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Interview with DJ Kaos

Ryan Smith, co-owner of Hudson Valley Nightlife, had an opportunity to share lunch with DJ Kaos, winner of the Hudson Valley Best DJ Contest. Kaos, who is better known as Michael Mirabella, was both excited and humbled by the contest results.

DJ Kaos at work

How did you get started as a DJ?

I grew up in a musical family. My dad played guitar. There was always music being played in the house and because of that I’ve always had a love and appreciation for music. I have two older brothers who were both DJs. At first I would just help them carry stuff and setup for their gigs. Then once in a while they would let me play a song or two. I shared a room with my brother Mark and I would “borrow” his equipment to teach myself when he wasn’t home. He would come back and wonder why all of his settings were changed.

Things really took hold when I participated in a series of DJ battles. Promoters, venue owners, and other DJs started asking me to perform at local nightclub parties. The club scene in Westchester was very different back then. I worked at all of the hot spots at the time … Palladium/Arena, Deep, Emanon, The Thirsty Turtle, Aqua Bar, and Razzous/Pure to name a few in Westchester County and Saci, Ohm, and Supper Club in Manhattan. From those appearances I was getting asked to perform at private events … weddings, birthdays, and house parties. It grew organically as more and more people experienced my style.

Now you can find me at places like Hudson Grille in White Plains, NY, Hudson Grille in Stamford, CT, and 1 OAK in Manhattan.

What drives you?

I do this because I love it. It’s not just a job to me. The day I show up because it’s just a job, I stop. Seeing people react to the things that I do, to the way I create and manipulate music, drives me. I create a feeling for the crowd. It’s euphoric. I’m truly a music addict and I like using my addiction to make crowds respond. That never gets old to me. No matter where I am … every time I touch DJ equipment it’s like doing it for the first time. When I play, I am playing because I want people to hear me.

Going to hear a DJ is going out for a musical experience. You want the DJ to put you in a state of mind that makes you feel good all night. I love to see people smiling and dancing and having a good time. I enjoy it just as much and I get into it just as much. I think about what would I want to hear if I were out there on the dance floor with my friends. But it’s important not to make it about you; you have to know how to program and how to read a crowd. Add in your flavor and style, but don’t be selfish.

What is different about the industry now versus when you first started?

The rise of electronics and DJing software has had a huge impact on what being a DJ is. Nowadays anyone can download software and music and start DJing with a couple hours of practice. The barrier to entry is very low.

When I started, I would go record shopping at least twice a week. Every store got in the “white labels” at different times. At the beginning of the week, I would head down to New York City to places like Rock & Soul, Satellite Records, and Music Factory. The end of the week I would shop at the local record stores. Back then a DJ was defined by his music collection and every DJ’s collection varied based on what they could shop for. That’s what made you better … the quality and variety of your music. It was time consuming, but it was worth every minute.

Now there’s no effort involved. Anyone can easily get access to huge collections of music online with a few clicks and it’s more difficult to differentiate yourself in that way. We try to stand out in other ways like producing our own music and with custom mixes and mash ups. Maybe I’ll play one genre then transition into other genre within the same song. Or throw an acapella track into a pop song. I like keeping people on their toes.

How have you seen music change over the years?

Music has changed drastically. I think that has been the biggest challenge for DJs. You need to keep an open mind and progress with the music. Reinvent yourself every day. Keep up with what’s current to please your crowds or else you die off.

The evolution of dance music has skyrocketed. Some of these dance music festivals are huge. DJs are taking the place of rock bands but with a much larger audience. Electric Daisy Carnival easily tripled the size of Woodstock. Rock is a dead culture. EDM is the new rock and roll, but I think we’re going to see dance music take a turn. We’re going to get away from the hard-core beat drop, fist pump music and get back to the soulful dance music.

Even hip-hop has changed. I grew up as a hip-hop DJ, but no one has a message any more in hip-hop. It’s not about lyrics. It’s just about depicting things that are not important instead of artists telling a story.

Record sales have gone down so much. Hardwell, Rehab, Afrojack — they were all just producers, but now they DJ too because no one buys music anymore.

Any closing thoughts?

I’m very honored that I got this. Hard work is what drives me. As minute as this recognition may seem to others, it’s huge to me. It means somebody … lots of somebodies … appreciate what I do. And that makes me appreciate it too.