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Summer Street Music Series: Venice Beach

Aaron del Campo -- DJ Hymn -- practices his skills on the Venice boardwalk, hoping to work his way up to more club gigs.
David Banks, NPR /
Aaron del Campo -- DJ Hymn -- practices his skills on the Venice boardwalk, hoping to work his way up to more club gigs.

Venice Beach, Calif., is one of those rare "endless summer" places, crowded with neo-hippies, Chicano homeboys, Rastafarians and sunburned tourists. On the boardwalk along the famous Muscle Beach, bikinied Baywatch babes merge with the homeless, skateboard punks, and Hare Krishna devotees.

There's also a lot of live music, from the indecipherable guy in a turban who plays guitar on roller blades to a huge drum circle on the sand.

As a part of All Things Considered's summer street music series, NPR's Mandalit del Barco set out to find one of Venice's more unusual street sounds.

On the boardwalk near her house, she found Aaron del Campo, a.k.a. DJ Hymn. On Fridays and weekends, he performs on his wheels of steel: two turntables, speakers and a fader/mixer, all powered with a portable battery. The 27-year-old turntablist earns his living scratching and mixing funky beats here on the boardwalk.

"I got some hip hop, old school, new school, some drum and bass, acid jazz, dirty disco, old school classics," Hymn says. "There are no rules. It's just getting creative and funky."

Hymn sports tank tops, baggy jeans, a baseball cap flipped to the side, and a collar etched with the name of his 8-year-old daughter, Tory.

He dances along while scratching the vinyl records back and forth and toggling the switches.

Hymn came to Venice from Connecticut via Atlanta and Orlando five months ago. He started by practicing in his bedroom, then learning from other DJs whose skills he admired.

"When I look at other cats, I'm like wow, they got some crazy, mad skills. I'm trying to get to that level. Practicing, getting really fresh. Fresher, fresher, fresher."

But it's not so easy to be a beach turntablist. Kids like to play on Hymn's record crates, and the sun can wreak havoc on his vinyl.

"I get some scratches here and there, man, from the sun and the sand," Hymn says. "I try not to bring my best stuff out here."

Hymn also raps, and has produced a CD under the auspices of Naked Soul Productions. He'd like to DJ at dance clubs, so when he can, he scours thrift shops for albums. The more unusual, the better to add to his musical flavor.

Attracting breakdancers, rappers, and tourists who watch with their mouths hanging open, DJ Hymn says he's just traveling from the underground up.

"All the scratching I do is like soul grooving, ya know? You'll hear a beat, and it'll tell you to do something next," he explains. "It's like every day I get new inspiration."

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