On The Record: DJ Element
BY KALANI WILHELM / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Expressing himself through the needle of a turntable has become a beloved obsession for Justin “DJ Element” Lewis.
Lewis’ first connection to hip-hop culture was as an energetic, risk-taking B-boy in Dayton, Ohio. He was engrossed in all aspects of hip-hop from that point on, but always had a specific affinity for the art from and technical side of DJing. It took close to a decade to completely transition from funky floor-rocker to vinyl vigilante, but he said it was a natural progression that was bound to happen.
“I’m a big believer of learning to crawl before you walk. I started with nothing but vinyl, learned the roots, started scratching, then started mixing,” said Lewis, who moved to Oahu in 2011 after enlisting in the U.S. Navy. “The feel of vinyl, the history, the smell, it starts to become an addiction.”
Just a few years into learning the craft, he’s already sprinted past the hobby stage. Beat-juggling, perfecting scratches and conjuring up concepts for battle routines run rampant in his mind throughout the day. Now his mission is to become well-rounded in his own skill, knowledge and turntable proficiencies.
“The history is key,” he said. “If you don’t know the history, then you will never fully grasp turntablism. You won’t understand the art form. That’s why I started with vinyl.”
Lewis is clearly of a very turntable-centric mindset but is more than just a loyal student of the old regime of DJs. He’d much rather institute the beliefs of the past with core components of the present; from the technological advancements to the out-of-this world ideologies to create an epic future. For such reasons, he admitted to remaining plugged in because the groundwork laid down by forefathers like Q-Bert and Roc Raida will never go extinct.
“(The) old school should always be studied and taught but the new styles and new tricks are always exciting to see,” Lewis said. “The future is the most exciting part.
“Watching people such as DJ Craze push the limits is always amazing to me. (Craze) is from the old school and pushing the boundaries with new school. He is the perfect example of the artform.”
While Lewis has a high regard for legends like Craze and Mixmaster Mike and his dream would be to scratch with them and hear their stories firsthand, he said building with like-minded DJs has been invaluable to his growth.
Asked if he’s already paid his dues locally, he bluntly responded, “not even close.”
“The best way to pick up on elements and tricks is when I practice with other people,” he said. “When I first started, I used YouTube, but now that I reached out to the DJ community, practicing with others is the best for me. It gives you time to learn as you go.”
Improving is a day to day process for Lewis, who has played with Eli Mac and Los Angeles rapper Honey Cocaine. He has his immediate sights set on entering the Mai Tai Bar Ala Moana’s Hot Island DJ Spin-Off this winter and hopes to be invited to compete in the Iron DJ competition.
“I DJ to my environment. If I’m at a underground hip-hop show, then I’m playing underground and scratching; if I’m at a club, then I’m playing to get people to dance,” he said.
Kalani Wilhelm covers nightlife and music for the Pulse. Contact him via email or follow him on Twitter.