When I was a wee little lad my friends and I all wanted to be rock stars when we grew up. What kid didn’t? This, of course had a little to do with the Rock Stars of my generation. You had the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath just to name a few, performing to sold out stadiums. This was a life full of groupies, Jack Daniels and Platinum records. Along with being a rock star came wealth, fame, and girls!
Things have changed a bit since the late 70’s. This is never more apparent to me than when I drive from Orange County to Las Vegas and I’m bombarded with billboard after billboard advertising glossy fresh faced world renown DJs in residence. Las Vegas is where good DJs go to die. But I digress.
Now instead of wanting to grow up to be a rock star, today’s wee lads and their friends want to grow up to be DJs, spin records, make beats, and create their own music…and some of them actually do all that without setting foot in Sin City.
One such gentleman is Michael Hodgen, A.K.A. “DJ Mega Mike.” Hodgen, an Iowa native, has been a DJ in the Chicago area for over a decade. In that time he’s become a regularly featured artist at Chicago underground events. Known for his rugged dub-infused drum and bass, forward-looking but deeply rooted in the Jamaican jungle.
I recently had a chance to catch up with DJ Mega Mike, who also happens to be an old friend.
So Mike.. We go way back. You were always the youngest of our little group of friends, hence the nickname we gave you “Little Mikey”. But you’re grown now, so I’ll refrain from calling you that. What is it about spinning records that gets you up in the mornings?
There have been a lot of ups and downs, just like anyone else, but what keeps me going is my true love for music.
Do you play any instruments?
I was a musician and would like to think that I still am. It’s something that is a part of you. It never goes away. As a youngster I was trained to play the trumpet, and then took on the French horn. I always had my eye on the drum kit in the high school band room, so after learning those original instruments, one day I asked permission to come in after school and mess around the kit. The teacher was cool and he let me, and it turned out drumming came naturally to me. I spent many evenings in that band room and for all the right reasons.
What was it about music that got you started?
I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just part of me and always has been. It started off as a genuine interest, and then later I discovered that it did something to me, it would keep me sane in rough times. It evened me out if I was out of sorts. It was a positive outlet for me and still is.
What are your fondest musical memories?
Writing and practicing music in my dad’s shop, and playing local shows in a punk rock band. We slayed every time, it was great. But my earliest musical influences were via my mom. When I was a very little kid, she was into disco, and I remember her playing those records while cleaning the house. I would go crazy for that stuff and dance around the house like a maniac! Michael Jackson and Madonna were a big influence as a kid in the early ’80s, as well as all the videos I would see on MTV. I was obsessed with going to the music store, and spending hours and hours digging through CDs, and somewhere along the line, I discovered electronic dance music. At the time I understood the concept of “dance music” but this was on another level, it felt like the future and I wanted to be a part of that.
Do you recall that moment when you said to yourself, “I need to learn how to mix records”?
Most definitely. I would say the defining moment of me thinking “I have to learn how” would be my first live experience, at a party you threw in a tiny town in the mid-west. RIP the Stein.
Oh yes, we had some good parties in rural Iowa. The idea of bringing Chicago DJ’s to play such small venues was indeed the beginning of something. Why did you end up leaving Iowa?
I actually love Iowa. I’m not one to diss where they’re from like many other people do who flee to the city. My move was because I wanted to dive head first into it and see what could be. I’ve always been adventurous like that. I knew for sure there would be many more opportunities there for someone like myself. I have been here close to 14 years now, it’s a trip to think about that, lots of blood, sweat and tears. Not going to tell you how many relationships though. Ha!
What is the Chicago music scene like these days?
There are so many things I love about Chicago man. I love the diversity. I love that there is a legit musical community here. The music scene is a lot different than say, 20 years ago, because of all the laws cracking down on underground parties. Now it’s mostly club events and festivals, although the underground still lives on. As far as the people, my guess is that it’s basically the same as it ever was, meaning that some people are legit cool and some people are jagoffs.
What has been your best DJing experience?
A few years ago when a massive and new wave of kids came around. I got to play some big parties where thousands of heads were experiencing all of this for their first time, like I did years before. Except this time, I was on the turntables, bringing the heat. That was when it all came full circle for me.
How would you describe the music that you typically play?
I started off with techno and house, but I came up as a “drum and bass” guy, and it’s what most people know me for. Over the years though, I have opened up to a variety of styles. I feel like that’s been an asset for me, really. Depending where or who I’m playing for it’s usually either, drum and bass, dubstep, trapstyle, footwork, or some form of house.
What is your favorite new track?
My current favorite track is “So Damn Tuff” (Serum & Benny V mix) by Fresh Kutt. This is a super fresh DnB cut that bounces along with just the right amount of everything. Oldskool meets newskool all the way. Killer tune!
What or who inspires you?
Life, love, loss, pleasure, pain, people, and every day experiences are my main (creative) inspirations.
What is a typical day/week in the life of Mega Mike?
I’m always busy haha! My quest isn’t to be “the best”, it’s more about doing what I love and getting better at it every time. I really just want to give people something consistently great, and hopefully something a little better each time. Lately I’ve been very busy with family stuff, due to my father passing away recently, but I still managed to get a new mix up on Soundcloud around Halloween. When I have time, I’m always digging for new music, new artists, new sounds etc. I like to get outdoors and get lots of fresh air, and I love food, so there’s always something tasty happening haha! Naps are tight too.
What would be your advice to all DJs out there that are trying to make something happen?
I could write a book on this! Do some research on the culture (dance music and DJs), especially all of the different styles and their origins around the world. It has become what it is for many reasons and you should educate yourself on it if you’re just getting started. Trends come and go. Find a style or sound you truly like and go from there. There really aren’t any rules, but it is important to do it for the right reasons. Everyone these days wants to be a DJ, but this isn’t for everyone. It’s good to dream, but don’t expect fame and fortune…[and] practice, practice, practice. If you want to stand out, you have to put in the work, time, and face-to-face networking.
What’s next for you?
I’ll always have new mixes coming your way, because there’s always so much new music coming out, but for me as an artist, I’m looking to get more original releases out there. Hopefully some more travel to play out of the midwest as well. Also, I want to learn how to make mole sauce, cause that shit’s fire, son! 🙂
You can catch DJ Mega Mike playing a number of events with his DJ/Producer/event crews, BassRiot, M.I.A., and Ground Lift Media. Check out DJ Mega Mike every Friday and Saturday evening 8-12am at Taco Joint. Some of his upcoming events include: “Deep in the Jungle 6” (Chicago warehouse event) November 25 and “Barnyard Boogie 14” (central Illinois rave/festival) on November 14th.