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Scanning the track titles of a DJ Shogun mixtape is similar to grazing through the chapters of a warrior adventure novel. It's part of the reason why his name fits so well. Especially when you consider the blooming mesh of splashy synths and pulsating buildups he uses to create the feel of a hero's saga personified in titles such as "Save Me," "Sky Fire" and "Run to My Rescue." But for the seasoned, OC-born artist, the past six years of his career have turned into a globe-trotting adventure quest for clout in the DJ world.
Sure, the idea of a DJ discovering electronic music via Armin van Buuren might be a common experience. But few selectors end up getting signed by the trance legend 10 years after hearing his music.
It was in 2002 that the DJ born Andrew Chen remembers going to a friend's house and listening to van Buuren's album Communication. The sound lent itself to his natural affinity for Nine Inch Nails and Filter, bands who incorporate electronic elements into their music. Originally from Ohio (he moved to Irvine in 2004), Chen began to discover more trance music and eventually started playing local clubs before catching his break at the Ministry of Sound in Taiwan. Today, he is the first Asian American on the internationally known S107/Armada Record Label and performs at major festivals around the world. This year, he reached No. 68 on DJ Mag's Top 100 DJs poll. After 2012's extensive tour of Europe and Asia, Chen returns for a homecoming gig this Friday at the Yost Theater. As a trance DJ from OC, Chen never thought his name would be in the same category as some the genre's European originators. At the time he started producing trance, the genre was almost exclusively dominated by stars with heavy Dutch accents such as Tiësto.
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Chen cut his teeth in the DJ world by becoming a regular at the Red Zone nightclub in Columbus, Ohio, a magnet for dance-music kingpins of the moment such as trance hero Paul Van Dyk.
Once he finally picked up his own turntables and vinyl records, he became a regular fixture on that city's club scene until he was randomly discovered by a fellow Taiwanese club owner who was opening the once-infamous (now shuttered) Ministry of Sound in Taipei. It was his first international gig. After spinning for only two nights, his trip proved to be a success. He was offered a contract on the spot.
He spent two years as the resident DJ at the Ministry of Sound, spinning alongside such world-renowned artists as Paul Oakenfold. But Chen wasn't ready to rest on his laurels. After his stint in Taipei, he returned to the States to study audio engineering in Hollywood. Naturally, the knowledge in his back pocket allowed him to have greater control over his artistry, instead of just playing other people's music.
Hiding in his studio, he made about 200 tracks over the course of three years, with his first single signed by van Buuren's S107/Armada record label. Garnering attention from van Buuren's international radio show, A State of Trance, as well as stations founded by Ferry Corsten, Markus Schulz, and Above & Beyond, before he knew it, tracks such as "Imprisoned" became his ticket to world travel on the dance-club circuit.
Among his most notable gigs was a trip to A State of Trance at Beyond Wonderland in the Bay Area, where he learned that EDM and wet weather doesn't always spell disaster. Playing a set onstage in the pouring rain, then getting sick for a month afterward would've bummed a lot of DJs out. But for an EDM warrior playing in front of a massive crowd, taking a risk in the face of glory is always worth it.
This column appeared in print as "A Warrior Returns."