Dark Matter and Symbiotic Interview Turntable Legend DJ Qbert
There are some names you come by, that no matter what your background, you will recognize. DJ Qbert is one of these names. He’s won the DMC World championship 3 times, been knighted by the Grand Masters of Hip Hop, revolutionized how we look at a pair of turntables and selflessly defeated the evil overlords of innerspace to save the 5 elements of Hip Hop from certain destruction. These may be some of the more well known facts of DJ Qbert, but his list of accomplishments goes on and on. So much so, we had to choose between doing an interview or writing a thesis to truly capture how much this artist has done for Hip Hop, Turntablism, and even Electronic Music today. We chose interview!
As he gears up for his upcoming tour to promote his newest albums Extraterrestria and GalaXXXian, Dark Matter and Symbiotic had an opportunity to ask him some questions before he arrives in Baltimore, for their event Foundation on June 28th.
Dark Matter/Symbiotic: First off, congratulations on your successful Kickstarter campaign for the new albums! We’ve read that each album offers opposing perspectives and sounds. Can you tell us more about it?
QBert: So basically…
Extraterrestria is an album of skratch music from outer space…
And GalaXXXian is an album of earth music with rappers and skratching that goes out to space.
But it does get more in depth as we formulate it all together and put the films to the music to create the whole story.
What are you most excited about with the release of album?
QBert: That in the end, when the complete movie is done… I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that someone had watched and got maybe even a tiny kick out of it.
We are excited to have you perform at our event, Foundation, on June 28th in Baltimore, MD. How often do you make it out to the East Coast to DJ/perform? And is it often you play at Electronic Music events?
QBert: Oh wow, it’s gonna be fun! I get to go east coast a few times a year, but now that the album is coming out soon, looks like they are lining up a tour that goes around 40 cities throughout the whole U.S.!
Dark Matter and Symbiotic events are slightly different than a typical Electronic Music event. We have done a lot of integration of dance competitions directly into the parties along with pre-event workshops. The goal is to allow the competitions to drive people to get better at their craft, inspire others to want to learn and take away some of the mass perception of what Electronic Music Culture entails. As one who has been through the toughest DJ competitions, and now runs a University (Qbert Skratch University) offering many resources to novice and skilled turntablists, how important do you see competition and education being within an art form?
QBert: Oh yes… It drives me to get better all the time. When the art progresses, it makes me wanna out do whatever it is I just saw or heard, and throw my lil twist on things to advance that. (Well I don’t always succeed lol! But I do accidentally make up new stuff in the process, so that’s sometimes very Kool).
The Qbert skratch university is another way of learning and just a really dope place to get tons of ideas from all the students… I’m a teacher, but definitely a student first. Everyone has their own take on things, and I definitely along with all the other students sure do learn a lot being skratch nerds!
You’ve been credited for having the turntable recognized as an instrument and as making turntablism a reputable artform. When did you realize you were on the forefront of being a part of that?
QBert: I still don’t recognize it! I’m just doing what I love every day and like a jazz musician… I’m into long practice hours and studying the craft as if it was a musical instrument. Well it is, actually.
Did you expect or predict that turntablism would eventually cross over into so much more than just hip hop culture?
QBert: Yup, because it is an instrument… It doesn’t have to be boxed into just one genre. You can skratch, twist, flip and play with any sound, so that gives it the crazy infinity times infinity factor when it comes to what you can do with it creatively
You’ve mentioned in past interviews that you don’t necessarily dig for songs, but instead, sounds. How different is your search process compared to other artists like DJ Shadow who is known to own 99.99999% of the world’s vinyl?
QBert: Oh I don’t know about that, cuz I dig for songs and sounds equally as heavy. I love the crazy sounds and sure as hell love finding ill music always.
Do you have a favorite sound sample out of all that you have collected?
QBert: Just one sound? Lol oh wow… Maybe the sound of a crystal bowl humming in the pitch of C… I can zone out and meditate to that. Also a shaman said that my spirit vibes at C.
You’ve been ‘Knighted’ by the Grand Masters of Hip Hop culture. In fact, you are one of only two DJ’s to receive this honor. For those that don’t know, who are the Grand Masters of Hip Hop culture and what did this mean for you/your career?
QBert: Grand mixer D.St., Grand Wizard Theodore, and Grand Master Flash… All 3 were the first Turntable Musicians in our Hip Hop history. This was a great honor, and sometimes I still can’t believe it! Roc Raida (Rockin In Paradise) was the other DJ knighted. Sometimes I feel his spirit gives me pointers when I’m in the lab.
Your talent’s seem to be uninhibited by boundaries. For example, not many people realize you were involved in writing the scores of many EA sports games. What are some of the non-traditional projects you have worked on that you enjoyed the most?
QBert: Working with Capcom and having music for Street Fighter, also having a track in the Tony Hawk game. But one main passion of mine is designing DJ mixers and equipment. We have a new mixer coming out called the ThudRumble TRX! It’s just simple and got the super dope Innofader faders, crazy sturdy, and only about 200 bucks vs. all those crazy mixers that are like 1000 dollars. Kids can’t even get into the art because it’s too expensive. So we Made the TRX. We are also designing lots of other dope tools that I can’t speak of just yet. I also loved designing the turntable/mixer combo with Vestax back in the day called the QFO.
What would the first thing you would say if you came face to face with an alien?
QBert: Depends what kind… If it was of a benevolent and helpful race… Then I would inquire about their music and how it sounds. If it was of a malevolent race that looks upon humans as mere cattle and are on the planet to take over… I would probably want to get outta there. (But still would want to know what their music sounded like too, ha!)
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We reached out to our fans and asked them to submit some questions they would ask QBert if they could! Here are a few:
As a turntablist, how do you feel about the digital era of DJing; and it’s effects on turntablism?
QBert: It’s awesome! I can skratch sounds I create right there instead of having to wait ’til vinyl is pressed. But I do love the accuracy of actual vinyl when I skratch… So we make records now with our favorite skratch sounds on one side all analog, and the other side if the record is a digital control tone to skratch the sounds on my computer… Best of both worlds on one piece of wax!
What was your biggest challenge when learning how to scratch?
QBert: Just getting it to sound good… It wasn’t very melodic or on beat much with swing until about 2 years in it for me.
What is your ultimate end-goal in life, music, and the preservation of intergalactic peace?
QBert: Just to make the world a better place in anything I do… And since music is my passion, I hopefully wish I can do it with those skills. I also want people to know this karmic fact: “The ultimate happiness is in giving… The ultimate evil is selfishness”
If you could be an instrument, other than a turntable, what would you be?
QBert: A guitar or cello or violin… String instruments have lots of emotional power… It’s the violins in movies that can make you cry. Try watching that that tear jerking scene with the volume off.
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Any parting words you would like to leave for your fans that will be coming to see you while you are on tour?
QBert: Let’s just have some fun! Peace and blessings y’all!
Thank you so much for taking time to answer the questions. We look forward to seeing you in Baltimore in June, and wish you the best of success with your new album and upcoming tour!
QBert: One love, thank you.
Catch DJ Qbert June 28th at the Paradox in Baltimore, Maryland, at the highly anticipated Foundation dance event hosted by Dark Matter and Symbiotic. Other artists include drum and bass act from the UK, Calyx & TeeBee, along with Fort Knox Five (DC), Qdup (DC), Legion (ATL), Dali (NYC), Gridlok (SF), and a stellar regional lineup. The event runs from 9p.m. until 4a.m. with the first annual NEXUS All-Object Manipulation Competiton being held at the event from 10p.m. until 12a.m. Advance tickets are $30 and can be found here. For more information, visit the official event page