Many of the techniques used by modern DJs have their roots in experimental 30s, 40s and 50s music where turntables were originally used to create music, using samples rather than instruments.
This soon evolved into a full-time job for some, as they experimented with creating music in new ways by manipulating other people’s records. This inevitably led to the birth of entirely new genres of music as the world learned to recycle beats, melodies, lyrics and samples.
A Brief History
Before getting to the meat-and-gravy it’s definitely worth briefly exploring the history behind DJing, break-beat and scratching. It is generally accepted that the three main pioneers of turntablism (and to a degree, hip hop) are Kool DJ Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash.
Kool DJ Herc is credited with the invention of break-beat, or “merry go round” as he called it which is a common technique in live DJ sets or music created from samples. The break refers to a percussion break-down of the song, usually before the final chorus or verse and often signalling the track’s climax.
By taking two identical records, playing the break on record A, then on record B before rewining A to the start of the break and playing again it was possible for Kool DJ Herc to create a constant, percussive beat – a break-beat.
An apprentice to Grandmaster Flash, the wonderfully named Grand Wizard Theodore, is credited with the discovery of the scratch, by accidentally moving his hand over a record one day. Grandmaster Flash then took this technique and ran with it, popularising and introducing the notion of scratching a record to the masses.
DJ Kentaro – DMC World Championships 2002
This is the set that landed Japan’s DJ Kentaro first place at the DMC (Disco Mix Club) World Championships in 2002. The competition has been held every year since 1986, and the winning position is a very prestigious one in the turntablism and hip hop community.
Technically brilliant, fiendishly fast and cheeky to boot, Kentaro’s entry into the 2002 competition still stands today as one of the finest DMC performances ever seen. You can find out all about the DMC World Chamionships as well as information about the 2012 competition at the official website.
Cash Money – DMC World Championships 1988
Known as the “legendary set”, DJ Cash Money tore up the 1988 DMC World Champioships with this absolute blinder. At this point the competition had only been running for two years, so the young Philadelphia-based turntablist’s mastery of vinyl shocked both judges and spectators alike.
This one’s worth watching for the iconic LL Cool J “hot as hell” scratch which is still a fixture on Cash Money sets today.
DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist – Brainfreeze
Take two of the world’s most talented and innovative DJs, make them rehearse for hours at a time, put them on stage and what do you get? Brainfreeze, one of a number of joint-productions from Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow.
This is only a small snippet of the full show which is available for all to gawp at on DVD – you won’t be disappointed.
DJ Yoda Goes To The Movies (VJ Set)
DJ Yoda is a British DJ and artist who made it big with his How To Cut And Paste mixes before turning his efforts to this – a VJ, or “video jockey” set. In this full-length live show, Yoda quite literally scratches movies and music in unison, blending them into a wall of video and sound that’s as witty as it is clever.
Again, if this kind of thing floats your boat DJ Yoda Goes To The Movies is available on DVD in its entirety, and you can see the trailer below.
DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist & DJ Numark – Pushing Buttons
If ever proof was needed that these three were multi-talented then this show, Pushing Buttons, is it. Featuring DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist and DJ Numark but no turntables, the entire set is constructed with samples.
Armed with samplers (notably Akai MPCs) the three lay down beats, melodies and even vocal sections without the need for backing tracks. Also available on DVD, so knock yourselves out.
I apologize if these videos have made you want to go out and spend thousands on expensive DJ equipment you can’t afford. We’ve all been there (at least I know I have) but the truth is these days it’s possible to start out without spending big bucks.
Most DJ equipment can be picked up cheap on eBay, but be careful what you bid for. For turntables only consider direct-drive decks like the Technics 1210 – don’t buy belt-drives. If you’re looking for a really cheap way to start mixing (though you’ll be limited) then you can even do so on your iPad or iPhone with an app like djay.
Do you have any favorite DJs, sets or videos? Share them in the comments!