And though it seems that one can't throw a white-label promo 15 feet without hitting a couple of turntable wonks, a few innovative DJs are beginning to affect the scene in tangible ways. TJ Dovebelly incorporates elements of DJ culture into cinematic, supercharged live shows, and live improv outfits such as djnotadj stretch the boundaries of electronica, adding giant splashes of sonic color to keep things interesting. Nimble-fingered scratchers like DJ Prozac, who threads the needle for Kansas City, Kansas, skacore unit KB Posse, are implanting hip-hop sensibilities into traditional rock settings. But others are simply abandoning ship, mining for better prospects out of state and lamenting the lack of venues and fans for DJs in the area.
"It's a struggle," admits DJP, one of the region's most reputable wax spinners, who is relocating to Portland, Oregon. "And it's getting harder to make a living at it in this area. I mean, I'm living in Springfield, and I can't even hold a nightclub gig on one night. Club owners are learning that they can play an mp3 computer and have some jackass up there with CDs. And people will still come out to the club and drink and pack the place, because they don't care about the music."
DJP has made a career out of caring about the music. In 1999, he won the DMC battle at the Granada Theater, leading to an opening slot on MTV's Campus Invasion Tour, which featured Garbage and Lit. Amazingly, alternapop audiences warmed to P's piercing turntable attack and its mixture of disparate ingredients -- everything from Compton's Most Wanted to Pink Floyd. Such variety is sorely needed in an area where monotony often rules the roost.
"It's so boring," says Miles Bonny, a Lawrence-based DJ and producer whose aural alter egos include Dino Jack Crispy and Fats Brown. "Everybody gets up there and does the same tricks they did last year, and the same records."
To help alleviate this sense of stagnation, Bonny started lawrencehiphop.com last year. Though the site is still very much in its beginning stages, it remains one of the few outlets for local hip-hoppers, musicians often ignored by the area's alt-rock tastemakers.
"I can understand why people here say the DJ scene sucks," says Edwin Morales, who spins under the nickname DJ konsept. "The people that get all the play right now -- the mainstream exposure -- are the mainstream DJs. If anybody bitches about that, they're just not living on earth."
"I think you've got a lot of bedroom DJs," offers Kris Best, a KC-based turntablist and producer who works under the monikers Ras Reb and Kool DJ Rebel. "There's definitely a scene out there, but they're waiting for their chance to be exposed."
But exposure to DJ culture -- or the lack thereof -- might be at the heart of the problem, says Jerett Fulton, who handles an array of instruments for electronica act djnotadj.
"Not enough people are being exposed to it to where it can catch on," he says. "So many people are saying it's a burgeoning scene. Well, it's not too burgeoning when so many people aren't being exposed to it because of lack of venues and lack of interest."
For the past year or so, Fulton's band has done its best to build interest with its improvisational approach to electronica. Following a path created by groups such as Lake Trout, the Lawrence quartet (Fulton, drummer Bob Little, former Sugardaddies keyboardist Nate Holt and frontman and bassist Dash Williamson) uses mostly traditional music-making tools to recreate a DJ's furious style.
"Our whole goal is to take the sound of a really badass house or drum 'n' bass record and try to convey that live. All our shows are improvised," Fulton explains. "When I play guitar, I'm not thinking from my rock roots. I'm thinking, How can I play this like a Rinocerose record?"
In addition to his left-of-center guitar work, Fulton utilizes an array of samplers, turntables and sequencers to round out the group's sound. But unlike other "jambient" groups, Fulton and company forgo Phish-fried guitar noodling in favor of concise musical statements. It's a sound that's catching on with Lawrence crowds, who have been turning up with increasing regularity to catch the group's in-concert high jinks.
"They're totally doing shit right now," enthuses Morales, who cofounded the Lawrence-based promotion company Atredies early last year. "It's cool to see someone that motivated giving it all they've got."
It's a concept familiar to Atredies, which has spent the last year bringing subterranean electronic acts such as Deepsky and George Acosta to an area not known nationally for its DJ scene. Following a number of early shows, Morales and company set up shop last fall at KC's Spark Bar -- for a while. "Organic Thursdays" proved popular enough, but management squabbles led to soured relations; Atredies packed its bags, and Spark Bar closed its doors a few weeks later.
Since early February, Atredies has taken up residence Friday nights at Lawrence hole-in-the-wall the Pool Room. Under the heading "Project Groove," Morales and crew have strived to build a sturdy foundation for local hip-hop and electronica.
"We've experienced ups and downs, of course," he admits. "It's been successful at times; it's been hard at times. We've had nights where we've had 200 people; we've had nights where we had 56 people. But the word's starting to get out more."
Atredies has earned a reputation not only for intense support of underground heroes such as Approach and Archetype but also for diversity. One show might focus on drum 'n' bass DJs; another might feature funky live acts like Pocket Space and Jose Ph. Morales often acts as the glue that holds these random elements together, mixing records between sets and keeping things moving along at a reasonable pace. The DJ's skills have taken him far, most recently to France for a three-week minitour that found Morales performing at L'Enfer -- electronica's own Carnegie Hall. Though his promotional work for Atredies consumes a great deal of his time, the December tour reaffirmed the DJ's commitment to the art of turntablism.
"When we first started this, we wanted to do something to where there's an outlet here in Lawrence for underground music," Morales explains. "I want to bring the music that I love to hear, whether it's hip-hop or zydeco. But once that gets established until the point where it can run on it's own, I can hand it over to someone else and take off and be a DJ."
Whether area waxheads will ever get the respect and recognition paid to their garage-rock peers remains to be seen. CGz, who hosts the beloved Hip Hop Hyp for KU radio station KJHK 90.7, compares the current situation with that of jazz in the 1930s, pointing to the political stifling that always seems to haunt new forms of urban music.
"Jazz was cooped up by Kansas City," CGz says. "They didn't want that shit -- they didn't want three, four o'clock in the morning, people having fun dancing to sinful music. And it's the same thing with hip-hop. They don't want youngsters, primarily urban -- they don't want those people out kickin' it, havin' fun."