Yesterday, Sam M. Zornow ’08 made the journey in reverse—not to find the precious metal, but having won it. Zornow, a.k.a. DJ Shiftee, returned to the States Monday, carrying a golden plaque, an oversized check for $10,000—and the title of world DJ champion, having conquered the world’s turntables.
In his first international appearance, the Mather House senior beat DJ Or D’Oeuvre of France Saturday to become the champion of the Disco Mixing Club’s (DMC) Battle for World Supremacy.
The Battle for World Supremacy, first held in 2000, is a single-elimination tournament, with 18 competitors who perform meticulously rehearsed 60 and 90 second-long sets. The participants—all winners of DMC national competitions—are judged by roughly 20 of their fellow DJs, who look for performance skills and technical ability.
The DMC, a subscription-only club for DJs interested in avant-garde medley mixing, hosted the weekend in the 2,350-seat London Indig02 arena. In addition to the Battle for World Supremacy, DJs from 24 different countries—including Italy, Japan, Spain, and Singapore—competed in six-minute and team face-offs.
Isaac E. DeLima, a.k.a. DJ I-Dee, who won the DMC’s USA finals and traveled to the international round in 2005, said that the competition was one of the “toughest battles in the DJ circuit,” testing not only the ability to prepare numerous routines, but also the capacity to stay cool in the face of the accompanying trash talk.
Zornow knocked out his competitors using an American hip-hop style in contrast to Or D’Oevre’s European electric-techno sound. He attributed his win to a combination of stage presence, versatility, and novelty.
“I try to be very calm and confident and in-your-face,” he said. “I do both beat-juggling and scratching; [Or D’Oeuvre] was doing mostly scratching,” he added, referring to various turntabling techniques.
Zornow started DJ-ing in his early teens, drawn by a love of hip hop and an inability to rap. He spent hours in his room practicing moves on a turntable and watching videos of former DMC champions, including the New York City-based group Lo-Livez, who became his mentors.
“It’s a huge part of who I am at this point. It’s my passion, my love,” said Zornow, who made it to the last round of the 2003 DMC USA DJ Finals as a high schooler.
Zornow’s beats have rocked many a Harvard party, including Mather Lather, Heaven and Hell, and several events hosted by the South Asian Men’s Collective, but the DJ says he’ll be raising his rates if he continues to scratch on campus.
“It’s important to realize that party DJ-ing is very different from battle DJ-ing. Battle DJ-ing requires nimble fingers and an ear for beats. Party DJ-ing is about feeling the crowd,” Zornow’s roommate, Xavier A. Taboada ’08, said.
As an Ivy League math major, Zornow may fall outside the typical DJ demographic, but he said that the DJ community is very accepting.
“On stage I’m not trying to pretend that I’m anything that I’m not,” he said. “I’m an amplified version of myself— nerdy and quirky.”
Zornow left battling when he entered college, concerned that the rigors of preparing for competitive DJ-ing combined with the stress of Harvard academics would be too much to handle. He made a triumphant return this September, winning the Battle For USA Supremacy in New York City to qualify for the World Battle.
“[Lo-Livez] Precision won the U.S. showcase competition, and that inspired me to come back. I thought it would be cool for the two of us to go and rep the U.S.” Zornow explained.
According to DeLima, a professional DJ and longtime friend of Zornow’s, past DMC champions have used their win to solidify their names in the industry. Zornow said he plans to complete his senior year, but is worried that he has a limited window of opportunity to take his career to the next level.
Although returning World Champions are allowed to bypass the preliminary rounds of the DMC’s international battle, Zornow, who hopes to make a worldwide tour, said that he would need entirely new material if he were to enter the 2008 competition.
The World Champ called back after his interview to make a final point.
“I want to apologize to everyone I kept up in my dorm,” he said.