Released by Shure, Turntablism 101 is an educational video that offers a glimpse of the methods and ideas shared by well-known turntablists as they perform scratch sets. The scratch sections are presented, with varying degrees of success, in a tutorial format and feature overhead shots of the mixer and turntables as the DJ scratches. Each section incorporates the DJ's explanation of what he is doing as he performs the technique being described, which is a good change from the more common performance-style scratch videos.
Directed by the well-known DJ-video guru John Carluccio (of Battlesounds documentary fame), this video is a good starting point for the budding turntablist. Experienced DJs can also learn a thing or two, as it features insights from 10 of the world's best turntablists. Mix Master Mike (Beastie Boys DJ and a former member of Invisbl Skratch Piklz), Roc Raida, Mista Sinista, Rob Swift, Total Eclipse, J-Rocc, Rhettmatic, P-Trix, Roli Rho and Big Wiz discuss and demonstrate the various elements of scratch DJing, covering topics as varied as beat juggling, mixing, using effects pedals, body tricks, influences, inspiration and love of the art form. The video alternates between an instructional set by each DJ and a discussion of the techniques being showcased. Clearly exemplifying his passion for turntablism, Swift is the primary contributor to the video's discussion sections.
Swift also opens the technique section and does a great job demonstrating the various skills you need to know to perform a basic beat-juggling routine. Using doubles of James Brown's “Funky Drummer,” he clearly explains tapping (stopping and starting the record by hand as it plays the various parts of a drum break), backspinning (repeatedly playing the same part of a record on each turntable) and the 1-2 pattern (a creative variation on backspinning attributed to Steve D.).
Swift's demo works best when he shows separately what is happening on the right- and left-hand turntables during a beat juggle, starting with the turntable on the right. He then puts the two pieces together and demonstrates the result — a great concept if you have trouble mastering the complexity of a beat juggle. Swift breaks down the various elements of beat juggling and demonstrates them in a fairly simple manner so that viewers can clearly follow and attempt to imitate the techniques described. Of all the sets featured, this is the one that best achieves the video's instructional goal.
DJ Rhettmatic's set follows with a different beat-juggling routine that incorporates the various tricks that Swift explained. Rhettmatic finishes his section with a demo of drumming, the art of creating new and varied drum patterns, in which he creates multiple drum breaks by simply scratching the drum and snare from Eric B. & Rakim's “Eric B. Is President” on one turntable. Although less educational than Swift's demonstration, it does present some new ideas to try out.
Up next is Roc Raida, who demonstrates the use of body tricks in a scratch set. He performs the techniques for the camera, without providing too much detail about how he does each trick. The tricks are not scratch techniques, per se, yet seeing the breakdown of what is involved is useful if viewers want to add those crowd-pleasing elements to their scratch performances.
J-Rocc's portion about trick mixing (Beat-Junkies style) is a good change of pace for the video because it brings into play the more musically creative side of DJ performance and doesn't focus solely on scratching. Although his set includes many scratch techniques, J-Rocc dwells on the use of mixing and describes methods of making transitions between songs during a performance, all the while displaying some impressive scratch talents.
Less impressive is Big Wiz's section, which focuses on incorporating effects pedals into a scratch set; it is probably the least interesting part of Turntablism 101. The techniques displayed are good and can add variety to the range of sounds one can create, but to properly and effectively infuse guitar pedals and effects processors into turntablist sets requires the use of a mixer with an effects loop, which is not a feature found on every DJ mixer.
Turning back to scratch application, the intense and sweaty Mix Master Mike gives his alternative take on scratching — he calls himself the “Scratch Traffic Controller” — with a demonstration of a couple of advanced techniques.
First up is the Moog Skip Scratch. This technique uses a sticky label to cause the record to jump back a groove and repeat a Moog keyboard sample. While that sample repeats on one turntable, Mike cuts things up in his unique, intense style, simultaneously scratching on both main faders with one hand.
The Tweak Scratch demo (performed with the power off while spinning the record at various speeds) leads into an awesome live performance of the Beastie Boys track “Three MCs and One DJ” — an entire song made up of three samples from a single record that is performed on one turntable.
Mista Sinista follows with another beat-juggling routine. His explanation is not as thorough as Swift's, but he does a good job of breaking down the variety of beat-juggling concepts and shows how he incorporates them into a scratch performance.
Total Eclipse's section features scratching 33-rpm records at 45 rpm and ends up as more of an interesting performance than an explanation of techniques. P-Trix also performs some beat juggling, focusing on advanced techniques, including varying the pitch and scratching with the power turned off.
Last on the decks is Roli Rho, who runs through an informative lesson about how he built a battle routine. Rho compares his routines to the process of telling a story, explaining how a good performance incorporates variety and progression. He also shows how he started with one idea and discovered ways to increase a routine's complexity and impressiveness.
Turntablism 101 ends with an informative section about setting up your equipment for optimal scratch performance and pays particular attention to the optimal settings for the Shure line of cartridges. This video is a solid addition to a newbie scratch DJ's collection, and though most of the performances focus on some form of beat juggling, there is plenty of variety to keep things moving.