Last Night, a DJ Saved My Life

If you like DJs, if you like hip hop, if you like funk, if you like rock’n’roll...then Scratch Tour 2002 is your musical dream. No, Scratch Tour 2002, which hit Boston at the Avalon Ballroom on March 19, is your sound utopia and your DJ nirvana. Avalon was equipped with a row of turn-tables running the length of the stage, a jam-packed crowd of fans, a small break-dancing circle and a big screen running everything from live feed of the DJs’ hands close up, to the bouncing crowd to unrelated superimposed images.

The national promotional tour is planned to excite fans and spread the word about the new movie Scratch, by director Doug Prey. Scratch gives a documentary-style history and contemporary portrait of important and innovative DJs and the now thriving DJ culture founded on their talents.

The Original Jazzy Jay, first to step up to the tables, showed the crowd why he is such a legendary figure in the history of turntablism, dropping a set of funky, old-school tracks. Jazzy Jay was a founding father of the hip hop DJ culture. Mixing in ’70s funk beats with cow bells and sound bites from a speech by President John F. Kennedy ’40, he composed sequences of impeccable timing, deep bass and infectious rhythms. His skills illustrated and made real the lyrics he scratched with: “Musical rhythms can mess with your head.”

Grandwizzard Theodore entered the stage wearing an American flag bandana on his head, to the backdrop of the theme song from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The hype was well deserved: this is the man who, twenty years ago, invented the “scratch.” Grandwizzard Theodore delivered a classic, well-rounded set, working the crowd and getting the fans to sing him “Happy Birthday.” He also treated them to a brief hip hop history lesson emphasizing the importance of the DJ as the first element of hip hop, in conjunction with the MCs, graffiti artists and break dancers.

Following Grandwizzard Theodore’s iconic reputation and talents, Z-Trip brought innovation and individual experimentation to the fore. Z-Trip said that he “likes to do the complete opposite of what everyone likes to do.” Although his was the longest set of the night, he charmed the audience, always keeping them bouncing and begging for more vibrations from the towers of speakers flanking the stage. A relentless crowd-pleaser, Z-Trip mixed in everything from rock ’n’ roll to Arabic beats in his stunning set.

Just when the crowd was convinced that the night couldn’t get any better, the revered Q-Bert blessed the vinyl with his touch. He warmed up with his signature style combining dexterity and sensitivity in a series of eerie, cosmic sounds evoking outer space and alien noises. Q-Bert worked away on the turn-tables, caressing the grooves and flicking the mixer with such masterful technique that the speed of his fingers would just blur the big screen overhead with fuzzy pixels of light. As though he need to prove his famed talent, Q-Bert proceeded to mix a great track entirely based on scratching—sans the mixer. Jaws dropped in amazement and awe throughout the audience.

Closing the night was DJ Babu with Dilated Peoples, the West Coast group comprised of the two MCs, Evidence and Irascience. Both joined forces to give an impressive performance, displaying the height of their freestyling skills, but made sure to keep the focus on their prized DJ Babu, also a member of the Beat Junkies. Their set felt more like a celebration and tribute to DJs (in particular Babu), which it was, than a standard hip hop concert. Pitting sides of the crowd against each other, Dilated Peoples gave everything to maintain high energy into the tail end of the night. And they succeeded.

Talking to Z-Trip and Grandwizzard Theodore backstage after the show, the cool and bling-bling to be expected from these kings of hip hop was very much in evidence. More impressive though was their sincere and genuine appreciation of the fans. Their palpable excitement for touring together and scratching for their fans was more than endearing; it exerted a gravitational pull on whoever was near them. They dismissed all airs of superiority and celebrity, mingling with ease, even though, as he joked repeatedly, Z-Trip is in the new “cool” issue of Rolling Stone. They were earnest in their musical passion, while not taking themselves overly seriously.

This group of DJs, rich in talent, creativity, and conviction, are taking the musical world by storm, displaying a past of groundbreaking innovation and a future brimming with potential.


Scratch Tour 2002


March 19