DJ Champion of the people
DJ Champion breathes new life
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN LITHIUM MAGAZINE, NOVEMBER 2009
by Aaron Binder
Photos by Melanie Schade
It is rarely ever what you’re expecting – meeting new people, creating new connections, building relationships; even in structure, it is usually chaotic. Alternative music is rife with characters, the ones that are misunderstood, the ones that want to be misunderstood, and the ones that misunderstand themselves. The opportunity to interpret what may be a 10-minute connection sometimes is difficult to portray in words, inevitably somebody has to do it. Somebody has to build relationships, meet those new people, and pass that on to the readership that hopefully receives it well. The challenge increases when there is the added element of ethnic diversity tossed into the mix as well.
2009 has been a year on the rise for artists out of Quebec. For the rest of Canada, mainly the Anglophones, it may seem a little puzzling as to why. Where in years past, Quebecoise artists may have been all three levels of misunderstood, many of the performers that are starting to creep into the whole Canadian mainstream know exactly who they are and what they want from the rest of the country and continent. Unsurprisingly, what they want is exactly what every other musician out there desires; Understanding, respect, and a bed.
Maxime Morin or DJ Champion, may seem at first to be embroiled in French heritage. His bassy, raspy voice sounds close to a caricature of what most North Americans expect from Quebec. He has a laissez faire attitude most times and this is betrayed by the crow’s feet starting to accentuate his eye-sockets. His hair flows down from follicles that are beginning to betray shades of grey. He may be entering middle age, but it doesn’t seem to faze him one bit. His look could only be described as a mix of Geddy Lee and Weird Al Yankovich.
He seems guarded at first, unsure of how to gauge my approach after his manager Matisse hands him over to me for the next 10 minutes, which would inevitably become 35. After realizing that I’m not an E-talk reporter, he opens up completely.
We begin walking over to a local café, he sparks up a cigarette.
I ask him about his trip so far, he laughs.
He is a genuinely friendly guy, and over the next 10 minutes we debate the finer points of Anglo/Franco relations. Toronto and Montreal music scenes (Apparently Toronto has only become good in the last 10 years), and how skipping over a red carpet is one of his favourite things to do so he can avoid all of the surface journalism and shi-shi hoopla.
He doesn’t portend to be rockstar-ish in nature. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even turn your head and wonder if you passed him on the street. However, he does have a healthy dose of confidence in the fact that his music, his attitude, and his concept are great. While I’m asking him about how a lot of DJ’s are making a shift toward more live oriented shows, he drops what could be considered a brash statement until he explains in more detail.
“I’m very proud of myself. Well, I know I’m good, but there’s a fine line between arrogance and being humble. You have to find that confidence, and in anything you do, if you don’t believe in what you do, just don’t do it, you’re wasting your time.”
He takes time to pause, stare upward, and ponder before continuing;
“If you become too confident, you will stop listening to the people, stop listening to what’s around you; and you will become the centre of it all, and then if you’re wrong, you’re wrong.”
He has been one of the hottest DJ’s out of Quebec for the past 10 years, but just like many in his area, he is branching out into other musical avenues. Not only are many DJ’s including rock instruments like guitar, drums and bass, they are also turning their live sets into more spectacle than the traditional DJ set. He knows what he is doing has a lot of potential and it has already proven rewarding with high-profile airtime on a number of Canadian radio stations and buzz-worthy magazines.
It may just be coincidence that his latest album, Resistance, is doing swimmingly well commercially and critically, but if his words hold credence, than it can be attributed just as much to the fans as his own musical ingenuity. Looking a little deeper, it becomes glaringly obvious that he places as much confidence in his own music as he does in his fans.
While humbleness may be slowly falling out of favour in our culture, it is one that Max possesses at the strangest of times. When he speaks of his fans, his eyes seem to light up, his shoulders perk and his voice gains an air of heightened confidence (but not too much). While he may be known for being a slight recluse at times, he knows what he is doing brings joy to those that tune in to listen.
“Every time I start thinking about what they need, I know I’m going the wrong way because you shouldn’t be thinking of what they need, you should be feeling it. The most important thing is not thinking too much.”
Solitary as he may be at times, he is quite in tune with his own emotions and the emotive nature of music culture. His deduction that he needs to feel music instead of making music is automatically admirable. But at the same time, it is equally challenging. While he has experienced success with Resistance, the next time he records, it may not be so easy to find the tune of culture and music. That is just one of the dangers of music; even long-time fans can be fickle when presented with something that disagrees with them on the smallest scale.
Ultimately, what the fans want and what the fans feel may be different. Max, however, is determined to make sure that the music he makes stays in tune with what his fans want to hear and will attract new listeners to the fold.
As we walk back to the venue, a local homeless man (mentioning at least 5 times that he’s a famous Portuguese rapper) shows up and offers up his services as a street-rapper for hire. Inevitably we give in to the 21st century schizoid man and he babbles out a few incomprehensible lines.
After our personal rapper retires, about 75 cents richer, we reminisce upon how we were actually paying him to leave, not to rap. This is the essence of Max though; he’s willing to entertain oddity if it serves a higher purpose. Finished with his cigarette, he leaves with Matisse to enjoy some chow before hitting the stage.
Walking into the venue a couple of hours later, Max is going at it full steam ahead. He’s giving it, grooving it, and getting the crowd behind the music and the vibe. Something he mentioned earlier pops into mind.
“This is not the type of crowd where you want to sit down and wait for something to happen. You wait for the action, the choreography, the light show, stuff like that, for them, I would say don’t come. If you’re willing to participate, then you’ll have a good time because that’s what I’m giving, I’m giving you the opportunity to participate, to get on board, and I won’t let you down.”
You either take action or stay idle and wither. Our previous conversation is punctuated by this theme many times, if you’re not willing, don’t come. He expects his fans to be just as active as he is in the creation of his music, his persona, his vibe. Unless you’re willing to contribute to the show, stay at home.
Standing at the back of Toronto’s Mod Club is a great vantage point to see the action happening on stage. The guitars are screaming almost as loud as the fans and for Max, this must be pure pleasure, hearing all of these open mouths vocalizing along with the band. The crowd is bouncing along to the thumping beat. The crowd and band in tandem beat their feet upon the grainy wooden ground.
Where local contemporaries of his like Misstress Barbara (click here for our coverage) are still in charge of their stage (but still vibe-ing with surroundings), Max tends to hang out and let the show and the crowd play themselves out. His desire to be in tune with everything seems to force this out of him. When the guitars are screaming, the beats are pounding and the crowd is jiving, he throws back his hair, stares into the ceiling and revels in the fact that he has achieved Zen.
“Some concerts, you remember the show or the song, you’ll remember that. Some concerts, you won’t really remember the show, or the songs, but you remember that you saw your friends and everybody was there and that the vibe was good; that’s life, that’s real.”
The vibe, the friends, life at that moment is as close to heaven as some will ever come. Even though tomorrow may be utter shit and despair, for one night an escape is possible. He is absolutely right; nobody in the venue may remember the specifics of what they experienced at a DJ Champion show, but they will always remember the fact that they were at it. They’ll recall that their friends were there and that they had one of the best experiences of their lives singing along to contemplative and moving music.
This is real; whatever emotion each individual member of the audience is feeling is real. While he may believe that he is giving the crowd an opportunity to participate, his presence on stage is giving him the chance to participate in a life that only few have been lucky enough to grace – that being the life of the misunderstood character on stage. Max is experiencing new life with this new persona; new fame and new challenges. He is an artist attempting to send an understanding message to the world; everything is going to be okay if you can just feel the vibe.