words: Andy Forbes
What is a DJ if he can't scratch? Andy Forbes meets Yorkshire based DJs who are spearheading the turntable renaissance.
The role of a Hip Hop DJ has changed considerably over the last two decades. In the early years the DJ was the prominent artist in Hip Hop. MCs were secondary and there to support the DJ. In time the DJ started to fade into the background until most Hip Hop tracks were devoid of any scratching or turntable work. It seemed like DJs with turntable skills were getting rarer and rarer. Nobody seemed to be pushing the discipline forward.
Then things began to change. In 1992 and '93, the DMC Championships, which were historically one DJ, two turntables and five minutes, was won by a group - 'The Rock Steady DJs'. Formed by the legendary DJ Q-Bert (later to found the 'Invizibl Skratch Picklz') DJ Apollo, and Mix Master Mike (Skratch Picklz and DJ for the Beastie Boys), their routines changed the competition completely and turntabilism started moving forward again. Then the US Hip Hop magazine Bomb released 'The Return of the DJ Compilation'. It contained tracks by some of the leading DJs in the world: The Invizibl Skratch Picklz, Rob Swift (from the X-Men), Cut Chemist (of Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli) and DJ Babu (of the World Famous Beat Junkies). As a line-up it doesn't get match better than that. The compilation and its successors were popular with many types of DJs, not just in Hip Hop, and the scratch/Hip Hop DJ started to become more prominent again.
Since then the music and roles that Hip Hop DJs have been involved in has broadened dramatically. Artists in their own right again, they are seen as people who are doing a lot to push music forward. DJ Matman, Waxfactor and Mista Ed are three DJs based in Yorkshire that embody this diversity - they all have roots in Hip Hop and scratching but have developed in different directions.
Twenty-three and originally from Bristol (but now living in Leeds), DJ Matman is Mat Smith and a Hip Hop DJ in the original old school sense.
"I've been entering competitions and making a name for myself on the battle scene. I made the UK DMC final last year and also won a European contest in Denmark. Amongst the competition I had to beat was the reigning English DMC champion (and 3rd place world finalist), DJ Quest. I also came second in the UK final of the ITF DJ championships and won the Midlands DMC heats that took me through to the DMC UK final." You can catch his set (and all of the finalists' sets) on the 2003 UK DMC championship DVD which you can pick up around Leeds.
2003 saw Mat replace a member of the two-man DJ crew 'Flaredy Cats', the 2002 UK DMC team champions. Alongside DJ Wooz, he plays live shows around the country performing sets in the same vain as The Scratch Perverts or Beat Junkies. "One of our best sets last year was at the first National BeatBox competition held in Leeds at The Bassment. The show was also recorded to go out on Radio 1."
On the club DJing front Matman has played all over the country and plays regularly in Leeds. Previous DJ slots have seen him play alongside a who's who of Hip Hop such as Public Enemy, Jazzy Jeff, the legendary Grandmaster Flash, DJ Ca$h Money, The Scratch Perverts and Kid Koala to name a few. In February he is helping re-launch Freebass, a previously popular Hip Hop night run primarily by DJ Synical (another up and coming name on the Leeds Hip Hop scene) at Dr Wu's. It will be held on the second and last Tuesday of every month at The Bassment in Leeds city centre. The DJs involved aim to give the night a real party atmosphere with Hip Hop DJs and special guests, such as MC's and Beat Boxers, putting on Hip Hop showcases. So what's planned for 2003? "My first official mix CD will hopefully be released very soon. There are some people who are interested in releasing it but I may try to put it out myself. I'll also be spending a lot of time practising my club sets - a lot of battle DJs can play a great five-minute set in a competition but can't keep it together for a full club set. I am really inspired by old school DJs like Ca$h Money and Jazzy Jeff. They really know how to get a club rocking and that's what I want my sets to do - true party style."
You can catch him early in the year at Drum Major in Leeds supporting DJ Vadim and the Russian Percussion tour (February 7) and make sure you also check out the newly relocated Freebass when it kicks off at the Bassment. If you are interested in booking Matman or are interested in receiving advanced DJ lessons email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Waxfactor is Pete Gleadall, born in Watford but raised in Barnsley where he lives now. His tracks of twisted Hip Hop are starting to find their way onto vinyl and CD, making rumblings in the Hip Hop scene.
"When I was a kid I used to listen to Hip Hop but nobody else I knew really was. A major step was when I went to University in Southampton. I was doing a Film Studies degree and met up with a kid in my class called Nick and eventually his friend James, who formed Super Dense Child. They got picked up by Marble Bar (a label run by Regal of the wise guys) and started putting out tracks. Then Marble Bar hooked up with Apeman Records and Super Dense Child was asked to do a 10". It was a nine-minute scratch track called 'Bedroom Twiddling'. Although I wasn't officially part of Super Dense Child I had been practising my scratching and they asked me to come into the studio with them and scratch on the track."
From then on he started getting more and more into scratching and production. "It took a good couple of years of me practising and messing around, figuring out what it was I exactly wanted to do. At the same time I was doing interviews and reviews for online Hip Hop magazines/sites Vinyl Exchange and Urban Smarts, interviewing well known UK Hip Hop DJs like Mr Thing and Prime Cuts. Through doing that I got in touch with Tom Brown who runs Lex Records [a highly rated Hip Hop offshoot of WARP]"
"They started off with a compilation 12" called 'Lexoleum' and Tom was into some of the stuff I was sending him and one of my tracks, 'Haunted Hair Piece', appeared on the third Lexoleum comp and later the Lexoleum CD. At the same time I was spending a lot of time in Sheffield, having moved back from University. Through Mark at The Store (Sheffield record shop) I hooked up with the Sheffield label '7 Hills' who liked my stuff and put it out on a 7" at the start of 2003."
The 7 Hills 7" is superb, not your usual Hip Hop (a term that sums up Waxfactor's style), the tracks utilise beautiful beats and at times melodies that are complimented by Pete's funky cutting. Waxfactor also appears on a Posse Cut (a track featuring a number of DJs all taking turns to scratch) on 'The Rise EP' by DJ 2Tall, the first release on the Needlework label. 'The Posse Cut' is truly superb. Starting with Waxfactor they take turns to cut over a big arsed funky bass line and beat. A rough count totalled 13 DJs including Mista Ed and the scratching is just awesome - you have to hear it to appreciate it. "In March 2004 I've got an EP coming out called 'Game Face'. It will be the next release on Needlework and will contain eight tracks (two intros and six full tracks) - one of the tracks will be with Mista Ed and I'm working on more electronic based tracks, playing stuff myself and moving away from samples a bit more. There are plans for Nick from Super Dense Child to start a label linked to Battlecake and hopefully I should have some stuff coming out on that. Also I'm involved in a more organic-electronic project, which sounds pretentious but isn't, with a friend of mine called Andy who is in a band called Polanski. He plays loads of instruments and the project we have got going is called 'The Amublance Chasers'. It combines electronic with live Rhodes and bass etc as well as scratching". Definitely one to watch.
Mista ED a.k.a. Ed Williams, 24 , and from Bradford, has been scratching since 1991. Completely dedicated to scratching and determined to play it his way, a key moment was the inclusion of his track on the seminal Return of The DJ series - Volume 5. "Unlike most Hip Hop DJs I learnt to scratch to house and disco. I wasn't really aware of the Hip Hop/DJ-ing connection until 1996 when I saw a DMC video. The main thing though was scratching - it's always been about scratching. I prefer freestyling and doing it live, travelling and jamming with other DJs and musicians rather than battling and rehearsing routines." How did he get involved with other people in the scene? "I hooked up with DJ Blakey over the internet, and in turn he put me in touch with the online communities. From there I met up with other local heads and also organised jams and sessions with DJs from all over the country. I started circulating my stuff through the forums, and also entering (and winning) competitions, which led to my music being played on Turntable Radio. In terms of DJing I tend to play low-key events in Bradford and private parties, and have recently begun to do shows with the MC and beatboxer Mr No. Bradford doesn't have a particular scene but there is stuff going on 'underground' that's a whole mishmash of music and styles. I can get away with playing crazy shit like '80s pop."
"There's a group of guys called the 'Audio Kinetics Crew' and they put on a lot of nights, they are really supportive of what I am doing."
"I'm working on the track with Pete (Waxfactor) for his EP on Needlework and also on a track with DJ Short-e (a female turntabilist from Bridgwater) as well as some tracks of my own. There's talk of some other projects with DJ Timestretch (also on Return of the DJ 5), DJ Quest and DJ Rogue - so possibly some crew things going on. There's a bit of distance between us (they are all from Bristol) but hopefully we can sort something out. The track with Short-e is sort of a concept track about ourselves through scratching. We have a very similar approach to things, and the track is taking shape very nicely. I've had some really positive feedback from the people that have heard it so far. There are a couple of labels that have expressed some interest, and we will certainly be pushing to get this out in some form. I'm hoping to do more music with Pete as well.