Aspen’s DJ Naka G does heavy lifting at Summer Olympics

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Aspen resident Michael Nakagawa, also known as DJ Naka G, relaxes near an event stage at the Rio Olympics, where he is the music producer for the men and women's weightlifting competitions.
Sébastien Goulet/Special to The Aspen Times |

Aspen resident Michael Nakagawa has bigger concerns than Brazil’s water quality, getting Zika or being mugged while in Rio de Janeiro.

“If I get the wrong national anthem, I’m fired on the spot,” said Nakagawa, also called DJ Naka G.

So far, he’s grown used to playing China’s national anthem, “March of the Volunteers,” thanks to the country collecting four gold medals and one bronze in weightlifting through Thursday.

As the music producer for the men’s and women’s weightlifting competitions at the Summer Olympic Games, Nakagawa’s duties include handling introduction tunes for the athletes as well as the national anthems that are played for the victors on the podium.

“I play a lot of stuff that gets you pumped up,” he said Wednesday from the Riocentro venue. “I was asked by the people that manage the athletes to play a lot of hard rock, metal.”

That means hearty servings of AC/DC, Metallica and Rage Against the Machine, he said.

But you won’t hear the gravelly voice of Brian Johnson or other singers blaring through the speakers, he said.

“It’s all instrumental,” Nakagawa said. “The protocol for us is that there are no lyrics so they don’t get mixed in with the announcements.”

Not an avid follower of the weightlifting competitions before Rio, he said he has a new appreciation for the sport.

“It’s insane,” he said. “What these guys are lifting and what these women are lifting, I don’t even know the word to describe it. And we’re now just getting to the middleweights. I can’t imagine what it will be like with the heavyweights.”

He added, “It’s just incredible. They’re like superheros.”

Nakagawa’s Rio stay marks his first work assignment for the Summer Olympics; he was a DJ at the past two Winter Olympics — Sochi, Russia, in 2014 and Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2010. Work travels also have taken him to Shanghai and Doha, Qatar.

“I’ve been to places that I never have traveled to because of this,” said Nakagawa, who started his career spinning discs in 1995 at nightclubs and raves in Orange County, California.

Now 39 and married with two daughters and two sons, the Aspen High School graduate got his big breakthrough while working the Winter X Games in Aspen. He started there in 2003, meeting then-ESPN event producer Christy Nicolay, now the executive producer for Sports Presentation & Victory Ceremonies at the current games.

“I owe a lot to her,” he said. “She kind of discovered me at the X Games and kept throwing me these awesome events.”

The stay in Brazil has added personal meaning for Nakagawa. His father’s grandparents left Japan for Brazil during World War II. His dad was born and raised there before moving to the Roaring Fork Valley.

“It’s really cool to see this place,” he said.

The downside of Rio de Janeiro, from crime to disease, has been well-publicized by the media, Nakagawa said. But it’s a misleading narrative — something he referred to as the “American superiority complex” — that is perpetuated by the American press, he said.

“Things are great down here,” he said. “The best thing we can do is shut up and do our work. And as Americans, we’re dominating the medal standings, so we should let that speak for itself.”

He leaves Brazil on Aug. 19, but on Aug. 29, Nakagawa will depart for New York, where he’ll be behind the music at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.

“It’s not always easy, being married and being away from my family,” he said. “But my wife is really supportive and my No. 1 fan. She’s been my No. 1 supporter, so I’ve been really lucky.”