Profiling someone who needs no introduction can be difficult, but thankfully, like I learned in my interview with DJ Puffy, some of the most talented DJ’s in the world are also the most genuine. Read on to discover my impressions of DJ Trayze.
It goes without saying that competing at the Thre3style level is challenging. Making it to the finals, and establishing yourself as one of the top DJs in the world is deserving of some serious recognition. But to do it twice? The achievement speaks for itself. Matt Alexander, better known as DJ Trayze, is one of the few DJs (if any) to compete in the Thre3style finals more than once. He first represented the United States in 2014, and most recently in 2016, the year DJ Puffy won.
A Washington, D.C. native, Trayze is a veteran in the East Coast DJ scene, having established himself in the pre-Serato age. “I’ve always known I wanted to get into music as a career,” he told me. “I played a lot of instruments growing up, and I also grew up with all the old school hip hop on the radio. It was a great time to be a kid. Originally, I thought I was going to be an instrumentalist. I remember when I was young, hearing live mixshows on the radio, and I got into DJing because I wanted to be like those guys. I got really lucky, though: my high school had a partnership with XM satellite radio – their headquarters is in DC – so I did an internship with the stations. One really cool benefit was that I got to put on my own shows once a week. It all kind of took off from there.”
The old- school vibe is definitely present though. Up until the release of the DJM S9, an uncontested game changer in turntablism, Trayze was rocking out on Reloop Neon controllers and turntables. “I’ve never owned a CDJ in my life,” he said with a chuckle. “As a matter of fact, I just got my first controller, the Roland DJ808.” Leave it to an unorthodox guy to pick up an unorthodox controller, though. The 808 has a drum machine built in to the controller, an homage to its namesake.
Cooking with the Simpsons
Trayze is no stranger to travel; since our interview back in March, he’s played around Asia, across the West Coast of the United States, and in the Caribbean. “Traveling is pretty much my favorite hobby,” he told me. “What made it great, is that when I was in Chile for Thre3style, some of my friends and family came, so I had a second base camp when I wanted to get away from the hotel. Sure, there’s a little bit of sightseeing built into the finals week for [the DJs], but I’m here and I wanna see what’s around, too.” Where others were there strictly to compete, he made it clear to me that he was going to get the most that he could from the trip. “What I love, honestly, is being immersed in the culture – exploring, trying new foods, stuff like that. I love to cook at home, putting together flavors, experimenting and using vegetables from my own backyard garden. I have the whole nine.”
I was a little taken aback when Trayze told me this – it instantly reminded me of two articles I had read, about how good DJs are also good cooks. One common thread is the notion of exhibitionism. Both spend countless hours developing their craft, so as to put it on display for the masses, in their own unique style. And, even in the performance itself, they are constantly seeking to refine their product. Their work is transformative by nature. They develop something from something else, creating an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts.
This concept is pretty evident in the way Trayze plans his sets. He creates layers upon layers of musical elements, in such a way that every time you listen to one of his mixtapes, you are drawn to something different.
“It’s kind of like watching The Simpsons,” he said with a chuckle. “At the very top layer, you have the pretty basic joke: Homer gets hit with something and says D’oh! But, as you get deeper and deeper, the jokes get more and more complex. Like, the episode where Homer has to get fat so he can get on disability and his phone says ‘Your fingers are too fat. Please mash buttons for assistance…’ It’s the same at a show – you have the kids in the front, who want to turn up, but also the older folks in the back who are about the art. You gotta give to both.”
Even in Thre3style, everything Trayze does is curated. “I’m not sitting in a basement doing ‘mad scientist’ stuff, trying to cook up the perfect mix” he laughs. “Everything I do, is born from experience. I take all of my ideas and routines, write them down on index cards, lay them all out in front of me. Then, I connect the dots.”
“Resist” and Life Beyond DJing
It’s a pretty cool concept. Trayze’s mixes involve so many creative elements: wordplay; toneplay; commonalities like who produced the track, or what year they were made. He chops up samples and sound bites to add yet another dimension. The “Resist” mixtape, for example, takes quotes from politicians and celebrities, and meshes them with songs, giving them depth.
“Resist” is actually one of the things that initially drew me to reach out to Trayze. In addition to the mixtape, he is unapologetically outspoken on Twitter regarding the political climate in the US. It’s pretty admirable to see a celebrity use their voice in a way that gets people educated on current events. As for life in the DC area? “Not much has changed,” he told me. “If anything…I see a lot more red hats around.”
After our interview, I hung up the phone with two major takeaways. For DJ’s, it’s important to understand music theory. “We’re curators, first and foremost,” Trayze told me. “Yeah, knowing Ableton and music production is cool and all, but more importantly, you need to know the fundamentals. Song structure, harmony, rhythm – this stuff matters.” His second point tied right back into the food analogy:
You need a balanced diet – in music, and in life. I’m listening to a bit of everything right now – sure, I have my go to’s and my classics, but if I’m gonna listen to, say, the new Future album today, then tomorrow, maybe some Motown. It’s all about the leafy greens, stuff that’s essential to the art. An all-candy diet will rot your teeth, but there’s nothing wrong with a little candy here and there! Learn your music history, and learn to appreciate it.
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