Anime, Turntables, & Hip Hop: Renzo’s Empire
Lower Greenville, Texas, my interview with DJ Renzo was at a small, hipster coffee shop in the middle of the day DFW metroplex, just a street over the downtown area, not far from this up and coming DJ’s old stomping ground; I couldn’t wait to ask anime, turntables, and hip hop — and how the heck they can come together.
A current student of School of Scratch, studying turntablism, and music theory under DJ Emma Short-e, Renzo is well versed in many genres of music such as hip-hop, trap, electro, electro house, and progressive house. An older man who’s been in the game for a very long time, he’s returned with a fiery passion to build himself a name in the EDM industry. After a tragic time in his life, losing a fellow DJ (Beto Boy), Renzo went on a years long disappearance from the scene — returning because of the efforts of another artist, DJ Hector, who found his talent too good to not be realized. After two years back from his hiatus, Renzo has performed at venues around the Dallas area, from Vinty Club, to The Quixotic World in Deep Ellum, and three year residency at Weekends in Rowlett with DJ Hector, and guest hosting with DJ Kane on 89.3 FM. A vital member of the Basshead Society (a rising group of artists of musical flare in a plethora of genres) alongside Miss CJ and Sickone, a lot of who he gives credit to his success and adoration, Renzo is breaking into the scene like wildfire.
His comeback was nothing short of explosive and there’s absolutely zero chance of slowing down in his schedule…however, things are changing, in big ways. Nowadays, you’ll find Renzo at Texas’s biggest anime conventions, performing for the late night rave after parties, each time leaving a huge impact on the audience, every single one of them calling him back to return and spin. His reach has been like wildfire all over social media, guests of the convention tagging him in #BringRenzoBack or #TeamRenzo, trending at such a rate his videos can be found in almost every anime and comic group with a following larger than even some of the principal EDM production companies and their festivals. There is no contest in the Texas anime and comic con scene: he is their premiere DJ and he is building an empire that harmoniously brings anime, turntables, and hip-hop into one.
His demeanor is far from what you’d expect — cleaned up, polo shirt, a big yet nervous smile, and broad shoulders. There was nothing but enthusiasm in eyes. The first time I heard Renzo live was at an outside pavilion at Project A-Kon 26 (drawing in a crowd of 30,000 in that year), not even booked to play the rave. However, walking outside, an immense cluster fuck of people huddled around a tent with some pumping music caught my attention immediately. The ground shook beneath my feet from the dancing and stomping, and all you could hear in the air besides the music was the enthusiastic screams for Renzo. It caught so much wind that the staff booked him for next year’s convention: just an outside, small gig, turned into one of the biggest bookings in his career yet. This should tell you enough about Renzo’s talent for DJing, as well as the chemistry with his audience is nothing short of mighty.
Hi Renzo! My first question is something I don’t normally get to ask: how have you been able to stick with the turntable technique in your sets? It’s a practice that we don’t get to encounter everyday with the vast amounts of new technology and techniques, what makes you specialize in this?
It goes back to my hip-hop roots. When I first started out DJing it was out on turntables and that was just the “it” thing to do back then. Learning how to scratch and cut — I’m still learning — because it’s such a select few that are willing to put themselves out there to try this or teach it, it’s a special tool in the bag that I love doing and want to get better at.
With hip-hop roots, who are some of your influences in the beginning that molded your music? How did these influences help that transition from hip-hop to dance music if at all?
It started out with artists like Run DMC, LL Cool J — really well known names. The turning point for my music career into dance music was when I started attending EDM music festivals and concerts. There was an overwhelming and strong energy from the crowd that affected how the DJ was performing in a good way and I wanted that vibe and environment.
It still definitely shows [your hip-hop roots] when listening to your set because of the heavy use of trap music, however in your latest works you’re moving towards new genres in mixes. Who are some of the more modern influences that are making you open to trying electro house, pop, and the like?
Definitely one of them has to be DJ Jayceeoh in terms of trap because he also has the ability to work the turntables as well as incorporate other genres into his music without distracting what his sound is. Eskei83 is a huge influence as well — he has killer tracks where he can seamlessly flow from EDM genre to genre and it’s incredible to hear.
Turntable technique is very important to you, how is keeping up with today’s music, styles, and techniques using this old school style of DJing propelling you towards your goal and success?
I’m still learning, definitely. Blending so much information that we know we are capable of as DJs can be a challenge, but it’s something that only practice and dedication can achieve. You’re still an artist — just as a painter uses a canvas, we have our music and our crowd, and where turntables fits in is that special brush used to paint your vision and masterpiece.
How long have you been active in your music career — and then more specifically, how long has your dance career been active as well?
Oh man, I’ve been in this game for a very long time and even had a period of hiatus. I first got into dance music specifically about two years ago, and it was through a friend of mine who actually strictly just does hip-hop music. However, he started dabbling here and there with electro music and I heard some of these experiments into that genre and I really liked what I was hearing. The beat, the feel — it was something I wanted to get into as well. That is definitely something I NEVER thought I’d be saying. [laughs] But look at me now, I’m just engulfed in all of dance music, techno included.
In the beginning, what were the kinds of crowds and music venues you were catering to and how has it changed? What events do you DJ at now?
It’s different now, a lot different. My first audience was a hip-hop crowd. It was bar stuff — people coming out to drink and just throwing in hip-hop and some EDM. Now, I’m being booked for anime conventions! Believe it or not though, the crowd is even more electrified than when I had started. The audience has not only increased but I’m in a set up where it’s not an environment that’s small and can turn into an ugly brawl at anytime. The people and the energy is all changed. I love picturing the crowd at anime conventions — I think about them so much when I pick my music.
Anime and comic conventions have exploded within recent years to a degree that it’s become so mainstream, something people never would’ve imagined. From my personal experience, going to even just an anime rave a year earlier, the popularity of it all has significantly increased — even top DJs on Billboard listings like Porter Robinson are getting booked for these events! How is choosing music for this crowd when you aren’t anime song heavy with your sets anymore difficult or challenging?
I’m excited to bring a new vibe to the anime crowd. I think it’s what they were looking for for a while — there’s a common misconception about anime raves that it’s kids just wanting to listen to a prerecorded track of a bunch of anime songs. No, it’s still a rave and they’re still there to dance and party; just because it’s an anime convention doesn’t mean they only want to hear anime songs, and I’m happy to bring more outside music to them. They’re not pondering there wondering how many songs from their favorite anime series they’ll here: they’re there to shake their ass! However, it doesn’t disappear that I try to incorporate drops or slivers of anime lines or songs in my sets, it helps develop a bond between me, the crowd, and our environment. I think I’m on the right track.
Definitely — after just one convention, you were getting booked left and right and years in advanced to come back and perform at these anime conventions with attendees in the ten thousands and more. What do you think set you apart from the other DJs in the past who have performed in the past?
I want to say it’s my versatility and ability to branch out of the anime convention DJ norm that not many of my predecessors have attempted. I put my music out there, not just what I think a anime or comic con DJ should be playing, but also my sounds, influences, and experiments. I don’t stick to just one thing because I think that’s what this specific crowd wants that — they’ve been exposed to the same thing year after year, they wanted something fresh and new to dance to, I want to say I understood that plea and served it to them.
It sounds like you really love experimenting with the large sub-genres that exist in EDM, how does it not make you nervous to try new things and put yourself out there? As a beginner yourself, what are some things you learned along the way, and what are some things you’d like to tell others who are wanting to follow the direction you are heading in music — basically to not be afraid?
It’s been practice, practice, practice since the get go from me. Branching out is key as well if you want to learn your own sound. There can’t be fright when trying new things — just excitement. We all love DJing, spinning, doing turntables — so it’s just a constant learning experience to get better, myself included. The major advice I’d give after also being a mentor is: beat matching. Learn it. Learn how to flow. Dropping is popular but is messed up the most by those starting out. Get that down. I was the same way — I thought the BPM is so much of the music in EDM would be easy, right? Not at all. I watch tutorials every day and get mentors myself because it’s that important.
What are your plans for the future? One, your music? And two, for the conventions you want to perform at? Last, who are your next target audience?
The big plan is to get into a huge festival like Tomorrowland, EDC Vegas, and the like! [Laughs] That’s the dream, isn’t it? It’s far off. Right now, I’m working on getting my name more household in the area, I want local Dallas to know who I am through my music, networking, and media. I just plan on practicing right now and getting booked for anime conventions because it’s where I am in my talent and in my life.
Finding Renzo is a breeze; alongside guest starring all around the DFW radio stations, he is booked for convention after convention. However, he’s consistently releasing new music on his SoundCloud that is follow worthy: