#turntabletag #3 DJ Sheep
Turntables of Doom
At the MF Doom gig on Friday 1st April, DJ Sheep led a turntablist battle revival in Brisbane. Prior to this gig, there‚Äôd been words ‚Äì DJ Butcher had posted ‚Äúdude.. u know i‚Äôll beat you on the decks.. ur an idiot..‚Äù on OzHipHop.com (24/03/2011). DJ Sheep, following the hip hop code he lives by, raised a challenge to battle on the decks. Unfortunately the challenge was turned down, so spectators only saw one side of the battle, but they left charged. I wasn‚Äôt there to see it in person, but I saw the video and on Sunday morning, DJ Sheep said on Ozhiphop.com, ‚ÄúI‚Äôve never felt better in years after a gig, i got so many daps, and props from people, it felt like the old days again for once‚Ä¶‚Äù, so it sounded like it was a night to remember. The only way I could imagine it being better (in my head), is if there *had* been a battle, or if there had been two sounds (sound systems) on opposite sides of a fenced off outdoor basketball court or a Jamaican dance hall like back in the early days of hip hop DJ battles.
Kodwo Eshun, in his book ‚ÄúMore Brilliant Than The Sun‚Äù, coined the term ‚ÄúSonic Fiction‚Äù when writing about one of the pioneers of hip hop DJing, Grandmaster Flash, and his album ‚ÄúThe Amazing Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel‚Äù. I suggest that the turntablist battles could also be thought of as Sonic Fiction on multiple levels ‚Äì in the sounds produced and performances of the actual turntablist set, and also in the stories behind the battles ‚Äì in some case they‚Äôre personal, in other cases they‚Äôre for competition and showcase. In all cases, they are related to the DJs career and reputation. DJ Battles are the opposite of ‚ÄúFight Club‚Äù ‚Äì everybody (in the DJ community) talks about the battle, and the rules are set. DJ Sheep commented, ‚Äúthe hip-hop code is that when you call someone out or get called out, you either step up or admit defeat. if you say you‚Äôre better and back out, you‚Äôre reputation goes down the drain, that‚Äôs hip-hop. It‚Äôs been like that since the inception‚Äù.
Now back to the set ‚Äì in traditional style, Sheep gave props to the fallen, shouting out RIP to Angus, Jeeps (750) and Sabre (BWP) before he started. Then he got down to business with his message explaining to the crowd that DJs used real records. ‚ÄúIn the history of beef, it‚Äôs usually the Butcher that slaughters the Sheep, but today we‚Äôre going to see the Sheep slaughter the mutherfuckin‚Äô Butcher‚Äù. Sheep then launched into his set ‚Äì beat juggling, chirps, transform moves such as flares and orbits, and the crab. From the video, you can see a brick and sandbag on the table ‚Äì DJ Sheep and Brisbane beat-maker Tigermoth highlighted the large springs in place of the table legs which caused the table to move around, and some skipping of the needles during Sheep‚Äôs set. I think the crowd probably wouldn‚Äôt have noticed this had it not be pointed out. In any case, Sheep took advantage of the moments and paused, giving space to his set and acknowledging the crowd. They gave him plenty of love in return.
It‚Äôs plain to see the passion with which Sheep performed his set, and from his practice set video recorded at home prior to the gig, you can see the ease at which he performs ‚Äì it‚Äôs second nature to him ‚Äì he has mastered the turntable as his instrument of choice, and can meld it into the sounds he wants to create. His work on the decks personifies the ‚Äúconceptechnics‚Äù as coined by Eshun ‚Äì ‚Äúthe decks have become a state of mind for the dj.‚Äù‚Ä¶ ‚Äúthe turntable becomes a machine for building and melding mindstates from your record collection‚Äù. Sheep‚Äôs been DJing for the past 16 years or so, and has won multiple Qld DJ championships in the past (3xDMC, Technics Ultimate DJ Showdown, Stanton / Central Station DJ Competition) ‚Äì his bio on djsheep.com is impressive. He‚Äôs regularly traveling and playing to large crowds overseas, and is likely Brisbane‚Äôs only ‚ÄúInternational DJ‚Äù now that Kazu Kimura has moved overseas (or ‚Äúone of‚Äù at the very least.. I am not sure of the DJing passport statuses of Freestyle and Matt Kitshon these days..).
Sheep has also kept the digging tradition alive by finding records to sell for his business. As Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton mention in their book ‚ÄúLast night a DJ Save my life‚Äù on the history of the DJ, ‚Äúdigging goes back to the noble role of the DJ as a record promoter and musical evangelist, rescuing forgotten songs by never-heard artists or long-forgotten producers‚Äù. DJ Shadow considers digging an ‚Äúurban archaeology‚Äù. It is crucial for the DJ and turntablist to find the records and breaks that will give them the edge over the other DJs. It seems easier these days with the rise of the mp3 and internet search engine ‚Äì almost anyone can do it, and the factors of time and place have almost been removed. This makes the traditional vinyl junkie getting ‚Äúdusty in the crates‚Äù a rare and special creature ‚Äì the limitations of place and availability of suitable records in nearby record stores and fairs means they need to be more creative, and knowledgeable with their selections than the modern internet digger who has website curators and search engines to help find and filter their music.
There are also comparisons to the ‚Äúslow movement‚Äù with digging in the crates ‚Äì giving time and personal energy to the exploration of sounds, and allowing synchronicity and the wonder and pleasure of physical discovery to come through and be acted upon. Digging on the internet can be more efficient time-wise for the busy post-modern hip hop DJ, who is, according to Brewster and Broughton, both ‚Äúconsumer and producer‚Äù. It can assist with researching artists and music, but it doesn‚Äôt allow for the ‚Äúspaces between thoughts‚Äù and contemplation that physicality adds to the process. I think a combination of the two methods makes for a well rounded DJ these days. Following the search for sounds, DJs can add textures to the music in their sets and leave the crowds in awe, trainspotting to work out where that sound came from.
Brisbane‚Äôs been known for DJ battles in the past, with two other legends, DJ Angus/Bribe and The Masta often battling each other on the decks at various turntablist competitions in Brisbane in the 1990s and early 2000s. Turntablism seems to have waned a bit since the mid 2000s, which I for one think is a shame. The technology has changed ‚Äì there‚Äôs now serato and similar DVS technologies being used in the clubs and even in the online DMC competition started in early 2011. So, there seems to be two camps ‚Äì the ones who‚Äôd like to keep the craft pure and use vinyl-only for DJ battles, showcases and competitions, and others who are OK with allowing the new technology to be used. It will be interesting to see how things pan out. Eventually, every system has to evolve in order to continue ‚Äì ‚Äúlife‚Äù being one example. But there‚Äôs also the revivalist movements who bring back the original skills and systems and continue the original craft.
As Hip Hop, and rap specifically, moved from the dancefloor and the streets, to the stadiums in the USA, some countries, such as Australia maintained the street feel with an Australian flavour. In a way, this was a revivalist movement of ‚Äòkeeping it real‚Äù and pure. The original heads started pure, and remained pure. As new generations merge in, some stay true to the roots of the culture, others change things and take advantage of new technologies. Perhaps it‚Äôs time for the local turntablists to hit the decks again and start practicing their skills with records ‚Äì we might see some more local battles in the future, albeit vegetarian style, with less beef. We may even see some innovation creeping in again, with the combination of the two styles. From all reports, the crowds are definitely keen to see some battles. There was a lot of talk about this gig leading up to it. Brisbane‚Äôs DJ Kieron C said, ‚ÄúLooking forward to Doom & an old school battle royale tonight! Why can‚Äôt we have more battles at Hip Hop gigs?‚Äù which led to much agreement. It would be great to see a new batch of DJs learning from the original crews. Let‚Äôs see where this leads‚Ä¶