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Chris Karns on Working w/ Rick Rubin & Pretty Lights

DJ Experience, Interviews, News | Nov 18, 2016   

Chris Karns on Working w/ Rick Rubin & Pretty Lights

Three-time RedBull Thre3style Champ Chris Karns discusses his part in the upcoming Pretty Lights album, reality television and staying loose for DJ sets.

Chris Karns, DMC and RedBull Thre3style Champion, does not like walking. He asked us for a ride to the venue, which was about eight-minutes away according to Google Maps. In return he offered us backstage passes to his set with Pretty Lights. But when we went back there it was just two control rooms full of engineers who looked too busy to talk. Karns set was nothing like a typical rave night, although there were a lot of young adults wearing glow-in-the-dark sneakers and faux fur hoods. He mashes up EDM beats with random old school such as Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice” or the theme song from Cheers.

BPM Supreme: How did you approach working with Pretty Lights on his new album?

Chris: I’ve been working with Pretty Lights for about three years now. Basically we got linked up through a mutual friend who thought that we would work well together. And we had a really good rapport when we got in the studio together for the first time. It was just a very relaxed environment, and fun and creative ideas were coming out.

We started to do a few shows together after that and our relationship just kind of developed. And we went to the studio together in Malibu (Calif.) at Rick Rubin’s studio Shangri La.

BPM Supreme: He produced Pretty Lights’ album?

Chris: We recorded it in his studio. Rick Rubin is like, he’s worked with basically everybody in the industry — literally everybody. And he was a fan of Pretty Lights’ music. They actually met at a restaurant in LA. He approached Pretty Lights — Derrick who is Pretty Lights — and offered his space there to record. So we went in with a bunch of session musicians and myself and we recorded a lot of new ideas.

The new album is still being worked on and hopefully it will be released early next year. (That) is the plan and then we’re going to move on to working on some more projects outside of that. But yeah it’s been a great thing so far.

BPM Supreme: But you’re a DJ so did he record you DJing and then rework that?

Chris: What we did in the studio is we had different musicians and they were running sounds from specific instruments into my mixer where I was able to record the individual sounds while the band was playing. And then Derrick was in the booth with a mic. He was able to direct us and say when he wanted me to bring in some ideas.

He would just kind of say, “Okay Chris, now drop something.” I would save my recording, add some cue points really fast and then just drop in live sampling in the moment — and bring in different elements of what had just been played. That’s how we’re incorporating what I do. It’s like sample synthesis or sample percussion.


BPM Supreme: Are you working on any solo projects or other new music?

Chris: Yeah. I’ve been working a lot on some original music. I have a lot of stuff where I would like to work with other artists — vocalists, rappers, singers and things like that. I’ve just been trying to develop my sound and work really hard at trying to get better at composing and writing music in general. I’m still working towards getting it to sound the way I want it to before I consider putting it out.

BPM Supreme: How do you stay limber for so many scratch routines?

Chris: It’s a real challenge because I don’t have time to stay on the turntables as much as I’d like. I try to do whatever I can to stay loose, whether it be stretching or not using my arms as much as possible throughout the day. So when it’s time to get up and perform I have as much energy as possible left over.

BPM Supreme: Do you ever get arthritis or carpal tunnel?

Chris: Yeah I have carpal tunnel in my left wrist. But I use a gyro ball you can get on Amazon for like 20 bucks. And that thing has basically saved my life and saved my career because I was in a lot of pain before I started using that. Now as long as I use it a couple times a week for maybe just five minutes at a time it takes that pain away. It’s been about eight years that I’ve been using that thing. And that was a lifesaver.


BPM Supreme: Would you ever do reality television again?

Chris: I would consider doing reality television again but it would have to be the right situation. Doing Master of the Mix was a very stressful thing to be a part of. It was definitely the most stress I’ve ever endured in my career, and maybe even my life in general.

I wasn’t a big fan of how they wanted me to DJ like somebody else. They didn’t want me to do me. They were constantly telling me to not juggle, and to not scratch. And to just be this cookie cutter DJ type thing.

BPM Supreme: The judges didn’t really seem like DJ people.

Chris: Yeah they lied to me. They told me it was going to be like A-Trak and Skrillex and Kid Capri were going to be the judges. And that we were going to be flown all over the world doing these challenges. Instead it was just Kid Capri and a couple of other people who weren’t really even DJ’s. And then we were basically locked in a room for 18 hours a day, and didn’t really go anywhere during the entire process.

BPM Supreme: How long did that take?

Chris: We shot the entire season in two and a half weeks, which was unreal. Because usually it would take about two months to shoot a show like that. They just had us on the most grueling schedule imaginable. I’m sure if anyone went back and paid attention while they watched the show they could see we were completely wrecked and exhausted by the end of the season.

It was literally a new challenge everyday. So each episode was just one after another. We had no time to recover or relax or do anything between.

BPM Supreme: It’s like DJ bootcamp.

Chris: It basically was. We actually put it like that. And the plus side of it was being in the room with all these other people. Everybody wanted to win so we were all working as hard as we could — nonstop just trying to get our stuff together. And so it really pushed me a lot.

I feel like that’s probably the most I have improved in that amount of time — in a two week period during any point in my career. We were just all around each other. Usually in a battle you don’t see the other people until you get there. The amount of work that you do is totally up to you. But because we were all there together you could see that everybody else was working at all times. If you weren’t working then you knew that you were going to fall behind everybody else.

But it was definitely a challenge and I liked that aspect. I liked the battle aspect of it. And I liked being around the other competitors, and thing like that. That stuff was all fine.  It was just the corporate side of it. And their desire to make DJing seem like a very specific type of thing that was just not the type of DJ that I am at all. That was the hardest part about it.

Mark your calendars! Rocking with @djqbert at @cervantesmasterpiece Other Side in Denver on Friday, January 13th!!!

A photo posted by Chris Karns (@chriskarnsmusic) on

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