In Radar's class, the second one he's taught at SCC, you're expected to have a turntable, mixer and headphones, but not every student does. Radar begins the semester by breaking down the basics -- the history of the turntable, and turntablism itself; how the steel wheels and indispensable mixers work; the do's and don'ts of scratching (do use a slip mat under your records); proper hand position; and techniques. Ninety percent of the students in Radar's classes have been beginners, so don't be daunted if you're interested in taking the next course.
The SCC class will take you through an analysis of the masters -- from Grand Wizard Theodore to Q-Bert and the Skratch Piklz -- and give you the fundamentals of hip-hop DJ history. But for your own personal "I wanna be a DJ" project, you need to start with your own tastes and develop your own style from the very beginning.
In Smite's opinion, crate digging is often an overlooked facet for new DJs. "If you're in the mindset that scratching is DJing, you're missing out on so much other shit. It's like playing baseball is just hitting home runs or something. You've got what you're gonna play, how you're gonna play it -- you gotta have good shit to play, you gotta be able to present it in an original way, so mixing's gonna play a huge role, and scratching, as well as just reading your audience."
Smite's forte is rare grooves -- old funk and soul 45s with sick cuts that he can throw on top of more current beats. DJ Stefascope, on the other hand, is an aficionado of old-school hip-hop alongside the nu-school underground wax that's constantly being birthed.
Unless you're the beneficiary of an especially hip parent's record collection, you're gonna need some wax. This is the genesis of your artistic process; the records sitting in your crates are the tools you'll need to build your house of sound. For this, you have the obvious suspects, like Circles in Phoenix, and Swell Records (which recently merged with similarly minded retailer Spin Records) in Tempe. Queried on the subject, Stefascope guardedly remarks, "I'm not gonna say Eastside [Records, also in Tempe], those are my records. But that's the best store, Eastside."
When it comes to building a unique record collection, don't forget eBay, where international superstar DJs like Z-Trip and Shadow spend considerable time bidding on vinyl treasures. If rare grooves, classic funk, and '60s soul are your thing, you'll want to hit up the occasional record swaps that pop up several times during the year at various locations, where obsessive collectors like Phoenix music historian Johnny D are known to liquidate portions of their stockpiles.
Both Smite and Stefascope recommend you get your requisite equipment -- two turntables and a mixer (not a microphone, Beck) -- used, if at all possible. "Not retail," Smite says. "There's enough Technics -- they're the standard -- so there's enough of 'em out there that you can probably save yourself half what you're paying for retail." However, if your trust fund is bulging, there are several retail options for purchasing brand-spanking-new gear.
Smite and Stefascope both got their start by playing house parties, and that's the most logical place for you to test your skills in front of your friends, and begin to build a fan base. "That's the best way to learn," Smite says. "It's like being in the Army and constantly being on call; at the same time getting people into your shit, getting the records, having a following."
The local market for DJs at clubs is flooded, so if you can't develop a style that's got something new to offer, your chances of getting a prime gig are greatly hampered. Besides that, DJ nights come and go like the tides. Smite was holding down a reggae night, "Slapstick Sundays," at Flip Flops in Tempe, until it was recently canceled. Similarly, Stefascope had a stint rocking hip-hop at his "Mopery" night at the Sail Inn, until it was unceremoniously axed.
As for getting decent gigs in the Valley, Stefascope has this advice to offer: "Make friends with the right people," emphasizing the politics that permeate every facet of the music biz. "Find whoever's putting shit on. You can't just put yourself on, it doesn't work out so easy."
Nonetheless, with a year's worth of effort and the above advice, you could be making URB magazine's Next 100 by the beginning of 2006. Just remember who got you started, kids.
Get some class
Buy your own spin
To buy turntables and mixers, check out these places:
Guitar Center (various locations)
Southwest Sound Works
425 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
Wax poetic Swell Records
524 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
800 North Central Avenue, Phoenix
217 West University Drive, Tempe
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