I started scratching in 1984, and looking back, I realize that I have experienced many different phases: being part of a mobile DJ crew; entering battles; performing as a member of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz; and releasing my first album, Phantazmagorea (Beat Junkie Sound, 2002). That album was produced entirely from turntables, and it helped me find my place in the DJ scene as a scratch musician.
When speaking of scratch music, it's important to explain how it differs from turntablism. Some people might think that they are the same thing and that I'm just being fussy. But I believe that it's important to differentiate between the two, especially now that scratching is becoming more popular among mainstream audiences.
I call myself a scratch musician because, to me, that term more accurately describes my approach to the turntable and how I choose to apply it. I don't think there's anything wrong with the word turntablist, but in the same way that the term DJ doesn't really describe what a turntablist does, turntablism does not really describe what people like me do. Turntablism has come to mean more than just using the turntable as a musical instrument; it's a genre in itself, and it has many different aspects: battling, scratching, juggling, performing body tricks and so forth. I make music with the turntable, but I don't battle or do body tricks — I scratch. That's why I prefer the term scratch musician.
Scratch music is more than just moving a sound back and forth on a turntable — to me, that isn't really music. Scratch musicians are all about making songs, and their whole approach is different than that of turntablists. Nowadays, a lot of solo performers do a variety of crazy, really technical stuff with turntables, and the crowds go crazy over each new thing they see. But, personally, I'd rather get up onstage with three or four other people whom I'm comfortable with and play our own songs live. When there's only one person up there, things are so limited. No matter how technical that person is, he or she can take it only so far before it becomes repetitive. But with a band, you can go just about anywhere. With several people working together, you can make something way cooler than what one person could do individually.
Ricci Rucker, Mike Boo, Excess, Toadstyle and myself got together this past year and went on a West Coast tour to perform our turntable songs live. It was dope, as all of us were on turntables, and everyone was scratching a different musical sound. For example, I had the bass line, Boo had strings, and maybe Toad was on piano, with Excess soloing another sound. And we changed it up, with the exception of Rucker, who usually scratched the drums. We made a DVD titled Bastrd Language Tour (Fat Sack/EOF), and if you get a chance to check it out, you'll see what I'm talking about.
Most of the turntable bands I've seen have really aggressive routines with a lot of diss phrases and power soloing. With Bastrd Language, we had a lot of downtempo songs that sometimes didn't even have solos, and almost all of our sounds were from real instruments, not just an aah or a fresh or whatever. I would like to see what some turntable groups could do if they got together with their own ideas, composing original music and performing it live.
BEYOND BREAK RECORDS
Some of our songs have a lot of parts from different records, so we press custom show vinyl that has all of our sounds strategically placed to go with the parts in our compositions. For example, if I have to start off with a flute and then switch to a conga, both sounds will be recorded next to each other on the show vinyl. Speaking of vinyl, I try not to depend on break records so much for my sounds. I use them, of course, but mostly for practicing my cuts, not for composing new songs.
It's all about digging and finding records that nobody has used before, and there's so much out there that hasn't even been touched. Why settle for break records when everybody has those same sounds anyway? When choosing new records, I mainly look for isolated instruments, like a horn or a guitar lick by itself, and drums especially. It's all about the drums, because their sound can define the texture of any song. That's why it's important to constantly be looking for different drums — you can never have too many of them.
It's hard to say what the future holds; scratch music is still in its infancy. But we're in an exciting time right now: It's like we're creating the template for future generations of scratch musicians. The cutting-edge stuff we're doing now will probably be considered basic in the future, maybe like the electric guitar when it first came out. It shocked everyone back then, but, now, no one even blinks at it. As the turntable becomes more widely accepted by traditional musicians, you'll start to see a fusion — bands that have both conventional instruments and turntables. My band Gunkhole (Rucker, Boo, Ace and myself on turntables) is like that. Our whole thing is to keep pushing the boundaries and taking risks with our music: no rules at all.
There are so many possibilities, especially when you get into the studio. You have all of those additional resources at your disposal, not to mention the ability to add other instruments, guest musicians or even vocalists. All I can say is that I hope I'm around to see what happens.