Various local DJs and EDM artists have come and gone in recent years—and all the while, DJ Day has continuously been turning in fantastic performances both locally and around the world.
Palm Springs native DJ Day—aka Damien Beebe—is the winner of the first Best of Coachella Valley Legacy Award.
During an interview in 2013, Beebe said that he grew up as a latchkey kid in Palm Springs, raised by a single mother. He learned how to DJ on a one-piece turntable from Kmart he got for Christmas one year. Locals who have watched DJ Day for years will tell you they remember that one-piece turntable setup, which he rigged so he could scratch while a boombox played a cassette in the background.
During a recent interview, Beebe explained what made him want to become a DJ.
“Going back to like 1988 or 1989, hearing people like DJ Jazzy Jeff was a major influence on me,” Beebe said. “There was an album put out by the Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff called He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, and it was a double album, and one whole side was dedicated to just the DJ. Before that, hearing the scratching on Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’—that was definitely the first time I really went, ‘Holy shit, what is that sound?’ It was totally foreign and unique. Hearing that made me get infatuated with the sound of scratching. From there, I tried to get anything I could with scratching in it so I could learn.”
Beebe said that one-piece turntable became the tool he used to learn all of his scratching techniques.
“I would come home from school and just listen and try to come as close as I could, trying to emulate,” he said. “I would scratch old Charlie Brown records or anything that I had, like my mom’s old records—any kind of phrase or any sound I could use. I would hold the tape and the phono button down like an on/off switch or a fader. It was all by ear.”
There was not much of a hip-hop scene in Palm Springs while Beebe was growing up, but he still managed to find local influences.
“There was Club Z, which was this crazy 18-and-over club,” he said. “They did have some dope DJs in there. There were people I have to give props to—people like Fonzo and Ellis—and there were different DJs out here who influenced me, for sure.”
Beebe talked about his first major public failure—and what he learned from it.
“This is the thing that separates my era from today’s era: Back then, a lot of DJs would be at house parties. There was a guy named Renee who was a really dope DJ. The Filipino community out here also had a lot of good ones, too. I remember after a year or two of using my ghetto fucking turntable and tapedeck in my room, I never learned how to work turntables and a mixer. I went to a house party, because I felt confident enough, and I got up on the turntables—and it was like putting a monkey in a spaceship. I didn’t know what I was doing with the fader or anything like that. I completely fell apart, and it was totally terrible. I got booed in front of a fucking house party full of people outside. I still remember the moment, and someone came and pulled me off the turntables.
“I went to my friend’s house that night; (the friend had been at the party), too, and I remember seriously vowing I would come back and show everybody what the fuck is up. It’s those moments when you either fold and give up, or it makes you push harder and stronger by walking through that kind of fire.
“Now, with digital DJing, someone can just buy some shit and become a DJ overnight. Those kinds of lessons and trials to improve are lost.”
Beebe explained how he came across one instrument he often plays on his records.
“In 1999, there was a guy out here selling a Fender Rhodes piano for like $25, and now they go for way more than that,” he said. “One of the keys was broken, and it was a heavy antiquated electric keyboard. It was the sound that was in all of the records I had growing up, including Bob James’ ‘Take Me to the Mardi Gras,’ which is the basis of ‘Peter Piper’ by Run-DMC. I was excited to get that and just toyed around with it, learning by ear. I’ve gotten more serious with it during the last year, trying to actually learn it better.
“My dad played and learned by ear, so maybe there’s some kind of weird genetic shit going on. I just like to be student of all and master of none in terms of music.”
As a touring DJ, Beebe has seen it all. He talked about one time he was on tour with People Under the Stairs.
“I went on tour with them as a support act and to open the shows,” Beebe said. “The first show we did was in Santa Barbara—and someone stole my laptop off the stage the first night. They posed as photographers, got onstage and took anything they could grab, and my laptop bag ended up being one of those things. First night of the tour! Luckily, I had brought a bag of records with me—and that’s one of the benefits of having that foundation.
“I ended up getting it back. I tracked the guy who stole it down, and he was all apologetic and shit. Life is fucking weird!”
DJ Day has traveled around the world, to places as far-flung as Russia, Brazil, Israel, China and Japan. He admits there are times when he finds himself at a loss for words.
“The first time I went to Russia, I went completely alone—no tour manager or anyone else,” he said. “I get to the gig, and the first meal I have in Russia is a chicken quesadilla. That set the tone of weird shit out of the gate. The gig is in this old bomb shelter, and it’s a nightclub. It’s all funk and soul, and all vinyl that this one other guy is doing. The crowd is singing this fucking obscure soul song. The entire room erupted singing this song called ‘Blind Alley’ by the Emotions, which is not even a song American people know. It was so weird to be in Russia, in a bomb shelter, and hearing people sing an obscure soul song. That was really cool to see.”