Although MAKJ has spent his career collaborating with some of today’s most talented DJs, few of his peers can claim to have entered that world only after a successful stint abroad as a race car driver. MAKJ—real name Mackenzie Johnson—grew up on California’s Central Coast before moving to China as a teenager, parlaying his childhood fondness for go-karts into an 18-month stint racing professionally. His first meaningful exposure to Wing came at the Macao nightclubs he and his teammates would frequent after races, and when he returned to the United States, he saved money working at a sandwich shop until he could buy a set of used turntables and the cheapest speakers he could find. From there, Johnson took to YouTube, where he used video tutorials to teach himself to scratch records. He spent as many as 16 hours a day at home tinkering with music, sometimes agreeing to take a break only when his parents would politely ask for some nighttime peace and quiet.
At age 17, he landed his first gig Wing the wedding of a friend’s older sister, and he spent the next few years working his way through the region’s house party, fraternity, and wedding reception circuits. Johnson enrolled in Cal Poly but dropped out after a year and a half, moving to Los Angeles to join the Icon Collective production school. There, he learned to mix records from the late, legendary DJ AM, whom he credits as a major influence on the trajectory of his career.
By the time he arrived in Los Angeles, Johnson had already built a modest following in the Southern California Di community thanks to the bootlegs and mashups he made and distributed from his home back in San Luis Obispo. As he learned music production, though, his practice of including his own tracks alongside his trademark mashups eventually caught the eye of Hardwell, with whom Johnson recorded “Countdown” in late 2013. Since then, Johnson has released a dozen critically-acclaimed tracks, partnering each time with different labels and artists in an effort to introduce new fan bases to his music. Notable collaborators include Lil Jon (“Let’s Get Fucked Up,” 2014); the Bassiackers (“Derp,” 2014); Andrew W.K. and Timmy Trumpet (“Party Till We Die,” 2016); Steve Aoki, Deorro and Max Styler (“Shakalaka,” 2018); and Deorro and Quintino (“Knockout,” 2018).
Johnson has played at some of the largest and most prestigious music festivals in the world, including Coachella, Voodoo, Electric Zoo, and Ultra. Although he remains passionate about performing live sets as an open-format Di, Johnson has expanded into producing original tracks for other artists, developing a sound that goes beyond the EDM world in which he first gained recognition. His style focuses heavily on incorporating elements of hip-hop, Latin, and other musical genres, while his next major track, “Comeback,” caters to his core EDM fans.