I will be the first to admit that the thought of a DJ who is too young to have a driver\’s license generally won\’t get much attention from me. It\’s not that I believe talent can\’t be developed at a young age. In fact, Fool\’s Gold label owner A-Trak had won the DMC World DJ Championship in 1997 at the age of 15. It is, however, fair to say that he was an exception to the rule. To me, and many other fans of electronic music, a DJ is not measured on his mixing abilities alone. Beyond the technical skill comes the ability to be a part of the culture that surrounds the music. A DJ must be able to engage an audience and lead them on a journey through music that can only be developed with experience. At the age of 15, when one can not enter most venues that cater to dance music, experience is hard to come by. If anything, I can attest to this first hand. At the age of 16, I acquired my first DJ mixer, a Numark CD-mix1, along with a Numark direct-drive turntable. After months of scratching (literally) all of the old vinyl I could locate in the house, causing borderline hearing damage through multiple train-wrecked transitions, and finding it difficult to convince people to take me seriously, I had given up.
When I had first heard of DJ SMIIRK, the 15 year old DJ who had won the Northcoast Music Festival\’s Talent search, it was hard not to associate these same thoughts towards him. Winning the talent competition, however, was certainly no easy task. Every festival\’s talent competition receives a large volume of submissions from potential DJs looking for their first break, and many of these DJs have actual club experience and even residencies. As a result, winning the competition is not something that should taken lightly. When EDM Chicago had first run an article about SMIIRK\’s victory, the facebook post received numerous comments from our readers who were intrigued at the idea of someone so young winning. As with any online discussion, the supporters were matched by the naysayers who were dismissive towards his accomplishments as a result of his age. It was at that moment, however, that Avery Delgado, better known by the alias DJ SMIIRK, proved to me that he deserved a second look. While most at his age would have responded to the criticism aggressively or resorted to insult, SMIIRK didn\’t. He took a very humble and mature approach to his response and fully acknowledge that his age was a disadvantage for him. He went on to share with the commenters that despite his age, music is his passion, and his winning of the competition was the result of the dedication he developed to reaching success. As I read his reply, I was a bit shocked by his approach. Hearing someone so passionate about the music reminded me of the reason why after all these years I picked the hobby back up. This association led me to contacting Avery and asking him if he would like to do an interview with me. I wanted to give him the opportunity to publicly show that although he might not have the most experience, he is certainly worth your second look.
John C: To start off, I want to congratulate you on winning the Northcoast competition. Earlier this year, you had also entered the Spring Awakening competition. How did you do in that one?
Smiirk: Yes, I entered the Spring Awakening competition; that was actually my second contest. I had also entered one to open for Kap Slap two months earlier. I got 1st place in that one but Kap Slap picked a local guy since the event was in LA. As far as Spring Awakening I got all the way to 4th place out of over 300 entries. I was not chosen as they picked someone who submitted an original track. We were told we had to own our own music but I thought it was a DJ contest not a Producer contest. I made a decision that hurt me and I was mad at myself for not really adhering to their rules. I learned my lesson.
John C: After not winning for Spring Awakening, what did you do differently in preparation for the Northcoast competition?
Smiirk: First of all, I entered my original track that I did with my friend Wizdom called Paradise. I was selected as one of the 4 DJ\’s to perform live at Concord Music Hall. We had 15 minutes for each to DJ and it was based on how the crowd reacted and our music selection. I put a lot of thought into that set. I wanted to start off with 80\’s music to see the crowd reaction, something like a Wedding Dj would play, and then changed it after one minute to more my style EDM. I liked the surprise in people\’s face.
John C: How did winning the competition feel?
Smiirk: When they called my name I could not believe it. I remember looking around and seeing my family and friends and tears of joy came down. It felt great being surrounded by people who supported my dream which was becoming a reality. I was also grateful that the judges looked at my DJ skill and not my age.
John C: Do you think the win fueled your desire to pursue a path in Music?
Smiirk: I always had the desire to pursue music; this win only reassured me that I can do it and that people believed in me.
John C: What was your introduction to electronic music and when did you first start mixing?
Smiirk: I always had music in my life as my dad was a big fan of Chicago House Music. I really got into it when I heard Deadmau5’s music. After I saw him at Lollapalooza I was hooked and decided to try it out. I was 11 and for Xmas I got a cheap controller, Discover DJ.
John C: Have you had someone experienced helping you learn or have you been approaching this on your own?
Smiirk: I had no one to really helping me. I would spend hours in the basement mixing and seeing what worked and what didn\’t. Now that I have CDJ\’s, it\’s back to learning and mastering those tools. I saw OOKAY at NCMF back stage and what he did with the CDJ\’s seemed magical. He at one point manipulated a song to make it sound like Seven Nation Army and had the crowd singing back. That is what makes a great DJ: not just blending songs but being more creative.
John C: Do you play any physical instruments?
Smiirk: I play a little piano. I started to take lessons over 1.5 years ago (when I lived in Bartlett) for about 6 months with a great teacher whose style of teaching was different. He not only taught me how to play, but we would experiment on a more creative side. I hope to find a teacher soon that has a more creative style of teaching where I am at now in Vernon Hills.
John C: Having checked out your Soundcloud page, I see you have been producing some original tracks as well. Which artists do you think influence your sound the most?
Smiirk: I love artist that can do more than one genre of Music, like Skrillex. I admire Martin Garrix for the unique sounds that he came up with, Hardwell for his overall musicianship and DVBBS for their stage performance and huge festival bangers. I try to use different qualities from different artist and experiment until I come up with my own signature sound.
John C: What does your DJ set up consist of?
Smiirk: I had a Numark NS6 for 2 1/2 years but currently upgraded to CDJ\’s 900 and DJM Mixer 900 with Serato. I plan on mastering the CDJ\’s and using only the USB, as this is more common at clubs and festivals.
John C: And your production set up?
Smiirk: I have Native Instruments Maschine Studio, Novation Launchkey 49 midi piano, M-Audio studio monitors and a Focurite soundcard. I use a desktop and FL studio for my software.
John C: How did you come up with the name Smiirk?
Smiirk: The name came from my uncle three years ago when I was thinking about a name. I had braces back then and instead of smiling, I would smirk. I added an extra I to make it look like eyes and added a smirk smile underneath the ii\’s to give a face to the name, so people can eventually see the SMIIRK face alone and recognize it\’s me.
John C: We originally came into contact after I responded to a comment you had made on Facebook. After some criticisms were mentioned regarding your age, you responded in a mature and very humble way, and that impressed me. Do you feel like your age is a barrier for your advancement at this point?
Smiirk: Yes, my age definitely makes things more difficult. People assume that I have no experience or they tell me wait until your 17 as these events that I am trying to spin at are mostly 17+. I have been given opportunities to DJ at Medusa\’s. I am appreciative of Dave, who owns Medusa’s, for believing in me. He even had me headline my own 14-17 event and also headline 17+ event that same night. I hope to do more of my own events in the future there. Now that I won NCMF people are more curious as to how a 15 year old won and what do I have that is so special.
John C: What does the future hold for Smiirk?
Smiirk: Now that I played at a festival I want to continue to do more shows and hopefully play next year at Spring Awakening. I really am focused on working on my music production and developing a signature sound so that people can identify and say that sounds like SMIIRK.
John C: If you could collaborate with any artist of your choosing, which artist would that be?
Smiirk: If I could collaborate with any artist it would be Hardwell. The reason I choose him is due to the things he has accomplished as a producer and that I could learn so much from collaborating with him. I saw his documentary, I AM Hardwell, and he is so creative and also stuck to his style even though it was not popular years back.
I want to take this time to thank Avery for taking the interview and sharing some of his thoughts with EDMChicago and it\’s readers. Ambition and passion are two key characteristics of a good DJ, and Avery seems to have found both at a young age. As someone who looks back at his younger years and wishes he hadn\’t given up so early, I hope he continues to push forward and realize he can only go up from here.