Nothing Grows In The Comfort Zone

Hello Again

A few of you may know me from YouTube as the guy that cleans records with wood glue.  A few more may know me as a local Colorado DJ/producer.  Still a few more may know me as one of the organizers for the Denver Scratch Sessions (the others being Chris Funktion Robisch-Espinoza (Dunroq), Aaron Amuse Mendelsberg, and Dia Absolute Beshara).  I’d like to think of myself as an anti-social creator that uses collaboration as a tool to help build a diverse social community for the free exchange of ideas to further art and people.

Information And The (D)Evolution Of The DJ

Open exchange of ideas, techniques, and methodology in turntablism and electronic music production seems to be a fairly new concept — at least to me it does.  I recognize that newer generations have been raised in an age where information is at their fingertips; with internet and assets like search engines (YouTube, Google…) or social media (Facebook, Twitter…).  Today finding information or sharing information can be done in a blink of an eye.  The challenge is finding relevant information in a sea of overly shared inadequate information.  For previous generations, much of this information was often guarded as a trade secrets.  Apprenticeships were not uncommon to acquire access to these trade secrets and for guidance to hone skills.  As technology advanced, apprenticeships faded into obscurity and the age of the bedroom DJ/producer dawned.  Today, there are many DJ schools (online and in various cities) to fill a demand for access to these trade secrets/skills.

“The Comfort Zone Is A Nice Place But Nothing Grows There”

I often felt that as a DJ, I personally benefited the most from engaging with a live crowd or other DJs.  Being an naturally anti-social individual, it was tempting to be a bedroom DJ and avoid interaction with others.  Even with having access to online tutorials and videos to study at home, isolated practice was never met with the same results as engaging with other DJs/people.  I was compelled to seek out other turntablists.

An Awkward Journey

I first became interested in turntables in the early 90’s.  Before the days of AOL and in the days of early peer-to peer dial-up, there was BBS (bulletin board systems).  I spent many hours programming my own BBS to share .wav audio files and host chat forums about electronic music.  I could only run my BBS late at night, because running the BBS meant tying up the phone line.  My personal BBS was called Max 2.0 — I don’t know why it was 2.0, there wasn’t a 1.0 or any previous version before it.  I hosted with a local company at the Plaza of The Rockies that ran a similar BBS called “Kicks (or maybe it was KIX)”.  Various members of the forums and hackers would meet downtown at a Denny’s to drink crappy coffee and talk about turntables, electronic music production, and computers.

To shorten the timeline a bit, AOL came and dial-up improved if only mildly.  I remember sharing sound files and music through AOL messenger, then MSN messenger, and Yahoo messenger.  At one point I spent a lot of time in Yahoo chat rooms taking turns sharing the room with other DJs.  I used adapters to run the RCA cables from the mixer to the 1/8 inch mic input on my PC — back then I just had the SoundBlaster audiocard.  DJs would use 3rd party software to lock the mic to the on position, and crudely sample live mixes for listeners in the chat room.  It was in a Yahoo chat rooms that I met DJ Dojah, with whom I shared various live mixes.

It wasn’t all chat-rooms for me in the beginning.  I had a lot of “techno” DJ friends.  I use the term techno as a broad term for electronic music; relative to how the term EDM is loosely applied today.  None of my friends were turntablists — I never heard the term turntablism even used by any of the DJs in my community.  My friends were into trance, DNB, House, and various other electronic genres.  I had plenty of opportunity to hear all about the importance of mixing, or blending, and avoiding trainwrecks.  I was well versed in discussions about BPM, counting a beat, and lining up the snare/claps.  The one constant was that these DJs weren’t interested skratching or in the free exchange of information regarding turntablism.  DJs were very much an elite group of individuals in my community and were very isolated.  Sure, we came together to rock a party (lots of underground raves at that time) but we didn’t come together much as DJs other than that.

For me at that time, the best resource for learning and improving was the internet and live play.  Before YouTube there were sites that shared videos, like Toadstyle.  My first introduction to turntablism, Thud Rumble, the DMC, Wavetwisters, and Turntable TV was because of battle sites like Toadstyle.  I immediately joined forums that were unfamiliar to me like Qbert’s skratch forum.  A whole new wave of information about styles and skills was available to me.  The other best resource, live play, was huge to me.  Getting out there and just party rocking was essential to knowing the crowd and what works.  Being able to read a crowd, how they react, and adjusting to the crowd is necessary to being a great performer.  It’s hard to find a crowd in a bedroom.  That and getting out in public, and simply meeting people, is a big part of networking — I will cover more about networking in a later post.

Eventually the Qbert Skratch University opened online and a whole new online experience for DJs emerged.  The learning curve for turntablism changed dramatically.  Having access to the legend, DJ Qbert, to personally review, analyze, and critique submitted videos by students was a game changer.  The addition of a skratch encyclopedia of tutorials made the search for information a one-stop shop.  I was very impressed with the Qbert Skratch University overall; it was exactly what I was waiting for.

The main benefit of the QSU was the social interaction.  In addition to the direct interaction with Qbert, there was also a large group of students enrolled that were more than eager to review videos and encourage/support one another.  The wave of new ideas and resources that flowed in the chat boards was nothing less than phenomenal.  There were DJs like Hex that shared his custom Teflon accessories to hold records snug against the platter spindle, Gold Voltron and his endless collection of beats to skratch to, and many loopers and other tools that became available through QSU.  My main takeaways were the access to information and networking.  The ability to meet people, even if online, and build relationships centered around a common interests is a huge thing to me.  However QSU also allowed you to find and identify with turntablists in your area.  I finally found myself immersed in a turntable community.

There were many DJs that I stumbled across randomly in various areas that I resided in, and many of them enjoyed turntablism but weren’t practicing it themselves.  I met DJs in Chicago, Fort Collins, Eugene, and various other places but it was when I returned to Denver that I discovered a large local community of turntablists.

The Denver Skratch Sessions

The concept for the Denver Skratch Sessions came out of a discussion that Chris Robisch-Espinoza and I had shortly before the initial launch.  I met Dia Beshara online and then in person at Redline Studios.  Dia hosted the event/gathering that I met Chris at, where the discussion for building the turntablist community and the Denver Skratch Sessions occurred. Dia later offered to host the Skratch Sessions at a central Denver location, Absolute Studios, in 5 Points and later Aaron stepped in to help move the events to Community Service — respect due to Ricky Langdon (CommServ) for facilitating this.  Dia has since moved to NY and is still helping DJs and musicians succeed in his area.

A video about Dia and Absolute Studios when the original Denver Scratch Sessions were held:

The Denver Scratch Sessions were very successful.  Every event had a numerous attendees and grew with each occasion.  Some of the events were sponsored by Qbert SKratch University (QSU)ShureAerial 7, Innofader, and Pro X Fade.  Attendees included Chris Karns (2011 DMC World DJ Champion, 2002 WSTC World Champion, 6x DMC Regional Champion, and Redbull Thre3style Champion), members of Radio Bums, members of Bassmentalism, members of the Denver Hip-Hop Congress, members of Colorado Cut Committee, and many more.  It became necessary to move the event when we did.

Video of the a Denver Skratch Session (Courtesy of K-Bo Cutz, of Legally Manic Kidz):

The Denver Westord wrote an article about the Denver Skratch Sessions, and the Culture of Scratch, after an interview with Chris.

I believe these skratch sessions were so successful because it brought DJs together to talk shop.  It allowed these turntablists to network, share information, better understand other styles/skills, and walk away with even more love for turntables — if that was even possible.

Today’s Squad Goals.

More recently I have been thinking about how much I love turntablism and how much I enjoyed the Denver Skratch Sessions.  It is my wish to organize another event, or more, before summers end in Denver.  I will be looking to coordinate with past organizers and attendees to make this happen.  With any luck, we may even get Dia out for a visit.  Mile High turntablists can come out of the bedroom/comfort zones and cut together again. I sincerely hope this happens and look forward to seeing some familiar faces if it does.

Peace and be well,

-Z

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