Tomorrow, Pittsburgh will host a Disco Mix Club DJ Battle for the first time in the competition's history, which began in 1985. The group's website touts DMC competitions as "the World's Number 1 DJ Competition," drawing contestants from around the globe. The Pittsburgh event alone has contestants from at least 10 states, including Arizona, Georgia and New York.
According to DJ Selecta, one of the event's promoters and host of 91.3 FM WYEP's Grand Groove Radio, the average DJ battle has between 10 and 12 contestants. The Pittsburgh event will have 19. Selecta called the event "uncharted territory," noting that while Pittsburgh has held DJ battles before, such as the Red Bull Thre3style competition in 2015, DMC’s battles are a different experience. "Those battles are more based on crowd participation, as opposed to this one, which is based on scratching skills," says Selecta.
The DJ-battle community is a niche one and can be hard for outsiders to understand. "You could say that it's showcasing one's ability to manipulate two copies of the same record rhythmically," says Selecta. "It's like any other kind of competition. You're going up head to head, there's verbal blows. It's like a rap battle but using prerecorded music."
The actual competition consists of an initial elimination round of two-minute routines, which is whittled by judges to six finalists who perform six-minute routines. The winner of the Pittsburgh regional battle will move on to the U.S finals, in New York in August.
Christie Z, branch manager of DMC USA and a Duquesne University alumna, is excited to bring the event to Pittsburgh.
"They're the biggest battles in the U.S for turntablists — the art of using turntables as a musical instrument," she says. But those looking to get down to their favorite tracks at a DCM DJ battle should look elsewhere. "We don't let the record play at a DJ battle," she says, referencing the fast pace at which the DJ switches between songs and manipulates the sound.
The Pittsburgh battle will be hosted by seasoned New York rapper and producer Large Professor, who's worked with the likes of Nas and Busta Rhymes, and who's formerly of the hip-hop group Main Source. "We're honored to have him hosting," says Christie Z.
DJ Selecta notes that the public's association with DJs has shifted in recent years to focus more on EDM DJs who play for massive crowds at festivals. The DMC scene is more rooted in the hip-hop origins of the DJ.
"[People] associate DJing with someone plugging in a jump drive. I'm not knocking that, but they think of festival DJs playing for thousands of people, very high-energy, and this is very soul based," says Selecta. "I just want folks to come out and experience something Pittsburgh has never seen."