Interview Liane Hansen  


LIANE HANSEN, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Liane Hansen.

Next week, a feature-length documentary called "Scratch" will be released. The film chronicles the evolution of the hip-hop deejay.

(Soundbite of "Scratch"; deejay scratching a record)

GRANDWIZZARD THEODORE: This one particular day when I came home from school--you know, I usually go home and practice. And I was playing music a little bit too loud, and my moms came and banged on the door--boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. `If you don't cut that music down, you going to have to cut it off.' So why she was in the doorway, you know, screaming at me, I was still holding a record and rubbing the record back and forth. When she left, I was like, `Hmm, that's a pretty good idea.'

(Soundbite of record scratching)

HANSEN: That's Grandwizzard Theodore speaking; Mix Master Mike and DJ Disc(ph) are doing the scratching.

Scratching is the sound produced when vinyl records are put on a turntable and moved quickly back and forth under the needle. The soundtrack to "Scratch" will also be released next week, but the CD is more like a 45-minute audio documentary. You hear quick snippets of different rhythms, longer live and studio performances, as well as something called interludes, where the deejays lead the listener through some great beats and scratching.

Unidentified Man #1: The turntable was originally something you walked away from when you put a record on, you know. You never thought to sit there and look at it and say, `What else can I do with this?' You know, you never...

Unidentified Man #2: You never were supposed to touch it.

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah. It was so...

Unidentified Man #2: You know, your parents are like, `Don't touch the turntable.'

Unidentified Man #1: Yeah.

Unidentified Man #2: `Don't touch the record. You're going to ruin it.'

(Soundbite of "Scratch"; deejay scratching record; music)

HANSEN: Bill Laswell is the executive producer of the "Scratch" soundtrack. He says both the film and the CD try to distinguish between the art of deejaying and turntablism.

Mr. BILL LASWELL (Executive Producer): Deejays now play dance music and do sets and you can hire them for weddings. But turntablism is an art form. It came out of the hip-hop culture, as did, you know, graffiti and rap and break dancing, and it evolved from that. But it's--the concept of deejaying is very limited in terms of describing this particular project, because this has to do more with the innovation of a new instrument, which is all instrument.

HANSEN: Hmm. The instrument is the turntable.

Mr. LASWELL: Yeah.

HANSEN: When did the record spinner become the musician? When did the turntable become an instrument?

Mr. LASWELL: Well, it's a gradual evolution. As early at the late '70s, artists were using the turntable to play rhythms. And around '83, we did a record with Herbie Hancock, which featured the turntable as a solo instrument, a piece called "Rockit," which featured a deejay called DST. And that was kind of the first breakthrough in the mainstream.

(Soundbite of "Rockit")

Mr. LASWELL: If you weren't going to clubs in New York at that time, you probably wouldn't have heard a sound like that. So in terms of music, the track is as much influenced by Kraftwerk and German repetitive music and electronic music as it is by R&B and--I mean, there's a Cuban drummer. There's a baseline that's very derivative of a Pharoah Sanders riff. It's all riffs with just the turntable being the solo instrument.

(Soundbite of "Rockit")

HANSEN: Now you have "Rockit 2.002," so essentially that's "Rockit 2000." What's going on here with the deejays? How are they paying tribute to that initial song in 1983?

Mr. LASWELL: Well, they're cutting records in their own way and with their own expression. And their techniques have evolved immensely since that time, so you--it's just like the evolution of a saxophone player. You go from rhythm and blues to Charlie Parker, you hear it a big difference.

(Soundbite of "Rockit 2.002")

HANSEN: Tell us what's different here. Compare what came out initially, as you say, began a certain movement, and what is it we're hearing here?

Mr. LASWELL: Well, initially, it was one deejay playing over breaks and using the turntable as a solo instrument in the same way you would use a percussion instrument. In the new version, it's the same concept, except there's six or seven different deejays and kind of quick cuts and not doing extended solos, but backing everything up within a few bars at a time. So you get an example of everyone's approach, everyone's style, everyone's sound. The turntablists have a sound just no different than a guitarist would have a sound. If you had seven guitar players, they would all have a different approach.

HANSEN: Are those sounds easy to describe? How does, for example, GrandMixer DST's sound differ from someone like Mix Master Mike?

Mr. LASWELL: Well, it's evolution just like I said with the guitarist. So GrandMixer DST is more old school. He has a kind of more soulful, a warmer approach. So he's, you know, the Muddy Waters compared to grand--Mix Master Mike's, you know, Eddie Van Halen, or something like that. You have to look at it like that.

HANSEN: Hmm. You've done a lot of work over the years. Tell us how did noise become notes?

Mr. LASWELL: Well, I don't know if it became notes or needs to become notes. It's just sound and texture. And if we can get past the notes and start utilizing sound as sound, that's futuristic composition. So notes are irrelevant. Notes are part of a scale, part of a chord, and those are prisons. Noise is, you know, a freedom of a chord, freedom of a sequence.

HANSEN: That's sounds very metaphoric for the whole idea of the symbolism of using the turntable and the music industry and the hip-hop culture breaking free of certain restrictions.

Mr. LASWELL: Yeah, because they weren't overeducated about what music should be. Hip-hop is the most innovative form of music that takes music to a new place, because the artist hasn't been contaminated. They haven't been told what is right and wrong about sound. You know, the concept of middle C in European classical or scales and modes--it's all intuition. It's all feeling. And it's expressive. It's closer to painting, or something like that. It's much more artistic. It's a time for people to reject the concept of what music is and how you do it, wrong or right, what's classical or what's pop. Hip-hop was the solution to all that.

HANSEN: Bill Laswell, thanks a lot.

Mr. LASWELL: Thank you.

HANSEN: Bill Laswell is the executive producer of "Scratch: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack." The film and the CD are released next week.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Damn! Damn!


HANSEN: I'm Liane Hansen. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

(Soundite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Do it!

(Soundbite of deejay scratching record; music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop-pop-pop!

(Soundbite of deejay scratching record; music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Break! Break! Break! Bre-bre-break! Bre-bre-bre-bre-break! Bre-bre-bre-bre-break! Bre-bre-bre-bre-break! Bre-bre-bre-bre-break! Bre-bre-bre-bre-break!

(Soundbite of deejay scratching record)


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