Sunday, July 26, 2009

Book Review: The Scratch DJ Academy Guide (St. Martin’s)

Awwa, awwa, here's a book review I wrote on the ultimate guide to djing and DJ culture, "The Scratch DJ Academy Guide" (St. Martin’s) for!

Reviewed by Sidik Fofana

“The emphasis is now on the DJ and his performance as the leader of the dance,” Tony McGuinness, contemplative Trance DJ-turned-scratchonomic-seigneur acknowledges in the chapter, “The Influence of the DJ” of On The Record. “This is an idea that goes back to prehistoric times; there’s always been a figure in society who leads a mass dance. For me now, it has become much more of a performance.”

Since Hip-Hop’s birth over thirty years ago, the role of the DJ has transcended that distinction: Today’s DJ is no longer the leader of the dance, but the dance itself. If he does not play right logarithm of records—including the necessary blending, scratching, and microphone interjections to go with it—the sacred life of the party is lost.

According to writers Luke Crissell and Phil White, who have shared leaf in the ultra hip mag Nylon and both boast major bylines galore, and Phil White, founder of the Scratch DJ Academy, the ability to DJ is a dexterous but teachable art. Yet, as On The Record so clearly stresses, it is an art that requires an appreciative awareness of the cultural movements that define it in addition to the actual practice of the craft. And that awareness gives DJing its holism, which today’s top DJs like Craze, Sasha, Yoda, AM, and others elaborate on through various advice, lessons, and reflections, prepping aspiring DJ’s just as much for life away from the turntables as on them.

As in the book The Art of Emceeing, in which Dead Prez’s Stic.Man divulges the step-by-step mechanic of rapping, On the Record breaks down the ones and twos of disc jockeying. “There are so many different options for DJs these days—they use vinyl, Serato, Ableton, CD decks,” DJ Yoda comments on the revolutionizing of DJ equipment in the chapter “DJ 101,” “But I think that it’s important to get used to working with vinyl first. It’s crucial to have that basis, because the new technology just emulates two turntables and a mixer.” The chapter goes on to break down the art of scratching, beat matching, fading, and building a set.

Sure, DJing is a skill that does not need a manual as much as it needs lived experience, but the folks at The Stratch DJ Academy remind us that there is unspeakable value in the written experience of world-renowned DJ’s. In that sense, On The Record is not an alternative way of learning to DJ, but a companion to the very process itself.

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