The State of Turntablism/Skratch Music in 2011: Part 2 with Christie Z Pabon, DJ Slyce, DJ Quest, Snayk Eyez, DJ ALF, DJ Needlz, ThatKidNamedCee, & Jimmy The Hideous Penguin

Posted by Billyjam, October 7, 2011 12:26pm | Post a Comment
Coinciding with the ongoing 2011 DMC World DJ Championships happening currently in London, England at the 02 Arena's Indig02 this is the second in a two-part Amoeblog series on the current state of turntablism/skratch music (here's yesterday's Amoeblog). Note that the results for the DMC World DJ Championship battles (which end by midnight Friday, Oct 7th, UK time = 4pm West Coast time) will be published tomorrow in the Hip-Hop Weekly Rap Up Amoeblog. As you know turntablism is a musical form born out of hip-hop by the DJ but not given an actual name until  the mid nineties when DJ Babu coined the term turntablism to describe the DJ as a turntable manipulation artist - one as worthy of respect as any other musical instrumentalist. By that stage I personally had already been a convert for a good decade and a half to this infectious component of hip-hop music. In fact when I first heard hip-hop in its formative days I was drawn more to the DJ than the MC. And ever since I've been hooked on the sound of scratching and spellbound by beat juggling and all the other skilled moves that the DJ as mixer & turntable master so effortlessly throws down. To me this musical style, unique to hip-hop and whose pioneers included Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Grand Wizzard Theodore (creator of the scratch), has always been deserving of its own genre or at least sub-genre.  And as a diehard fan and supporter of DJ scratching from hip-hop's earliest days when I first heard in the late 70's through all the years later up to and beyond including that point when QBert altered the spelling of the word from scratch to skratch, I have thoroughly enjoyed closely following its evolvement; warmly witnessing turntablim/skratch music's creative growth as it blossomed with a seemingly never ending array of new sounds generated by an ever-progressing arsenal of new styles and techniques been added to this vibrant art form. 

In those years I have also witnessed the music go through its highs and lows; not from a creative stance but from one of mainstream acceptance. And as someone who, from the mid 80's onwards, presented  hip-hop DJs as turntable manipulators on the various radio shows I produced and as someone who, in the latter 90s to early 00's, had an active record label (Hip Hop Slam) that cranked out a slew of skratch/turntablist releases, I encountered firsthand both the positive and negative reactions to this music.

At best people loved it like I did and embraced and treasured all its beautiful nuances and most (not all) could enjoy it equally listening to it without seeing how the turntable/mixer manipulations are generated. At worst however the reaction was - one akin to the distasteful feedback freeform jazz once got - one of impatience with a hip-hop form that had no MCs in it or lacked the traditional song structure that coddled ears were accustomed to. Or as one angered listener loudly complained on the KUSF studio phone line back in 1992 when I had DJs QBert, Apollo, and Disk come in and do a jaw dropping live freestyle turntable orchestration; "Why don't you play the whole song and stop all this scratching?!"  Indeed, even with so-called hip-hop fans, all the scratching was making them bitch. It still is too. Sadly that prejudice, within hip-hop, towards this incredible sub-genre exists to this day. Hence I wanted to reach out to people on the frontlines - including a round table discussion with four active turntablists/skratch artists - to get a feel for where they feel their art is at in 2011. Is it at a high point or low? Is it enjoying a renaissance thanks to active global scene and the renewed interested in the DMC battles of late or the great reception to the recent Fader Fest with a reunited QBert, Shortkut, & D-Styles and the upcoming QBert and Mixmaster Mike turntables reunion at the Independent in SF? 

To determine the state of turntablism today I talked with several folks - mostly DJs - to get their take on the art form itself and its acceptance in 2011. In addition to the six DJs interviewed I also talked to the one person who, above all, should have the best take on the subject, Christie Z Pabon who is the DMC USA Event Coordinator. Since the 1990's Christie Z  has been a major ambassador of the turntable arts through her invaluable work at both the DMC (when she temporarily departed the organization for a few years it seemed to go downhill without her) and also through the company that she co-founded with her, famed & equally passionate about hip-hop, husband Jorge Fabel Pabon (aka PopMaster Fabel) Tools of War which (among a myriad of other things) produces the premier annual summer park hip-hop event in the Big Apple True School Summer NYC Park Jam Series (with an emphasis on the DJ). Perhaps more than anyone else Christie Z has her finger on the pulse on what is happening in turntalbism on a broad global level since she is constantly dealing with DJs - from young battle DJs preparing to do their first DMC regional to seasoned vets like Grandwizzard Theodore (one of the many artists she represents). "I think turntablism is on the "come back" in the US - but we are definitely not where we were at in the late 90s' yet. I can't really say for the rest of the world. At least Europe has two major DJ battles, DMC and IDA and fun events like Community Skratch Games. I think the love of scratching remains high," said the DMC USA Event Coordinator earlier this week before heading over to the UK for the DMC World Championships happening yesterday and today. 

I wondered if Christie saw a direct correlation between the level of skills at DMC DJ battles and that of the caliber of turntablist productions and recordings? "I would like to hope that DMC battles directly correlate but I can't say for sure. I can say at least since I've returned to DMC USA in 2008, the skill level of the battle DJ's entering DMC DJ Battles in the USA has increased. And with the announcement that DVS like Scratch Live and more were allowed in the classic six minute showcase style battle; it has increased 100%, with some of our favorite battle DJs, who had since retired, returning to the battle, like our top 3 in the 2011 DMC US Finals: First: DJ Vajra,  Second: I-Dee (a DMC US Supremacy Champ)  Third: Precision (DMC US Champ)."

Veteran San Francisco turntable artist DJ Quest, who is about to release his new album Cosmic Parasite, noted that in 2011 turntablism has become more complex and mulit-faceted than ever. "There's so many scenes now. There's the online scene, the live battle scene, and the session scene," offered Quest, noting that, "On the other hand not a whole lot of people are releasing music with scratching which is another reason why I felt I had to put out something with scratching right now." And while Quest says he sees turntablism & skratch music making somewhat of a comeback currently it still has a ways to go before the average music fan fully appreciate it. "Where skratch music is at right now is kind of weird cos it is not very defined. Looking at the participants in the DMC's; there is a lot of great talent out there now," said Quest adding, "But it is just DJ music. So how do we seperate it so that the average music lover, who doesn't give a rat's ass about patterns, can enjoy scratch music again - like back in the day with Jazzy Jeff?" Quest feels like it is coming back to that point even if it is a slow return. "Yeah it's coming back to that point where DJing was in '88, or '89 where you had Cash Money and CJ Mackintosh when those battle were held in arenas. It's picking up wind again with battles in bigger places," said Quest. While Quest concedes that turntablism as a skill and art, "went over peoples' heads ten years ago but now people understand it a bit more," he warns that, "It's important to remember that while underground is good, sometimes underground means we didn't succeed."

A month ago, on September 3rd at Mezzanine in San Francisco, Thud Rumble presented the big Fader Fest DJ showcase that (among other things) reunited the Invisibl Skratch Piklz's QBert, D-Styles, & Shortkut together for the first time in a decade. The overwhelmingly positive reception to Fader Fest seemed to prove that turntablism is in a most healthy state right now. I asked DJ Snayk Eyez, who was a part of the sold out production, what his take on the big night was and to break it down for folks who may have missed it. "Fader Fest had some of the world's best DJ's in the lineup like two time DMC World Champion DJ Shiftee, who was awesome with his turntablist skills along with his demo of using a midi controller with Traktor. Then there was this year's DMC USA Champion DJ Vajra, who maintained the true form of turntablism. His scratch drumming to Black Sheep's "The Choice Is Yours" is still one of my most favorite routines of his. The [Finger] Bangerz have evolved into these crazy musicians and are running things right now, remix after remix after remix. And of course there's the legendary Invisibl Skratch Piklz. They've been the most influencial DJ's in the past couple of decades now and they're still going strong," said Snayk Eyez noting that those in attendance, "consisted of mostly DJ's that have been ISP fans since the beginning. I saw lots of familiar faces that I have not seen in many years and it was great to catch up. Hopefully events like Fader Fest will inspire more DJ's to start scratching and battling again, especially ones (including myself) who put DJing aside to handle the other aspects of their lives. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing the Qbert and Mixmaster Mike reunion" on November 11th at The Independent in San Francisco.

Two time US DMC Champ, from both '97 and '08, DJ Slyce offered his take on the state of skratch music right now. He said that he thinks that turntablism is heading towards another renaissance - like in the 90's - and also brought up the key topic of women's involvement in the art. "When I went to the [DMC] Worlds in 2008, that place was huge and it was packed and it was a big deal. Those people were ready to see some shit and they were a hot crowd," enthused Slyce. "I went to the USA Finals this year and the club was packed more than last year. And the biggest difference; more women in attendance! Me and Christie Z laughed about finding out if the women were dragged by their boyfriends or if they actually came to see some zigga ziggas," noted Slyce adding, "The days seem to be falling behind where the battles in the US were a complete sausage-fest. It's just up to the competitors to keep the battles interesting to keep these crowds coming back. That will grow and eventually turntablism will be back on TV and the general public will "get it." Actually when women start competing in battles more, then it will be at its high point. Right now, it seems that women that Ive seen, and talked to that are DJ's don't have the patience to learn the techniques.

They just want the skills to show up to them overnight. I actually had one lady DJ ask me to make a routine for her so she can make it in the Worlds," said Slyce, reiterating the point; "Did you get that? She asked me to do the creation part for her! I'll take a pause for the hard workin battle cats to ponder and get riled up on that one. This one didn't care anymore that the whole idea of the battle is to show off what you came up with. I asked her, 'You have no intention on learning the skills yourself? Do you even understand you'd never be able to learn a complex routine that I make?' It seriously made me a little sad but then I'm like oh, well she just totally gave up trying. Thank goodness I haven't heard from her again, that really threw me for a loop. Ive seen many other female tablists that can scratch their asses off but couldnt come up with decent juggle routines for battle. Those women need to go more mainstream so other women can want to learn. They're mostly Canadian for some reason. Is it something in the water?"

Finally I caught up with turntablists to interview them in depth of a series of identical questions. These DJs are both performing artists and recording artists and each of them has released a skratch/turntablist album in recent months. They include DJ ALF from Maryland, DJ Needlz from Mississippi, ThatKidNamedCee from Texas, and Jimmy the Hideous Penguin (aka Jimmy Penguin from Vince Mack Mahon turntablist quartet) from Galway, Ireland. The latest release from Jimmy Penguin, who is one of the key organizers of the aforementioned Community Skratch Games, is more on the punk rock tip than most of previous body of work.  More detailed information on the artists themselves and their respective recent releases appear immediately below following the round table discussion on the state of turntablism today.

Amoeblog: Where are you from originally and where do you live now?

DJ Needlz: I'm originally from Greenville, Mississippi and now I live in Greenville, Mississippi. I was living in Houston, Texas. But my father passed away a year ago. I moved back to help my mom

ThatKidNamedCee: Born in Houston, Texas and still live there.

DJ ALF: I'm originally from Annapolis, Maryland but now reside in a small town south of Washington D.C. called Prince Frederick in Maryland

Jimmy Penguin: I've lived in the West of Ireland since I was very young and it'll always be my base.

Amoeblog: Is where you live now the best place to be for what you do musically or is there somewhere else in US that is better?

DJ Needlz: No, here in Greenville they don't know what turntablism is or what turntablist means. I feel it's better for turntablism in New York or Cali.

ThatKidNamedCee: No it's not really a good place for turntablism at all. I feel that right now California is the best place for it. Hopefully I can travel out there soon.

DJ ALF: In terms of music, I would rather be in SF Bay Area or somewhere stateside. Overseas, I would rather be in either Japan or Ireland.

Jimmy Penguin: It's perfect [here] for me; people are open minded so they come to our events and just enjoy good music for what it is. Besides that my only complaint is that there are too many musicians to collaborate with; it's hard to find the time. But that's a good thing. I wouldn't live any other place in Ireland unless I had a very good reason to. And doing music I get to see a lot the country so I don't feel I miss out.

Amoeblog: I know that there has always been a certain prejudice but what do you think is the general attitude nowadays towards a "skratch album" or a "turntablist/producer" album?  Is it good or bad?

DJ Needlz: I feel that the attitude towards skratch albums or turntablist/producer albums is both good and bad because [it's] good when they hear our skratch albums or skratch production, and they're like "Thats dope!" And it's bad, because it's not in the mainstream anymore like it used to be. If our music isn't being played on MTV or BET, we're not known.

ThatKidNamedCee: As far as general attitude, it is good. The problem is that the masses dont know about skratch music. Us turntablists have no media outlet except the Internet. It's hard to reach as many people as someone like Lil Wayne does. He has mass media support.

DJ ALF: Going by what I've been reading and seeing for myself, it seems as though the fan base isn't that big like it used to be in from the mid 90's to like around 2005.  However, there are still the diehard skratch nerds out there in the world who are still craving for the scratch albums/exclusive songs.  The reason I say that is because last May while I was out in L.A. I attended a Rob Swift show and it seems that there was huge number of new generation hip-hop heads that are catching on to what was going on earlier in the DJ world.  Big ups to Rob Swift for keeping the "turntablist/producer" type albums alive.

Jimmy Penguin: I get great feedback from my music and there are more and more DJs making turntable compositions these days in many different styles. The Community Skratch Tour, which happens every year in August, gives us a chance to meet some of these guys. I think most of the people who are enthusiastic about scratching aren't too bothered with the musical side of it so it's about getting the music out to everyone else at the end of the day.

Amoeblog: How long did you work on this album for?

DJ Needlz: It took me a year on this album because I wasn't sure whether to release it or not because the way the hip-hop game was going. It seemed like turntablists weren't getting booked. It's was more in favor of the party DJ's.

ThatKidNamedCee: All together, about 6 months.

DJ ALF: I worked on my latest EP Vintage off and on for roughly six months.

Jimmy Penguin: I just finished recording a punk album by a local band 'Violins is not the answer', and mixed and mastered The Sunny EP by Big Dave aka Enlish, a rapper from the UK. My last EP was released on the 4th of April. I started it in March, I'm pretty sure, and the main tracks on it took two weeks each with other tracks taking as little as a day to make.

Amoeblog: About what percentage of your album's recording was purely turntable based?

DJ Needlz: Pure turntable based was only 50%. 50% was skratch voice samples, sound effects, sample basslines, and the other 50% was drum beats and samples from my iPhone apps (laughs).

ThatKidNamedCee: The "Star Wars" track is 100% skratch. The other tracks have beats made by MPC or other beat making software, and all the other effects, skratches, sample drops, etc. are all done with the turntable. So 50% I guess!

DJ ALF: Roughly 50% of the album was made with the Vestax Controller 1 turntable.

Jimmy Penguin: The last track from that EP is called 'Logger' has cuts but it's used sparingly throughout the track as a glitch percussion sound. My last releases have been focused more on electronic stuff or else sample based stuff. There is some stuff coming out soon; one EP with lots of scratching and some guests on there, and another based around my more recent production style but playing stuff back through the turntables.

Do you distinguish between vinyl records manipulations and Serato or other digital computer, generated turntable manipulations?

DJ Needlz: To me, The difference between vinyl and Serato manipulations is the sound. Vinyl sounds like the real thing. For example if you sample a bird's chirping, it really sounds like a birds is chirping. But for Serato it sounds digital; like it's not real. Just my thoughts, but I still use both vinyl and Serato.

ThatKidNamedCee: Nope. As long as you demonstrate skratch skill and respect for the art, I see no difference.

DJ ALF: Not really all that picky between the vinyl record manipulations and DVS manipulations.  I'm picky about sound quality though.  Honestly I can't stand listening to mixes that are made with a DVS using crappy sounding files.

Jimmy Penguin: Yeah I do; one is a black disc shaped thing with music printed on it, that a lot of love probably went into at one stage or another. And the other is a piece of technology that lets DJs use a turntable based emulation system to playback audio files from their computer. I've used digital DJing software since the late 90's. I never class them as the same which is why I hate [when] people give out about digital DJing. The classic complaint is 'it's not the same.' It was never meant to be the same! Look at it this way; if someone wants to spend loads of money on equipment instead of records; just to do something you could have done with two records and some inovation, then go for it, but for me it's about using technology to go further, not just to make things easier.

Amoeblog: What do you think makes your album different from other turntablist / producer albums out there?

DJ Needlz: I wanted to make this skratch album different by using hip-hop beats like the South beats like Lil Wayne, Drake or DJ Khaled - using some old-school rNb, soul, or old-school classic music like Doris Day, and bring back that head-nodding beat with dope old-school skratch & up-to-date skratches plus that 808 bump.

ThatKidNamedCee: I had contributions of beatmakers from many different countries on it. I tried my best to make it a worldwide showcase for our art. For example, I have a Spanish track on there that DJ Mil from Spain collaborated with me on.

DJ ALF: I can't really think of anything at the moment.  Maybe I can say that I used each of the functions of the Controller 1 at least once on the EP.

Jimmy Penguin: I don't normally use vocal samples and other classic sounds etc. I try and paint a picture with music instead.

Amoeblog: Who are your role models?

DJ Needlz: My role models first are my mom and dad because they worked hard for what they have, and I took that into turntablism. Other role models are DJ Rob Swift, DJ QBert, GrandMaster Roc Raida, Total Eclipse, D-Styles, Mista Sinsta, DJ Precision and other other turntablist out there.

ThatKidNamedCee: D-Styles, Rob Swift, MixMaster Ice, GrandMixer DXT, Joe Cooley and so many others who came before me.

DJ ALF: I have loads of them; D-Styles, Rob Swift, Mike Boo, Afrika Bambaata, J-Rocc, Ruckazoid, Questosahn [DJ Quest]. All the DJ's in the Bay Area I've met and have not met in person.  There's just a lot of people who are a big influence to me in music in general. 
Jimmy Penguin: Oslo Flow, Grandeurs of Delusion, Naive Ted, The Person.

Amoeblog: What, in your opinion, is the best/ultmimate turntabist recording/album?

DJ Needlz: In my opinion the best/ultmimate turntabist recording/album was D-Styles' Phantazmagorea album, because that album was all turntables, records and mixer; no Serato, Traktor scratch, Torq, all non digital!

ThatKidNamedCee: There are two that I like the best: D-Styles' Phantazmagorea and Rob Swift's War Games.

DJ ALF: D-Styles' Phantazmagorea because it pretty much was the stepping stone in creating an entire album using a turntable.

Jimmy Penguin: Send In The Hounds by Naive Ted which I just released on Community Skratch Music back in April as part of the Community Skratch Games 5th anniversary; it comes with a 12 inch with color artwork pull out, and it's available as a pay what you like download from Bandcamp with some new remixes. [check out the links below]

Amoeblog: Do you see a renaissance in turntablism/scratch music right now? And if so, what are some of the contributing factors to this renaissance?

DJ Needlz: Me, I say no because the general public really doesn't understand what we do on the turntables. One day, they will. Have to bring it back!

ThatKidNamedCee: Yes! There is a worldwide renaissance of the art. We just need exposure and support! We have the talent. As far as the contributing factors to this renaissance; the internet has been a big help. We all - of all the different countries - link up with each other via the web. We're making a big splash and gaining recognition. But we need other outlets to regain the attention of the masses!

DJ ALF: I see a renaissance in turntablism/scratch music coming about slowly. Some of the contributing factors are the monthly shows happening around the world such as Skratchpad in San Francisco and Scratch Lounge in Seattle, just to name a few.  Also, again peeps such as Rob Swift who still tours around the world displaying the magic of the turntable to the younger generation.

Jimmy Penguin: Yes, our Robot Army is nearly fully functional and the Community Skratch war is scheduled to start December 2012. Some people have finally realized that they can do turntable music for themselves and without strictly competitive motivations

Amoeblog: Any shout-outs?

DJ Needlz: I'd like to give shouts to DJ Rob Swift, DJ Total Eclipse, DJ Precision, my partner in crime ThatKidNamedCee, DJ QBert, D-Styles, DJ Notorious, DJ Tek-Fusion, Buck 50 Kutters; Dj D-Official, Dj Dopeman and Dj Dre-Mayes, you (Billy Jam) for the interview and all the supporters of turntable music.

Shouts to my crew, The Skratchlife Crew (myself, DocJeezy, DJ Needlz, DJ Dexxx, and Psykhomantus), to the Beat4Battle squad worldwide, and just a shout to anyone who supports what I do.

DJ ALF: All the people who were involved in someway or fashion for the Positive Omen Japan Tour 2011, DnZ, Questosahn, Mista-B, Tyron Daniels, Tomokuni, Alex Aguilar, Shux Wun, Earl Louis, Vestax, Rane, Innofader, Lawson's, Family Mart, Sayaka Soma, Dawgisht, Billy Jam, Robert Young, all the DJ's on the East and West Coast, Europe, and Asia whom have interacted with me in some fashion whom are a big influence to me musically and spiritually throughout my walk in life.

Jimmy Penguin: No


In the past few months each of these profiled DJs released skratch music CDs - all of them excellent compositions that I highly recommend you track down and listen to.

DJ Needlz recently released the ten-track CD Expressions Of A Turntable (The Revisit) on which
he handles most of the production and composition. However on the hidden bonus track (#11) the FakeHunters ("a group on turntablist producers from France, who worked with a bunch of emcees
and DJs") join him. To keep up DJ Needlz follow him via Twitter, Facebook or this Facebook.
He also has a YouTube channel and a Mixcrate page. And for bookings hit him up via email at [email protected]

ThatKidNamedCee's recently released the Promo Skratch EP (with dope cover artwork is courtesy of Fabot from Belgium) features a lot of contributors. These include DJ Mil, SDeluxe & DJ Gush from Spain, Famelik, MLP, Shabb'z and DJ Alks from France, and the US turntable artists DJ Needlz and Spores. Follow ThatKidNamedCee on Twitter: and on Facebook:

DJ ALF, who recently returned from the intensive one-week Hip Hop Slam presents Positive Omen  tour of Japan with DnZ, DJ Quest, and Mista B, a couple of months ago released his second official release; the Vintage EP. In addition to his own amazing turntable manipulations and beat creations
it also features contributions from DJ Mumbles, Dawgisht, Dunn-D of OkiZoo, DJ Quest, Roughneck Jihad of Third Sight, and Matt Gamin of Lurk Music. Keep up with DJ ALF on his website Lab Insomnia. Check out the Japan Tour Blog, or peep the videos for Positive Omen Tour Part 1
and Positive Omen Tour Part 2.

Jimmy The Hideous Penguin is both a prolific solo artist and member of the renowned Irish turntablist
crew Vince Mack Mahon. Constantly busy in pursuit of his art he oversees both NOZL Recordings and  Community Skratch Music - the label born from the touring skratch event of the same name that he also is heavily involved in. Get Jimmy's music via Soundcloud and cop the just released Alkalinear Compilation, and note that Jimmy is "constantly updating mixes, videos, and albums on this label also." For The Sunny Side EP  and to follow Vince Mack Mahon's up to date happenings visit Facebook.

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