Enter the Wave Twisters
Deep in hyperspace, there's a climactic battle brewing with damning implications for the rest of the universe.
The insidious space pirate Red Worm, on orders from the evil High Lord Ook-Nod-Zeek-Oot, is fighting to take possession of the Wave Twister, a powerful scratch weapon from ancient times. The Inner Space Dental Commander -- a cross between Luke Skywalker, David Carradine and the family dentist -- has discovered Lord Ook's plan to not only take possession of the Wave Twister, but to control the Lost Arts (the four pillars of hip-hop culture -- breaking, rapping, graffiti and scratching) and use them as tools of his malevolent regime.
The Dental Commander has unwittingly unraveled his destiny, to save the Lost Arts and reintroduce them to the universe's inhabitants. He's not alone -- the commander has a posse: Honey, his beautiful assistant; Rubbish, his impish medical droid; and B-Boy Grandpa, the last surviving link to the era when the Lost Arts flourished. With a barrage of forces sent by Lord Ook to defeat this motley assemblage of heroes, will the Lost Arts remain under Ook's control, or will the battle skills of the commander and his crew defeat Ook and revive the old traditions?
If the preceding sounds like a plot from a comic book, that's understandable. A distant, intergalactic world populated by odd characters, larger-than-life villains and impossibly brave heroes is usually the most common setting for a sci-fi/fantasy adventure.
However, this elaborate tale is actually the basis for a new animated feature conceived by scratch-music avatar DJ Q-Bert. Wave Twisters: The Movie, based on Q-Bert's 1998 album Wave Twisters, represents a watershed for the burgeoning turntable culture.
While recording his concept album (and scratch music's first) some three years ago, Q-Bert had an epiphany: "About halfway through it, I thought I could make it a story," he recalls. "I've always wanted to make videos for my music, but to stay away from the MTV stuff. I wanted more like graffiti animation."
While such a goal might have seemed out of reach for even the most ambitious record spinner, Richard "Q-Bert" Quitevis has made a career out of breaking new ground. Few hip-hop DJs have had a greater impact on their medium than this San Francisco-based turntablist. His achievements -- the introduction of new techniques, the work of his former crew the Invisibl Skratch Piklz (who disbanded in 2000) and the visibility he's provided as the movement's figurehead and spokesman -- are unmatched.
Collectively, the Skratch Piklz were responsible for some crucial achievements: the Shigger Fraggar tapes, culled from a Bay Area radio show the crew hosted; Q-Bert's Bionic Booger Breaks record; and ISP's Invisibl Skratch Piklz vs. Da Klamz Uv Deth 12-inch, to name but a few. In the early '90s, Q-Bert dominated the DMC (Disco Mixing Club) national and international competitions, taking the world title three years in a row. He was eventually asked to judge rather than compete -- the only way to level the playing field at the time. Since then, Q, along with fellow ISP member (and sometime Beastie Boys turntablist) MixMaster Mike, was awarded the DMC DJ Hall of Fame Award for outstanding contributions to the industry.
And while Wave Twisters: The Movie is yet another significant milestone in Q's career, he prefers to look at the film's story as a metaphor for the often disheartening lack of attention paid to the four elements of hip-hop culture. "[The story] really is a parallel to what's going on in music right now. These guys are trying to show the lost elements of hip-hop," he explains. "It's letting people know that there's more to music and art than what you see on TV; there's things people need to see outside of the mainstream. There's underground arts out there that are still very important and people don't know about them; that's what the story's about."
To help realize the ambitious cinematic concept, Q-Bert enlisted the talents of ISP DJ Yogafrog as executive producer, and Doug Cunningham, a.k.a. Dug1, as the movie's visual guru. Cunningham -- a longtime ISP collaborator and one of the world's top graffiti artists -- became the key force behind the film's look along with renowned cinematographers/animators Syd Garon and Eric Henry. "Dug1 is just the greatest at what he does," Q-Bert says. "And the animators popped up out of nowhere; everything fell into place. It worked out like a fate thing; it's meant to be. I pretty much gave them the story of what the album was about, how the chapters go. They took that and put their own imagination into it, made up their own interpretation of what the movie was."
To help translate the vertiginous feel of the music to the big screen, the Wave Twisters creative team decided they needed to utilize a hybrid style of filmmaking. This meant incorporating a wide variety of techniques: traditional cell animation, computer-generated 3-D images, live action (featuring members of the ISP as turntable villains) and photo collages. The result is a journey through the Wave Twisters galaxy that's both a sonic and visual wonderland.
The finished product was such a success that it stunned even its creator. "When I saw it the first time, I was trippin'," Q-Bert says, laughing. "It was crazier than I expected."
The movie has been screened by audiences at two major events in recent months; an early cut of the film was shown at ScratchCon, the world's first convention for scratch artists held last year and organized by Yogafrog. It also debuted at last month's Sundance Film Festival in Utah to rave reviews.
This year Sundance saw an explosion of scratch-themed projects. Along with Wave Twisters, the festival also witnessed the première of Scratch, a new documentary from Hype director Doug Pray, which features Q-Bert and Valley DJ Z-Trip.
"Scratch was really good; it helped turn people on to what scratching is about," notes Q. "People didn't really understand what Wave Twisters was about, but after they saw Scratch they knew a lot more about it. A lot of people opened their eyes to [scratching], and we got a lot more respect than before."
The two films and their unique perspectives on the art form will likely expose the general public to the music in a way that recordings alone could never hope to achieve. And Wave Twisters: The Movie won't be the last scratch-inspired film Q-Bert attempts, either; he's already at work helping former ISP partner D-Styles on a concept album the pair hope to transfer to celluloid.
As for what he hopes to achieve with Wave Twisters: The Movie, Q is adamant about using the film as a tool to help spread the gospel of the turntable to the masses. "How long are people not gonna know about this?" asks an adamant Q. "If they did see scratching, they'd be able to make some beautiful music with it. It's about time this art has come up."
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