DJ Champion combines electro and guitar

Montreal's Maxime Morin works the laptop onstage

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

DJ Champion

I AM THE CHAMPION, I HAVE NO FRIENDS. Montreal's Maxime Morin, a.k.a. DJ Champion, is hyping up sweaty crowds on the Exclaim! Spring Fling Tour with Chromeo, You Say Party! We Say Die! and Malajube.

With his thick French accent, deciphering what Maxime Morin is saying isn’t easy. But when Morin, otherwise known as DJ Champion, plays his electronic-techno rock, he speaks in the universal language of music.

Morin’s love of guitar sets him apart from other DJs. Accompanied by four guitarists and singer Betty Bonifassi, Morin conducts the band using hand signals while simultaneously working remixes and loops on his laptop.

“Many people say DJs just press play, and that it’s not live music,” Morin says. “But this concert is more live than any other rock and roll act because [even though] we’re not playing songs live, the structures are always improvised, always open, and there’s always contact with the crowd. We use a different language to respond to each other so we build an attraction together all the time.”

While his Juno-nominated 2006 album The Remix Album has built up his reputation, it’s Morin’s rave-rock vibe shows that are reeling fans in.

“When you’re DJ-ing, it’s very important [to] play music for the dance floor and the only rule is you need to have a good time and you need to dance,” Morin says. “Every musician should have a little DJ-ing skill just to learn to listen to the crowd, to respect your crowd. It’s part of the job.

“The good thing about the band is we kind of always have eye contact. It’s like if we’re having a party together, we’re smiling at each other and joking. The party starts onstage and that’s a good thing because people can see that.”

Morin’s work ethic and drive are his keys to success. While several music labels were baffled by his unique combination of digital music and real guitars, he wasn’t deterred.

“I was looking for a record label for [debut album] Chill ’em Out and people didn’t know what to do with our project,” Morin says. “There were either too much electronics or too much guitars. People just didn’t want to get involved or didn’t know how to get involved with our project.

“A friend of mine had a record label but it never printed any CDs, only vinyl. He said, ‘Okay Max, I think we’ll give it a try,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, finally, yes.”

Morin isn’t formally educated in digital music.

“I sold my guitar for a computer and many DJs don’t have any musical experience, so I was in a beautiful position using all these techniques on the computer, but I was also a musician,” Morin says.

“So I learn just by doing it, that’s all. You start slow. It’s computer music, so the best way to learn how to work the computer is by buying a computer and buying the software.”

Morin uses the software music sequencer Ableton Live, which is specially designed for live DJ-ing and arranging sounds. Morin’s songwriting process changes constantly.

“If the [beats] are a little too aggressive and I think that the song is not working, I’ll switch to dance for a little while or put more bass, or if I put a little too much guitar than it will just be like Nine Inch Nails or all those bands, so you have to balance.”

Despite recently changing his alias from Mad Max to Champion, Morin says he hasn’t changed.

“You can’t change anyone, that’s ridiculous,” he says with a laugh. “The only reason I changed the name was like, ‘Okay, everybody wants to be DJ, everybody wants to be cool, this DJ wants to have a cool name, so I said, " pardon me " but I said to myself, ‘Fuck off! I’m going to choose the corniest name, the cheapest one: DJ Champion, yeah, fuck you all!’”

DJ Champion plays Call The Office April 3 as part of the Exclaim! Spring Fling Tour.

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