By Katie Klingsporn
Even if you don’t know them, you may have seen their faces—smiling on fliers pasted to kiosks and windows around town—through the magic of PhotoShop, atop funny and familiar characters, such as the bodies of Walter and the Dude from The Big Lebowski. DJs Krittah and Ryan Smith—real names Kevin Deleu and, well, Ryan Smith—aren’t afraid to present themselves in strange and compromising scenes.
Deleu and Smith are standouts in Telluride’s small but colorful DJ scene. They teamed up last winter to become a double bill, which has proven, at times, to draw eager crowds of partiers ready to dance deep into the night. Other times, the DJs play to an empty dance floor.
Such is the life of a DJ in a hip little town. When you’ve got only a couple thousand people as a base, and many are steeped in rock and roll and bluegrass, it can be tough to draw a crowd of electro-happy revelers from this shallow Telluride well. Regardless of the ups and downs, Deleu and Smith do it because they love the music. “You can just get lost in it, everything else just disappears,” says Smith, who spins House. “The whole rest of the world falls away.”
They make a pretty good team. Deleu is tall and thin, easily recognized by a long mane of dreadlocks. He’s as mellow as a meander in a slow river, and shy. But when he opens up, he’s funny and talkative and self-effacing. When Deleu’s not DJing, he works as the production manager at the Telluride Daily Planet or hangs out with his dog, Jazz. He’s also a killer snowboarder.
Smith, on the other hand, is short and cherubic with buzzed hair, a sideways smile and easy laugh. He’s been around town for six years and has plied many a trade: tending bar, waiting tables, doing construction work. He plays soccer, speaks Spanish and he, too, is a good snowboarder.
The DJs, both 30, started at roughly the same time in their lives, late in their teens. And while there exist similarities in their stories, their trajectories toward Telluride vary wildly. Smith grew up in the small town of Rice Lake in northern Wisconsin. As a youth, he devoured Yo, MTV Raps! and hair metal. Wisconsin wasn’t the best place for exposure to electronic music, but in high school, Smith studied in France, where he was inundated by it. Late one night, while partying at The Fridge in London, he knew, just like that: He wanted to be a DJ.
Deleu grew up in Green Brook, New Jersey. He was into skating and listened to hair metal, punk and even some jam bands. He regarded electronic music as “crap.” After high school, he went to a small art school in Alfred, New York, where, as a freshman, a friend gave him a couple jungle CDs. Something about the dirty break beats and impossibly fast pace grew on him and moved him, and by the end of the year, he had purchased turntables, started playing house parties, and had his first moniker, DJ K-Rafti. Later, he moved into an apartment that was always throbbing with music. He and his housemate hung a DJ table from the ceiling by sturdy chains and threw a weekly party, called “Thirsty Thursday.” Someone was always either spinning or breakdancing on the floor.
Back in Wisconsin, where he was going to college in Eau Claire, Smith was turned onto House music by a Bad Boy Bill and Richard Humpty Vision mix tape. He moved into a college party house that is the stuff of legend and had a handful of close DJ friends. They built a DJ booth in a boat in the basement and threw at least one 100-plus-people party a month. Then somebody tore out a wall to create a plexiglass booth. “The turntables were pretty much going 12 hours a day,” he says.
Too many parties to remember later, Smith graduated and moved to Telluride with a crew from college. His first show was at the old Roma. Since then, he’s played events on the mountain, bars, weddings, all-night parties in high mountain basins for the Lunar Cup, and an unforgettable Mushroom Festival house party.
After Deleu graduated, he moved to New York City, where he handed out fliers for a big promotion street team, lived in Brooklyn and played as many parties as he could in the saturated music scene. After a year, he moved to New Orleans and hooked up with a crew who called themselves “The Bass Invaders.” He played the Freak Fest, the House of Blues, parties with multiple rooms and thousands of revelers, and he even played a party called “Vampire Stripper Sluts from Outer Space.” His name recognition grew.
When Katrina and her tremendous devastation hit, Deleu, who always loved to snowboard, found refuge in these high mountains with a job at the newspaper. He played his first show at Tomboy Roasters and had a weekly gig there through the winter. He played parties and a few other bars, but he got discouraged by the dearth of jungle scene. He took a hiatus for over a year to snowboard, hike, ride his bike and spend time with his dog.
When talk of a partnership with DJ Ryan Smith emerged, Deleu broke the hiatus at a show with Smith and a friend last winter. That started a partnership the two DJs maintained through the summer.
Both DJs are fluid and confident, bopping around behind the booth, moving even if the party doesn’t, losing themselves in the music. They like sharing the bill, which allows each the freedom to mill around during the party. “You get to talk to way more girls that way,” Smith says.
Sometimes they play to the bartender. Sometimes they get awful requests. But it’s those great nights, when everyone is there to dance and have fun, that keeps them going. “If the people are there and they’re having a good time, I always play phenomenally better,” Deleu says. When it comes down to it, he adds, ten people partying down could be just as good as 100, as long as the energy’s there.