Growing up in Sidney, Mont., DJ Kris Moon's music experience involved taping Casey Kasem's Top 40 and surfing through radio stations for anything with a good beat. His radio mostly picked up North Dakota stations bombarding the air with a steady rotation of the most popular hair bands of the time, including Guns N' Roses.
"When my stepbrother and I got our first walkmans, he bought Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction and I bought Young MC's Bust a Move," says Moon. "That was where my path started to diverge. I listened to his tapes, too, but then I went from there to Public Enemy and anything I could find like that wasn't on the radio."
In 1990, Moon moved to Seattle to finish high school just as the city's grunge scene was on the cusp of becoming a national craze. But his most impressionable moment came when he attended his first rave. He says he was blown away by people dancing with wild abandon to music that appeared to be spouting from an elevated DJ booth in the upper corner of the club.
"I knew the music was coming from there and I saw the DJ walking in with his records, but other than that I had absolutely no idea what was going on," says Moon. "I couldn't figure out how this music was going all night long, so seamlessly. After following Mudhoney, Nirvana and Pearl Jam around for the last few years it was suddenly like, 'What the hell is this?' My interest was piqued."
Moon immediately ordered a pair of 30-pound turntables and a mixer. It took years for him to build a solid record collection, during which time he also worked hard to master the technique of blending and mixing vinyl on turntables for a live audience.
Fifteen years later, Moon has become one of the most respected DJs in the Northwest. He spent years as one of Seattle's core techno DJs during a time when electronic music was just finding popularity in nightclubs across the city. In 2006, he won Seattle's Battle of the Megamixes with a set that included 17 records in 10 minutes.
Moon also started gaining a reputation for organizing. He accrued three years as the educational coordinator for Decibel Festival (starting at its inception in 2004), which included hosting electronic music clinics and setting up discussion panels. He also helped spearhead Seattle's Laptop Battle, a now annual event that pits 16 DJs in a single elimination tournament for making the best electronic music. Moon would often fly national winners to Seattle to compete in battles, and he developed a handbook for promoters wanting to start up battles in their own cities nationwide and overseas.
"When you're talking about getting 16 laptop contestants on stage, that's 16 connections—it's potentially a technical nightmare," says Moon. "It's a huge production."
When it comes to his own music, Moon has been guided by technology. The turntable system that first attracted him to electronic music seems to be a dying art as more DJs latch onto laptops to deliver music. Moon says there are pros and cons to switching from one to the other. Instead of lugging around crates with hundreds of records a DJ can now fill the laptop with MP3s.
"In the past if you wanted to play a gig you had a crate with, at the most, 100 records," he says. "Now, I've got 15,000. I would have to spend hours loading in that many crates of records to equal what's on my laptop."
Moon still uses turntables, though now the records he uses don't contain music, but rather encrypted info that controls MP3s on his laptop. It's a hybrid system, bridging the gap between new and old technology.
"I take pride in playing turntables a little bit because, of course, once you reduce it to just the laptop—it's not to say you're not doing anything, but sometimes it feels that way," he says. "I'm not bitter about it. A lot of DJs are and it's definitely a point of contention."
Moon's Laptop Battle idea actually sprouted from the sense that laptop shows needed to be livened up.
"It takes a special type of person to be a performer," he says. "I'm not dissing on those who are more like studio producers than performers; you can't blame them for wanting to play their stuff live. But there's definitely a feeling that the music is great but there isn't much vitality to the stage show."
In the early 2000s, local promoters Chris Henry and Aaron Bolton (now part owners of the Badlander and Palace venues) started flying Moon in to put on shows in and around Missoula. In 2008, Moon moved to Missoula permanently. He wanted to be back in Montana's landscape, he says, even if it meant moving from a city with a larger electronic scene. He got a job buying music for Ear Candy Music and he has a Saturday night show at the Badlander that tends to fill up when school's in. "Dubstep is what the kids like right now," he says. In general, he leads a pretty low profile despite all he's accomplished.
"Every aspect of the electronic music culture and business he's been top notch at," says Henry. "That's rare. And that he doesn't have an ego about it is icing on the cake. He should have a cult following by now. He should have crowds of sweaty, hot girls screaming for him."
Kris Moon plays the Top Hat Thursday, Aug. 26, at 10 PM, with Jerry Abstract. $3. Moon plays the Badlander every Saturday at 9 PM with Monty Carlo. Free.