The DJ Life And Timeslots: DJ SMILES in Studio
Atlanta night life is very diverse in terms of dance music. I love it because I like to mix in and out of different genres while I play out, and it makes for a great night. DJ Smiles, now living and thriving in Los Angeles, was once recognized as one of Atlanta’s most versatile and highly technical DJs. He builds his sets with banging house, hip-hop, and electro before messing you up with his trademark B-more flavored tracks. His remixes are highly coveted and have been used to fill floors, start the party, and ultimately close your best set. We recently made him one of our own Unique Squared Artists and he dropped by our studio to rap about DJ gear, the new DDJ-S1 controller, and his new music.
Full Interview with DJ Smiles:
DJ Madflip: You are actually originally from York, PA. Moved to Atlanta in 2000. Lived here, we met, we’ve known each other for going on 10 years. Where are you now?
DJ Smiles: I made the big move. I sold everything. And moved to Los Angeles to chase the dream and become a famous actor.
DJ Madflip: I often say, your rise in the DJ world, locally (and) nationally, has been something I have enjoyed watching quite a bit.
DJ Smiles: It’s been a long journey. I remember just when I first started out. I could talk to you about gear. And then other times I would go talk to you because I would be frustrated about work or gigs. And then you would always tell me, “oh, no, you’re on the right track, just be patient, everything is going right, you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine.” I think it was just me. I always had that hunger inside me, I always want more. Can’t settle for less.
DJ Madflip: Tell us about how your style of music and your style of mixing translates to those people on stage.
DJ Smiles: I think in LA they kind of accept it more. You can go into some place and play five different genres all in one night, and keep the party moving. Where certain places around the country, you can only stick to poppy stuff, or hip-hop, or house type of things. In L.A., some of the spots are open to hearing all of the good music at the same time. They just want to dance or really want to party.
Even my parties here in Atlanta. People know when I play they are going to hear a mix of all different kinds of music throughout the night. They are not just gonna hear all electro or all hip-hop.
That’s the way I set myself up here in Atlanta, to be known as “he can play anything”
DJ Madflip: What’s the difference between a guy just starting out in Philly vs. Atlanta vs. LA what do you think the translation is there?
DJ Smiles: I think it all comes down to who they saw DJ first. Who was the first person they witnessed DJ’ing? Coming from Philly, you probably see a lot of people on turntables, and maybe you come to Atlanta and you see a lot of people using CDJs, and in LA, you might see people using all Ableton.
So it really comes down to, how do you want to DJ? And then from there I think it goes down to just practice. Any time I show someone how to DJ, I always say, “just practice.” Don’t worry about getting gigs, don’t worry about a DJ name, just practice. And get better at it before you really start to try to market yourself.
DJ Madflip: Don’t worry about photography, and your photo shoots and your video…
DJ Smiles: Yeah.
DJ Madflip: So when you started out, what was the music that got you into thinking about saving the money to buy your equipment?
DJ Smiles: Baltimore Club Music. I grew up 30 minutes from Baltimore. So we would get 92Q on the radio on Friday nights, as we were on the way to the football game or whatever, and it was just hearing the DJ cut it up on the radio playing all of these upbeat tracks and it just sounds like… “yo this club they’re at is crazy right now, I want to be there”
And from that we just started saving money. Then we got some belt drive turntables and got a couple records… and just practice, practice, practice. Scratching. Mixing. I had 5 to 10 records. Over and over. And still we didn’t really think about making it a career or a living off of it, but eventually it just happened.
DJ Madflip: You just wanted to get together.
DJ Smiles: Yeah exactly.
DJ Madflip: So obviously you had guys you played with when you first started.
DJ Smiles: My best friend, a guy I grew up with, named Will, or DJ Forensic. We went to kindergarten together, and we’ve been best friends ever since. He got the turntables, and we were just at his house every day, just practicing.
And he’s probably one of my biggest competitors to this day. Even though I’m better than him. But we go back forth all the time.
DJ Madflip: I know that you played hip-hop and we have a mutual affiliation 3-Dot Productions. So were you playing hip-hop before?
DJ Smiles: Before I was playing a lot of house, disco house, the big disco house, french house, and I always played a lot of hip-hop. So I was always staying up to date on my hip-hop records because I was still battling. And then once I got down with 3-Dot, I started playing more hip-hop and trying to mix the two together. But it didn’t really work at first. So for about 3 or 4 years straight I just played hip-hop, but I was still buying house records, practicing them, and mixing them in my room. At that time, I started to get into production a little bit. Then I got an MPC.
So everything started to come together as time progressed. Technology got easier.
DJ Madflip: Now more than ever you can be cross genre as far as what you do.
DJ Smiles: Because you can make the records so fast now. With the technology. But before when you had the records you would never want to carry records. Would you think about carrying a case of Hip Hop records?
DJ Madflip: Yeah, I would get booked to play at Irish Pubs. I can cover the Brit-pop, 80′s, the new wave, but I would ask you to play all of the hip-hop, because you had all of the hip-hop records. This was before people were looking like they were checking their email when they were DJ’ing.
DJ Smiles: Even back then, I just didn’t have the collection or I had the collection, but it wasn’t organized to DJ.
DJ Madflip: And we would bring 4 crates of records along with our turntables.
You started out with production, all outboard gear, an MPC, and among other things you were doing sequencing. Do you miss anything about how you operate as far as productions?
DJ Smiles: I think Rane, Serato, Native Instruments and Traktor nailed everything with the digital and the old school feel of the vinyl.
I feel like I am more creative now than anything. With the two turntables, battling, you can only do certain things. You gotta do tricks with the record. Putting tape on the record to make it skip and loop.
Now, I can set a loop, and still scratch over the same beat. Before you had to do more to it. Now the technology has made everything faster in life and in the real world, and it’s the same thing with DJing. I am embracing it, definitely.
DJ Madflip: What we like about a controller these days, is I chose the controller that’s going to be just as accurate as an analog mixer and a record, but still have all of the features.
DJ Smiles: I’m new to the controllers, but I like it though. I like the convenience of it. You have to take your gear to a gig, its one piece of equipment, plug in and play. Everything responds dead on. That’s a really big thing.
DJ Madflip: How much more dynamic would your performance be using controllers?
DJ Smiles: I see myself in the future using controllers as a show piece. Like a “DJ Smiles show piece” instead of a “DJ smiles rock the party for two and a half hours set”.
When I get booked to do an hour set of DJ Smiles – White light syndrome….It’s going to be a controller, and I’m going to have everything set up in loops and then acapellas ready to go. But if I had to rock a party, and really play, then I am going to have just regular turntables, CDJ’s, and a third party software.
Even now when I DJ, I still have a midi controller. So I am triggering all of the cue points.
DJ Madflip: DJ Smiles hailing from Los Angeles.
DJ Smiles: I’m here ATL. ATL made me…