San Francisco-based Knowpa Slaps has put down an eclectic mix for the DJcity Podcast. The founder and resident DJ of the R&B and RIBS party has opened...
As a high school classmate of Chris Villa in Tempe, Arizona, Vangelis Films‘ documentary filmmaker Jeremy A. Lopez never hung out with the now renowned DJ and turntablist. However, he was highly aware that he was beginning to become extraordinarily proficient behind the decks. As Lopez’s career took flight as an actor, director, and producer with credits including “Grey’s Anatomy” and “NCIS,” Villa’s career similarly blossomed. The director described the DJ as a “soft-spoken husband and father of two.” They, among many accomplishments, ascended to being a competitor in the United States region of the 2018 Red Bull 3Style World Championships. And that’s where this conversation finds us, as the high school classmates have reunited nearly two decades later. Lopez is the director of the soon-to-premiere One for All: The DJ Chris Villa Story. In this conversation, Lopez recounts the filmmaking process behind the documentary and offers notes — from the outside looking in — on the culture and art of DJing and turntablism.
Jeremy A. Lopez: I’d been watching [Chris’] career grow via social media and decided one day that he’d be the perfect candidate for a documentary. So I reached out to him and asked if anyone had ever suggested he should do this. Because we’re both busy, a year went by after that initial conversation. When I reached out again, a year later, Chris told me that he would be competing in the Red Bull 3Style competition. We then agreed that I should follow him along in the 3Style process, plus [accompany] him to local gigs. Eventually, this included flying out with him to Philadelphia for the United States Red Bull 3Style Finals.
DJcity: To me, the real standout moment in the trailer is when Chris’ wife notes that alongside developing his Red Bull 3Style set, he’s also balancing being a working and contributing parent in a two-parent household. Can you discuss what it was like to watch him create a work/life balance, of sorts, for himself?
JAL: Initially, what drew me to Chris was trying to figure out how he could balance a career based, [often] around [the temptations of] partying, drinking, drugs, and girls, with maintaining a healthy relationship with his family as a father and husband. I was impressed. The fact that he could buck the stereotype that most DJs can’t do both well was compelling to me as a filmmaker. While filming, I discovered that he and his wife are solid, stellar examples of how a couple can accomplish work/life balance in a music career. Yes, sometimes Chris was stressed out about it. I mean, it’s not easy to try to create a set for the Red Bull 3Style competition while also making time for interviews, wrangling kids, and having a camera following you around. He didn’t shy away from any of it, though. He never complained, once. That was inspiring to observe.
DJcity: I’ve attended the Philadelphia 3Style finals on numerous occasions, and if you’re new to the culture, I’d imagine it’s really quite awe-inspiring and action-packed from an outside glance. What were your thoughts, in general, about the event you attended?
JAL: I had no idea what to expect when I arrived with my crew. I had no idea how big of a competition it was. Of course, once we had completed filming, I watched some of the 3Style World Finals footage from Taipei, and I was like, “holy s**t, this is actually massive!” However, for as big as it is, I believe that it could and should be a larger deal than it already is. It highlights the creativity of each DJ in such a way where the sky is the limit on what they can accomplish. I had a helluva time there. Even while running the camera, I was very into what the DJs were doing and gained a greater appreciation for their talents. Pulling together [a unique, 15-minute 3Style set] is hard. Even crazier because Chris went last, he heard what some DJs did in their sets before his, so he changed this set he’d spent weeks preparing the same night.
DJcity: So, take me behind the camera. What were the moments that you feel really capture the power — outside of Chris’ story — of what the documentary represents to creative people and to DJ culture overall?
JAL: Catching moments — crowd reactions, DJ reactions, whatever — that you wouldn’t necessarily see at first glimpse, live, was exciting. Sometimes there were things like a moment in a 3Style set that a DJ had hyped that didn’t land with the crowd as well as expected. But, they were cool because you could see the surprise on the face of that DJ or someone in the room who felt similarly to the DJ. Or, sometimes — and this happened a lot — there were moments that I thought would kill that really [exceeded my expectation] and to see the crowd respond to those was fun, too. Feeling the energy in the room and capturing it with my lens was electric.
DJcity: Both you and Chris are creative entrepreneurs. Do you see comparisons in your workload, style of work, and scope of work that are comparable?
JAL: Yeah. It’s such a grind, really. We never really have days off. We’re always trying to get ourselves noticed and get our names out there. He, like me, has to both work at his craft and simultaneously build a following. Also, for both of us, our work is also our greatest passion. Making a living while pursuing your passion is special. Also, as I was editing the footage of Chris creating his DJ sets, it reminded me also of when I have to edit an unscripted documentary. Essentially, when I’m sitting behind a computer — just like Chris — and am trying to edit footage into a two-hour documentary, I’m basically making the film equivalent of a two-hour DJ set. No rulebook says that an idea is right or wrong, and you have the freedom to let your creativity guide your craft and work ethic.
DJcity: Overall, what are your most significant positive takeaways about DJ and turntablism culture from working on this film?
JAL: DJs are a tight-knit community, it seems, and great at supporting each other. When one DJ sees something dope that another DJ is doing, they share it with their community on social media and give them a shout-out. I thought that was pretty cool. Also, at Red Bull 3Style, I saw mutual respect between DJs, as they all recognize how hard — especially at that level, in that competition — their work truly is. As a new fan of the culture, I also like learning what I like about a DJ that I feel makes them pretty good and stand out to me [as a great creator], portraying and showcasing the music itself as art.
Watch the official trailer above.