DJ FILI‘s good taste extends far beyond music. We met at his suggested destination: Mansion Five26, “an elegantly restored mansion-turned restaurant and speak easy in Richmond’s Historic Jackson Ward neighborhood”; its description is fit to a T. DJ FILI ordered the salmon burger with a salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, and feta and sipped on hot tea. Before ambushing DJ FILI with music related questions, I got to know him a bit. At twenty-three-years-old, he seems wise without any trace of seeming “old” in the traditional sense of the word. He’s determined, serious and focused, yet simultaneously well-rounded, fresh and fun.

Despite seeing you every weekend since March, I still don’t know your real name.

It’s James Neil Belizario.

How did you come up with DJ FILI?

The name came before I started dj-ing. In early high school I was introduced to an upperclassman [and friend], and as one of a handful of Filipinos, I was first given the nickname: Fili.

What did you do after high school?

After considering following the path of my brother and joining the military, I defaulted to going to VCU.

How’d you start djing?

It just fell in my lap. As a freshman, a friend across the hall had turntables in his dorm. I was a big fan of hip hop and music in general. It was fall of ’07 and my first time with turntables. I was uninspired after my first semester of college and didn’t know what to do. I had no direction, and took some time off. A year later, following in my mom’s footsteps, I wanted to do nursing. I did music on the side, and the more I got involved with music as more opportunities presented themselves…and I took them.

Let’s talk about hip-hop and what inspires you.

Hip hop is a big part of [contemporary] DJ culture. Everything started boomin’ in the late 80s. DJ competitions stood out to me; they are six-minute concentrated sets, what I would call performance DJ-ing. [This] is what influences me and what I play in the club at night. What I do, I wouldn’t call performance DJ-ing, but those six-minute sets, that’s performance DJ-ing.” During this time [the six-minute sets:], they would play to what appealed to your ear. I’m a music lover and collector. I collected NBA cards as a kid. I started working at fourteen, buying all the CDs, just like my brother, who is 8 years my senior. He was a big hip hop fan. I’d get down to whatever he’d get down to, on my own time I’d listen to the radio in my room. That’s how I got down with commercial music. I got down with underground music in high school through Internet radio and blogs.

Do you have other gigs?

I try to stick to residencies. DJ-ing is awesome and fun, but I know what I want to do to break through the ceiling, and that takes a lot of time in the studio.

So, what is it you’re doing in the studio?

DJ competitions are coming back, but are less focused on six-minute sets and more focus on party rocking. Nowa days, it’s hard to live off just DJ-ing with the influx of competitions of DJs realizing, ‘Hey, I can do this too.’ It’s a renaissance age. People realize they can do more than one thing. I’ve been mixing and engineering tracks to eventually work with other acts and artists. Just fine tuning my skills. [I work out of] Falls Church Q recording studios, but mostly [I am] just learning out of my bedroom.

How do you feel about the EDM scene?

Some say its two different worlds, but I look at it objectively. Older guys look at them with disdain, but you have to look at it from a different standpoint. There’s value in them playing out their own music. You can’t be that angry guy that’s upset at the business model these days. I saw this kid at a skate park with a midi controller t-shirt—not a turntable—that’s a fraction of a size of the equipment I use (two sets of turn tables and one mixer). That’s the culture kids are exposed to these days. That’s the norm.

How do you feel about people making requests?

In a small room like downstairs [at Off the Hookah], I’m there for them. I’m there to make them happy. Put me in a bigger setting, and I don’t need a request. I’ll control the crowd.

How do you determine what to play?

Sometimes [I plan it out]. It comes with me just loving the art. There are creative ways to play tracks. I just try to find those ways. I find patterns in songs and lyrics and try to connect them together. Try to present the same song you’ve heard over and over on the radio or at home and try to present it in a new way that makes it danceable. It’s not my job to educate the crowd, but that’s why I love my job. While I play with the crowd, I can put down my flavor in the mixer and hopefully they’ll get down too.

What is a message you’d want to get out there?

One of the big reasons I do what I do is my ability to pursue my passions, I guess to give younger kids advice because my parents couldn’t relate to me and my brother as being first generation kids. I’d like to speak out to other first generation kids. The world is big and scary, but find what it is you want to do and do it for the love of it and if you work hard, and work hard enough, the money will come. It took me a while to find what I wanted to do; I felt insecure in high school because [my peers] were already chasing their dreams, but I finally found it and I’m going after it 100%.

What was some of the first music your brother introduced you to?

I don’t remember the specific track he played; he had an eclectic taste. He tried to break dance to DAFT PUNK’s “Around the World,” then we’d be in the car and he’d be serenading me to BACKSTREET BOYS. He doesn’t listen to most of that now, but I still have a bunch of his old CDs with me. Actually, this one [memory] stood out: when we used to have family gatherings, he would play JAY-Z and JERMAINE DUPRI, and I’d mouth the song and perform that for some family members and cousins.

Who are some of your local favorites?

[There is] so much music out of this state, so much talent coming out of here. One of the most successful is this guy out of the Troopers Crew, DJ INFERNO. He’s from the RUN DMC era, and he toured with MADONNA. Now he’s just tourin’ clubs and bars. He’ll be in Richmond in January at Society. I look up to guys like TIMBALAND, DANJA, NEPTUNES and BENNY BLANCO…all VA natives. I even visited the NEPTUNES’ Hovercraft Studios last year, very inspiring!

For more updates on DJ FILI and his upcoming performances, be sure to visit his website, “like” his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter and Soundcloud.

Marianna Campano

Marianna Campano

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