Chris Karns talks about retiring his DJ Vajra moniker and his new monthly at Beauty Bar
Chris Karns, the DJ formerly known as Vajra.
Had he not won the DMC championships in 2011, or almost won the Red Bull Thr3style that same year, or ended up competing on the VH1 reality show Master of the Mix, the Colorado streets would still be singing the praises of Chris Karns. If you've ever seen him perform, the dude's a beast on the turntables.
See also: DJ Vajra crowned 2011 DMC World Champion
Fresh off a stint as Yelawolf's tour DJ, and a turn on reality television, Karns has a new monthly residency at Beauty Bar that is an elaborate excuse to DJ with his friends -- friends, by the way, who just happen to be some of the world's best DJs. In advance of his party at tomorrow night with Master of the Mix champion DJ Jayceeoh, we chopped it up with Karns about retiring his DJ Vajra moniker and how his approach to deejaying has changed over the years.
Westword: First things first. Would you like to address the name change once and for all?
Chris Karns: Yeah, I just I got tired of the old name to be honest. I just couldn't deal with every time I was introduced to somebody having to tell them how to pronounce it, and how to spell it. What used to be a fifteen minute conversation is now a five second conversation. Plus, I never really liked it, and I wanted to change it, and then I got an email from the Master of the Mix TV show saying they wanted me to compete around that same time, and I figured that would be a good launching platform for starting a new brand.
Has Denver changed in how they receive you, post-DMC, Thr3style and Master of the Mix?
Definitely since I won the DMC. When I won the DMC and came back from that, we threw a party a few months later at Beauty Bar, and I was really overwhelmed at how excited people actually were. During my entire career people questioned me. That's something that happens to every DJ; people question you like: "He's good, but he's not as good as that guy. And after I won the DMC, all those questions are pretty much gone. I think people see how much work it took, and how long it took me to achieve that goal, and they show a lot of respect.
Are you getting recognized around the world?
Yeah, I feel like the majority of DJs out there in the U.S. and the rest of the world, there's always a collection of DJs from a city that will come out and want to support and check out what I'm doing. I've always felt like I had the respect of my peers, and now I've been able to kind of get a little more of people outside that DJ world and get a bigger collection of fans.
Has it gotten to the level where people are straight up stopping you on the street?
While the show was airing, yeah, that was happening. People were stopping me and saying, "Aww, I saw you on the show" and different reactions, mostly positive. I had a couple where people were like: "Aw man, you're such an asshole on that show!" But, you know, it is what it is. They [Master of the Mix producers] have their agendas, wanting to paint people in a certain light for the sake of entertainment. So, anybody who perceived me as being kind of a jerk on that show, it seems like when they meet me in person, they're like "Man, you're so different....you're actually a NICE guy" [laughs]
Is it any easier to get through airport security nowadays?
[laughs] I know a couple of the TSA agents at DIA, but I went out and bought -- I got myself a "Clear Pass," so I don't have to worry about that. Either that or TSA pre-check
How often do you play out in Colorado?
I am actually trying to not play out in Denver as much, to be honest. For one, I have started a monthly at Beauty Bar, and you know, I over exposed myself on this scene for a very long time and uh...
I don't think anyone would agree with you on that...
Basically, I have to look at it like "I'm not a local artist." I know that it's hard for people in their local scene because no matter where you're from, when you're at home you're a local artist. But the fact of the matter is I'm an international touring artist. Since I've won the DMC, I've probably only done a handful, a very small handful of shows in the Denver scene, and that's because I want people to be genuinely excited when I play. So it's not like, "I just saw him last week." I try and treat it more like a Z-Trip or a Q-Bert: They're not gonna play every week because people are gonna stop showing up.
You hosted Canada's Skratch Bastid in July, and now this month the winner of Master of the Mix, Jayceeoh. Is there a concept behind the Beauty Bar gigs?
Basically, the idea behind my monthly night is, you know I've been touring for ten years now, and I've met a lot of great DJs all over the country and all over the world. I've met a lot of DJs that I feel people in Denver may never get the chance to see, and may or may not know about. So the goal of the night is to bring these people out, no rules. We can just play whatever we want. Me and my guest kind of do a co-headlining thing on four turntables. Basically just throw a great party with a very low cover, so that people can come out and not have to spend too much money and get to check out some great DJs that they may have not seen, and may never get to see again.
Is it a competition?
It's not a competition at all, it's just a party. It's going up and having fun and just letting loose. The main draw for these DJs to want to come out, is not just that they're friends of mine but also because Beauty Bar is one of those places where people can go hang out, and it doesn't have that pretentious bottle service type of vibe. You know, everybody is welcome there, and it's a very diverse crowd, and it's a friendly and open environment. Also you can go there, and you're not going to hear the same Top 40 playlist that DJs are playing everywhere else. You're gonna go there and just hear good music across the board.
Did you have a relationship with DJ Jayceeoh before you guys competed on Master of the Mix?
Yeah, I did. I met him I think it was back in 2002. So I've known him for like a decade just through battling. I was in the DMC U.S. finals in New York back in 2002, and he was there with some friends, and I think he was living in Boston at the time. I think it was four or five years later. I was playing a weekly at 'Round Midnight in Boulder, and he was doing the Alizé tour, and he got booked to play at my night through Alizé. So he came out and we did like a four turntable thing there.
Honestly, I played at 'Round Midnight off and on for eight years, and that was the, probably the best DJ set that I ever saw down there. From that moment on, I was like a huge fan of what he did. Later on, he asked me to be a part of his Super 7 Mixtape series, so I did that, and it was myself, Jayceeoh, Jazzy Jeff, Z-Trip, Revolution, Gaslamp Killer, and Mick Boogie.
So yeah, me and Jayceeoh have been in contact the whole time. Actually, I kind of found out that he was going to be on it leading up to it. So we both knew we were going to be on it before we got there. So we were both excited to have at least one friend to kind of go through that experience with.
Let's talk about Master of the Mix. This season, it was a different show than it had been. In the previous two seasons, it seemed more rooted in the hip-hop thing. Just Blaze was the host, and I think credited as one of the producers/creator. This season, it seemed like the focus shifted away from that into the world of Hollywood nightclubs, bottle service and movie stars. Did you know that going in, or did they catch you by surprise?
I did not know going in, and in fact, I was told the exact opposite. I was told that it was going to be about, you know, that their whole goal was to like "preserve the culture," and that it was gonna be more focused on trying to be about legit deejaying. And I'm not trying to discredit people who DJ in that type of environment, but there's a lot more aspects to deejaying than just that.
So, it was very clear once I got there, like, the feedback that I was getting from the judges, like what they were looking for, is not what I do! That's not what I do, and so instead of just trying to conform to the mold of what they felt every DJ in the world should be like, based on that show, I decided to just do my thing, and continue to just do myself, even though I knew that meant the possibility of winning was going to decrease dramatically.
Okay, what about Kid Capri? Is that somebody that you looked up to? Was it at least exciting to get to interface with Kid Capri?
Yeah, um, Kid Capri, definitely. I've known about Kid Capri basically since Def Comedy Jam was on TV. When that show first aired, that was the first time a DJ was ever really featured on TV like that to people who grew up in middle America like myself. So, that actually inspired me, and a good friend of mine who I grew up with, that inspired him to buy turntables.
And I remember going to the thrift store with him, back in like the early '90s and him saying, "I want the turntables that Kid Capri has." I remember being with him at the store when he bought those, and going back home with him and setting those up. That was a direct result of seeing Kid Capri on TV, so it was definitely an honor being able to be in that situation with him.
It's wild to think about how long that guy has been deejaying. Did he give you any tips as to how you can "keep the party going" and continue to DJ for a long time?
Uh, not really, you know. We weren't legally allowed to really even have a conversation.
Right! Because he was the head judge...
So, um, I didn't really get a chance to talk to him that much, and haven't really talked to him since the show. But he was very supportive with what he could say, and gave me a lot of positive feedback. So he definitely seemed like he was into it.