Tuesday, December 5, 2000

James McCarten
The Canadian Press

More talent in one arm than most have in two

Chris Bolin, National Post

Childhood paralysis isn't about to slow C-Rat down

DJ C-Rat works the turntables with his good left arm. His chosen name is from his days as a military cadet, when he took survival courses.

DJ C-Rat, in full military gear, cuts across a room filled with devils, punks, Playboy bunnies and a very noticeable number of hookers and pimps. It's Halloween night, and prostitution chic seems to be all the rave at Fez Batik, a funky club in downtown Toronto.

The 22-year-old C-Rat removes his helmet and jacket and strips down to camouflage pants and a revealing military vest. As he starts his set, he puts on a black rubber gas mask, and then periodically takes it off to get at his beer. At the same time, he quickly flips through his metal record box, adjusts the knobs between two turntables, and makes sure he's mixing his vinyl smoothly.

His right arm is curled slightly under his armpit. Periodically, C-Rat has to use his left arm to keep it in place. When he was five years old, he had a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body. He was also born right-handed. Across his record case is a sticker: "Pray for me and get a kick in the ass."

A few weeks later at Turbo, one of Toronto's hottest electronic dance clubs, C-Rat rushes in just in time to make his set after spending several hours in a hospital emergency room. Earlier in the day, he had badly sliced a finger in an industrial cheese cutter at the pizza parlour where he works part time. The bandage around his finger is bloodied. It's his good hand. But he spins without complaining, and the set goes off well.

"He plays better with one arm than guys who play with two," says DJ Mystical Influence, a.k.a. Pat Brodeur. Mystical Influence, 27, is the promoter for Turbo's Friday nights and has been in the more than a decade. Mystical points out that C-Rat spins "jungle music," and that with jungle "you have to be a lot quicker" than with other forms of electronic music.

C-Rat actually plays "old-school" jungle, which in the electronic music dance scene means music from way back — 1995 to be exact.

C-Rat's real name is Chris Lytle. He is a full-time anthropology student at York University and lives in a suburban section of Toronto. "My area has no culture whatsoever," he says. "Just GAPs and Starbucks."

His love for DJing and jungle music, he says, came out of his experience as a young army cadet when he was around 16. "I knew there was only a certain limit I could get to with my disability, but I decided to experience it as far as I could," he says. "So I got accepted to this course. It was called Survival Instructor."

C-Rat and his buddies listened to jungle music to get hyped for the mock combat exercises — such as being driven out to the middle of nowhere with pillowcases over their heads, taking two-and-a-half-hour swims in full combat gear, or being left in the woods for 120 hours with three matches.

"It was like battling myself," he says. "I was like the crippled kid from [suburban] Toronto doing crazy stuff."

He was finally able to save up enough money to buy "the crappiest turntables you can get. They were one step up from having wood panelling on the side."

He decided he wanted to be a DJ. "DJing a rave or at a club is a lot different than DJing a sweet 16," he says. "It's the cool thing to do. It's like buying a guitar in the '70s."

In honour of his military past and because his first name is Chris, he decided to call himself C-Rat, short for C-Rations or Combat Rations, a term used in Vietnam to designate a day's worth of food supplies. C-Rat usually wears his military gear to spin even when it's not Halloween.

His first DJ gig bombed. C-Rat went on after a house-music DJ. The audience came to hear house, so when his jungle records started to spin right after the main act, the room cleared. Today, he's considered an up-and-comer in the jungle scene, and has performed in Montreal and Ottawa.

"I never ever tell a promoter I have this problem," he says, referring to his paralysis. "I'm afraid if I did that they'd book me just because I had this disability and not because I'm good at playing. When I went to Montreal the first time, I got off the train, the guy asked me, 'What's wrong?' and then I told him."

Some clubgoers ask him what's up with his arm or leg. "I've had a whole bunch of people think I walk like this on purpose. I had this one girl come up to me and say, 'That's a nice homie limp.' " (Because of the way he moves his body, the girl thought C-Rat, who is white, was walking like a black hip hop "home boy" just to be cool.)

C-Rat takes it all in stride.

"I had a stroke when I was five. That's the year to have a stroke if you're ever going to have a stroke. When you're 10 years old, you already have knowledge of what both hands are for. When you're five, everything is out here. I have no recollection of what it's like to use this arm. It's practically a paperweight. But it's a great conversation piece. I like it."

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Created: December 5, 2000
Last modified: January 21, 2001
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