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Stevie Cruz immerses himself in music and pop culture

Stevie Cruz held a pair of Boglins while surrounded by his collection of action figures and toys. Cruz is a musician in the hardcore metal band Hammerlord, a DJ and an avid collector.
Stevie Cruz held a pair of Boglins while surrounded by his collection of action figures and toys. Cruz is a musician in the hardcore metal band Hammerlord, a DJ and an avid collector. jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

Stevie Cruz is evangelical about a few things in life: professional wrestling, action figures and music — especially heavy metal.

“The first concert I ever saw I was 13,” he said. “It was Slayer and Testament, and it was amazing, a really big deal for me. It exposed me to the ways of metal and made me want to be involved in it and part of that energy.”

He was living in Fresno, Calif., at the time. Within a year, his family would move to a small town outside of Wichita, where Cruz didn’t exactly fit in. “I look like I do now,” he said. “Long hair, Doc Martens (boots), a glow-in-the-dark Ozzy Osborne shirt with Ozzy crucified on a cross. It was such a shock to all the other kids, their reaction was kind of a shock to me.”

Cruz would find a circle of friends in Wichita, then start a couple of bands, including Noizome Groove, which, coincidentally, once opened for Testament. Eventually, he made his way to Lawrence, where he became a big fan, and then a member, of the hardcore band the Esoteric, where he met drummer Adam “Hammerlord” Mitchell. Cruz also became a well-known DJ in Lawrence.

In 2007, after the Esoteric had “dissipated,” Cruz, with Mitchell, Ty Scott, Terry Taylor and J.P. Gaughan, formed Hammerlord, a hardcore metal band known for its dramatic live shows.

Cruz recently talked to The Star about Hammerlord, which is emerging from a hiatus, about his DJ philosophies and about how professional wrestling fits in with it all.

Q: How did you get started as a DJ?

A: The DJ thing started before I joined the Esoteric (in 2003). I was at a friend’s house who had two turntables and a mixer. I’d collected all kinds of records, and my dad collected records and I inherited a big chunk of his collection.

So I brought a bunch of records over to my friend’s house and I remember I put Brian Eno’s “Music for Films” on one turntable, which you can mix with almost anything, and started putting other records on the other turntable, and my mind was blown. I thought “This is the simplest and coolest and most-fun thing ever.”

So I saved some money, got two turntables. Then my friend Edwin Morales — DJ Konsept — came over and was impressed with my record collection and asked me if I wanted to DJ an ’80s night with him. I said I really didn’t know how to DJ, and he said he’d show me. He was a key player in the DJ scene in Lawrence then.

The owner of a Mexican restaurant was kind enough to let us go in after they’d close to have a DJ night, and that’s where the Neon Dance Party got started.

Q: It became a big deal in Lawrence.

A: Yeah, it did. It ran for more than eight years. We moved it to the Bottleneck and then to the Granada. We sold out every Thursday for a couple years at the Bottleneck and then the Granada for like a year. It was super fun. It became a big thing. To this day, people still know me from Neon Dance Party. I still recognize kids I used to play for back then. I call them Neon Babies. They’re everywhere.

Q: Do you have a DJ philosophy?

A: I’m what you call a party-rockin’ DJ. I’m definitely not a turntablist. I rarely use turtables. I did for a David Bowie tribute; I brought out the tunrtables and records, but usually I’m all digital. I like to share music. I play to the people and the bar. I play out all time. Since Hammerlord has been on break, I’ve been DJing nonstop.

What’s weird now is … kids look at the DJ. I bring videos because it used to be that the DJ was in the dark in the corner and not part of the show. People looked at each other and danced. Now it’s, “Let’s face the stage and look at the DJ,” like he’s a band. So I bring videos for them to watch because I don’t do anything up there except push buttons and share music. And I create a vibe and make people in the space happy. I go all over the place musically. It depends on the crowd.

Q. Where do you DJ these days?

A: I just played Blind Tiger. … Most of my stuff is loud partying music. I do a monthly gig at MiniBar, and I’m really looking forward see what the new RecordBar is.

Q: Do you have a DJ name?

A: I have a few. I’m not very good at branding. I don’t take it so seriously. But I use Stevie Cruz or 2LiveCruz. I haven’t used Motley Cruz in a while, but I’m thinking about breaking that one out again. But with all the Ted Cruz stuff going around, I kind of don’t want to use Cruz at all. I have nothing to do with that dude, and we’re not related. Jeez Louise.

Q: Talk about your obsession with professional wrestling.

A: It has been an obsession since I was a kid. The first stuff I saw was the early ’80s, WWF stuff. You know you’d have your favorites, and the whole thing was such a spectacle. But as the years went by, I looked at it like a whole philosophy, the whole good vs. bad thing and how to put on a show and showmanship and the suspension of disbelief. It’s all really interesting and it’s become a chessboard of how I look at life.

I don’t keep up with it much nowadays. I like to support the local stuff, the Kansas City Xtreme Wrestling and Metro Pro Wrestling. Anytime I can see something local and support it, I check it out. It’s really cool. But whatever is going on in the WWE, I don’t really follow. I hear about it because I listen to … Ric Flair’s podcast, but I don’t watch it. I don’t see the magic in it.

Q: You collect action figures, including wrestlers.

A: I’m inspired by pop culture in general, and wrestling figures into that. I’m an avid toy collector. Action figures are pretty much my other obsession, more than vinyl, these days. My whole kitchen is wrestling themed. I have lots of wrestling action figures but I have tons of other stuff, mostly from ’70s and ’80s. I find it inspiring.

Story lines from these action-figure lines have factored into the vibe I come from lyrically with Hammerlord. There’s a real sense of nostalgia in the lyrics. I’m completely inspired by these pieces of plastic. I can constantly learn about stuff through them, even down to the manufacturing history of the United States.

I’ve been working on my own line of figures that are characters and symbols from Hammerlord songs and some that will go with my future DJ mixes. I’ve also been dreaming up ways to extend some of my favorite toy lines, you know, so it doesn’t ever end. There is a song on the new Hammerlord record dealing with the insanity and obsession of collecting called “The Collector” there is a line that asks “am I completing the line or am I completing my death?”

Q: What’s new with Hammerlord?

A: “Wreck Shop” is our new record, and I love it. (Mitchell) had an ongoing injury that flared up really bad. He’s working through that and getting better. Once he does, we’re going to book a show or two, finish the record and send it off.

We’ll shop it around and see if we can get someone interested with some kind of support behind us and take it to the streets, finally. It’s been a long time coming, but we’re in a good place to do that Everyone in the band is in a spot where we can come and go and give a lot of time and energy to the band. We’re really on a roll with the new stuff. I’m in love with it and can’t wait to share it.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Friday

DJ Stevie Cruz will play music before and after an 8 p.m. performance by Eliot Sumner, daughter of Sting, at the Riot Room, 4048 Broadway. Tickets to the 18-and-older show are $10 and $12.

Other DJ gigs:

▪ Every Thursday at Blind Tiger

▪ First Fridays at Voltaire

▪ First Saturdays at Minibar

▪ Second Fridays at Riot Room

▪ Third Saturdays at Replay Lounge

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