Today we’d like to introduce you to Simmo J, a guy who just over a year ago had never DJed in his life, and yet incredibly now he is both an accomplished DJ and scratch talent. He’s getting paid, one of his remixes has hit the DJ charts and been played in Ibiza, and he’s about to start his production career.
John (to his friends) had no headstart and wasn’t handed his big break on a plate – in fact, his love for DJing came from a time of considerable personal adversity. We think he’s a great example of how DJing can turn your life around – if you’re prepared to put in the work, of course. That’s why we flew him to Digital DJ Tips HQ here in the south of Spain to hang out, do some mixing (see his demo below), and tell his story…
Digital DJ Tips: Thanks for coming over John! So tell me, have you always been in to music, or did the love for music come at the same time you decided you wanted to be a DJ?
Oh no, I was fortunate enough to be brought up exposed to a wide range of music. I got into collecting music at a young age when I bought my first CDs and become a fan of what I distinguished as dance and trance music. I then got given an Eminem and Dr Dre album which is when I got into hip-hop as well. Although my taste has changed and evolved, this is where the root of my taste in music comes from.
Looking back, were the seeds of wanting to be a DJ there all along?
Yes. In my teens I started to get into UK garage and drum & bass too as well as dance, hip-hop and R&B. I started making compilation CDs for people because I wanted to share my musical taste with others. I used to take care to programme the songs in a flowing order, little knowing this was an important skill of DJing! I had no desire to DJ at this point, because at the time I was dedicated to football and all my time was taken up by that. I believed I would make it as a semi-pro footballer and hoped to achieve professional level.
Unfortunately years of operations on my knee and progressive muscle pain and tightness prevented me from achieving any of this, and I hit an all-time low as it become apparent I couldn’t do any of the things I enjoyed any more. At this stage I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my future.
One key lesson from John’s story is revealed from his “past life” as a soccer trick performer: Just like learning to do this, learning to DJ properly can be done in a relatively short space of time… but you really do need to put the practice in.
So how did the idea of trying your hand at DJing come about?
I wasn’t heavily into partying but I started experiencing different clubs and DJs and when some DJs bored me, I started thinking “I think I could actually do this, but it’s too expensive”. The thought of all the technical stuff with mixing sounded really hard too! I then noticed DJs using laptops, and as I had built up a huge digital music library I decided that, given the opportunity, I would give it a go.
My wife was arranging her brother’s 18th birthday party and I volunteered to do it. She looked a bit baffled but I explained how you can DJ from your laptop now, and that’s when I discovered Digital DJ Tips. I actually followed the How To Digital DJ Fast course and got the confidence to do that first gig, buying a controller and practising hard for a month.
So tell me about that first gig…
The first gig started slow, I was thinking about all the tips and to not make the beginner’s mistake of playing all the floorfillers at the start! Maybe a bit later than I should have done, I finally dropped a floorfiller and kept the dancefloor full pretty much for the rest of night. It was a great feeling seeing people dancing. Everyone was very positive and I had a number of people praising me – I couldn’t believe it! I then got booked to do another 18th party. This time the floor was full from start to finish and the atmosphere was electric. I couldn’t get over it, I was keeping a dancefloor full all night and wanting more!
OK, you’ve got the bug, and started finding DJs whose style you respected online. Tell me how this helped you to develop as a DJ.
Yes. I was blown away by Eskie83’s mixes and listening to them I got the same enthusiastic feeling I got when I used to see a footballer do something special which would motivate me to learn it myself. The same thing happened with his DJing – and I wanted to learn some of the tricks and techniques he used.
The thing is, I was never interested in pure turntablism, but his mixes were all about the music, with live mashups and word play, using turntablism to add something extra. I really liked the creativity and tried copying some of his routines. I wanted to learn to scratch but didn’t even know if it was possible on a controller. Right at this point the Scratching For Controller DJs course was first announced. I was sold, and quickly learned the basics.
Tell us about how you managed to get a mashup you made into the DJ City charts…
I had several further bookings and was releasing mixes consistently. I was planning a special mix to celebrate my DJing for a year, and I made a mashup that I really liked, but couldn’t get it to work in my mix. I decided I’d send it to the DJ pool I use, DJ City, and they said they could use it. It reached number 2 and stayed there for a month! People started messaging me asking for my edit. I even listened to a mix by a local DJ who I followed, to find the first track he used was my edit! Someone I looked up to had chosen to open his mix with my edit. I felt so happy!
But the ultimate was still to come…
Yes, it was! Knowing that my edit was being played in other countries, I dreamed of hearing it in a big club when I went to Ibiza on holiday. A number of DJs were playing at Amnesia including Naughty Boy whose track it was I’d remixed, but I really didn’t think he’d play it. But as he started off his set and the beat kicked in, total euphoria came over me as I stood (jumped!) in a club with 3000 people with their arms in the air, singing along to my own edit of his song!
It’s a great story! And of course you’ve only been DJing for 14 months, so we’re pretty much up to date. Now you’re committed to doing this more seriously, hat’s the next steps? Production? Club gigs?
I am now putting in a lot of time into perfecting my manual beatmatching because I believe it’s essential for a DJ. I am pushing myself for a DJ residency. I plan to make more edits, add more scratching techniques to my repertoire, and to carry on making mixes because I still enjoy sharing my favourite music. I’m getting Ableton next month and will start making my own music. It would be amazing to DJ in other countries.
To end, I’d like to ask how the Digital DJ Tips courses and website have helped you.
If Digital DJ Tips didn’t exist along with its courses I really believe I wouldn’t have been DJing. The courses and daily blog posts gave me all the encouragement, confidence and advice I needed to take the plunge. Everything I do stems back to what I learned.
John’s demo mix
Containing many of his own mini-edits, as well as tone play, scratching and good old fashioned mixing, here’s a mini-mix we got John to do for us while he was hanging out with us.
• The Scratching For Controller DJs course that John took is more than half full and will close shortly. If you’re interested in joining, find out more here, or read some more success stories from the course here. John’s brand-new website is here.
Does John’s story inspire you to set some goals and make it happen for yourself? Have you, like John, come to DJing from another career? Why did you make the switch? Please share your thoughts in the comments.