Turntable Instrumentalist

My turntable shifu DJ Koflow has a music video out of him skateboarding and scratching through the central business district of Singapore. Local hip-hop musicians really have to hustle to get much acknowledgement or recognition over here so I’m pimping the video here just because.


To be honest though (and I said this to him already), I’d prefer to see more of him doing his thang and less of Allan Wu’s face. Here’s a video I took at a free gig he did back in March at the Esplanade. More scratching, less Allan Wu = WIN.

Ho Selecta

Alec is in Sydney on a business trip, and is spoiling me as usual by offering to buy me some records. While he did a pretty decent job of choosing stuff on his own the last time, picking music for someone else really is a tough job (even when that someone isn’t the picky, snobbish bitch I am) and I wanted to make it easier on him this time by giving him a usable list. A little Googling led me to The Record Store, which usefully lists some of its inventory online, so I looked through what they had, made my list and emailed it off to him.

I looked through the list again today, and suddenly realized that I’ve inadvertently set Alec up for a Simpsonsesque conversation with the record store staff, like so:

Hee. I do feel a bit bad about this, but I figure he should just be grateful I’m not into DJ Assault. Also, not all the records on my list have such loaded titles. Some are totally un-embarrassing to ask for, like Humpty Dance.

Beau Selecta

Alec asked if he could bring me anything back from Ireland.

Sadly, my first request for my Holy Grail concealer (Almay’s Amazing Lasting) couldn’t be fulfilled, because the product’s been discontinued.

My second request was for vinyl records. Since finishing my lessons with Koflow, I’ve neither practised nor made any progress on researching a decks purchase. The latter because I’m still hung up about how it will be THE MOST EXPENSIVE THINGY I WILL EVAR HAVE BOUGHT, and the former because I feel bad about always having to borrow Koflow’s records every time I practise.

To facilitate Alec’s task, I sent him a list to work with. When he showed it to the record store guy, the record store guy gently explained that although the stuff on the list was really great and diverse, it was all over a year old and not in stock any more. (Yes, this stung.) So given that I couldn’t pull another list out of my arse at short notice, I took a huge leap of faith and said, “You know what, dear? You choose for me.”

I have not usually been the kindest judge of Alec’s taste in music and most other things, apart from his choice of a wife. If he likes music I think is good, I assume it must be because he has absorbed my impeccable taste. If he likes music I think is bad, I take this as evidence of his own actual paucity of taste. So this is a big moment for us, a mark of our maturity as a couple. Here is an example of our maturity:

Alec: Well, even if you don’t like the records I’ve bought, I like them so I’ll enjoy listening to them.
Me: Sure, you go ahead and have fun listening to them ON TURNTABLES WE DON’T HAVE! I WANT TURNTABLES BUY ME TURNTABLES PLEEEEEASE!

Alec returns on 28th September, and I await my records with trepidation. Best case scenario, they’re great practice material and stuff I can even bring along to play if I do any more public slots. Worst case scenario, the next time I do a public slot, it’s like that scene from Three Men And A Baby where they’re throwing a big party for cool people and when Tom Selleck goes to change the music he accidentally puts on Ernie singing Rubber Duckie instead and as every person in the place turns to look at him, bemused, he does this awkward non-committal little dance.

Pop My Cherry (13 June, 2008, Hacienda)

I know I should’ve updated earlier about the popping of my DJ cherry last weekend, but somehow it really took a lot out of me, and in the days afterwards I just needed a break from having to concentrate so hard on music! (This is where Super Mario Galaxy, my apparently untiring Rome addiction, and midweek karaoke stepped in, hence blog silence.)

Anyway, it went better and worse than I’d hoped. Let’s do “worse” first – my equipment fears turned out well-founded, because I found myself really struggling to beat-match on the CDJs at the venue, and the cross-fader didn’t work. This basically means that I wasn’t able to transition smoothly between tracks by adjusting the beat of the incoming track to match the beat of the outgoing track, and I couldn’t scratch. I’d been prepared for this so I just did chop-mixing (abrupt but well-timed transitions) instead. It wasn’t too disappointing, really, because even if I wasn’t able to do the transitions I planned this time, all the work I put into thinking about them was still a very worthwhile exercise, and it leaves me with a useful set “template” I can still work with as I get better at this, and hopefully pull off properly in future.

The “better” is that I got some nice comments from people who were neither my friends nor married to me, I got a great opportunity to give this a first try in a public but very forgiving setting, and I even got 4 free drinks from the bar and a little cash! I’m really grateful to Cherry for giving me this chance, and I’m hoping that if/when I get a second shot, I’ll have progressed sufficiently to be able to show that I’ve left my smoothie criminal days far behind.

Here’s the tracklist, for anyone who’s interested. It’s not intended to fill a dancefloor, because Hacienda at 11 pm isn’t quite that sort of a setting. When I was coming up with it, I was thinking about how we used to sit in Cargo waiting for Xen night’s main acts to start, drinking and gorging ourselves on heavenly hot sloppy ketchup-and-mayo fries, and how although I was mostly engaged in the conversation and it was a little too early for dancing, the music being played was always good enough to steal some of my attention away. It’s a rather modest level to aim for in a DJ tracklist, maybe, but it seemed appropriate for the context and my skill level. I’ll save dancefloor bangers for when I can actually beat-match without screwing up!

  1. Apparat – Holdon
  2. Brian Eno & David Byrne – Regiment
  3. Talib Kweli – Listen
  4. TTC – Leguman
  5. One Self – Trying To Speak
  6. The Kleptones – Jazz
  7. Clipse – Chinese New Year
  8. Ice Cube – What They Hittin’ Foe
  9. RJD2 – F.H.H.
  10. Nine – Lyin’ King
  11. Marco Polo feat. Kardinal Offishall – War
  12. Spank Rock – Coke And Wet
  13. Gangstagrass – Going Down
  14. Notorious B.I.G. (Ratatat remix) – Party And Bullshit
  15. Muddy Waters – Tom Cat
  16. DJ Kentaro – Heard Yer Bird Moved In
  17. Sway – Hype Boys
  18. Prince – Gett Off

Maybe I Should Call Myself “DJ Smoothie Criminal”

People have been asking how the DJ classes are going, so I thought I should update everyone here. I’m six lessons in, with two left before I finish the Basic/Intermediate course. I’m still not very good with all the technical terminology of DJing but I think so far I’ve learnt beat-matching, mixing in and mixing out, scratching, drumming, fader tricks, and some basic beat-juggling.

What’s been the most interesting about the lessons is how I’ve had to think about music in new ways that are quite different from my previous classical-musician or avid-music-consumer frames of reference. My classical training means Koflow didn’t have to teach me how to count bars, and it’s probably given me a good ear for timing and complicated rhythms. However, grade 8 qualifications in violin and piano still ain’t worth shit when I’m doing the frantic mental juggle of counting bars in one song’s chorus while beat-matching the next song and deciding when and how to mix it in, or trying to coordinate my scratching hand with my fader hand. I still have frustrating muppety days when I’m like “I used to play modern classical music with multiple changing time signatures in an orchestra, but I can’t fucking figure out whether this song’s 4 beats are faster than that song’s 4 beats???!!” Such muppetry is best illustrated by the following exchange during one of my early lessons:

Me, trying out something Koflow just taught me: Why does my scratching sound so shit?
Koflow, patiently: Because you didn’t switch the turntable on.

As a consumer of music, I’ve always been looking for songs which are well put together as a whole, where all the song’s elements work to take you on that song’s journey from beginning to end. But to listen the way a turntablist does is to never dismiss a song just because it doesn’t appeal to you in its entirety, but instead to be constantly on the look out for elements you can isolate from that song and use creatively somewhere else. Any clubber and mixtape consumer already knows this, of course, but passively appreciating someone else’s creativity is totally different from having to actively engage with the music on your own.

Which brings me neatly on to the news that, as new as I am to this type of listening, and as dodgy as my newly-acquired DJ “skills” may be, my friend Cherry recently took advantage of my drunken high at a good drum’n’bass night, and persuaded me to take a slot in her regular all-girl amateur DJ night, Pop My Cherry. The event’s this Friday night at Hacienda (full details here), and my slot’s from 11 to 12.

I’m a bit bashful about encouraging people to come, because I’m not actually going to be doing much of what I’ve learnt in my classes. I could give a long-winded explanation of why I’ll essentially be doing my set on equipment I’m totally unfamiliar with and how things could go terribly wrong as a result, but I decided an easier way would be to just show you my phat home setup:

Yeah, so basically I have zero equipment to practice on at home. I’ve been meaning to get some, but it’ll be the most expensive purchase I’ve ever made in my life, so I’ve been dragging my feet. Anyway, I’ve decided that for my first attempt at public DJing I’ll just focus on not being too nervous and doing the best transitions I can between tracks, even if I don’t manage to beat-match or scratch. So do come if you’d like to – I’d love the support – but if you do, just be aware that you’ll be listening to a DJ whose only mixer is mostly used for smoothies.

Kitchen DJ

I Put My Thing Down Flip It And Reverse It

Apart from the awesome Velbon travel tripod, Alec also gave me private DJ lessons with DJ Koflow for Christmas. (We aren’t normally this lavish, but for our first Christmas as husband and wife we decided to spoil each other a bit. Also we hadn’t given each other any birthday presents that year.)

It’s taken me a while to find time for the lessons but they’re finally set up, and I meet Koflow for my first private lesson this Saturday afternoon. Am a bit nervous, and acutely aware that my inability to keep up with new music over the last few years has hit my hip-hop listening especially hard.

Still, I’m very excited – despite years of enjoying and clubbing to great dance music, I’ve remained largely ignorant about the mechanics of DJing and now I finally get the chance to learn me some skillz! You know, like when Ice says “Check out the hook while my DJ revolves it”? Soon that could be me, baby.

Pitch Perfect

Tessa organised Pitch Perfect, a cosy little iPod DJ event, at Pitch Black on Saturday night.

I used my 15 minute slot as follows:

  • Gareth Brown Says (McLusky): I’ve always liked the rather surreal playground taunting of this one – “All your friends are cunts / your mother is a ball-point pen thief”.
  • Drunken Butterfly (Sonic Youth): Because if I don’t play Sonic Youth at every public opportunity to impose my taste on other people, somewhere a fairy dies.
  • How Can I Love You If You Won’t Lie Down? (Silver Jews): Awesome title aside, this is a rather delightful departure from Silver Jews’ usual, rather minimalist, formula of alt-country (though even that’s been good enough to sustain nearly a decade of my fanhood). It’s a lovable, sturdily unpretentious little ditty and I always love singing along with the girl echoing David Berman – “Lie down” “Lah daawn!” – in every word of the chorus.
  • Fuck You Pay Me (Killer Mike): My most recent aggro-hip-hop-dancing-in-my-bedroom song of choice. Though it does get a bit embarrassing when I listen to it while walking along the pavement and have to stifle some of those moves.
  • Sh-Boom (The Chords): Enough aggro, let’s finish with some happy! And this is, quite simply, one of the happiest songs I have ever heard.

Later on, I learned that because Ci’en hadn’t brought her iPod, Peishan had ingeniously appropriated Ci’en’s 15 minute entitlement to play a second slot. This got me thinking (and looking craftily at the empty-pocketed fiance sitting next to me), and so it was that about an hour later DJ “Alec” made his public debut. And I must say I thought his, uh, “choices” were truly magnificent.

  • Enter Sandman (Fade To Bluegrass cover): This isn’t just a novelty cover, I do actually think the bluegrass harmonies and musicianship are pretty tight.
  • Pussyhole (Dizzee Rascal): Sorry about the pun, but this is just such a banger.
  • Long Snake Moan (PJ Harvey): Big dense noisy riffs, quintessential PJ Harvey attitude and a chorus which you just have to shout along to. “You wanna hear my long snake…MOAN! You oughta see me crawl my…ROAR!
  • Dance Music (Mountain Goats): It took me a while to warm to the Mountain Goats, but this is the song that sold me.
  • All The Things She Said (Cinerama cover): You shouldn’t expect this song to surpass the original because, well, nothing can really surpass Russian lesbian pedophilia. But I like Cinerama’s take well enough, especially the weighty stabs of the chorus and the pensive guy-girl harmonies that bring us to the close.

Don’cha Know I Get Emulsified

We each had about 20 minutes on the decks at Ci’en’s Pah-ti. This was obviously not a whole lot of time with which to reprazent, but therein lay the challenge! Here’s what I did with mine:

  1. Emulsified (Yo La Tengo): Because I was playing something later which sounds quite similar to Griselda, because The Whole Of The Law isn’t really a party track, and because Blue Line Swinger would have taken up almost all of my allotted time. And because Emulsified is lovely.

  2. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea (Neutral Milk Hotel): Because I have lived in every moment of this album for the past 8 years, and it still transports me the same way it did the day I brought it home.

  3. Baby Got Back (cover by Jonathan Coulton): Because this is just self-evidently awesome, and anyone who doesn’t appreciate it is an enemy of joy. And big butts.

  4. Home Sweet Home (Kano): Okay, I knew this one and the next would pretty much go down like lead balloons among most of the crowd there, but I have to admit I didn’t care. The Amoy Street concrete just needed to hear this, okay?

  5. Dancingbox (Modeselektor featuring TTC): I was somehow really in the mood to play some TTC, but Leguman just loses so much when you don’t get to see it performed live by a guy with a big legume for a head. This track had been rocking my commute for a couple of months, so I used it instead.

  6. Darling Nikki (Prince): Because every set needs some Prince. Who else is gonna rhyme “sex fiend” with “masturbating with a magazine”?

  7. ‘Cross The Breeze (Sonic Youth): Because you knew I’d get this in somewhere. :)

I only wish I’d been able to get there earlier, stay longer, and hear more of what other people played, but I didn’t dare to risk missing any of Gang Starr and left around midnight. Cheers to everyone I met, if you read this – I arrived feeling alone and awkward and weird but that quickly evaporated with your good company. And cheers, obviously, to Ci’en for organizing. Please do so again, I promise to stay and get trashed with all of you the next time!

Scratch: Not Really Worth Scratch

Call me a music snob, but I suspect the reviewers who were falling all over themselves to pour platitudes on Scratch are somewhat unfamiliar with hip-hop beyond the flatulence of Puff Daddy and Will Smith.

I wasn’t impressed by its “look ma, I can speed the film up and cut quickly from scene to scene” cinematography (if you could call it that) – MTV does it a lot better, and it’s so tired and overdone by now anyway.

I wasn’t impressed by its organization or editing, in that I think it could have conveyed much the same experience in half the time it took if it had left the more inane interviews on the cutting room floor. For instance, I really wasn’t interested in Mix Master Mike and Qbert talking about how the universe and various imagined alien cultures inspire them. Instead I’d have really liked to hear from Krush, who features in a clip but isn’t interviewed, or anyone else in Japanese hip-hop, which is mentioned more fleetingly than it deserves. In the section on “battling”, we’re informed that when you compete in the DMCs, you’re no longer competing against one other person, you’re competing against everyone else in the competition. This is hardly profound. You could say the same thing about a yodelling competition.

I thought the clips it did show of scratching were often boring and samey, and hardly explored the sheer ingenuity with which some artists use it. Kid Koala doing Drunken Trumpet, anybody? It showed Beck’s DJ demonstrating the record he made composed entirely of guitar sounds, but didn’t go on to show how that becomes Smoke On The Water in concert. It showed a clip of beatboxers completely out of the blue, but provided no commentary or follow-up. I don’t even see why beatboxing would be that relevant to the subject matter of the documentary in the first place, but if they were going to put a clip in, they might as well have put some more in, because it was bloody amazing. I could go on, but won’t.

Surely I liked something? Well, yes. I always like good beats. Qbert had a gorgeous face (pity about the height). I liked the uniting theme of how everyone seemed to have been influenced by DXT scratching on the Grammy performance of Herbie Hancock’s Rockit. I liked the jam session at Qbert’s house with Shadow and others. The clip of Jurassic 5 was well-placed and did a good job of explaining the ideal, arguably, of a DJ working symbiotically with the MCs. And I liked laughing at Cut Chemist, who is either naturally inarticulate or was just really out of it. On balance it was probably just about worth the trek to Hammersmith (Riverside Studios), but only just.

[Bizarrely, at the IMDB entry for this movie (linked above), “if you like this title we also recommend…Mother Teresa.”]