Turntable titan scratches onWidely regarded as the best scratch deejay, QBert (Richard Quitevis) has been stunning audiences with his ability to mold noise as he sees fit. Known for his ability to manipulate sounds on 12-inch vinyl records, QBert has taken it upon himself since 1985 to convince the world to embrace scratching as an art form.
Not sure what scratching is? QBert understands your plight. He concedes that the problem with this sort of music is that “it’s very primitive,” and has fostered the misconception that “the turntable isn’t a musical instrument.”
The turntable master has made it his mission to eliminate such prejudices. “I’m certainly not the best deejay out there,” he once said, “but because of the fact that I do get more exposure, I think it’s important to show people what I know so they can build off it ― or at least entertain people.”
QBert, who’s based in San Francisco, has been exposing the world to scratching on his own and with his now-disbanded crew, the Invisibl Skratch Pikklz. This group of artists paved the way to a new era for deejays across the globe with their groundbreaking sound and innovative technique.
He credits much of his own talent and success to his work with the Pikklz.
“You know that saying, ‘Two heads are better than one’? You get that sense of creative diversity,” he said.
Even though the crew is now defunct, QBert’s sense of allegiance remains strong, as he automatically mentions former Pikklz members such as Mix Master Mike when asked who his favorite deejays are.
He also pays attention to the work of unexposed deejays worldwide, praising artists like Koji, Miyazima and Fundamental Scratch Funk. It’s important to listen to everyone, he says, because “everybody knows something different.”
Since being asked to cease participating in the DMC tournament ― turntable deejays’ equivalent of the Olympics ― on account of a chain of consecutive wins from 1991 to 1995, QBert has focused instead on breaking new ground with colleagues such as Mix Master Mike and Yogafrog. He has appeared in a number of movies, including several of his own devising, that represent an otherworldly approach to music.
And while he did not explicitly help formalize the notation of scratch music, QBert did provide some of the framework that deejays such as A-Trak used to create a notarized representation of turntable music.
Seven years ago, QBert, along with Yogafrog (Ritchie Desuasido), established Thud Rumble, a distribution company for deejay goods. QBert has also teamed up with firms, such as Vestax, to develop machines that have changed turntable music overnight.
For instance, consider the QFO, Vestax’s hybrid turntable and mixer. “The QFO is real portable, and since I live in Hawaii, that’s real cool,” QBert said. “You have guys on the beach with their violins and guitars. I wanted to take my turntable to the beach, and now I can.”
These days, DJ QBert is busy promoting the QFO across Asia. In an interview before a show at Cube in Apgujeong-dong, he offered this advice for the Korean hip-hop scene: “Make up your own rules; don’t copy what’s already out there. That’s not hip-hop. It’s all about envisioning, you know? Like, BBoys are hip-hop in Korea. Videos ain’t hip-hop.”
10 Questions With Qbert
1. What is the deepest, darkest turntable secret you hold that would blow the minds of rookie deejays everywhere?
When you scratch, you have to rhyme like an emcee. Too many people don’t rhyme. You have to rhyme.
2. Could you talk a little about the prevalence of aliens and robots in your film appearances?
Robots are just cool. In terms of aliens, that’s all about me wondering what music sounds like on other planets. So it’s not just visual; a lot of the breaks I use are real spacey in terms of mind and soul. You know, like what if it sounded like this?
3. If aliens invaded Earth and could only be killed by scratching, would you step up and defend the planet?
Yeah, I would defend the planet if it came down to it.
4. What are some vinyls that never leave your crate?
Superseal, Cop Porn Breaks, Gag Seal Breaks, Unknown Dirt Style 2 unreleased, and this unreleased one called Breaktionary. They should be coming out soon, though.
5. What is your favorite genre of music outside of hip-hop?
Jazz, hands down. Let’s see, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Cannonball Adderley, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane.
6. What is the No. 1 question not to ask a deejay when he’s live on- stage?
Can I have your records? Can I have your money? You know, all that negative stuff, negative vibes.
7. Do you ever get stage fright?
All the time.
8. What is your No. 1 fear?
Walking out of my house without my clothes on.
9. Are you interested in collaborating with any Asian artists?
Giant sumo wrestlers running around everywhere while I scratch.
10. Are you scared of progress occurring too rapidly in terms of technology and technique?
No, absolutely not. Progress is what it’s all about.
by Phil Chang