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AKA: Eric Jao

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If DJ Enferno was only known as the guy Madonna picked to cut up samples and assist in remix productions for her shows, helping to make the Sticky & Sweet Tour the highest-grossing tour of the year, he could look comfortably back on an illustrious and successful career. But for Enferno, a veteran club DJ, turntablist, production guru and creator of the much-lauded Live Remix Project (more on that later), the tour is simply the natural progression to a consistently bourgeoning career.

The drive to excel has always pushed Enferno to be the best at whatever he does. (It’s no coincidence he earned a Black Belt in karate by age 9.) As a kid, years before becoming a DJ, Enferno would cut and splice together snippets from different songs, creating seamless mixtapes, using nothing more than cassettes and a boom box. Not long after getting his first DJ setup, Enferno would set up a mobile DJ unit, perfecting his skills for hours a day, and play whatever high school (and later college) party would have him.

After graduating from college with a business degree, the D.C.-based Enferno worked the corporate world by day and deejayed the clubs at night. “It was always something on the side,” he says. “But the gigs kept on coming.” As his clout as a club deejay began to grow, Enferno would see a video that would take him down a parallel path in his DJ career.

“My best friend showed me a video tape of the 1997 DMC and ITF DJ competitions,” he recalls. “My first feeling was, ‘How are these guys creating these sounds with just turntables and a mixer??’ I would watch that tape over and over, rewinding and studying the mechanics of their scratching and juggling techniques. I was fascinated by the art.”

From there, he was hooked. In 1999, Enferno would enter his first DMC competition, the most prestigious in the world. While he didn’t win the first year, he would spend countless hours working on his routines, scoring higher with each passing year, until finally winning the U.S. Championship in 2003.

Enferno hung up his battle needles in 2004, and continued to increase his exposure in the club world, touring all over the USA, Asia, and parts of Europe, even making a feature appearance on MTV’s Direct Effect in 2004. Taking club audiences by storm with his combination of musical knowledge, crowd control, and championship technical skills, by 2006, Enferno was on top of the club world with his multi-genre open-format style on the decks.

But he knew there was more. “I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of ‘performing’ on turntables in front of an audience,” says the classically-trained pianist. “I saw what Q-Bert was doing: traveling the world, performing on turntables like a rock star…like a musician. And then one day, I walked into a Virgin Megastore in Paris and saw this electronic musician performing. He was using a bunch of keyboards and samplers to create, sample, and loop sounds to create music on the SPOT. Then he would get on the keyboards and improvise to the music he just created. WOW. I thought to myself, ‘I bet I could do that, but with keyboards, samplers, and turntables.’”

Thus spawned the Live Remix Project (LRP) in 2006, a “one-man symphony” incorporating turntables, instruments, effects and samplers that combines musical virtuosity with technical proficiency. LRP draws on a myriad of Enferno’s skills—a musician’s natural ear for music, exceptional turntablist ability and production wizardry—to upend the traditional idea of a deejay “set.” “Basically, it allows me to produce music live on the spot as opposed to just getting up there and spinning a record,” says Enferno. “I’m able to record sounds from the turntables and keyboards and then affect and mix those sounds live. So instead of mixing between two turntables, I’m managing up to 20 sources of sound at a time, all by myself.” The result is, as the Miami New Times recently put it, “a tech-toy geek’s dream come true…Trainspotters eat up its impressively innovative tangle of wires and software; dance-floor denizens are moved by its democratic multigenre, all-fun groove.”

In fact, it was at a LRP set that Enferno caught the eye of Kevin Antunes, Madonna’s musical director, who happened to be at Enferno’s show after getting directions from the boss herself to look out for some “cutting edge deejays” for her upcoming tour. After seeing a video of his LRP set, Enferno could add Madonna as a loyal fan and before he knew it, he was rehearsing for the Material Girl’s tour. (Ironically, the deejay’s first slow dance was to Madonna’s “Crazy For You” at 13 years old.)

Enferno’s role wasn’t limited to performing on stage with Madonna and the rest of the band. Off stage, Enferno was called upon by Madonna to help with musical arrangements and programming. For three months, six days a week, 10-12 hours a day, Enferno would rehearse with Antunes and the rest of the crew, and create mashups, remixes and interstitials that would form the backbone of the concert. “It still blows my mind,” he says with a laugh. “I used to get a rush when a few hundred people in a club liked my work. Imagine what it’s like to see as many as 75,000 people lose their minds as the biggest star in the world performs the very remix that I helped produce!”

Today, DJ Enferno is showing no signs of resting on his laurels. In 2009, Enferno has already successfully combined his club mixing with his Live Remix techniques in a hybrid “DJ vs. Musician vs. Producer” performance suitable for both clubs and live stages. On the production end, Enferno is building on his tour experience, hitting the studio hard. Look out for more remix releases by Enferno into 2010.