The life of a humble DJ is the only one that Carlos Allen wants to live.
Allen, better known as CarlosVendetta in the B.C. music scene, has been a professional DJ for the last decade. While not as famous as some of his contemporaries, his passion and love for music remain as strong today as when he first discovered it.
“I went to my first rave in Chilliwack called Magic Mountain Five. I actually knew the people putting it on so we got to go VIP and were treated like royalty,” Allen, now a South Cariboo resident, said. “I grew up in East Van so it was kind of a rough going but then I went to this party where everyone was all love and hugs. It just changed my world and I fell in love with it.”
Shortly afterward, a friend of Allen’s bought a set of turntables and a mixer and the two began messing around and learning how to mix music. They were terrible but had lots of fun, he said.
After playing a New Years party, he was approached by a woman who was organizing a fashion show/memorial at the Cheers Nightclub in Surrey. She needed a DJ and asked Allen if he knew any. Allen called his friend Akeel, who has since died, and told him about the show, which paid $300.
“He was like ‘I don’t know man, I don’t really feel like doing it. I was like, dude it’s 300 bucks for two hours,” Allen said. “Eventually he said ‘I’ll do it if you DJ with me.”
Allen, who at that point still considered himself an amateur, protested but Akeel assured him that with his help and the use of Serato, software that helps DJs mix music, he’d be fine. After the show, the pair received rave reviews from the audience and Akeel asked Allen to start DJing with him on a regular basis.
Up until that point, Allen had spent most of his life working on the railroads as a heavy equipment operator and trackman for PNR Railworks which he described as “paid slavery.” He later became a foreman for Metro Vancouver’s Canada Line construction where he made good money but found the work unfulfilling.
“I was on the railroad and making tons of money but I was always miserable. DJing, I was always happy and living the dream, even though I was scraping by. (When I switched) my quality of life went through the roof,” Allen said. “I can’t think of any work that’s more enjoyable than helping people have a good time.”
Accepting Akeel’s offer, Allen quit his job and fully immersed himself in the B.C. underground music scene. Along the way, he became friends with many of the big names of the time and played in regular shows like Whatever’s Dope Wednesday’s at the Shine Night Club and at the Red Room, where he met Blake McRitchie of Digital Motion. He’s since become a team member of Digital Motion and helps run events like their weekly SUBculture Saturdays and other bass music events.
Key to his success has been the relationships he’s forged in the music scene. The reputation he’s built is just as important as his skills using a laptop and a controller or a turntable.
“I learned on vinyl records and that’s all ears. You have to listen and slide that knob up and down until it’s matched perfectly with the other record,” Allen said. “Nowadays, laptops, which is what I often use, tells you everything you want to know.”
Learning how to read a crowd is another big part of what Allen does. He said he can plan his whole set beforehand and practice it for hours, but if his audience consists of two big bachelorette parties who only wanted to hear Drake, he needs to be able to improvise.
“A good DJ can adapt to whatever the crowd’s feeling and that takes a lot of time to learn. It took me five years to get comfortable mixing different genres because even though technology helps you, you can’t replace experience. I’m still always getting better.”
Allen moved up to the Cariboo three years ago and lives off-grid down a logging road near Watch Lake. He originally bought the property with his family for vacationing, but when they hit a rough financial patch they decided to sell their home in the Lower Mainland and move up north.
“Sometimes I don’t want anyone around, so I love it. I also love the city so I spend a lot of time going back and forth. It’s the perfect mix,” Allen said.
Not being able to play for close to two years has been devastating for both Allen and the live music scene as a whole. With no events allowed to take place, both his and most of his friend’s livelihoods dried up overnight. To keep busy he’s been taking whatever odd jobs come his way and waiting for the COVID-19 restrictions on clubs to lift.
“Recently I threw a little party on my property, just for 30 of us when it was allowed, but we treated it like a huge thing. We had visuals, a huge sound system and luckily my neighbours are 12 km away because otherwise, we would have pissed them off,” Allen said. “That kind of re-sparked my passion for it.”
“My dream is not to be a huge DJ and make billions of dollars. DJing has always just been a fantastic hobby that I love all aspects of. I don’t plan to get any bigger, it’s just a really fun hobby that happens to pay me.”