For many years, throughout my adolescence and my early adulthood, my friends, family, teachers, and professors knew me as one of my “jobs”. I worked as a DJ.
At age 15, I began playing music at parties for friends, and was eventually hired by my high school. I carried my new-found entrepreneurial spirit to the University of Oregon; where I studied Business (Sports Marketing) and Geography (GIS / Cartography) in addition to my work as a DJ.
It was during my first year of college where I coined my DJ identity, while taking a World Regional Geography course from Ron Wixman. The name “DJ ATLAS” was born out of the realization that music transcends political, cultural, and physical boundaries. Music is a mode to tell a story. I kept this DJ name until my final year of live-entertainment work, at age 25.
In my second year of college, I learned about corporate branding and marketing. Consequently, I picked up a copy of Adobe Photoshop CS3 and designed my first logo (“earth disco lights”). It wasn’t until my final year of college when I elected to go through a rebranding, and designed the (“black & gold fireworks”) logo using Photoshop and Illustrator. During college, I taught myself Photoshop and Illustrator to help my entrepreneurial efforts; not knowing they would later become some of my most important tools for map design.
It was in these years where I performed, and published an “entertainment product and service”. People would ask about the glamour and fun of being a DJ; but I never saw it as a glamorous job. I saw it as an opportunity for others to transcend community, meet new people, have fun, and escape. Ultimately, I was there so that everyone could unload their “troubles” and “worries” of the week (and day) on the dance floor. The fun I had was a mere byproduct of my performance goals.
In order to be the best I could, I had to stay focused, work hard, and produce mixes that the audience could comprehend clearly. I would only practice “sets” at home, and never really pre-produced content leading up to DJ nights at a bar or club. I worked on-the-fly and in the moment—trying to keep the visceral experience of a live performance intact.
It was a challenge and an opportunity to understand the crowd while following the technical aspects of tone, tempo, key, scratching, my software, and hardware. I had to source the best music for all types of audiences and themed-events. My music research was extensive, and I took immense pride in my work (and catalog / database of Mp3 files).
Cartography is where I am at peace, exactly where I was as a Disc Jockey. In the moment—dedicated to technique, data-research, and publishing.
I see MANY similarities in Cartography. When publishing maps, we Cartographers review as many of the technical best practices we can (Data-Visualization, Symbolization, Typography, Color Theory, and More) while sourcing the best information possible in a given amount of time. In order to gain experience, and constructive feedback—we have to PUBLISH. Much like Cartography, as a DJ, I tried to source the best content, follow technical best practices, and perform (publish) my “set” in a finite period of time.
Fast forward to 2013—many years after the great recession, an unsuccessful attempt as Sports Marketing Coordinator / Manager, and various domestic & international (tourism) travel opportunities. I started working as a novice Cartographic Designer and Information Designer. With some practical lessons and work-experiences in the first few years, I am confidently a Cartographer in an industry/field of amazing professionals, colleagues, mentors, and mentees (witnessed at every NACIS conference).
Now, Geography truly solidifies the root of my identity, and Cartography is my current mode to tell stories. Cartography is where I am at peace, exactly where I was as a Disc Jockey. In the moment—dedicated to technique, data-research, and publishing.
Throughout my life, I’ve seen myself as an outsider; and as someone with an amorphous identity. I pride myself on malleability, empathy, and harmony. I continue to work in Cartography and Geography because it’s a place where I’ve found harmony—as I did for 10 years as a DJ.