02 October 2004

Turntablism 3

Funny that Loki should mention Turntablism. The main reason I got back into Hip-Hop in the Mid/Late Nineties (after deserting it for Acid House) was records like this:

Even funnier is the idea that, for me, the initial attraction of Turntablism was that units such as the INVISIBL SKRATCH PIKLZ and THE X-MEN (X-ECUTIONERS) seemed to update and re-energise the concept of a 'band' after it was worn down into a blunted nub by Eighties Rock Culture (both Indie and Arena). Turntablism is generally considered a solitary, onanistic pursuit based on the heightened skills of the individual (which is why, I suppose, it often adopts the language and imagery of Martial Arts Films and Jedi Philosophy), but the PIKLZ (in partikulr) took it into the realms of tag-team wrestling and acrobatics.

What attracted me was I'd heard rumours of a DJ super-group who were emulating the dynamics of a rock band by using turntables: One guy playing the drums on 2-decks, another guy doing the bass and lead-lines on 2-decks, and a third supplying scratches, vocals and FX on 2-decks. The truth turned out to be somewhat different, but the results were, nevertheless, incredibly compelling. On "Klamz uv D'eth" the PIKLZ bravely navigate the route of fiercest resistance; shortcuts are ignored; the easy road is never taken: the music is precariously balanced like spinning plates perpetually on the point of collapse, and that, precisely, is its main allure.

Listening to their records makes you feel like an ambulance chaser waiting for a multiple pile-up that never quite happens. At points, the tension is almost unbearable and there is never any resolution; instead, they just stop. And then start up again. But with a new routine. Years later, after innumerable listens, their records still thrill me almost beyond words.

Further tension is provided by the contrast between shiney retro-futuristic motifs such as vocoders, 808-kicks and phat analogue synth-lines, and the stark lo-tech rawness of the beats, the production and the scratches. Turntablism is an extremely physical music and the hands-on approach is reflected in the sound of these records; you can actually hear the vinyl being physically manipulated: the lo-end rumbles, the pulls and pushes required to s.t.r.e.t.c.h. sound out into new shapes or make it fit a novel context. It's hard work, defying the laws of Physics, and, like any great work of fiction, tag-team turntablism requires both faith and cooperation on the part of the consumer. The DJs almost seem to will their routines to succeed, and we, the listeners, find ourselves applying a herculean mental effort along with them. It feels like the routines will collapse into entropy and chaos unless the listener fully concentrates and adds his will-power to that of the DJ. This accidental induction of empathy in part explains why Hip-Hop DJs have become modern-day folk heroes.

The Hi/Lo-tech contrast is also reflected in the sleeve-art of that era: a sort of deliberately trashy Lo-fi Sci-fi feel; an Art Brut Comic-Book Iconography that apes the sometimes harsh physicality necessary to produce such wonderfully skewed beats:

DJ DISK of the PIKLZ took this contrast and amplified it to surreal, vertigo-inducing heights by scratching-in 78s on his "Ancient termites" LP:

The result is a series of irrational audio structures constructed from slices, splices and cuts across Time itself: a demented, non-linear music that's as ancient as it is futuristic; an aberration impossible to replicate on anything as inhumanly logical as a digital-sampler.


Anonymous said...

great article - that Invizibl Skratch Picklez album is quite possibly the illest turntablism record produced to date - i just don't think turntablist groups have been able to push it anywhere near as far as these pioneers. shame that X-men got way more success as an outfit (not denying that they have the rep and hard work backing them up too) whereas the Picklz seem to have more longevity as solo artists, part-time collaborators and, at times for the money, MC backup duty.

have to check out the other two you pointed out, although i'm familiar with those dj's, i haven't heard those two landmark reccords.
su | www.aumsupreme.com

Anonymous said...

I dig that Faust album much -- although only in bite-sized chunks, which is what I find with much turntablism. I wishI knew more in terms of what those particular DJs (Shortee and Craze in particular) actually contributed to the tunes, as the vinyl release (as is the trend in this music) is just plain confusing regarding tracks, sides, and so forth.

[jemist, http://www.livejournal.com/users/simplefi]

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