Pulse > Social Encore
(Interview + Event Article)
Scratching That Vinyl Itch
with turntablists DJ ELITE (Honolulu) and DJ MANA (Montreal)
By: Jermel-Lynn Quillopo | @jermel_lynn
[December 20, 2012]
If you were to take a look at my iTunes library, you could easily say my musical tastes vary widely. I have music from underrated artists like Laura Izibor and Allen Stone, but I also listen to classic pop artists like Lauryn Hill and Maroon 5 and hip-hop artists like Rocky Rivera and Jay-Z.
I’ve always loved music, and my appreciation for it grew as I got older. I was fortunate to have a friend teach me how to spin vinyl records, and soon after my ear was exposed to different types of mixing styles. Because I had ex-boyfriends who were DJs, nothing hypes me up more than a sick mix.
If you want to have the opportunity to mix and scratch from veteran DJs, DJ Mana and DJ Elite have you covered this weekend. From 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012, at Creative Sound in Kaneohe, you will be able to embrace your inner DJ.
DJ Mana, also known as Annam Le, has been spinning on the ones and twos since the early 1990s. His brother worked in the mobile DJ industry and would often bring home equipment. Being into the sounds of soulful house, Le became curious and wanted to learn more about DJing, so he went in to his brother’s belongings.
“I would sift through my brother’s music collection when he wasn’t around and try to mimic the mixes that he did on his mixtapes,” said Le.
Heavily influenced by Chicago house and ’90s rave music, Le started exploring the underground hip-hop scene and started to master the art of turntablism in 1998. Soon after, he started competing in the battle circuit, earning regional and national titles in areas such as DMC, ITF, KoolMixx, and Vestax Extravaganza. With more than 20 years of experience, he was the Montreal DMC DJ Champion in 2003 and 2004.
Wanting more, however, Le stepped away from the battle scene and immersed himself in producing.
“I stepped away from the battle scene to explore other avenues in music that do not necessarily fit within the battling format, such as playing piano, teaching, composing, technology development, and general soul-searching,” said Le.
Joseph “DJ Elite” Netherland remembers as if it was yesterday, being 11 years old and hearing Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s 1982 song, “It’s A Shame.”
“That song is my first memory of hearing a DJ scratch,” said Netherland. “It intrigued me that by simply moving the record back & forth, you could make those cool sounds.”
His older brother and sister were all into the dancing scene, pop-locking, and b-boying but Netherland said while that was fun, dancing never really satisfied him.
“I loved how the music made me want to dance … however, I wanted to be able to do that,” he said. “I wanted to be the one to make the people dance.”
Secretly experimenting with his mom’s stereo, his mother soon realized her records were becoming worn due to cue burns. Angered, she told Netherland to stop, but soon realized it was something he enjoyed doing.
“Though we were dirt poor, she came home with a needle I could use solely to scratch with on her stereo and a few vinyl records of my own,” he said.
At 13, Netherland mastered the use of the volume and balance knobs on their home stereo, allowing him to mimic some of his favorite DJs, like Grand Mixer DXT and MixMaster ICE, while becoming a hit at house parties and events. At 18, Netherland entered and won his first DJ contest.
Since their early start, both Le and Netherland said technology has really changed the game.
“A decade ago, a DJ had to lug (more than) 100 pounds of records to a gig to play music for the night,” said Le. “Today, all one needs is a laptop and perhaps a DJ controller, and this all fits in a backpack.”
Although both DJs are grateful for having better technology to project their craft for thousands (Le admitted that he had done a full DJ gig by only using an iPad), they find that it has become easier for anyone to easily access the equipment needed to become DJs.
“Back in the day, you had to have a lot of financial, sociopolitical, and cultural capital to begin DJing,” Le said. “Now, DJ culture and its technologies have become mainstream and highly accessible.”
However, the one downside of having DJ technology so accessible is the lack of artistic craft that many believe is not needed.
“You still have to practice hard to become a good DJ,” said Le. Netherland agreed and said recent technology helps fill in logistics that back then, you needed to fully understand and learn.
“Current DJs aren’t lugging around crates full of vinyl, don’t have to meticulously count out the beats per minute of each song in their collection to find the tempo,” said Netherland. “With technology, you don’t even have to count how many bars before a songs lyrics start and heck, due to software some don’t even have to adjust the pitch control to match up two songs tempos.”
Le started a DJ school in Montreal, Canada in 2004 and said he has always liked teaching; being able to have people in a workshop setting helps people of all ages and levels of Djing to have their questions addressed.
“Djing is becoming more accessible to more demographic groups, and I would like to push the art in that direction a little bit more,” he said. “It allows more meaning to enter this cultural dialogue.”
Netherland is often approached by other DJs during events and feels that this workshop will not only educate people but will help rejuvenate what both say is a dying art.
“Knowing how to scratch seems to be a dying art,” he said. “I’ll also be so bold as to say that scratch DJs, we’re a dying breed.”
At this workshop, they hope that everyone will have fun while hoping to help shed light on several curious minds, hoping to inspire new DJs and helping share technical knowledge with advanced practitioners. What they also want people to realize when they walk out of the workshop is that DJs are artists and aren’t people that are required to play what they request.
“I want people to start acknowledging a DJ as an artist who is trying to share cultural knowledge through the selection and skillful manipulation of technologies,” said Le.
Personally, I’ve never been a fan of “push play” DJs and Netherland said he hopes people will start realizing that there is more than meets the eye to being a DJ.
“We’re not human jukeboxes,” said Netherland. “A good DJ does way more than just push buttons and play a song. There is a method to it. Just because we scratch, people automatically label us hip-hop music only DJs.
“Granted it’s my roots, but we like all sorts of music as well. Scratch DJs are not defined by genre,” he added.
Le hopes that through this workshop that he can help influence a person and the way that they see music.
“It is an intrinsic reward for me to know that I had some role in changing someone’s consciousness for the better,” he said.
Both DJs said they are inspired by the music and by the crowd.
“Nothing is more embarrassing than seeing a DJ rocking out to himself in the DJ booth with an empty floor and a crowd wondering what the heck is going on,” said Netherland. Although the gigs of their environment may not always be ideal, a good balance of humility, imagination, open-mindedness, a systematic approach, and passion are qualities that have helped them push in their industry and have helped them get to where they are today.
“Music and the people. Those two things get my adrenaline going. It’s a typical crowd and response thing. If music ever ceases to exist or the people aren’t dancing to my set, then it’s time for me to retire … and believe me, neither has happened yet,” said Netherland. “Music is my lifeblood and DJing is the heart that pumps it.”
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