I'm hoping these judges can give some pointers to the kids who are spinning now, just get people focused on their music and make something happen in Memphis."
As Soundboy, McMillin has been involved on the local DJ scene for more than a decade. "I was a spectator on the rave scene for the first five years," he says. "There was so much drama associated with that scene that I went underground. I moved out to the country -- Fisherville -- and got my own equipment and learned how to play." He threw his first party, "One City under a Groove," at the Last Place on Earth in 1999.
"Since then, I've done about 25 one-off parties at 10 different clubs," McMillin says. He lists the Shell Entertainment Complex and Fantasia as two of his favorite venues. "It was a reunion," he says of one party held at Fantasia, the beleaguered former hotspot near Madison and McLean in Midtown. "I brought out the DJs who spun there when it was Red Square. All the heads came out, folks who hadn't been going out for years," he fondly recalls. "Any club scene is gonna be wild," he says, when I ask him about the potential problems that go with the territory. "All my parties have been 18 and up, and all my venues have been legal venues."
"Today, the Memphis scene is divided by promoters," McMillin claims. "They only book DJs who are working for them, which keeps Memphis from blowing up. There are so many extremely talented DJs here, people want to see who is the best, not necessarily who your best friend is." Nevertheless, McMillin is full of praise for several local organizations, including Soundshock, Circuit Playground Productions, Tha Movement, and Memphix. He cites local promoter Treefish as his main model. "They threw parties that were cheap -- not just a thing for teenagers to get out of the house," he says. "People who worked for a living could get in for $5 or $10."
Ironically, the house music and hip-hop that McMillin spins is on CD, not vinyl. "I've spun 12-inches at raves, but I like CDs better," he says. "I've gotten most of my music from Tower Records or off the Internet, but I'll dig anywhere that sells CDs." His big picks include sides from the Quannum collective (DJ Shadow, Lyrics Born, and Blackalicious' Chief Xcel), Mark Farina, Basement Jaxx, and "anything" on the After Hours label. "At the party, I'll be playing my own original music," he says, "including a house mix of Missy Elliott's 'Work It' that's pretty funky."
"Whether someone is curious about the music or they're already into it, they can come have a good time," McMillin says. "Expect 20 DJs at their best, playing all different styles of music from house to hip-hop, drum-and-bass, and techno. There's gonna be a positive vibe and probably a lot of people who haven't been seen at these DJ events before. Old-school house heads, people from Red Square, Fantasia, Club Visions -- folks from the old Memphis rave scene."
His number-one goal for the event? "Leaving aside the drama and focusing on what we do best, which is playing music and dancing. We have tons of good DJs who are just sitting in their bedrooms, getting better and better," McMillin says. While he's already filled the slots for this competition, he wants to urge anyone who's interested in the local DJ scene to get in touch with him. "Look for 'Old School Productions' on MidSouthRaves.org, or come to the party Friday," McMillin says. "It's gonna be standing room only."
"Old School vs. New School DJ Battle," Friday June 27th, at Neil's, from 8:30 p.m. until 4:30 a.m. Admission is $7 or free with four canned goods for the Memphis Food Bank.