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dinsdag 28 augustus 2007

Cut it, Out

Last Friday, Steve Montana and I went to the Meeting of Styles 2007 at the Kavka Youth Centre in Antwerp. This is a graffiti event that takes place in different cities all over Europe, with original artwork (of course), live shows and parties. Although graffiti interests me, I mainly went to see Senses Overloaded, a project by Lamont (Antwerp) and 2tall (London), both accomplished dj’s and turntablists. Lamont has been working together with dj Grazzhoppa for some time now, as a member of the latter’s DJ Big Band and as co-founder of Realtablist Records, and has released a number of mix tapes and battle records (e.g. DJ’s from Earth, Unknown Break Project). 2tall started out as a drum and bass dj, but he evolved into a premier scratcher. As a member of the Truesicians crew he won several turntable competitions. The now (sadly) defunct label Needlework Records (founded by Turntable Radio and Rhythm Incursions’ Mr. Trick and DJ Monk-A) released his first EP (The Rise), which was very well received, and the following solo album (Shifting Tides), which got critical acclaim. After that he produced several mix tapes (e.g. Loose ends for divination) and has made some notable remixes (e.g. Quasimoto’s Broad Factor). In the near future his new album should be coming out, on which he has collaborated with a rapper (Dudley Perkins) and a singer (Georgia Anne Muldrow).

DJ Monk-A has lived and worked in Brussels for three years (up till about a year ago). Connections were made with Belgian turntablists like Lamont, Killa Tactics, IFC and dj Reck (Grazzhoppa was already known across the channel through his collabos with, amongst others, Blade) and during that time 2tall paid a visit to his friend as well. He met Lamont and they decided to make a record together, which resulted in the Senses Overloaded EP. A very decent record I might add that I’ll be buying at the first opportunity. So, with great expectations I went to the Kavka youth centre, where the event took place, and Steve (indulging me) went along. The place wasn’t exactly crowded. As in: it was half empty. But, that couldn’t dampen my spirit. For the occasion the two dj’s had brought a vj or something, to add some images to the show. Their setup consisted of turntables, loop stations and samplers. They started doing their thing: images were rolling, beats were made, soundscapings placed on top and the scratching began. After about two songs I realized that I was thinking about other stuff. 2tall and Lamont were blending the sounds expertly, their scratches were on point, … and I couldn’t be bothered. It dawned on me that I’ve had it with all that scratching that’s making you itch. With all the evolution that it’s made, from transform to crab to hydroplanes and more, it can sound interesting at best, but it doesn’t make you want to sit down because the emotion is overwhelming you. When I heard Toots Thielemans play John Lennon's imagine (a song we've all heard way too much) I got a lump in my throat. It was that beautiful. I had the same problem with Ninja Tune founders Coldcut. They make very good sample based music, but live I couldn’t be entertained by two guys pushing buttons and projecting images. I can still dig turntable and sample based music. But, more on record than at a live venue. A few years ago I saw Gunkhole (D-Styles, Mike Boo, Ricci Rucker, and a drummer called Ace). Beforehand I had bought the Bastard Language Tour DVD (D-Styles, Mike Boo, Excess, Toadstyle and Ricci Rucker). At the time it was revolutionary to see these guys make easy listening, smooth turntable music, as opposed to the style that was set in motion in the nineties by the Invisbl Skratch Piklz. Live, it was very interesting what they were doing, especially to see these subtle scratches. But in the end, it didn’t seem to go anywhere. You have the build up, some cuts, and … that’s about it. The same goes for Grazzhoppa’s Big Band. As a concept, 6 dj’s and a saxophone player (later 12 dj’s), brilliant and a first in the world, but it didn’t add anything more to the musical evolution of a turntable band. In the same genre, I’m more of Kid Koala fan though. Most of the time I’m not really into his records, because, there, as well, there seems to be something missing. But the ever friendly Canadian has enough personality and ingenuity to make his live performances worthwhile. Especially when he comes with a live band, i.e. Bullfrog. I think that’s more the direction turntablism should take. As a part of a band, the dj can add to the whole. A band with just turntables is a bit like a cappella singers or all guitar bands, interesting to listen to but after a while you’ve heard what there is to hear. I’m not dissing the dj crews that have been and are. It was at the time very necessary for dj’s to stick together so they could find their place in the world of music. What's more, this way they were able to evolve faster than they could have on their own. Before the Piklz, the dj was nothing more than a prop at a rap show. And even afterwards, often he didn’t get a chance to really add something. At the Alicia Keys show (in Vorst Nationaal, Brussels) the dj couldn’t even be heard (not that a great dj would have been able to lift a mediocre concert to a good one).

Since, it has become clear that turntable music is here to stay, thanks to the Picklz, X-ecutioners, Beatjunkies, Scratch Perverts, Allies and others, but it’s time for a new direction. Guys like Ricci Rucker, A-Track and Q-Bert are trying out new stuff. Every now and then something new is added. So I keep an eye out for new evolution. But, in the meantime I think I’d rather check out some good funk or jazz. I’m not putting down what Lamont and 2tall did. In the turntablism context they put up a decent show and I would recommend their albums to anyone. They can both scratch with the best of them. Only, scratches, in my humble opinion, are at their most effective when used sparingly. At the right moment they can really add something to a song. Live everybody likes to show off what they can do, which is perfectly normal. The effect it has on me though is that I lose interest after a while. Anyway, hip-hop wise we’re living in the twilight zone. Every decade or so styles switch dramatically. The dj/producer can help shape the sound of tomorrow. Quality in music won’t come from the 50 Cents, Missy Elliots or Timbalands of this world. So I’m rooting for the Lamonts, 2talls, Ricci Ruckers, Joey Beats and Recks. Only a few years left to go, and then we’ll see what the future holds.

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