Turntablism: Is scratching a dying artform?
It’s no secret that the electronic music scene has absolutely exploded within the last decade, and hand-in-hand with it, the technology behind it. Before beat-matching assistance like Serato and Ableton, DJ’s were left to meticulously match tempos and merge songs carefully using only their fingers, turntables and dark shiny vinyl. Ere to the technology surge, DJs spent hours searching for the perfect record in actual record stores, locking themselves in basements and teaching themselves how to cut and scratch samples throughout their mixes. Turntablism was a true art form that took hours of dedication, manipulation and frustration. However, nowadays scratching appears to be taking a back seat to live sets which now highlight guest musicians, elating visuals and gimmicks like flashy helmets. This raises the question: Is scratching a dying artform?
The technical ability behind scratching is undoubtedly impressive. If you’ve ever owned a record player you understand the dexterity and care it takes to put the needle on the record at the beginning of a specific song and how stressful it can be for the first couple of seconds hoping that you made the right move. Perfect placement demands a steady hand and a lot of concentration. So, when you then have to perfectly merge two songs together the room for error is next to none, unless of course you want to play something that resembles having two Youtube tabs open at the same time… no thanks. Now add in the ability to stop, start and maneuver multiple records at the same time using only your two hands? That’s artistry and true talent.
Cutting and scratching brings authenticity, dexterity and variation to both live and recorded sets. Let’s be honest, in the ocean of DJs available today you could dip a spoon in and pull one out who has impeccable track selection and Ableton abilities, but DJs who can scratch set themselves apart from an otherwise oversaturated roster of professional artists. “Although you still hear some scratching in mainstream music and other media today, I think the scratching community has somewhat returned to the underground scene. In the mainstream I think it is portrayed as a cheap gimmick and the respect for the turntablist art form has been lost” says Slynk, an agile scratcher out of Australia. He adds that he believes “the reason behind this is the mystery surrounding scratching and turntablism…people don’t actually understand how this scratch sound is created…it seems simple when you see it done but it’s actually a very deep rabbit hole of delicate and creative movements and patterns,” shares Slynk.
Funny, because when you’re watching him at one of his upbeat funky glitch-hop shows twisting and turning his wrists on the decks with a massive grin on his face, you wouldn’t guess how incredibly tricky it really is. True turntablists show their skill during live sets, on decks, in front of hundreds of fans. An incorrect flip of the wrist can create a trainwreck which can derail the entire crowd and, although good for the venue, clear the dance floor and send them running for the bar. There is a lot of risk involved in this technique but once mastered, can allow a DJ to pay tribute to their favourite artists by blending together multiple tracks at once while layering unique scratching ingenuity. Scratch artists are part of a niche sector; if everyone could do it it wouldn’t be as respected or valued as a skill. If you want to see true turntablism at play check out this amazing video below of DJ Craze from the article “World Champion DJ Ridicules David Guetta, Steve Aoki, Paris Hilton and Others” written by Matthew Meadow for YOUREDM.
To be a DJ in the current –dare I call it– EDM scene is to a) have impeccable track selection and b) exceptional technical skills. So why has it become more of an underground niche? Perhaps the emergence of new technology, and disappearance of the turntable is to blame? Scratching is “just one aspect of being a DJ I think”, said Mat the Alien of Whistler, BC. I see scratching “less and less these days as the turntable is less in use. People play on Ableton, CDJs and controllers which are amazing too and don’t get the problems that turntables would in big bass settings, but it stands out more when people are on turntables. I like the combo of the turntable and Serato–it gives the best of both worlds with a traditional set up that you can manipulate by hand but also utilize the technology of cue points, loops, effects and having your whole music library at hand.” With the assistance of DJing software, perhaps time isn’t an issue nor is technology the problem. According to Mat, it appears as though DJing technology can assist new artists in learning how to scratch instead of impeding it.
When you think of world-famous DJs like Deadmaus and Steve Aoki, scratching skills don’t come to mind. Instead, their stage production, marketing and producing expertise are at the forefront. Is it that DJs are now spending more time on social media, pumping up their likes and followers instead of practicing technical skills? Or are they locked away in their studios creating auditory masterpieces, track by track? I guess the answer to this is subjective, what do you think?
Not everyone that knows how to scratch stick with it either but the work ethic is there. For certain artists their hardworking nature and timeless passion translates into other aspects of their shows that they deem important, whether it be production, stage design, lighting, you name it… either way the effort pays off, and we’re gifted with some epic shows. Turntablists can often be perfectionists which makes learning even more difficult: “it takes time and dedication, hours and hours of practice” says Mat the Alien. For those interested in learning how to scratch Mat suggests “like anything else it just takes time and dedication, study the innovators and people who came up with all this stuff, Q-Bert’s School is one great resource.”
Turntablism is undoubtedly a spectator’s dream and the crew here at Betty and Kora want to give shout outs to some of our favorite scratch artists: Krafty Kuts has been absolutely killing it long before our little dancing toes even entered the scene while JFB, A-Trak and A-Skillz are on our list of champions. Other local favourites include Mat the Alien, Slynk, The Gaff, and Vinyl Richie while Mat himself shared that Dj Hype, Mark XTC, Intallex , Qbert and The Scratch were his top four.
Although scratching abilities no longer appear to be at the top of the list when it comes to festival and club night rosters, there are still some epic battles that have taken place, such as Mat’s favourite X-Men vs Invisibl Skratch Piklz – 1996 I.T.F. Team Battle. On Thursday February 25th at Distrikt Nightclub in Victoria, come check out a live battle between DJ Scratch, Mat the Alien, Vinyl Ritchie, DJ Pump, Dj ILLO and Murge [Click here for details]. The night boasts “No CD’s, no MP3’s, no Laptops, Just 45’s & good vibes. It features some of North America’s most prolific record collectors and turntablists”.
Come find Kalisi Luv and let her know what your thoughts are on the art of scratching. Is it a dying art? Are DJs spending more time on social media instead of in the studio? Tell us your thoughts! In fact, we want to know your thoughts so badly we are offering some free tickets so check out Kalisi Luv’s instagram or Facebook page for details.
WORDS: Kalisi Luv & Murphy Gold
im desperate to find an event, gig or festival that show cases hip hop culture several turntablist in one place break dance ect that isnt competion formated just show casing the turntablism music and the culture in a sort a chill vibe rather than a set formation any one know of anything like that
Stumble upon this article and it was great to read it.
I was involved at a young age with the art and the competitions.
Technology is pushing the genre very quickly since 10 years and the new generation does things in a different way.
As long as there will be the last turntablist on earth, (maybe me lol) it won’t die.
I doubt turntablism was ever hugely ‘popular’ per se – it’s always been somewhat underground, even when the DMC and ITF battles were cranking it was always a niche thing. But it’s true that with the development of digital DJing and EDM etc that the turntable has become far less used or popular even with DJ’s. I still use 1200’s but I’m 40 and it seems normal since I learned with vinyl. I’m guessing there are very few DJ’s under 30 now that even use turntables?
Captain Crunch is another great DJ right now that scratches deserves props
Great article! Little surprised no mention of DJ All Good from Nanaimo, The Turntemple and his latest win at the DMC’s and his views.
This is the first I’ve heard of him, I’ll have to connect and get some details for my follow up article. Thank you for your recommendation!
This is a great read.
It’s alive and well. go to http://skratcher.net one love!
Thank you for this great resource, I’ll have to set up a Q&A with the hosts!
What the ? Skratching is on the biggest come up since 1999….. Maybe look for music in other places than festivals…. Go to a Skratcher jam! There is one in every major city monthly in Canada plus , LA, Miami , Detroit,Chicago , New Jersey , Madrid Spain and Athens Greece …. All started by 4 guys in Vancouver.
The above article focuses more on the EDM scene/Music Festivals which clearly is not a good representation of the scratch scene itself, so thank you for shedding light on this. I plan on writing a follow up article and am headed to Spain this summer so will try to hit up Madrid and a Scratch comp! Thank you for your insights! Any other suggestions?