Interview: DJ Saiyan

DJ Saiyan has been a staple of the Toronto Happy Hardcore community for over a decade, and in that time he’s developed from promising beginnings into a truly world-class performer. Always a quick mixer, Saiyan has long since mastered the art of high-speed, high-intensity DJing with a dizzying array of tricks, cuts, mashups and genre-bends. He’s become one of the most requested performers in the Toronto area and across North America, and has earned respect from performers and promoters alike for his unique take on the art.

I sat down with Saiyan to talk about his background, how he got into DJing, and the power of 90s europop. Enjoy!

Tell me about yourself:

Well my real name is Shane, and I’m 28 years old. I was born in Richmond Hill, Ontario (a little outside of Toronto), and with the exception of a few years further up north and a six month stint in Pittsburgh, I’ve lived in and around Toronto pretty much all my life. I’ve been really into music pretty much since I first heard it. My Mom is very into country, while my Dad is big on classic rock, and my sister was really into all the quirky bands of the 90s (something I am eternally grateful to her for, I owe a lot of my current musical taste to her) so I grew up with very eclectic musical tastes, which only got more eclectic when I discovered various forms of electronic music, hip hop, and countless other genres I’ve grown to love over the years. While the other kids were out playing sports or otherwise, you know, being kids, I spent a ton of time stuck to my stereo with the radio on waiting for songs I liked to come on so I could tape them. Yeah, tape. Remember those? Oh, and video games. I played a lot of freakin’ video games.

What’s the music you’re into:

I’m primarily a hardcore DJ/producer. Hardcore is hard, fast, bouncy, balls to the wall electronic music that’s generally made between 165 and 180 beats per minute. It’s incredibly varied, with sounds ranging from harder, instrumental track to happy, bouncy vocal tunes (think Cascada but about 30 beats per minute faster). Nothing gets a party rocking quite like it. As far as stuff I listen to at home, pretty much anything goes. From country to metal, hip hop to video game soundtracks. I like good music, I don’t care what genre it is.
How did you get into all of that?

I’d been into electronic music since the mid-90s, thanks to hearing acts like The Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers on MuchMusic (think Canadian MTV, before there was a Canadian MTV, and when they actually played music instead of bad reality TV). I also developed something of a soft spot for 90s eurodance thanks to the MuchMusic Dance Mix albums. From there I went on to get way into metal, before a chance encounter at a coffee shop with one of the regulars led to hanging out at his place, where he played me a ton of late 90s hardcore tracks. I was immediately hooked. It had the fast paced energy I had grown to love in metal, but also called back to my younger days listening to The Prodigy’s Out of Space on repeat and all that 90s euro. In one afternoon I was immediately hooked, and set about tracking down as much of it as I could. The rest, as they say, is history.

What motivates you to perform?

The number one motivation I have is the crowd reaction. I’m very much a live performer. There is no better feeling to me than hearing the crowd go off to whatever it is I happen to be doing at the time. I have said many times in the past it’s better than sex, and I stand by that.

What differentiates you from other acts?

My creativity. I make it a point to try and do things that I don’t hear very many other people doing in the realm of hardcore. My sets are generally full of quick mixing, genre hopping, three deck trick mixes, live mashups, all sorts of fun stuff that you don’t generally hear too many other people doing. If jaws aren’t dropping and people don’t stop and go “did he really just do that?” at least a couple of times, I’m not doing my job right.

What equipment do you use at home and on stage?

I originally learned the old fashioned way on vinyl and turntables, before eventually moving on to CDJs. As I started incorporating more and more awesome trick mixes and such into my sets, I realized only having two decks at home wasn’t really going to cut it. But a four deck Pioneer setup is expensive and takes up a ton of space, so I opted for a Pioneer DDJ-T1 Traktor controller with Traktor Pro 2.5. It gave me the four decks I wanted, with the familiarity of Pioneer equipment (which is pretty much industry standard), while opening up a lot of interesting creative possibilities that you can only really accomplish with a controller. Having my entire music collection at my fingertips whenever I want to go and mess around is definitely a nice bonus too. And before anybody asks, no, I don’t use the sync button. =P

Though it’s still a large piece of kit and not exactly light, so I continue to use CDs (and occasionally vinyl) whenever I perform live.

At the time of writing I’m smack in the middle of building a new studio computer/gaming rig, but I’m not sure what the final specs will be just yet. It’s going to be a beast though! Aside from that I have a pair of Mackie MR5s, a Korg Nanokey 2 (I prefer drawing in notes and can’t play piano worth a damn), and a boatload of software.

What story do you tell with your music?

It depends on my mood really. My mind state going into a set has a pretty large effect on what I end up playing. Some of my best work, for example, occurred when I was really, right and truly blindingly angry, and tried to convey that musically. If I’m in a good mood, I may skew more towards happier, bouncier material with some of the darker stuff mixed in for variety. Although really nowadays the story I’m most trying to tell is “here is this awesome stuff I can do, bow before me, for I am your Dog.” Ooooh I should’ve mentioned I’m dyslexic shouldn’t I? My current sets follow an “if I can mix it in and it’s good, I’ll play it” mentality, with as many cool tricks as I can squeeze in.

Do you have any heroes? If so, who and why?

I’ve had a fair few over the years. I owe my ability to even DJ in the first place to DJs Psyklone and Wolf, who taught me the basics. I have to give a shoutout to DJ Arson, who was my roommate for a time, so we basically learned together. When I first started out, I was a huge fan of local Toronto favourite D-Minus. His quick mixing and tendency towards awesome tricks really stuck a cord with me and still influences me today. Dominik (basically the original hardcore DJ in Toronto) is another big one. Basically every hardcore DJ in Toronto emulates parts of his style to some extent, though few actually realize it. An opportunity to see Jorah Kai (now Freedom Danish, a DJ from Ottawa) turned me on to the idea of hopping across genres, something that still influences me today. No Left Turn and Jimnicricket (from San Francisco and Seattle, respectively) are huge influences on my current style as well. Of course my regular tag partners Mannik, Dynamic and Tranzit, who are constantly pushing me to step my game up. My biggest influence right now is the UK’s Gammer, who does things with two CDJs and a mixer that are just absolutely mindboggling. I’m sure there are more I’m missing, and I apologize for that, but I’m going to end off by saying my all time favourite hero: Batman.

What’s your favourite on-stage memory?

Oh jeez. Just one? I have a lot. I’m going to pick a recent one, since it was definitely a career highlight. At Sakura-Con (a big anime convention in Seattle I’ve played at for the past three years), Dynamic and I started our set playing to whatever staff happened to be in the room. By the end we were playing to 3000 people, which is my personal record for biggest crowd. Definitely one of my favourites (even though I think our set didn’t go quite as well as it could have due to a faulty CDJ).

How have you evolved over the years, as an artist? What, if any, were the catalysts of that evolution?

I like to think I’m evolving pretty constantly. I’m my own worst critic, so I’m constantly pushing myself to do better. When I started, I just did very basic intro to outro mixing, occasionally sneaking a trick in here and there, with a lot of cuts (something I picked up from D-Minus and Dominik). Becoming friends with people who did so much more than I was doing (people I’ve mentioned before, like D-Minus, No Left Turn, Mannik, etc) really pushed me to start incorporating more cool stuff into my sets. Remembering that Jorah Kai set (and listening to some of Jimnicricket’s amazing live mashups) inspired me to incorporate more of that into my sets. From there I started getting a bit bored with playing straight hardcore, so I pretty much just decided I was going to throw in whatever I could as long as it sounded as awesome as possible. I had been experimenting with mixing on more than two decks for a while, and even did so on a couple of my online mixes, but Dynamic really incorporating a LOT of three deck stuff in his sets inspired me to go more in that direction, which is basically my current style.

What other interests outside of music do you have?

I’m a giant nerd. I will freely admit it. I play a ton of video games, collect comics, have a long active World of Warcraft account, just recently started playing Magic: The Gathering, and collect toys. A lot of toys. My apartment is covered in them. I also watch a ton of anime, movies, and devour books like a drowning man in a desert. Once I get hooked in by a book, it’s done in three hours. I owe my sister that one. She taught me to read before I could even really speak properly, and that was the end of that. Put a book in front of me and I’m happy as can be. I’m also a huge pro wrestling fan. Have been since I was a kid. Monday nights (and Fridays when I don’t have a gig) are pretty much dedicated to Raw and Smackdown. And if I have a show on a Saturday and there’s a pay-per-view that Sunday, you better believe I’m home before 8 PM so I can watch it.

What achievements are you particularly proud of?

Playing for Hullabaloo, one of the biggest and most well known (and now defunct) hardcore companies in North America is definitely a big one. An achievement I actually achieved not once, but three times. Co-headlining Kandieland IV in Phoenix with the legendary Slipmatt and Simon Apex is another big highlight. There are honestly tons I could list, but perhaps my biggest achievement is that I’ve built a pretty successful DJ career without being much of a producer (which is kind of a necessity these days). I’ve traveled all over North America (even almost made it to Spain a few times, though circumstances prevented my attending), and I did it all based on my skill on the decks, rather than in the studio. That to me, is perhaps my biggest achievement of all, as it’s incredibly difficult to do.

Where can you usually be found performing?

Anywhere and everywhere. I primarily play at home in Toronto, but I’ve had the opportunity to play in almost every major city in North America, so you never really know where I’ll turn up next.

What makes a song stand out for you?

I like really high impact, high energy music. Genre doesn’t really matter to me. As long as it’s a big dancefloor slammer, I’ll probably like it. Though I do also appreciate less dancefloor friendly material, I’m just more likely to listen to it at home than play it in my sets.

How do you see yourself as an artist?

I love how this question is worded. There’s a big movement in the electronic scene right now saying DJs aren’t artists. I disagree entirely. I put a ton of work into every one of my sets to make sure that they’re the best they can possibly be, so that the crowd gets the best show they possibly can. This is really no different than a band structuring a set (or writing a song), or a producer writing a piece of music. So uhh…..yeah. That’s an answer, right?

Something most people don’t know about you:

I get HORRIBLE stage fright. Even if I’m playing at smaller shows. I tend to play it off like I’m calm, cool, and collected, but on the inside I’m freaking out. I usually keep my MP3 player handy with a couple of songs I use to pump myself up and get myself in the right mindset. A few favourites include Aeris’ Theme and Advent: One Winged Angel (from Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children, both composed by, in my opinion, the greatest modern composer, Nobuo Uematsu). Eminem and Nate Dogg – Til I Collapse is another one that gets me in the mood. And calling back to my pro wrestling fandom, CM Punk’s theme song Cult of Personality by Living Colour usually gets me in the right place to go rock a crowd. I even borrowed a bit of Punk’s entrance by yelling “It’s clobbering time!” before I start playing. For those of you who aren’t comic fans, that’s a reference to The Thing from the Fantastic Four.

Who have you depended on for support?

My friends and fans. I have been blessed with some of the greatest friends in the world, who have always been there for me when I’ve needed them. And without my fans, I have no career. I have often said that when people stop coming out to see me play (and thus promoters stop booking me), I will retire, and I stand by that. So thank you, all of you. Without you guys, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. There are too many names for me to list here, but you guys know who you are. You’re all awesome. =)

Where can people find your music?

Hardcore/Multi-Genre Mixes: http://deejay-mixes.com/Saiyan

Commercial Dance/Euro Mixes: http://deejay-mixes.com/jdsparks

You can follow DJ Saiyan on Twitter or Soundcloud to keep up to date on his schedule, or email him directly at Shane.Saiyan AT Gmail DOT com.

Words: Tim Ellis

Photo Courtesy of Josh Williams for Raichu Photography/Airglow Photography/Oh Snap! Photography