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Music » Best of Utah Music

Best of Utah Music 2015 Winners

Meet the champs: Fictionist, House of Lewis and J Godina



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"I was afraid I was going to always be the bridesmaid but never the bride!" said Justin Godina, aka J Godina, when he got the phone call notifying him he'd been declared the 2015 Best DJ.

You can hardly blame him. Before he threw down a mind-bendingly intricate all-vinyl set at The Urban Lounge this year, Godina had participated in Best of Utah Music two other times, but had never walked away with a win—until now.

For Godina, this recognition has been a long time coming. He's been paying his dues in the local DJ scene for 15 years, and this victory is validation that he's doing more than just getting by—he's building a reputation.

"I'm really excited, honestly, being almost 40 years old," Godina says. "Obviously, my parents have questioned my decisions as far as my career choices have gone, so I'm excited to tell them. ... Plus, when you've been doing it as long as I have, you question your relevancy and your position and all of that, so it's definitely nice."

It's ironic he'd question his relevancy, since Godina has grown up with pretty much every new innovation in DJ technology, from classic turntables with vinyl and Serato to CDJs and controllers. But while he's made it a point to be a jack-of-all-trades who can adapt to a spectrum of DJ setups, he has always held true to his philosophy about being a DJ.

That philosophy is a simple one, and boils down to "playing things that you have found and sharing them with people, and hoping that they dig them, too," he says.

A lifelong Salt Laker, Godina has "always been very into music," he says. In fact, "when I was little, even 5 years old, I remember being in what we called the 'disco room' at my dad's parents' house, before my aunts and uncles would all get ready to go out dancing—in the early '80s—and I'd flip records for them."

That love for music always stuck with Godina, so much so that becoming a DJ was a "natural progression," he says. His first consistent gig was a nine-year stint at Kristauf's Martini Bar downtown, where he spun Motown, soul, funk and disco—till he was fired in 2009. But "getting fired from [Kristauf's] was probably the best thing that ever happened to me as far as being a DJ went, because it really threw me out of my comfort zone," he says. "I realized pretty quickly that I needed to be able to be not just a one-trick pony" and become more familiar with popular music.

Leaving Kristauf's, he says, helped him learn that he wanted to be a DJ in the truest sense of the word. "I didn't want to turn down a gig because they said I had to play country or whatever," he says. "So I feel like I can pretty much step into any room, whether that be a house night, an EDM night or '80s night. Whatever the genre is, I feel like I can go in and do a pretty bang-up job."

And diversity is now his bread & butter. For about three years, he has held down two residencies: Monday and Thursday at Bar-X, and Friday and Saturday at Maxwell's East Coast Eatery. Genre-wise, those residencies couldn't be more disparate, but Godina likes the "yin & yang-type situation" they create for him.

Walk past Maxwell's on any given weekend, and you'll likely hear the bass bumping from across the street, as Godina spins party hits for college students who come ready to tear it up. Stop by Bar-X on a Monday, however, and you'll experience what Godina calls "record-nerd Family Home Evening," which is a more low-key night dedicated to his true love: vinyl. With boxes of treasured finds at the ready, Godina and other crate-diggers will "come out and listen to each other's styles and what they picked up during that week—trade and learn."

Maxwell's and Bar-X are polar-opposite scenes, but the challenge of adapting to those different crowds has only deepened Godina's skills. "It's fun and it's a rush, and I feel really fortunate to have both sides of that," he says. "I think a lot of [DJs] are kind of one or the other. They're like a house DJ that rages all the time, or they're more mellow; they play smaller joints to smaller crowds. So I feel super lucky that I have that juxtaposition where I can rage on the weekends and then be more artistic and express my own interests more" at Bar-X.

For Godina, the starting point for his eclectic musical interests is hip-hop, as it is for contemporaries such as Chaseone2, James Ramirez, DJ Finale Grand and DJ Che. "We're all kind of hip-hop kids, essentially," he says. "That's how we got into jazz and soul and funk and stuff is through that outlet," as they've become well versed in samples from those genres that are used in hip-hop.

The fact that Godina takes his craft so seriously probably doesn't help the anxiety he's experienced every year at the Best of Utah Music showcases—being a DJ is "not always about the party; it's work to me," he says. "I stress every mix, every night, and when I foul it up, it makes me mad"—but the high bar he has set for himself makes for impressive displays like his winning set at The Urban Lounge.

Armed with only two Technics 1200s and a Pioneer 909 mixer, Godina essentially schooled everyone in utilizing "the whole spectrum of record sizes and speeds"—everything from 45s to normal 12-inch records to translucent novelty records as thick as a couple sheets of paper, which he all collected himself. And his track selection was equally varied, and reflected his penchant for including something old and something new in his sets, as he smoothly transitioned through Wu-Tang Clan, Guns N' Roses, Usher, David Bowie and more. In other words, it was classic Godina, who's never swayed by trends.

"The object of the game is to make the crowd that you're playing for react to you and make everybody have a good time," Godina says. "Optimally, you're doing that with your tastes. I think that's a thing that becoming kind of endangered, honestly, because the crowds are so rinsed. ... I think it demands that you are a good DJ to really be able to plays stuff that's not your Top 40 hit and get a reaction. You have to kind of sneak it in on them. You have to play something they know and then bring the next one in before they even know what hit them."

J Godina


Best Wild Beats

The biggest surprise of this year's DJ showcases was Choice's set at The Urban Lounge on Feb. 18. She's well known for her house sets, but that night, she threw all that out the window and proceeded to blow the audience's hair back with a percussion-heavy open-format set that whipped everyone into a dancing frenzy. Her tropical-tinged blends of everything from David Bowie to Khia to the theme song from I Dream of Jeannie were ridiculously fun, but Choice herself was as entertaining to watch as she was to listen to. Dancing behind the decks—as much as she could while juggling a huge range of BPM by hand, anyway—and, at one point, comically crossing herself in exaggerated prayer before she launched into a particularly tricky transition, Choice displayed a vibrant DJ personality that took her set to a higher level.