DJ Phaze: There is Only 1
Before you get to know the man who goes by the alias DJ Phaze, you must first know what he believes.
Written in bold, white letters at the bottom right of his webpage his tagline, “There’s only 1”, stands out.
Three, simple words, they tell you this music man secure in the talent he has taken almost two decades to hone, the last five as an in-house DJ for the mega sports brands Puma (flagship store in Georgetown), and Adidas Originals.
Responsible for creating vibes, this Trini born and bred DJ plays on the subconscious of shoppers – a soca tune for an upbeat vibes, a Middle Eastern bhangra for a mellow exotic time, and maybe, finally, an American-produced hip-hop track to remind them that they’re in a retail store, and not a shopping spree around the world.
As he puts it, he’s “mastered applying the psychology of music as it relates to the shopping experience”. Phaze has also done in-store appearances at other major stores like Macy’s and Downtown Locker Room.
With a musical taste that circles the globe, his skill on the turntables is a talent that has been genetically passed on, as his father – whom he credits as his first major influence – was also a DJ.
Based in the US since his first, major gig for WEAA 88.9FM at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland years ago, this old Naps boy (Naparima College, San Fernando) still flies the T&T flag high. The stylised coat-of-arms on his online calling card, www.djphaze.com, with its background colours of red, black and white, and even the tracksuit he wears in his headshots, leave no doubt of where his roots lie.
From performing in major clubs and concerts (he’s shared the stage with legends like Slick Rick and New Edition) to creating sought after mixtapes such as “The Mixologists: DJ Phaze’s ‘Jill Scott Jawn Vol. 1”, he’s definitely enjoying a lucrative career as a DJ.
His soul mixes are also highly regarded, which is probably why he calls himself “your girl’s favourite DJ. Phaze is also the Resident DJ for www.grownfolksmusic.com, and is featured on www.musicaddikts.com and www.soulbounce.com – highly regarded blogs in the Soul movement. Definitely a tech lover, Phaze also produces a weekly podcast.
Once a dread (I loved the ras Phaze), and now a new man shorn of the past, he’s got bigger dreams in sight, and a stronger grip on the future. Living his Bob Marley-inspired motto “One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain”, Phaze is definitely in a good zone.
If there’s only one DJ Phaze, you know Outlish had to discover how unique this local son really is.
O: So you were born in Trinidad. Where exactly?
Phaze: I was born in San Juan. Jogie Road. I hear that area does not look the same anymore. But my family migrated from Mt. Hope to San Fernando when I was a pre-teen.
O: So, how did you end up migrating to the States?
Phaze: Pretty much my mom sacrificed everything we had in T&T to afford my brother and I a chance at a brighter future. She saw how things were going and sent us to her sister’s in the US until she could follow.
O: When did you know you wanted to become a DJ, and how did you get your start?
Phaze: Well as I said, my dad DJ’d so I feel like I was born a DJ. When I came to the States my mother approached one of the known DJs in the area, Steve D’ Waxman. The story is funny because mom ask de man how much turntables, mixer and ting costs. Waxman chuckled at my mom, and said, “Just send yuh son to me, I’ll get him started…”. The rest is material for my autobiography. LOL.
O: How did you come up with the name Phaze?
Phaze: I came up with the name after going through a business growth and understanding branding. “PHAZE” is a combination of “faze” which means to cause a disturbance… And “Phase” which means a stage or period of time.
My aim is to always shake things up. By doing so, opportunities to learn, grow, and be influenced arise. Yuh feel meh?
O: Was it hard getting into the DJ scene in the US?
Phaze: Like anything else, you really have to first believe in yourself. The thing about this business is that you have to deal with enough shady promoters, club managers and the like. The flip side is your branding and networking is the key.
O: How does your Caribbean roots affect your playlist?
Phaze: Well, coming from the Caribbean, better yet, from a Trinbagonian perspective, a true DJ is one who can play in any genre without floundering or disturbing the flow. So I think my roots has opened my ears to music from other origins since the heritage of Trinidad and Tobago is so rich and cosmopolitan.
‘A true DJ is one who can play in any genre without floundering or disturbing the flow’
O: As an in-house DJ for many big retailers in the US, do you find yourself changing your personal style to appeal to an American demographic or are they pretty receptive to all kinds of music?
Phaze: The real challenge and charge of a DJ is to expose the listener to new experiences aurally. I never have seen a need to compromise my style to appeal to any demographic. But there are such notions as sensitivity and appropriateness.
Music is a universal language that transcends race, nationality and time. Notes in a certain combination elicits good vibes regardless of whether it’s an Arabic song about love or a Soca chune about a one-song crush yuh whine on in ah fete.
O: On a slightly different note (no pun intended), what kind of mood do you try to set when doing those in-house gigs and what type/mix of music achieves that?
Phaze: By “in-house” are you referring to in-stores”? Well in-stores can vary from me playing songs and performing for the passing folks shopping in the store. Other time’s it’s a special event where the music is congruent with the audience visiting the store.
If you take my performance at Puma in Georgetown, that’s a varied, international clientele so I can get away with playing Baile Funk and Euro-house, or French Hip-hop even. Go across town to Macys in Midtown DC, and the clientele on a different day is gliding to an 80’s pop set that segues to a groovy soca set into soulful house.
I make you escape through music. If you close your eyes and listen, you should be able to imagine floating on Caribbean waters for a while, then you end up across the Atlantic with a Bob Sinclair song which by the way, is usually influenced by Caribbean vibes.
O: Do you have a completely different style for club gigs?
Phaze: Certainly! And it also depends on the club. Versatility and knowledge of a wide range of music coupled with the courage to experiment while vibing with your audience is how I approach it all.
O: What differentiates you from other DJs?
Phaze: Hmmm… well in my opinion, I do my best not to box myself in. I can play any genre and adapt to any situation as needed. Also, I have a background in sound reinforcement; that sort of knowledge is generally lacking with regard to most DJs I have come across. I pride myself on my professionalism and I use DJing to be a bit of a therapist.
Music can heal or take you to another place; I aim for that to be a happy place.
‘Music can heal or take you to another place; I aim for that to be a happy place’
O: What has been the biggest highlight of your career?
Phaze: Hmm. I think it is yet to come. I have had a number of experiences where I was on ‘cloud 9’, but I know God has more in store for me. But I would have to say opening for New Edition was one of my big days, and of course my first Carnival DJing on a Truck then opening for Machel and Xtatic in the 90’s. Last year I opened for the Hip Hop Legend, “Slick Rick” I was geeked for that, played it real cool though. (Lol)
O: The Mixologists: DJ Phaze’s Jill Scott JAWN 2 mixtape was recently released. What’s your creative process like when compiling a mixtape?
Phaze: Wow! You know about the Jill Scott Mixtapes? I am flattered. That project was a collaborative idea with the homies Soulbounce.com. Creative process… Let’s see… I usually do lots of research, and listen to tonnes of songs and search for remixes.
If I have direct contact with the artists, I reach out to them for material or exclusives and drops. The rest is usually inspiration. Unexplainable inspiration… usually.
O: What advice do you give to young DJs trying to establish themselves?
Phaze: Young DJs! Serato does not make you a DJ! Having a laptop and a hard drive full of music does not make you a DJ.
This is an artform, a craft that chooses its artisans. If it chooses you, be humble; learn from others because even as a veteran, you still can learn even from a newbie.
‘This is an artform, a craft that chooses its artisans’
O: Your dad was a DJ in Trinidad. What tips or lessons did you take from him?
Phaze: My dad is a heck of a music lover. So I took from him the open ears and heart to any genre. He would play Swamp Dog or Otis Redding, and then play Steely Dan or Cyndi Lauper. He would challenge me to blend ALL the time. Hence I learned to be smooth. I also learned how to play for the grown folks who like to “slow drag”.
O: Are there any T&T DJs growing up and today, whose style you admire?
Phaze: Well I grew up listening to King Papa Rocky, Dr Hyde, Downtown Outlaw, Chinese Laundry and my dad. Those were the Djs who I admired growing up. When I cam to the States, It was Red Alert, SnS, Kid Capri, Roc Raider, Skratch Piklz, X-ecutioners, DJ Jazzy Jeff… I can keep going for days. Not only do I admire, I aspire to learn from these folks.
O: Let’s say in the future, your kid (if you have one, we don’t know) says, “Hey pops, I want to be a DJ”. What would you tell him or her?
Phaze: Are you tryna figure out if I have kids on the sly? Hmm, nice try. I’m joking, I have no children yet. But if I am blessed to have children and he or she wants to be a DJ, I think I would be super proud.
My dad still beams about my choice of being a DJ. I think I would have to break out the 1200s so they can see the artform from the basics. They would have to start on turntables with LPs and 45s so they learn the touch.
Technology has advanced greatly to the point that DJs have become lazy and spoiled. Also I would have to impart that fame is fleeting, so have fun and do it for the love. The rest like money, notoriety, all that comes and goes.
O: What are the perks of the job?
Phaze: Perks? What Perks? For me the perks are meeting the artists whose work I love and spin, or hearing from the listeners that I made their day better after playing one of my mixes, or sweaty folks giving me dap as the club lets out and they danced the stress of the week and left it on the dancefloor.
‘Technology has advanced greatly to the point that DJs have become lazy and spoiled’
O: What’s currently your favourite tune right now?
Phaze: Wow! If I answer that, plenty people will be watching me with a stink face (Lol). How about I give you my top five artists presently? (In no real order).
1. Eric Roberson.
2. Tortured Soul.
3. Marsha Ambrosious.
4. Of course Mr Machel (Montano) and all his collabs.
5. A Tribe Called Quest.
6. The Fu Schnickens (dem is Trini family).
O: Dude, where did the dreadlocks go?
Phaze: Oh gosh! Well to cut a long story short, eh… I had lock for about 17 years. Imagine being able to recount almost everything in 17 yrs of life by looking at and touching each lock from root to tip. There came a point when I needed to let go of my past to take hold of my future. I still have my locks, they in a big arse ziplock bag in a safe place.
O: Got any upcoming projects or plans you’d like to tell us about?
Phaze: I think I am gonna work on another Anita Baker Mix for SoulAfrodisiac.com and I have a few other things in the works. I’ve been a busy beaver so my task list is never-ending, so follow me on twitter to see what beautiful surprises arise.