July 31, 2014

Qbert vs. the Shrinking Turntable & Digi-Zilla

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Qbert holding a mini-turntable
Qbert and shrinkage: the battle for the turntable

Technics will be discontinuing production of its iconic SL-1200 turntable, DMC will be co-branding with Serato and Rane for its scratch competition. What’s next? A Speaker of the House who cries like a schoolgirl?

We thought it might be instructive to hear what DJ Qbert had to say about the “demise” of vinyl. “As far as vinyl is concerned,” he told DJ Times, “I think I’m ‘The Last Samurai!’”

How does “The Last Samurai” feel about all the “death of vinyl” news that’s recently come across the transom? I enjoy vinyl so much and so does my audience. When I like a track, I do my best to get it pressed on wax or try and emulate that beat at home, then press that up. DJing with records is an experience and I’ll always love the feel and precision of vinyl. Don’t get me wrong—I experiment at home with a digital setup, too. But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty and scratching, nothing compares to real vinyl.

We still get off on watching the wicky wicky. If I was in the audience watching a DJ, I would much rather see him spinning real records. It looks great seeing the sound coming from the source, the flipping of the records, and the skills involved in all aspects of using vinyl. All the nuances can be heard as they are meant to be heard and not a digital translation. I don’t mind if it’s a DJ using digital if they are just playing music, but when I want to see some real scratching, then I need to hear it on vinyl. Usually a DJ plays with Serato or Traktor, and when they start really scratching, they pull out some vinyl and switch it back to analog—that’s cool, too.

Although we’re nearly deaf and use an ear horn, we think there’s an audible difference. With real LPs, I love the pops, hiss and the stereo analog sound it has on me for some reason. I noticed that the left speaker will have a different static from the right speaker and it sounds out of this world without you knowing it! It’s just my roots. I love that B-Boy funk from the ’60s and ’70s, and I can never get tired of that raw sound from back then. Also, I like to be different. If everyone is going one way, then I’m gonna be that fish that swims the opposite direction. You ever go to the aquarium and look at the sardine tank? There’s always that one sardine, out of the hundreds, going against the flow. I always think, “What the hell is going on in that fish’s mind?” Maybe I’m just crazy, but I like it.

So the digital option doesn’t offend you? I think it’s great, but my first love is vinyl. Just like a classical pianist will use a grand piano, or an acoustic guitarist will use a wooden guitar. Even what I said earlier about the art of the Samurai, there’s really little use for it in war. But out of passion for the art, there are still tons of people studying sword fighting.

Does digital gear somehow dilute the purity of what you’re doing? Well, for me, yes. Mainly, it’s the feel. I haven’t found a digital system that emulates vinyl 100-percent. And you can ask any real scratch DJ, not the ones that do it just to do it, but the hardcore scratchers, if this is true—and they will say the same. They say you can hear with your fingertips, and this is absolutely true. When you touch vinyl, you can feel and hear the vibrations on the record and you will know where all the sounds are located, as if you were a magician. All you old-school DJs know what I’m talking about. I love taking a record out of its sleeve and looking at the cover, the art, the credits, the concept of the album. Records are a beautiful experience and I know what that is like.

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