Photo Courtesy of Sean Hower
by Mika Rawson
Originally from France, DJ CIA (Charles Oreve) has made a name for himself on Maui’s electronic music scene with his dynamic house music mixes. CIA earned his chops with vinyl, but has embraced the digital age. We recently chatted with him about his career and why he likes tech but refuses to produce electronic music.
MAUITIME: How did you get into DJing?
CIA: I got into DJing in my junior year of high school because I started getting into house music with a friend of mine in Paris, France. That’s where I lived at the time. I was going to clubs at a very young age and I saw guys DJing and I wanted to do that.
MT: What was learning to DJ in Paris like?
CIA: It was a real challenge because if you wanted all the new tracks you had to find the vinyl. Between the cost of finding the vinyl record, which was around $8 or $9 for one song, as well as learning how to match beats, the learning curve was much harder back then than it is now.
MT: What was it like before digital music took over?
CIA: It’s much easier to physically get to a gig [now]. To get to a show nowadays, I grab USB drive and pair of headphones. When I was playing in clubs and had to bring cases and cases of vinyl with me, I had to have one of my friends help me carry all of it. Each case was around 80 pounds and I’d bring five or six to a show.
Today you just have to go to the Internet to grab whatever song you want to listen to and buy. Back in the day, you had a relationship with your vinyl record shop. You would have a sales person there to save tracks for you. I would come in every week and they would say, “Charles, I saved some stuff for you that you will like and I know you will play.” In those days, what you played was really about you. It wasn’t, “Oh, I’m going to grab a hundred tracks before my gig and I’m going to have the same hundred tracks as the guy before.” No, because the limited amount of records available for the newer stuff, you were really defining your style by the records you were buying. Nowadays, you can pretty much get everything and play the same thing as the next guy.
MT: How many hours a day do you spend practicing?
CIA: I don’t practice anymore. The thing is, I would say it’s like driving a stick shift car. I’m just talking about House DJs. The guys who are scratch DJs or Hip-Hop DJs do a very different thing. They have more physical and body rhythms on the hand movements. They scratch and blend tracks that require more time on actual turntables, and I admire them for that.
MT: Do you have a favorite DJ?
CIA: I play a lot of different styles inside House music. I can’t pinpoint anything because right now there are so many tracks being made every day and every week. There is one DJ I ‘ve been following since he began releasing music many years ago. His name is TJR. He’s out of San Diego, California. Right now, he’s huge, playing all around the world at big music festivals. I really like every single one of his tracks. He is also a REALLY technical DJ. If I had to give one artist, that would be the one.
MT: When at gigs, do you use a turntable or do you have a mix prepared?
CIA: I never have a mix prepared in advance. It all depends of the people in the room and the general energy on the dance floor–where are they energetically, and where can I take them. I can use turntables if the club has some and that’s all they have. However, I’d rather play on CDJs.
MT: What are you using to mix music?
CIA: I’ve been playing on Scratch Live. It’s made by Serato, and I’ve been using it for the past five years. I see it as a music storage device. It’s easy to connect it to your computer and have all your music. I don’t use any of the effects or any sync features because I learned how to DJ without it. It’s just a storage device. I’m not computer assisted by any means–it holds my music and I play it with the control surfaces that I use. It can be CDJs, turntables, even a controller.
MT: Is it tough making it as a DJ, especially since so many people DJ nowadays?
CIA. Very. It is very tough. There are different things: in your local demographic, there are a lot of people who buy a controller, dabble around on the computer, call themselves DJs and grab gigs. I’m happy for them to have a way to share their music base with a crowd. It’s much easier right now to earn your chops. Before that, for the old guys, you had to play in your bedroom for many, many years before getting into the public. Now with technology, it’s much easier to get yourself out there and not sound like a complete fool.
MT: How do you make it big in electronic music?
CIA: You have to produce music. I’ve tried to produce music on my own time with some proper professional software and it sucked. My music didn’t sound good to me and there was no way I was putting it out there. To really become big, you have to produce. I know I will never make it to EDC [Electric Daisy Carnival] or other big electronic festivals because I don’t produce tracks.
MT: Are all producers great DJs?
CIA: No. There are some producers that are very popular that you hear at the clubs, but live, they are not that good. They produce music, but they don’t know how to read a crowd and they aren’t as sharp as others would be. In Opposition, I saw DJ VICE (LA, Vegas) who doesn’t produce much, but he is technically unreal and one of the best club DJs. I’m not the complaining old guy or anything, it’s just that before there was a defining line between DJs and producers and now it’s all blended together. As electronic music expanded, more people wanted to hear what producers were making, even though they aren’t DJs.
MT: What are your top five electronic music festivals?
CIA: I’ve never been to any festival. I see most artists inside the VIP sections of clubs. I don’t like being in the middle of 100,000 people in the heat with people stepping on my feet. I like to see a crowd but not be in the middle of it.
MT: What kind of advice would you give someone who’s interested in DJing, either for fun or as a career?
CIA: Have fun! Have fun doing it and remember, the best DJ of any night is the guy who will have the whole crowd smiling as well as himself and that will make him the best.
MT: Lastly, what are your top five electronic music styles and artists?
CIA: 1. Deep House: Ten Walls, Claptone, Hot Since 82, Tchami, Motez.
2. Electro House: TJR, Showtek, New World Sound, Dimitri Vegas, Mak J
3. House Music: S-Man- Dangerous Thoughts; Sidney Charles- Hustler Stomp; DJ Sneak- Did it at the Disco; Jr From Dallas- Sick My Beat; Slideback – Feel Good
4. Progressive House / Trance: Tiesto – Adagio for Strings; Armin Van Buuren – This is What it feels like; W&W – The Code; Omnia & Ira – The Fusion
5. Melbourne Bounce: Uberjakd- Whistle Bounce; Will Sparks- Ah Yeah, Tjr- Ode To Oi; Zoolanda – Liquid Cardboard; DJ Snake: Turn Down For What (Shameless Bootleg)