By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Fran "DJ Frantic" Erck's first club gig wasn't supposed to happen at all.
He'd only started spinning records two years earlier, after he'd grown bored of his videogames and after his friend Pat "Phat-1" Johnson had persuaded him to get a secondhand set of turntables. Johnson tried to convince the promoter at the Sand Bar to let him share his set with the newcomer, but the skeptical promoter was leery of giving a rookie, someone who'd only spun at a few house parties, such a big stage. Finally, though, the promoter relented and agreed to let Phat-1 split his set with DJ Frantic on May 10, 2002.
Then, two days before the gig, Johnson broke his leg.
"I called Fran and said, 'Hey man, you're gonna have go on by yourself,'" Johnson says. "He was just shaking, like, 'No, no, no!' But he went on and did that gig. From what I hear, he just turned the club inside out. And that promoter never called me back for another gig!"
To hear his friends and fellow musicians tell it, DJ Frantic was one of the best DJs in Dallas—maybe in all of Texas—until his life was cut short when his car crashed with an 18-wheeler on Interstate 35 at about 3:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 2.
Fortunately, Frantic left behind a legacy of DJ competition awards and Internet videos that are impressive enough to shatter the doubts of any skeptic. On the videos he posted to his YouTube account, Frantic's hands move so nimbly as he scratches, mixes and juggles records that he seems to have a natural gift. In actuality, his skills were the result of long hours of disciplined practice.
"He would practice every single day," says Ardy Harper, a longtime friend and former roommate of Erck's. "Everything was built around the music. He had a stopwatch, and he would time three hours a day, at least. If I was hungry and said, 'Let's get something to eat,' he'd be like, 'All right,' and set his stopwatch. 'I've got another hour and 24 minutes to practice.'"
Jason Abbott, who DJs and raps as "Big J," heard about DJ Frantic's skills through a mutual friend.
"I heard about his phenomenal talent on the turntables," Abbott recently wrote in an e-mail. "One day I was fortunate enough to get to go by his house and see this long, lanky, soft-spoken young man. As we went deeper into his house, I noticed a room filled with all the latest DJ equipment and two, not one, turntables. Everything was set up in attack mode. He was ready to roll. He modestly turned on the power, and I witnessed his insane skills on the ones and twos. That skilled DJ made the turntables obey him like well-disciplined children. The turntables and DJ Frantic were one. He was a ninja. He had mastered his craft. The passion was there, the skill was there and the vibe was there. I was completely in awe. He was the man with the platinum hands as far as I was concerned."
Abbott was so impressed that he accompanied Erck to a DMC DJ competition in Austin the following day.
"We went to see him perform but also went to be his bodyguards because he was so good and some of the competitors were jealous of the boy wonder," Abbott wrote. "After that, Frantic and I had a chance to vibe a little and clicked instantly. He loved my rap style, I loved his skills on the turntables, so within a very few days we bonded like Oreos and formed The Clever Monkeys.
"Frantic loved being a DJ. Other than the love for his family and friends, his turntables were his life. If he hadn't been married, I think he would have slept with his twin Technic turntables, the two other women in his life."
Frantic won a trip to compete in Los Angeles after winning the Texas DMC DJ competition in 2004. Johnson says that, despite only bringing about five friends to the Dallas competition, he managed to win over a crowd that was mostly composed of people who came to see his competitors.
Frantic was also the first DJ in Texas to teach a turntablism instructional course, according to his father, Les Erck. After earning a recording arts diploma from the Dallas Sound Lab at MediaTech Institute in August 2006, he returned to teach a four-week workshop that was so respected that one of his students drove from College Station twice a week to attend.
"Fran would not only teach them at the college, but he would let them come by his house," his father recalls. "They would hook up four turntables, and he would help them over there. He'd always have a party for them and cookout for them. The young kids, they really got a kick out of that, because they got to learn a lot more."
Despite his skills, friends say Erck remained humble. Abbott, who considered Erck to be his brother, says his combined absence of greed and love of music was profound.