DMC - It's turntablism time of year again

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Chats with NSW DJs and judges on this years battle

NSW DMC Solo Competition Finals + Interviews with DJ Nino Brown, DJ Subway, DJ Centrix
Saturday July 13th, 2002
Metro Theatre, Sydney

Turntablists are an interesting breed of DJ. They are not like the usual club/dance party/rave DJ who are known for seamlessly mixing one record into the next to create a piece of music which lasts the length of the night and keeps people dancing from go to woe. Turntablists have a few extra tricks up their sleeves which set them apart from the rest. People often crowd around to gaze and amaze at what they are doing. Their hands fly over the mixer and records as they pause now and then to touch the platter or adjust the pitch to create those recognisable percussive sounds whilst scratching, beat juggling and performing technical moves. These guys & gals use the turntable as their instrument. New songs are created on the fly from the conglomeration of beats, riffs, and vocal samples of the records they are cutting between. The resulting piece of music often has a theme, tells a story, or disses other DJs in the process (albeit ususally in jest these days).

In the early days of turntablism, battles were just that - battles, and they were taken very seriously. One DJ would challenge another to see who was the best. Just as knights would duel in days of yore, these modern day battles had similar qualities. Whilst rescuing fair maidens may not have been the reasons behind the battles, protecting your `ground` was, and in the hip hop community respect for you and your crew was to be gained from winning these battles, particularly if you could develop new techniques in the process. Reputations were at stake! These underground localised battles led the way for competitions such as DMC and ITF to host battles between turntablists from around the world.

1986 was the year of the first DMC World Mixing Championships competition. Since then it has evolved and expanded with competitors from around 30 countries and has three different titles up for grabs - Solo Competition, Team Battle and Battle for World Supremacy. From July through to September, turntablists around the world will be battling for their chance to win at the DMC World DJ Championships being held 14-15 September at Brixton Academy, London. Australian finals are being held August 31st in Melbourne, whilst State finals are being held now with the NSW DMC - Solo Competition finals being the first cab off the ranks Saturday 13th July @ Metro in Sydney.

Due to the number of competitors entering the competion in NSW this year, an afternoon elimination session was held to whittle down the numbers to ten for the finals that evening. Judges for the evening were DJ Revolution, KC, Bonez, Danielson, Nick Toth, Kuya and Nino Brown. Camille and MC Troy hosted the night and kept the crowds entertained between sets handing out prizes from the sponsors. DJ DR SON, aged 21, took out the NSW title this year after coming third in 2000, second in 2001 and spending the last three months fine tuning his set. He displayed a high level of skill and agility on the decks. His scratching was crisp and fast, he mixed tracks musically and showed off some fine beat juggling whilst riding the pitch and the crowd showed their appreciation. DJ Stanley came in second place and DJ Normz took third. Beat juggling was definitely a strong point this year with many of the competitors pulling off some nice juggles, some briefly re-recreating Craze`s drum`n`bass beats from the world finals a couple of years ago which blew everyone away.

The most entertaining and confident of the entrants was DJ Subway and if the comp was about hyping the crowd he would have won hands down. His skills were quite good, his scratching was very crisp, but the most noticeble thing about him was the way he played with the crowd and added a bit of humour to his set by plucking out samples to challenge other DJs. Once finished with a record he would frisbee it across the room causing the people backstage to duck and weave. Is this something he did often whilst djing? "No.. it`s just, everyone`s so serious. I didn`t have much time to come up with my set (he started it the night before!), so I thought, I want to have some fun this year. Last year I was too serious. That`s why I thought I`d just get in there, rip it up and have some fun. I want everyone here to have fun - a few people I know said that battles can be boring. That`s why I thought, bugger it, I`ll just get in there and have a ball and let the crowd have some fun as well. It`s the `I don`t give a fuck style` rules!" Subway is an experienced DJ having played and scratched over techno and hard house on the rave/dance party circuit for the past eleven years. Recently he`s added turntablism to his repertoire after taking it up three weeks before last years DMC State finals. Do the hardcore hip hop guys care that he`s originally from the rave scene or make any comments? "Some of them do, some of them give me bad looks and stuff. But generally they`re pretty cool. Most of the turntablist crew that are in tonight are all friends anyway. I dissed one of the other djs - DJ Son, Dr Son - but it`s all just for fun. It gets everyone else gee`d up so that`s good."

I had the chance to speak to another of the DJs who competed, DJ Centrix. His set was good though he seemed a touch nervous and didn`t acknowledge the crowd until it was over, instead leaning over the decks in the "classic hunch" stance concentrating on his set. He had a fair bit of support in the crowd and throwing in Blondie`s "Rapture" caused a cheer from them. He was philosphical about his set, saying "I got back from overseas four weeks ago exactly to the day, and I started on it [my set] pretty much straight away, but I didn`t really have it totally finished until yesterday. I knew it was going to be technically hard and I wasn`t too happy with the result, but the crowd seemed to be quite happy so that kind of makes up for it. I mean, I did make a mistake or two, but it`s all part of the learning process. You`ve just got to not dwell on your mistakes and keep going, so your six minutes is six minutes and not more". So will Centrix be back next year for another go? "Oh definitely! Yeah. Every year! I`ll be 50 years old and they`ll say, here`s DJ Centrix, and here`s DJ Centrix Junior. My son`ll be up there with me. I`ll never quit. I love DMC, I love battling. It`s what I love to do. A lot of djs get up there and they play every single week but what they don`t realise with DJs such as myself, is that we almost spend the majority of the year thinking about that six minutes coming up half way through the year at DMC. A lot of people, besides the DJs and friends of the DJs, don`t understand the time and effort that these DJs put into their sets." Centrix showed sportsmanship is not dead in turntablism by saying "Mr Son, winner of tonight`s event, played an unbelievably, incredibly great set. It was clean, it was perfect, it`s what every dj who gets up there dreams he can do."

I wanted to hear one of the judges perspectives on the competion this year and what was involved in DMC from their point of view. DJ Nino Brown [] had these words to say.

"I think the competition was very good this year. The standard was up a lot on previous years. Often in the DMC, in the State heats, you`ll have two or three really good djs and a lot of djs, the other half a dozen may not be as good - there`s a real clear difference between who`s going to win and who`s not. This year we sort of had four or five guys that could have won. So it was really good!"

There was only one point difference between second and third placings this year, how are the points allocated?

Nino Brown : "First place gets 3 points, second place gets 2 points and third place gets 1 point. It`s not like we give someone 8/10 or 9/10. That`s how the scores get added up".

What sort of things do you look for when you`re judging?

Nino Brown : "I think the most important thing is like a clean routine, in the sense that it`s like a book - it`s got to have an introduction, it`s got to have a body, it`s got to have a conclusion. In the body you`ve got to have certain sections - a scratch section, a beat juggle section, and that little special section which makes it a bit different from everybody else. I think finishing before the six minutes is important, because it`s sort of like you say, `that`s the end of my show, thank you very much`. It looks really bad when the time runs out and you`re still trying to do things - makes them [the competitors] look very unprepared. You have to have the right combination of being visually appealing so the crowd can enjoy it but also technical enough so the judges will mark you. It`s a competition based around turntablism, you know : scratching and beat juggling. The judges want to see new stuff, all good stuff - they don`t want to see something they`ve seen ten years ago."

And who are the judges / where are they selected from?

Nino Brown : "The judges, are qualified turntablists, which means, guys who have either entered DJ battles and taken places, eg, I`ve come second two years running in the DMC. Then you also have someone like DJ Revolution from Los Angeles who, I guess you could say, has never been in a DJ battle professionally, in the sense of something like the DMC, but he`s still regarded as one of the world`s top scratch djs. He`s put out albums, he`s produced and scratched on music for a lot of big name hip hop artists. He`s at that level without necessarily having a title"

He`s got the respect of others..

Nino Brown : "People know he knows his stuff. DMC takes pride in itself in always having a very good judging team. I`m actually sponsored by DMC as well, and my role as well as the judging is to make sure the judging is done right and there`s no favouritism and also to solve any disputes that may happen. We didn`t have any tonight so that was cool."


Nino Brown : "Sometimes the DJ will say `Hey my monitor speakers stopped` or `I couldn`t hear myself in the background`, that sort of thing. There`s procedures that have to be followed and we very rarely have any problems."

I noticed tonight that there were a few people who were doing some of the crowd pleasing tricks, for example, throwing records and others concentrated on the technical aspects only. Do the judges prefer someone with more technical skill, but with a bit of flair?

Nino Brown : "They want the whole package. The flair doesn`t get you points because you`re not actually doing anything, and it`s a competition about doing stuff, technically - ie turntablism. Throwing a record into the air is not doing anything. It looks good, the crowd cheer. If it was based on crowd reaction then that would work, but the marks aren`t based on crowd reaction. Stage presence IS important. I think one of the reasons that I never won, was that in that particular time in my career I was very nervous - I had all the technical bits, but I had no stage presence. I was trying to be tough in what I was doing, but I looked like a wet fish on stage. You have to have the whole package and that`s what makes a champion."

Who do you think will win the Australian competition? Though, you may not have seen the other States competitors yet..

Nino Brown : "I`ve seen a lot of the guys because I go to a lot of the DMCs and I`m very active as a DJ. I travel a lot and I do gigs more than these guys, but I think DJ Samrai is definitely going to win."

Samrai won last year?

Nino Brown : "Yeah, he won last year. We`re actually all in a crew called the `Chief Rockers`. I`m not biased, but every now and then you get these kids that come along who just got a flair for it. They really have that knack. I think Samrai`s just got that knack. I competed against him in 1999 which was three or four years ago now, and even then I knew that that kid would go places as a battle dj because he just genuinely loves it, and that was just coming out through his show."

For more information on DMC and to show your support or head along to your first turntablism competition, check out these sites and dates. [Australian competition details] [World DMC competition details]

NSW heat - Saturday 13th July
WA heat - Friday 19th July
VIC heat - Friday 26th July
QLD heat - Thursday 1st August
SA heat - Friday 2nd August
ACT heat - Saturday 3rd August

Australian Finals - Saturday 31st August - Melbourne

NSW heat for Battle for World Supremacy - Thursday 22nd August - Sydney

Saturday 14th September (Team and Supremacy) - London
Sunday 15th September ( World Final) - London