On Oct. 21 at the University of Oregon, IU junior Mark Matsuki and IUPUI senior Niko Flores stood onstage with the country’s top college DJs as it was announced they had won the Campus DJ National Competition.
However, the Indianapolis-based music duo had not always enjoyed this level of success.
When Matsuki and Flores first met, they were both up-and-coming DJs who had just started to hone their skills and perform at small venues. Matsuki said he was inspired to start DJing at 15 years old from a series of promotional videos his idol DJ Craze did for the brand Native Instruments. Flores said at 17 years old his main extracurricular activity ended abruptly, making room to start DJing.
“I used to wrestle competitively and I got injured and fractured two vertebrate and I thought, ‘There goes my wrestling goals,’” Flores said.
Flores and Matsuki were both a part of Studio 77, a DJ collective in Indianapolis, when their paths began to cross. Both musicians said they were looking to improve their craft and be viewed as the area’s best young DJ, and things became competitive.
“I met Niko my sophomore year of high school,” Matsuki said. “He had hit me up on Facebook and we were kind of trash talking each other.”
One day, the two decided to meet officially, and Matsuki said they instantly bonded. The two set up some DJ equipment in the basement of Flores’ mom’s house and connected over niche music genres such as happy hardcore.
“It was cool because it felt like we were on the same wavelength,” Matsuki said.
As the two continued their solo careers, their friendship began to solidify and a partnership formed in the shape of their DJ duo Matsu and Flores.
“Eventually, our paths started to cross often enough to where we decided to perform together,” Matsuki said.
As young DJs, Flores said the two struggled to book gigs and gain an audience due to their age.
“Some bars don’t want to book the young DJ because you’re seen as a liability,” Flores said.
However, the competitive drive that was present when the two first met continued to motivate them to refine their skills and move towards success.
“We are both type A, super competitive personalities, but we have been able to channel that energy in a really constructive way,” Matsuki said.
If one DJ begins to slack or mess up, the other will keep them in check by developing a new skill or setlist that then compels him to work harder.
“It’s always cool to have someone hold you accountable,” Flores said.
The group’s foundation of friendship, competition and practice has brought them success in the three years since they officially teamed up. Flores now has a residency with Taps and Dolls in downtown Indianapolis as well as a job DJing for the Indiana Pacers, while Matsuki consistently performs in bars around Bloomington and Indianapolis.
However, the duo continued their success on stage in Eugene, Oregon. According to the Campus DJ website, the Campus DJ National Competition is a contest sponsored by the Los Angeles-based company CAMPVS that finds and showcases talented DJs across college campuses.
The pair said they were not nervous while performing due to the amount of resources and help they had received from the DJ community and preparation they had put in to their sets.
“We had practiced it mindlessly, endlessly, on repeat,” Matsuki said.
After two rounds of facing off against other college students, Matsu and Flores were crowned as the number one college DJs in the country.
Yet, the passion these two have for DJing and music goes beyond accolades. Flores said he enjoys the reactions music can elicit from an audience.
“When you’re actually DJing you’re trying to make other people happy,” Flores said.
For Matsuki, he said he enjoys the way that music can connect people.
“Music is universal,” Matsuki said. “Music brings people together and, one way or another, everyone understands it.”
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