The culture to which Scratch Perverts belong is one stemming back to late sixties funk and Latin music. To DJ Kool Herc, whose understanding of Jamaican sound systems shaped the formation of hip-hop culture in New York, and to the disco boom, which changed the style and significance of clubbing and block parties from the late seventies onward. They are of course, scratch DJs. Beat jugglers, craftsmen of the mixtape and connoisseurs of breaks, loops, samples and musical technology. They were one of many crews in the nineties that took turntablism to new heights, finding ever more challenging and creative ways to advance the techniques that New York DJs had developed to keep the hoards of dancers moving. They join Huey Morgan for this month’s NYC Block Party at Band on the Wall and we’re excited to hear what the guys have in store. Ahead of the night, we spoke to Prime Cuts about his current gear, his experiences with UNKLE in the late nineties and his favourite ways to discover music today. Keep up with Scratch Perverts on Facebook and SoundCloud, and keep up with Prime Cuts himself on social media.
What piece of gear, more than any other, has revolutionised your craft since starting out? Were you ever resistant to new technologies, or always willing to pit new kit against your trusted favourites?
PC: ‘I made the move to Traktor about seven years ago. It really wasn’t what I wanted to do at the time as I was really keen to keep playing records in clubs, but there were a succession of shows with sound issues due to being on a vinyl set up. The one gig that sticks in my mind was a NYE show in Brighton where Tony had to do the entire gig. He absolutely smashed it on CDJ’s while I pretended to play on turntables for the whole set feeling very self conscious. I was one of the last people on the circuit to make the jump. DJ Craze, Andy C, Yoda and DJ Hype who also all continue to use turntables made the change around the same time. Traktor allows me to still have the hands on experience of scratching with the benefit of a huge library of music on the laptop and the ability to work out cue points and loops very quickly. I love it and I also still love buying records and digitising them.’
Manchester’s El Statiko just won the UK leg of the DMC championships. Having won the team award in ‘99 and 2001, what advice do you have for DJs in his position, rising through the ranks and what did winning those awards do for yourselves and your reputation internationally?
PC: ‘I met El Statiko in Poland at the 2016 IDA championships, a great guy with great skills and passion for the game. I can’t really give him any advice, he already knows what he’s doing! Just enjoy the process and hopefully that translates in work you do.
The team definitely cemented its reputation through winning world titles, something that felt unique in the UK at the time. Our formation in the mid ‘90s coincided with a media interest in what we were doing and we really benefited from that. The team was voted DJs of the year in The Face magazine in 1998, we got the nod ahead of Fatboy Slim. Norman had number 1’s and we hadn’t really achieved anything yet. That all changed soon after though.’
The Man From Mo’ Wax premiered in UK picturehouses last month. Knowing that you’ve worked with UNKLE before, how interesting is the story of the label and its driving creatives, to you? Do you feel Mo’ Wax were one of the definitive labels in British hip-hop, trip-hop and downtempo music?
PC: ‘Mo’Wax was an absolutely pivotal label and Psyence Fiction was a landmark album. James got both myself and Tony to be part of the Psyence Fiction NME UK tour in January 1999 which was an amazing thing to be part of. This was the tour I learned to play on a bottle of vodka. This was the tour I got to meet Ian Brown. This was the tour I met Noel Gallagher. This was the tour James kicked his best mate Richard in the head in Glasgow. This was the tour I got paid twice and kept very quiet about it.’
The New York Block Party is something that’s deeply ingrained in Huey’s appreciation of club culture. What was your first experience of NYC and how often during your careers have you played shows that have had that uniting, community feel that you find at a block party or carnival? Are those rare occasions?
PC: ‘My first experience of New York was in September 1999. We were there for the DMC World Finals, it was the week that Get the F*ck Up [Simon says] by Pharoahe Monch came out and we stayed in The New Yorker Hotel. An amazing time in my life and some memories I’ll keep forever. We didn’t party that much whilst on that trip as it was all about the competition.
When I think of a New York block party I picture the scenes in 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s where India is on the mic chanting ‘Yes yes y’all, to the beat y’all’. Late 70’s New York. That period of time was monumental, a time of social struggle and some of the most creative music ever made.’
The term Mixtape is frequently used in contemporary rap music, but its original idea is quite different to the mixtape in the streaming era. What do mixtapes mean to you, having come of age in the era of cassette recordings and having sequenced mixed and unmixed releases for Fabric among others? What do you feel is key to the mixtape or mix CD, to take the listener on a journey?
PC: ‘It’s all about tunes, links and transitions. The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts, I love it when a mix of two tracks takes on its own personality, if it’s a really good blend you never hear these tracks in the same way again, your always waiting for the other tune to kick in and make it complete. I really see mixes/mix tapes as a recorded DJ set, your given a lot more freedom as it’s a pure listening experience, as opposed to trying to rock a dance floor… it’s also an opportunity to drop that super rare French Library album that you always imagined would kill Room 1 at Fabric but never had the bottle to play it.’
What’s your preferred way of accessing and discovering music today? Do you head to the record shop or browse online? Whose music are you really feeling at the moment?
PC: ‘Record shops are my favorite way to find music. Japhy, Phonica, Sounds of the Universe, Juno to name few of the shops and sites I visit regularly. I enjoy using Shazam to find something, I love radio, I love YouTube. Identification of Music Group is really handy. Bandcamp is great for discovering new artists and labels. I also like to be informed by my friends. Tony, Andrew Ashong and Jay Pearce (the other half of Hardworking Families) are all great sources of knowledge. I just discovered Gerald Donald of Drexcyia is also Dopplerefekt and Arpanet and Dr Zyklus. What a talented git. I really like the label Brokntoys and anything by the artist E.R.P, I don’t think that lad has released a duff record….The reissue of the Scopex back catalogue has been on heavy rotation at my place for the past few months and a label called Casa Voyager from Morocco are releasing some incredible music. I’m also really pleased with the latest Hardworking Families HWF003 12” which hits the streets in September.’