Calling a DJ “up and coming” after he’s been honing his craft for two decades sounds strange, but it’s also accurate for DJ John Lutchman. He’s enjoyed a lot of upward trajectory over the past few years; he was a turntablist for the National Museum of Hip-Hop’s short film “The Conductor,” DJ’d his way up and down the east coast on a college tour, and built up a formidable resume headlining sets high-profile in NYC, Florida, and abroad. Recently, he became the headlining DJ with Quiet Events, got sponsored by Pamplona Unlimited, and was named one of the top 25 DJs of 2016 by All Star Mixtape Awards. His newly released single – Come Again, a melodic, twerk-inspired bass thumper that’s slowly making the rounds – unofficially announced his return to the production boards after peppering the DJ community with edit tracks for years.Despite the grinding, it was only the industry insiders who actually acknowledged him. It’s an idea best exemplified during his self-executed 2015 #WhoIsJohnLutchman marketing campaign; while already respected in underground party and battle DJ circles, it was clear that his broader appeal was minimal. “The campaign worked because some people vaguely knew of my older work, but finally had a face to the name” he explains, “and the people who didn’t know me started getting very curious.” In fact, the branding blitz was necessary because the DJ John Lutchman moniker is a recent change, an departure from his previous persona of DJ JohnnyBee. It was a pseudo-intentional hit of the reset button, a move that paved the way for his newly crafted image and sound.Bringing up the old DJ name led John to open up about his beginnings and how he came to love music. “It kinda started by accident,” John reminisces as he recalls starting his career at age 7: “I was curious about radio sounds and messing around with equipment in the house. Got my first turntable at 7 and I started doing college house parties for my sister around 12. From there, I knew I wanted to keep going and I never looked back.” He entered the scene as JohnnyBee (JB for short), a child prodigy commanding floors full of partiers over twice his age. Combining his mixing skills with his B-Boy breakdancing stage presence, JB was heavily requested during his teenage years and landed him countless shows well before legally taking his first drink. It was also during these years that he cultivated his MC skills, which are in full force today. His onstage persona is highly competitive, occasionally crude, and can be downright intimidating; a straight shooter. His intensity is sometimes a double edged-sword; in peak form, his set dominance is all at once captivating but also exhausting, which can rub certain folks the wrong way. When asked about his general perception as egotistical, John brushes off the accusations. “I believe my passion for what I do is misunderstood as ego. It’s a misunderstood display of emotion.”
Of course, buying into the “Passion is not Ego” idea works if you can get context of John outside of the DJ booth. It’s not uncommon for talented acts to thrive in the spotlight and avoid the public eye; for Mr. Lutchman, that avoidance is almost to an extreme. The very same screaming man who demands a crowd’s attention was also a man of few words when it came to formal interviews. His stage persona was in a very watered down form; more noticeably, boasting was replaced with refreshing humbleness, aggression replaced with disarming friendliness. It wasn’t a total night and day transformation, but enough of a personality shift to recognize that his stage act was simply an act. Sitting with me on the hot seat, it was somewhat surreal to witness his quieter and almost nervous side; it was clear to me he didn’t get into the game for fame and really didn’t care to answer vanilla questions. Switching gears lightened up the mood, revealing a hyper version of John that geeked out on DJ lingo, sound engineering, fitness, and scratching.
Some exerpts below: Influential DJs – “Kool Herc was huge for me, doesn’t get the respect he deserves. DJ AM is the GOAT when it comes to open format party rocking; I loved his range and creativity” Production Aspirations – “I’d love to work with Mad Decent, Fools Gold, or Mixmash. I respect and appreciate how the respective bosses are diversifying their sound!” Women – “Curly hair, tattoos, and a love for soca goes a LONG way for me!” Life Inspiration – “I’m definitely a devotee of the late great Muhammad Ali, I appreciate everything that he stood for.” This much was clear when he showed me his customized turntables a few years back, proudly displaying Ali’s quote “The man who has no imagination has no wings.”
The tone of the conversation changed abruptly when we touch the topic of “fake vs real DJs.” John has plenty of his mind and his face says it all; the laughter is gone, replaced by an expression that shows frustration and concern. In a landscape where numerous big acts have been caught faking it – within an industry that lets most of it slide provided the money truck continues to back up – the concept of actually reading a crowd and having the chops to keep people moving is slowly becoming a lost art. That’s why, John explains, he’s as aggressive as he is when performing; he’s not only trying to showcase the power of old fashioned party rocking, but also fighting to keep the #RealDJ concept alive. He rebels against the legitimate industry-wide threat of actual skillful DJs being kicked to the curb in favor of marketable ones, those who thrive on pre-recorded sets and a complete disregard of the culture that came before them. In John’s mind, the louder he makes his case, the longer he can preserve the true essence of the DJ profession.