“YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW”Mixmaster DJ Qbert explains how to learn the art of scratching and reveals details about the comeback of his legendary turntable band Invisibl Skratch Piklz
DJ Qbert manipulates his record player like Clapton plays guitar. It says ‘Richard Quitevis’ in the 43-year-old Californian’s passport, but he will forever be known as one of the greatest turntablists of all time. He is a three-time former world DJ champion, and founding member of Invisibl Skratch Piklz, a group that caused quite a sensation in the 1990s by playing turntables instead of traditional instruments. Next month the original scratch band will release its first album in 20 years, which the DJs will present as special guests at the Red Bull Thre3style finals in Tokyo.
THE RED BULLETIN: What musical instrument is most like a set of decks?
DJ Qbert: The piano, because with one hand you’re doing the rhythm, and the other being the lead.
Is scratching hard on the wrists and fingers?
It can be. That’s why you should always take breaks. Gentle massages and stretches are important, like when runners before competition are hopping up and down. Brisk movements and being loose are important.
Is there a record beginners should scratch with?
A standard record a lot of DJs use is one called Super Seal Breaks. It’s a record made for scratching, perfect for practising with. [It’s also a DJ Qbert production.]
What advice would you give to wannabe DJs?
When I was a teenager, I always remembered what Jimi Hendrix said about learning guitar: “If you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded.” It’s banal but it’s so true, especially for DJs.
When you started scratching in 1985, turntablism was still in its infancy. How did you learn your craft?
At that time there were no videos, but I knew about Mixmaster Ice. He was the DJ of an old-school hip hop group called UTFO. I bought all of their records and every time they would have a little scratch solo on a track, I would listen to that part really close, sometimes for months, and try to figure out what he was doing. It was like watching a magician trying to figure out, how does he do that magic trick.
The deejaying world is very competitive, as you know from having won the world championship three times yourself. Why do you share your tricks with the competition?
I used to read spiritual books when I was a teenager and I was impressed by the notion of karma: “You reap what you sow.” So that’s why I started teaching young DJs my skills early on. That gave my creativity an enormous boost.
So it’s all about cosmic balance?
Well, you automatically improve by performing your tricks. Plus it gets you thinking about your technique, and that in turn gives you new ideas. You only get better by interacting with others. And quite aside from all that, there’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing the smile of a pupil the moment something clicks. Working with someone is more satisfying than competing against them.
How was recording the new Invisibl Skratch Piklz album?
Shortkut, D-Styles and me, we put our heads together at the Red Bull Studios in Tokyo and it was amazing. The other two put a lot of music together and I had a great time scratching on top of all the stuff. These guys are geniuses, I’m really blessed to be in a group with them.
Turntable as an art form has been around for over 20 years. Are there still new things to explore?
We’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. Turntablism isn’t even in kindergarten yet. There are still a zillion of new things and tricks to discover, it’s crazy. Wait until you hear the new album …