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You probably haven’t heard of Jesse Montoya (a.k.a. Twothousand Divine), and it’s not because you can call Montoya a bedroom DJ.
The 27-year-old never really had a bedroom, after all. He grew up in group homes (his father has been in prison since Montoya was born; his mother did time, too) and now lives in a motel in Costa Mesa.
While hanging out with wannabe DJs in school, the near-homeless party kid discovered he had a real knack for turntablism—that style of vinyl manipulation DMC battles are made of. Most DJs he met wouldn’t show him much—some even blacked out their record labels to keep secret what tracks they were playing—so Montoya taught himself.
He began playing house parties and the occasional club gig unannounced and learned to put together a decent set—some Michael Jackson, some samba, some Daft Punk—with borrowed records. Working for the promoters of seminal SoCal parties such as Hippi 2000 and Narnia a decade ago, he saw drum & bass DJs such as Adam F and Fresh of Bad Company playing the loud-and-proud genre with an intuitive sense of musicality, instead of just technical track-mixing. Montoya took it as a sign that his loose, feel-it-don’t-think-it approach to the art could amount to something.
Of the 11 DJs competing in the DMC West Coast DJ Battle, this hip-hop scratch prodigy with a holy-shit backstory probably has the least to lose and the most to gain. Montoya’s turntables were stolen two years ago, so he hasn’t been able to practice much for the battle. Instead, he’ll concentrate on making beats, which fall under the Dilla umbrella of soulfully chopped-up samples flipped into something more than the sum of its parts.
OC Weekly: How does a kid like you were wind up getting into deejaying?
Jesse Montoya: I was 12 and AWOL from a group home at this kid’s house, deejaying and scratching it up. That feeling of being able to make music, I finally felt I had something I could be good enough at that it would keep me out of trouble. The thing was, I was hanging out with people who were spinning drum & bass and house, but I was more into scratching, so next thing I know, I’m showing kids into breaks and drum & bass how to scratch.
Without getting into any of your actual routine, what do you bring to the battle?
A lot of DJs use Serato [DJ software that plays digital tracks with vinyl “controller” records], but I have old records a lot of people don’t have. Serato’s great and all, but it can’t transform and really scratch to the point where the needle feeds back. The software can’t transfer the information fast enough. Every time I’ve tried it, it cuts out. You can’t scratch a record with a vocal in it where the pitch goes up and it’s amplified; you get this analog feeling, this, like, warmth that just can’t be re-created. When you physically make that sound, it takes you to a whole other level.
That kind of makes you an anomaly. I mean, you’ve been producing more than deejaying, you don’t have turntables . . .
My whole goal with the DMC battle is to just get my name out there. So if I win this battle [the grand prize is a Serato-enabled Rane mixer valued at $1,100], I could trade it in for two turntables. Worst-case scenario, I can pass out beat CDs and get my name out more than I have before.
Jesse Montoya, a.k.a. DJ Twothousand Divine, plays the DMC West Coast DJ Battle at Cohiba, 110 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 491-5220; www.cohibalongbeach.com. Fri., 4 p.m. $20.
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This column appeared in print as "DJ Zero to DJ Hero."