Rik Shaw: A Dragon DJ That Can Party

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Many people have tried to steal the Deadly Dragon Sound System name, and a few have succeeded. But DJ Rik Shaw wants to set the record straight.

Rik Shaw, born Richard Warfield Smith, founded the DJ collective and dub night, Deadly Dragon Sound System, in 1993. Smith and four "compatriots"--John Herndon, Bundy K. Brown and Casey Rice of Tortoise, as well as a DJ by the name of Jeremy Freeman--hosted the weekly event at a shopworn Chicago venue called the Empty Bottle, playing a unique blend of reggae classics, dancehall hits, jungle and hip-hop.

When Tortoise began demanding more of Herndon, Brown and Rice in 1998, the collective disbanded. Smith continued selecting on the Chicago circuit, holding well-attended residencies at some of the city's most esteemed nightclubs. But Freeman moved to New York City, where he continued to play under the Deadly Dragon moniker without Smith's permission. Now, to Smith's dismay, Freeman runs a Deadly Dragon website and record store, although he's not the first to co-opt the name for his own purposes.

"Shit's gotten surreal," says Smith. "I've walked into clothing [boutiques] and seen Deadly Dragon jackets and clothing that I'm not making a cent off. I think what people really want is the Deadly Dragon vibe and that's something I hold way too tight for anyone to have."

Seated in the corner of his studio amid milk crates and shoeboxes overflowing with rare 45s and LPs, it is clear that Shaw has a lifelong romance with the reggae, and he's intent on sharing his impeccable tastes with the masses.

"In the States, because of hip-hop culture, there's a lot of stigma placed on turntables and turntablism," says Smith. "[People] expect you to scratch or cut, because they watch MTV and this is what's projected to them. But [I've been to parties where] one dreadlock with one turntable and a microphone is just mashing it up–mashing the whole room up. For me it's purely about the vibe, which is something you're sculpting out of nothing. Every time I DJ I feel like I have to approach it in a different way, and I don't want to repeat myself. I have enough records that I don't have to do that."