UPDATE: We've added a few photos from Delicious Vinyl in-house shutterbug Jeanette Paredes.
Vancouver can have the Winter Games. Here in sunny Southern California, land of the endless summer, our Olympic feats our perennial, and so much cooler than ice dancing. Take DJing for instance -- turntablism, or the art of scratch. Influential as New York was in getting the wheels (of steel) turning on that, it was out here on the West Coast that the sport was perfected, and turned into something equally deserving of the world's eyes.
Except that on Saturday afternoon in Hollywood, as L.A.-bred scratch legend Cut Chemist tore through a mind-warping set with near-gymnastic grace at the Freak City retail space, there were only about 35 people in the room, a third of them established DJs themselves, to watch him do it. Chalk it up to confusing billing. The event in question was the second in classic rap label Delicious Vinyl's 2010 series of monthly "All-Star DJ Workshops," but Cut Chemist's contribution was all performance, and with a ticket price of $0, the shop's brick walls should've been bulging with looky-loos.
There were other legends in the house as well. Original KDAY Mix Master Tony G -- a mentor and inspiration to countless aspiring DJs over the years -- took the workshop aspect to heart, asking the crowd what it'd like to learn, and demonstrating effectively a handful of basic turntable tricks. Former N.W.A. producer and electro champion Arabian Prince had his own 40 minutes at the front of the class, and used it to explore the connections between familiar rap hits and the original samples that spawned them. Unfortunately, West Coast Sound arrive just as KDAY's Compton prodigy M.Walk was saying his goodbyes.
But Cut Chemist had a different tack: "I'm not into talking that much," he said, "So I'm going to put the mic down, do a little 'wiki wiki,'* and get it started."
Accompanied by his unfortunately named visuals counterpart, Pimpadelic Wonderland, the DJ who rose to fame as a member of Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli demonstrated just how good the art of scratch can be -- especially when you aren't a purist about format. He flitted between two turntables, two CDJ rigs, and a DVD player, keeping the various platters spinning like a Chinese acrobat. Watching Cut work, one got the feeling that whether playing for an intimate crowd or the festivalling masses, the dude approaches every set with the same winning mix of unerring precision and cool showmanship.
He tossed records over his shoulder, slapped at the faders with loose arms and a goofy smile, and juggled beats back and forth until they came into sync, then scattered outward in polyrhythmic shards. He started fun -- with old school rap and DJ techniques he'd credit to the KDAYers in the house -- then whipped up a looming dark sound cloud of moody Tropicalia and rave-ish pulse which he subsequently burst with Technicolor electro (into which he spliced a choice Mr. Lif rap). All the while, P.W.** enhanced the narrative with imagery that played off of the Chemist's samples.
As it turned out, Cut Chemist's set was a reward to those who came to absorb the teachings of some true hip-hop veterans. It was only the second installment of the series, and there were a handful of dull moments. The guests could have benefited from more direction, the attendees could have used a couple practice sets of turntables out on floor, and the promised coconut water from event sponsor Zico was nowhere to be found (again, this is an athletic affair). But Delicious Vinyl has got its heart in the right place, and there wasn't a person in the room who didn't feel like the luckiest chump in Los Angeles when Cut Chemist took a bow.
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* onomatopoeiatic DJ talk for the sound of scratching
** because typing "Pimpadelic Wonderland" makes us gag a little