The 2023 Canadian DMC DJ Championships: Back on the Wheels of Steel

The 2023 Canadian DMC DJ Championships: Back on the Wheels of Steel

By Amir Handan

2023 marks the return of the iconic Canadian DMC DJ Championships as a live event for the first time since the pandemic shutdowns.  Like many event organizers and other DMC branches operating globally, we pivoted our annual DJ competition to an online video submission format during the pandemic.  No one knew at the time that it would remain this way for three years. But, as they say, "the show must go on."

The return of the live DMC DJ Battles is a welcome one with a bitter-sweet note.  Without a doubt, we are ecstatic to once again host live DMC DJ Championships; after all, we are DJs! We are meant to perform and battle in front of a crowd. This year, we are running a streamlined hybrid schedule featuring online and live components.

We are looking at 2023 as a rebuilding stage for the DMC Competition here in Canada. Prior to the pandemic, we had anywhere from a six to nine live event tour featuring DJ battles in several key Canadian markets and hope to regain some of that crucial momentum that has been lost for the years to come. There is a different energy to being a competitor, organizer, or spectator at a live DMC DJ Battle than an online one.

Pioneer DJ Canada has once again signed on as the presenting sponsor of the 2023 Canadian DMC Battleground. This year's itinerary kicks off with an Online Regional DMC DJ Competition that allows all Canadian DJs of any age, gender, or geographic location to submit a six-minute set for an opportunity to win great prizing, ultimate bragging rights, and an entry into the 2023 Pioneer DJ Canadian National DMC DJ Championships taking place on October 5th inside Toronto's storied live concert venue, the Rivoli. The 2022 Canadian National DMC DJ Champion, and Canada's first female Champion, Deejay T-Jr has signalled her intent to defend her title at the event. A secondary category, the Pioneer DJ Canadian National DMC Scratch Championship will also occur prior to the main Championship during the same show. DMC Canada has also partnered with Canada's largest independent music retailer Sonic Boom to host an Open Turntable in-store event that will feature some special drop-in performances on Saturday, September 30th, 2023.

The Disco-Mix-Club (DMC) organization was first established in the United Kingdom in 1983 by its founder, Tony Prince.  The "Regal Ruler" Tony Prince utilized his love of music, experience as a veteran radio jock on Radio Luxembourg (UK), and industry connections to establish the DMC as a mail order record pool. Tony Prince's team had brokered exclusive licensing from the British Phonographic Industry to globally service club DJs, radio jocks and industry insiders alike with legally sanctioned remixes via cassette. DJs were also encouraged to submit their remixes directly to DMC for the opportunity to have them released officially.  The Disco-Mix-Club heavily promoted the idea that DJs could become successful musicians and producers, granting them a celebrity status they hadn’t achieved until then. The Disco-Mix-Club became a smashing international success as the format of the pool changed from cassette tape to vinyl. As technology progressed, the DMC remixes became available on compact disc and now continue to be available via digital download. The beloved "DMC Mega-Mixes" are legendary and the original DMC cassettes and vinyl records are still highly sought-after collectibles.   DMC was also the creator of "Mix Mag" in 1983—a publication that is still considered the world's biggest resource for the Dance and Electronic music scene even though it was sold off in 1997.

In 1985 the DMC World DJ Championships were born. The concept was simple: the best DJs from around the globe would compete for the highest possible accolade. Suddenly DMC was able to shine the spotlight on the DJs, in sharp contrast to their dark and secretive DJ booths. They were catapulted to the forefront of the music industry. As for the competition, Tony Prince had never enforced a strict format or criteria aside from the six-minute time limit per each DJ's set. All DJs were free to decide on the genres of music played and how to prepare their set for the competition, allowing for maximum creativity. Initially many entered the competition with routines that were like that of a club set by simply mixing records. This was a short-lived trend. The element of "Scratching" —a technique which is very prevalent in hip-hop music and credited to being created by Grand Wizard Theodore (NYC)—was introduced very quickly into the competition, sparking never- ending evolution in style.

The emergence of DMC DJ Championships alongside the exponential growth of hip-hop's popularity as a musical genre and culture could not have been timed better. The concept of "battling" in hip-hop whether between rival MC’s, break-dancers, graffiti writers or DJs led to the DMC Championships being heavily embraced. Technics signed on with the DMC World Championships—nd although DMC cannot take credit for the popularity or legend of the beloved SL-1200 series turntable—the competition certainly played a heavy part in its meteoric popularity. Surely if a DJ could perform body tricks with a Technics turntable including theatrics such as spinning like a break-dancer on its platter, these machines were indeed robust.  Olympic athletes competed for gold medals, while DJs competed for gold Technics SL-1200 turntables! Make no mistake, DJs around the globe were driven by the idea of winning a pair of the golden turntables. In fact, the DMC DJ Championships are often referred to as the "Olympics of DJing."

The DMC World DJ Competition continued to grow on the global stage, even hosting the DMC World DJ Championships in legendary venues such as the Royal Albert Hall (UK). In 1990, a life-sized turntable stage was built for a sold-out DMC World DJ Championship event in Wembley Arena (UK). The music and entertainment industry as well as press and media took note.  Legendary musicians such as James Brown, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Run-DMC, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest and more would drop in at the DMC World Competition as special guests, performers and DMC Award recipients.  The DMC World DJ Championships would also be released on VHS annually and DJs, fans and bootleggers alike would clamour more and more for each release. A cult following of the competition developed via these VHS releases.  Later the championships would be released on DVD and a great abundance of content is now available on the official DMC World YouTube channel.  Some of the notable global DMC DJ Competition alumni include hip-hop staples ranging from DJ Q-Bert, Roc Raida (The X-Ecutioners), Mix Master Mike (Beastie Boys), DJ Swamp (Beck), DJ Muggs (Cypress Hill / Soul Assassins), to crews like C2C and Birdy Nam Nam who have become internationally successful musicians. Even house / techno legend Carl Cox tried his hand as a competitor at the DMC World DJ Championships.

Canadian DMC Champions have also had a significant role in the DMC DJ Competition.  Canada has produced several DMC World Champions including A-Trak, DJ Dopey, DJ Vekked and DJ Brace, all of whom who have found continued success within the music industry.  For nearly two decades A-Trak held the record for being the youngest DMC World DJ Champion at 15 years old until he was surpassed by Japan's DJ Rena in 2014 at age of 12.  At the National Canadian DMC Champion level some notable Canadian competitors include the likes of Drastik & Tom Wrecks (Thugli) and Jr Flo (Keys'N'Crates).  DJ Shub, a two-time Canadian National DMC Champion is an Indigenous DJ / Turntablist / Producer known internationally for his "Powow Step" and unique sound. Many of these individuals have garnered national and international success and won Juno Awards in their respective genres.  As mentioned previously, Deejay T-Jr also became the first female Canadian National DMC DJ Champion in 2022, cementing her place in the history of the DMC.

Competition often helps promote advancement in many aspects of life. Whether it is in athletics, entertainment, science, technology or business, it can help push the boundaries and limits of human creativity and capability. Over the years, advancements in DJ techniques and technology have helped evolve the DMC DJ Competition into what it has become. The sub-genre of DJ culture known as "turntablism" is often displayed in the sets that the DJs compete with. It involves isolating pieces of existing sounds and manipulating, re-arranging and re-composing them into new music. Traditional musicians that often scoffed at the notion of utilizing a turntable as an instrument have now mellowed out in their perception. While DMC cannot take credit for the term or sub-genre of "turntablism", it certainly has done its part in encouraging the art form. When Tony Prince founded the DMC World DJ Competition, he was far from a "hip-hop head." But the concept of proving one's stripes in hip-hop via battling certainly was embraced by competitors and fans of the events.

For 2023 it was announced that after a four-decade tenure, DMC World's founder Tony Prince has retired from the organization and has passed the baton to his son Daniel Prince who will serve at the helm as CEO. With the change in leadership the DMC World organization is looking to re-invigorate the events by introducing new categories and disciplines in the competition. One recent change will see the DMC World DJ Championships occur in a different market each year.  For many years they would traditionally be held in the United Kingdom. For 2023 it will occur for the first time in San Francisco, USA on November 3rd.  Our 2023 Pioneer DJ Canadian National DMC DJ Champion will be headed there to represent Canada. There are hints at the possibility of bringing the World DMC DJ Championships to Canada in the future.

It has been an utmost honour and pleasure to work alongside Tony Prince's DMC World team as the National Director of the Canadian Branch since 2011. It is exciting for us to hear that one of Daniel Prince's mandates is to bring the DMC World Championships to other markets globally. We've already proposed to DMC World the idea of hosting the World Finals here in Canada.  It was met with a positive response.

The primary focus of the Canadian DMC Branch has always been to put the spotlight on Canadian DJs via the annual competition. Canada has an abundance of ultra-talented DJs that can compete on the World level! We are also looking forward to engaging the community and inspiring new generations of DJs by facilitating seminars and workshops once more.

The popularity of DJ battles and competitions exploded during the 1990's. At one point it seemed like there was a local DJ battle of some type nearly every weekend. Several North American and International DJ organizations emerged, each introducing their own respective competitions. The movie Juice(released in 1992) starring the late Tupac Shakur—a classic film in the hip-hop genre—also featured a DJ Battle as a main component of its storyline. In fact, the legendary golden Technics turntables that were awarded at the DMC World DJ Championships were referenced in this film. DMC Champions of both the National and World levels have become highly sought after to perform scratches on records, commercials, video games and movie soundtracks. Musicians of many genres also often recruit DMC Champions as their tour DJs. While many DJ competitions have come and long since faded away, the DMC World DJ Championships is still regarded as the premiere, longest running, and most prestigious competition in the world. With the return of live competitions in 2023, and the latest innovations in music and related technology, the potential for the DMC to reach new heights looks promising.