Only ten minutes before the competition, DJ Coolie was still tinkering.
He didn’t think his set was good enough to take the title of Stoli Mix Off DJ Champion and he desperately wanted the win over DJ Flava, DJ Mystro, DJ Fresh Kidd and Mista Genius.
“I know the other deejays very well, we’ve worked on different parties before. I felt it would be kind of difficult because of the competition I was going up against,” said the 21-year-old, who was born Courtney Stephenson.
“We had a whole month to prepare for it. I planned as best as I could but when it came down to the week of the competition I deleted my set. I felt it wasn’t good enough.”
He thought he got it right the second time around and then event host Pitt & Company named the judges: promoter Declan Harris, radio personality Patrina “Powergirl” Paynter and DJ Rusty G. “So then I deleted my set again,” he said.
The competition was scheduled for 11pm at Docksiders on May 25. That night, at 9pm, he had a rethink. “Basically, I rebuilt my whole set,” he said “I didn’t finish it until about 10 minutes to 11.”
It was worth it. His mix of “old and new school reggae, hip hop, dancehall, soca and even Latin music” won the judges and the crowd over. “I was very, very nervous. In the first round I wasn’t even worrying about the crowd. I was showcasing to the judges; I wanted to get the judges’ attention.
“In the second set I knew that I had to win the crowd over in order to win, so I switched it right up; strictly reggae.
“I think I got a little carried away with entertaining the crowd so my time ran away very fast. I was having fun; my speeches were hitting them.”
To his surprise he made it through to the third round where he went head to head with Mista Genius for a ten-minute set. “I played old school hip hop, old school music, ’70s, ’80s music and theme songs like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air — I took it back. I was trying to please everybody.”
He was thrilled when the judges announced he’d won.
“Everybody who deejays in this country is older than me. All the people I look up to have been in the game years before me. I have high levels of respect for all of them.
“I know I’m talented but I always doubt myself. Of course [when people are drinking it] helps but a deejay knows when they have total control, you see people who aren’t drinking out on the dancefloor.”
As he tells it, music is something he’s been interested in since he was a child.
“When I was in my teenage years I went to high school in Jamaica and Jamaica is known for its music industry,” he said. “I used to go out to parties and see how deejays used to play and just the reaction with the crowd, the music, I fell in love with it.
“I feel like it’s like magic, hypnotising everybody to do what you say. You have total control over everything.”
That he used to play the saxophone helps, he thinks.
“If you’re a musician you know your beats per minute, you know your times. That’s the theory part of it and that’s where my real passion of playing music came.”
In 2013 he returned to Bermuda and enrolled at CedarBridge Academy.
Two years later he began working — underage — as a deejay.
Now that he has graduated, his nine to five at True Blue Pools keeps him busy during the week but he’s in front of a crowd every weekend: at Cosmopolitan Nightclub on Saturday nights and Bermuda Bistro at the Beach on Sunday nights.
This coming weekend he’s playing at Bermuda Carnival.
“I get booked for a lot of private gigs and am on every big show this summer,” he said.
The win makes him Bermuda’s first Stoli DJ ambassador. DJ Coolie will travel in August to the Stoli Caribbean Championships to represent Bermuda against deejays in those islands.
“I’m looking forward to the vacation,” he said. “I’m definitely looking forward to the competition — to meeting my competitors, making new friends and having fun.
“Even though it is a competition I will definitely be having fun.
“My long-term dream is to become an international deejay touring all the cities in the world doing this each and every day — and I’m down for it.”