TNA Impact Wrestling’s Zema Ion Takes His EDM Aspirations Into the Ring

Since the success of rock-meets-pro wrestling marketing campaigns in the 1980s bridging the world of Cyndi Lauper, Dick Clark, and rock in the music video age with pro wrestling entering it’s (then) modern era, the space has now always existed for popular music and professional wrestling to coexist. In the 1990 and 2000s it was rap and wrestling coexisting, with varying levels of success and renown. Now, as we enter into this middle of the 2010s, electronic dance music is arguably moving closer to the core of the top pop ideal and upstart, 11-year old and globally-broadcasting company TNA Impact Wrestling has stepped up to the plate.

27-year-old Chester, West Virginia native Michael Paris wrestles as nine-year veteran Zema Ion. He’s armed with a high-flying in-ring style and a confident charisma that has seen him achieve success as an employee of TNA Impact Wrestling since 2011 as a one-time holder of the company’s prestigious X Division Championship. As a contracted talent with TNA, Paris’ early time in the company not spent in the ring was spent at his then home in the suburbs of Washington, DC, basically waiting to get back on the road again. Boredom mixed with an existing curiosity in dance music’s resurgence led him to the turntables, and he began to study the art of DJing, eventually becoming DJ Foreign Objex. However, it wasn’t until his recent appendix removal – wherein an ultimately non-cancerous tumor was discovered – that he accidentally happened upon the time to truly take the steps to becoming a DJ/producer/pro wrestler triple threat.

This past Thursday on TNA Impact Wrestling (which airs at 9PM EST on Thursday nights on Spike TV), Paris returned to TV as the DJ for the company’s tag team champions, Robbie E and Jessie Godderz, The Bromans. Now, in an arguably humorous bridging the gap between pro wrestling and EDM, Zema Ion and TNA are breaking ’80s rock and wrestling into a wild new realm. I had the opportunity to catch up with the aspiring DJ/producer and suplex-master and asked a few questions regarding his early love of electronica, his influences, and the both the arts of dropping beats and bodies. Enjoy!

Many would want to believe that you now portraying a DJ as a professional wrestling character would be all about you cashing in on a trend. However, when was your initial introduction to electronic dance music?
My initial introduction to dance music came at the age of 11 from a Gap commercial. There was a song in the commercial and I thought it was amazing. Turns out it was “Busy Child” by the Crystal Method. I heard this electronic beat, and when I found out what it was, I went out and bought [1997 album] Vegas by the Crystal Method. [Intriguingly enough] it was one of the first albums I ever owned. I played the shit out of that cassette tape. I really loved it. From there I got into The Prodigy‘s [1997 album] The Fat Of The Land.

How did the eventual waning of the late ’90s/early 2000s era boom on dance music in the United States ultimately affect your listening tastes?
Dance music certainly didn’t catch on in a small town in West Virginia where I was from. I felt like I was the only one listening to it. I didn’t have the Internet back then, so I didn’t have access to more of this type of music. So, I got into what my friends were into – and that was hip-hop – which became the only genre I listened to exclusively through high school and college.

When was your passion rekindled for EDM?
I got back into dance music in 2011. It crept back into my interests because I had a friend in college who is now Subset from the Bassment Saturdays parties at Webster Hall in New York City. He was a buddy of mine in college at West Virginia University. I remember hanging out with him when he was just starting his DJ career.

What then led to you want to become a DJ?
In 2012 I was on the road with TNA and I had just moved to Washington, DC (with my girlfriend at the time), and I was bored. When I was not on the road, I was just sitting at home. I’d go to the gym, which would take an hour and a half out of my day, and while my girlfriend was at work, I’d be at home seeing Mark [DJ Subset] constantly positing pictures of DJing parties in New York City. I asked him how he did all of this, and he went to Dubspot, a DJ school in New York City. [I was motivated by this] so I Googled DJ schools in Washington, DC and I came upon the Beat Refinery. [One of the two schools in the area] was 10 minutes away from where I was living, so I took it as a sign that this was meant to be. I grew up watching professional wrestling and MTV since the age of three, so I wanted to be involved in music for as long as I could remember!

You stated that Subset trained at Dubspot. Where did you train in DC?
I started at the Beat Refinery in June of 2012 from DJ I-Dee, who’s a former DMC champion DJ, along with DJ Ragz from the Jazz Addicts and eventually Trayze. I was fortunate to learn from world-class DJs. It really helped me get a step ahead of others starting out in the DJ/producer game. Developing as a DJ and developing as a pro wrestler are similar. If you want to take it seriously and get good at it, you have to eat, sleep and breathe it. If you treat it like a part-time hobby, you’ll get what you put into it.

Similar to training in pro wrestling, training to become a DJ is filled with its share of humbling moments that eventually bring the best out of you as a person. Do you have any stories from your training that fit this description?
I was taking DJ classes for three or four months. Every year the Beat Refinery has a DJ battle and all of the past students who are now DJing in clubs enter the battle. I was three months in and for some reason [my teacher, DJ] I-Dee convinced me to enter the battle. I was not prepared, had no concept of phrasing, whatever. I’m glad he got me to enter that battle, though. I was on first, and my set was terrible. My first transition, I was set to drop from a build from one track into a whole other track, and when it was time, it didn’t work. There was silence and it was awkward and embarrassing. It was very humbling. Coming from wrestling on TV, where I know what I am doing, to being in this brand new world [and not performing so well], it was humbling. [It motivated me to] work hard and one year later, I won the battle. I beat all of those same DJs. They said my set was the cleanest, and given that I did this with under a year of experience, they gave me the nod. Gaining their respect was a cool moment for me.

Who inspires your work as a DJ?
My generation grew up listening to everything. I’m a fan of Diplo‘s mix from Holy Ship 2012. Diplo’s my biggest influence. He plays so many genres, and the energy is all hype. I’m inspired by guys like Trayze and Tittsworth. As well, I’m Filipino, so there’s [Filipino] DJs like Q-Bert and Enferno, too.

You recovered from having a ruptured appendix and cancer scare this year. How did DJing and production aid in you staying positive during this time?
I’m so glad I had this new found passion for DJing, and producing, too. My appendix rupture sucked, but they also found a five centimeter tumor in my colon. When they said that I would possibly need chemotherapy I thought “hey, my wrestling career is over now,” so it was a depressing time. I couldn’t work out, go to the gym, or wrestle, so if I didn’t eat, sleep and breathe music, I probably would’ve gone crazy. I’d wake up, mess around in Ableton, practice on Serato, and work on DJing and production for hours. It was a weird turning point for me. I had my first gig at (the now closed) Fur Nightclub in DC, and I started to understand phrasing more, mixing in key, and other daunting tasks.

What about your DJing do you feel best motivated your development as a professional wrestler now that you’re back in TNA?
When I started DJing, I thought at first that “this is going to be really good for wrestling.” Everyone in wrestling comes from a different background. Whether it is from wrestling on the independent circuit, the NFL, reality television, bodybuilding, or being a supermodel. I thought that if I really do good and develop at DJing that maybe this could be something to set me apart, a background for me that isn’t just being an independent professional wrestler.

How did your return to TNA as a DJ come to pass?
I told TNA a year ago that I was trying to be a DJ. They thought it was cool, but it was left there. They didn’t understand  it, but they kept hearing more and more about [my development]. Recently, they did a segment on TV where Robbie E and Jesse Godderz were celebrating their tag team title win and had a DJ with them in the ring. After the segment was over, they loved the idea of them with a DJ, but not the DJ they had that night. He didn’t look the part. They liked the idea of [the Bromans] with their own DJ. Robbie E mentioned to the TNA office staff “hey, maybe we should use Zema Ion. He is an actual DJ.” TNA replied “oh that’s right, we knew that!” Robbie, Jesse, and I have similar personalities, so me teaming with them is a no brainer. This past weekend they gave it a test run. They gave me little direction, and it was creatively in my hands. Eventually I’ll have my own custom DJ booth, and I got them to install lighting based off of the lighting at Echostage in DC. They’re totally behind this. They feel like whatever makes this look authentic is what they want.

How would you best describe the character of DJ Zema Ion, the character you’re now playing for TNA?
They want me to be this over the top and obnoxious DJ. So I basically try to channel every stereotype that I can think of that would make a DJ annoying. We did a backstage segment where I named every annoying cliche in the dance music world that’s “required to be a superstar DJ,” including “only playing songs off the Beatport Top 100″ and “having rave girls with green hair and severe daddy issues.” That type of stuff. My character is to play a DJ that thinks he gets it, but really doesn’t have a clue of what he’s talking about. That’s basically what the whole character is.

Insofar as your future as a DJ/producer, what are your goals and expectations?
I don’t have a whole lot of expectations. I’m moving to Chicago, which yes, may sound like moving to Hollywood to make it as an actor, but I feel like I’m going to be surrounded by a lot of talented people there, and I’m going to learn. It’s just like when I was trying to make it as a wrestler. I knew I had to travel the roads, make the connections and prove myself in the ring. I’m basically trying to do the same thing with DJing. I knew in wrestling, my goal was to make a living. In DJing, I’m not so sure. My immediate goal is to release an original track or EP. As well, I want to play the Pornandchicken party in Chicago, and a lot of underground clubs like U Street Music Hall in DC. I just want to carve a niche in this EDM world right now. That’s all I want to do. I’m chasing a dream, and we’ll see where it takes me.

Tracklist:

1. The Used – The Bird and the Worm (Kronic remix)
2. Noisestorm – Together (Original mix)
3. Dilemn feat. Taiwan MC- Ten Out of Ten
4. Down With Webster – One in a Million (Killabits remix)
5. Hide & Scream – Vitalic (FTampa remix)
6. Mercer – Supreme (Original mix)
7. Mercer – Supreme (Boombox Cartel WTF is Festival Trap remix)
8. Hard Rock Sofa x Dirty Shade – Collapser (Original mix)
9. Knife Party – LRAD (original mix)
10. Knife Party – LRAD (Boombox Cartel WTF is Festival Trap remix)
11. Knife Party vs. Nadia Ali – LRAD/Pressure (DJ Scene mashup)
12. Knife Party – LRAD (Valid Twerk remix)
13. DJ Snake x Yellow Claw x Spanker – Slow Down
14. 2 Live Crew – We Want Some Pussy (Z&Z remix)
15. Joker Inc. – Smile (Original mix)
16. David Heartbreak feat. Nicademass – Boogie Monster (Original mix)
17. Kedzie x ReLink – Gravity (Original mix)
18. Mendus x HugeKilla – Sahara (Original mix)
19. AFI vs. Bare – Miss Murdered One Two Eight (Foreign Objex mashup)
20. Showtek vs. Migos – Slow Down Hannah Montana (Foreign Objex edit)
21. Soulja Boy – Turn My Swag On (Jantsen remix)
22. Lloyd Banks – Beamer, Benz or Bentley (DJ Scene remix)
23. K Theory – Watch Me Kill It
24. Bright Young Minds – Problematic (Sam Lucas Trap remix)
25. Drezo – Thump (Subset remix)
26. Showtek x Noise Controllers – Get Loose (Justyle remix)
27. Borgore – Legend (Riot Tens Holy Trap remix)
28. Borgore – Legend (Borgore x Carnage remix)
29. Manufactured Superstars – Silver Splits the Blue (J Flash x Tyler Blue remix)
30. Notixx – The Other Side of Fear
31. Big Sean – A$$ (Alex Young edit)
32. Lil Texas – Goin Round
33. Slick Shoota x Purple – F Dat (Djemba Djemba x DJ Hoodboi remix)
34. ToNks – Lets Get It