When hip-hop began, the DJ was the foundation of the genre. Whereas the rappers were the hype masters responsible for exciting the crowd, the DJ was responsible for providing funky breaks that the people could dance to. But when hip-hop became a part of the mainstream, many rap artists chose to go the way of the DAT, using prerecorded backing tracks instead of live DJs. As turntablism went underground, a new phenomenon occurred: the mingling of scratch DJing with music genres other than hip-hop. Pop artists as varied as Beck, Linkin Park and Nelly Furtado (to name a few) have released songs that feature collaborations with scratch DJs, many of whom they also took on tour. Artists who got their start in hip-hop, such as Everlast and Kid Rock, also morphed into pop-rock acts that continued to make use of scratch DJs.
Although “pure” turntablism is primarily focused on advanced scratch techniques and battling, applying turntable skills to a non-hip-hop band can present a new challenge as well as a different creative outlet for your musical abilities. Besides the enjoyment of having more opportunities to play live and collaborate with other musicians, you'll find it represents a challenge somewhat different than preparing a battle routine or a scratch-performance piece.
DJing in a pop or rock band can be both rewarding and frustrating. If the band you hook up with is mostly a cover band, the biggest frustration and challenge is likely to be that there is no defined role for the scratch DJ in the songs that your band will perform. To overcome this, you have to rely on your creativity and look for appropriate places in songs where scratching will fit. Although it is possible to make anything work, most likely, you will find that scratching does not blend well with vocals because it tends to step on them; therefore, you typically will only be scratching when the lead vocalist is not singing. With this in mind, the role of the DJ is akin to that of a rhythm guitarist with occasional opportunities as a lead guitarist. Your responsibility is to add sounds and effects that enhance the track as opposed to being the primary aspect of the song.
As long as your band is not interested in doing “straight” covers, it is always possible to rearrange a cover song to provide more space for you to do your thing; however, you don't want to stand onstage doing nothing for the whole song but waiting for your 30-second solo opportunity. Finding places to insert a few rhythmic scratches, typically during a chorus, can help bring the scratch flavor to the whole song as opposed to just a single scratch solo.
THE MAIN SOURCE
Battle-break albums are a great source of sample material for use when playing with a band. However, any melodic tone, such as a guitar solo or a distinctive vocal piece, can be incorporated into a song. My typical process of fitting in with the rock cover band that I DJ with is to first scratch along to the original song before the band practices it together. I do this for two reasons: first to get a feel for whether a song is a good candidate for added scratching (some songs just won't work) and second to work out some potential scratch samples to use and figure out how I can incorporate them into the song.
Sometimes, I use the familiar samples (“Aaaaah,” “Fresh” and so on), as you might want to do, but the audiences that you are likely to play for may be unfamiliar with what a scratch DJ does. By using a mainstream sample that the crowd may have heard before, you can incorporate it inventively into a song with which they are also familiar. This may help build an understanding of what the DJ is doing. Another idea is to try to find samples that have some significance to the song that the band is playing. For example, I scratched “Bite it” as part of the chorus to a cover of Duran Duran's “Hungry Like the Wolf.”
If you are fortunate enough to own the original vinyl of a song that you are covering, you may want to experiment with scratching parts from the original version of the song and incorporating them into your band's cover version. This can be quite a crowd-pleaser if the song is distinctive and popular. If all else fails, short stabs and noises and drum parts work well, as you can scratch them in a melodic pattern to accompany the main guitar riff of the song.
If your band works on original songs, there are plenty more options for the scratch DJ, as you can tailor a track to a particular sample. You could have the lead vocalist sing just the verses while you scratch a phrase (that ties in with the theme or title of the song) for the chorus. This approach reminds me of the Gang Starr method of making rap tracks. With most Gang Starr tracks, Guru typically raps the verse and DJ Premier scratches a phrase for the chorus. Other ideas to try could include beat juggling the entire beat for a song or a part of the song, scratching a tone like a lead guitar or scratching a bassy sample for the bass parts. With original tracks, the possibilities are endless.
DJing in a non-hip-hop band provides a great opportunity to expand beyond straight turntablist-style scratching. You'll find that it's not as easy as it looks when you are faced with defining a role for an instrument that may have no place in the songs that your band is performing. Experimentation and creativity are key components of making it work. If you are interested in rising to the challenge, you'll not only have a lot of fun but also find another vehicle for showing off your skills and expressing your musical creativity.