DMC Champ Gets Crazy
Turntablism is the hip catchphrase of the day, but its roots go back much farther than Beck's "two turntables and a microphone" lyric would imply. Invented by Grand Wizard Theodore and other ingenious mid-70s New York scratch and spin explorers, turntablism has roots close to those of hip hop. But while much contemporary hip hop is about as exciting as figuring your taxes, turntablism is a full blown art form in motion, a still renegade sound-clash of genie-like figures who do wild things with Technics tables and Numark mixers.
The recently held 15th annual DMC/Technics World DJ Championships featured twelve of the worlds freakiest turntable hooligans showing their best tricks and generally attempting to one up the competition. Japan's DJ Takada practiced impressive beat juggling; Denmark's Static used two records together to create the phrase "I'm young, gifted and Danish"; Morocco's DJ Mouse concocted a mad drum solo from leftover vinyl drum shards.
But the returning champion, Miami's DJ Craze, won over the crowd once again with an incredible variety of vinyl warnings aimed all DJs within earshot. Craze's performance epitomizes the current zenith of turntablism. A master at the decks, he knows all the crabs, drags, buzzes, banshees, and other techniques familiar to the genre, but his style is both aggressive and extremely musical.
Craze's latest album, Crazee Musick (Bomb Hip Hop), continues the musical theme, but not at the expense of turntable shenanigans. While Craze does plenty of beat juggling and mad slice-and-dice vocal routines, he makes sure to keep the music flowing at all times. That's a far cry from typical turntable gymnastics, where beats rule and melodies are practically non-existent.
DJ Craze is actually one Aritz Delgado. Born in Nicaragua, he came to the US when he was three, moved to San Francisco, then Miami. Aritz played percussion, marimba and drums in high school band, but was won over by the sounds produced by his brother, then a party DJ.
"I would go on and spin while he was getting drunk," recalls Aritz.
"One day my brother showed me the DMC videos with the Rock Steady DJs on it and I got hooked. I bought all the videos, I listened to everything and practiced. From there, I did my own thing, around '92, '93. First thing I learned was the military scratch. It sounds like chick-chick-a chick-chick. It's real basic. I got my skills just by watching the videos and seeing what they did, and watching everybody."
Musician.com spoke with DJ Craze from his New Jersey home.
Musician.com: Congrats on winning the recent DMC World Turntable Championships.
DJ Craze: Thanks.
Musician.com: Your latest CD, Crazee Musick, is more than just bass drum beats and squeegee effects. There is so much happening. The first track has a great intro, sort of a sci-fi sound. What was your goal for the record?
Craze: I just wanted to create a different kind of turntablist record. People were just expecting me to make some beats and scratch all over the f***ing tracks and do some crazy shit. I wanted to show them a turntablist musical album where I was composing tracks straight off the turntables. That is what I was trying to accomplish throughout the whole album, just make it a real musical turntablist album. That whole album was made on just two turntables and an eight track and a mixer. I didn't master it, I wanted that rugged sound to it.
Musician.com: Why did you want a raw sound?
Craze: Because that is what it is -- f***ing raw two turntables and a eight track There is no sampling, no compressors, nothing. Just the gear.
Musician.com: Is this record different from hearing one of your DJ sets?
Craze: It's way different.
Musician.com: This is more about music and not just gymnastics.
Craze: Yea, this is more about experimental hip hop. That is what I like to call it, it ain't something that you can bump to and go party to either. It is something, like, you have to just chill, smoke yourself a blunt, and just listen to it, ya know what I am saying? You got to take it to that other zone.
Musician.com: You probably use Technics 1200 turntables, but what kind of cartridge do you prefer?
Craze: I like the Stanton 500s. My eight track is a Tascam. I forget the number of it. And I use a Rane CT 15 mixer.
Musician.com: You definitely hit your goal of making a musical record. A lot of the DJ records aren't very musical. Why do so many turntablists make rather unmusical records?
Craze: Well, I mean, most of the time they are trying to make records for turntablists. They are making records for the people that support them. I was just trying to make a record for everybody, for anybody who wants to listen to some experimental shit. I got criticized a lot by turntablists for not scratching all over the tracks. That wasn't my goal. I wanted to make a musical album. I wasn't really trying to show off my technical skills. If you want to see my technical shit you can see my live and I do all that crazy shit.
Musician.com: Do you cut your own dubplate?
Craze: I scratch on any record but when you make a dubplate it is a different kind of record. It weighs more, and the grooves aren't as good as when they are cut to vinyl. So when you scratch on dubplate you can only scratch on it two or three times then it is worn out.
Musician.com: What are some of the records you used for Crazee Music?
Craze: Shit, I used anything from the Amityville Horror soundtrack to that one record, "Blue Moon," the old '50s song, anything I saw in my crate. I pulled out anything, electronical noises. A lot of stuff like that.
Musician.com: I know some common techniques like crabs and flares, what are other techniques in the turntablist's lexicon?
Craze: There is one called a drag. That is where you time-stretch a cut just by making it go real slow. Actually, that is another one called a rub. When you rub the record with your middle finger real close to the needle and it makes it sound like a time-stretch. The drag is when you drag the cut and make it go real slow and you just keep dragging it back and forth and it makes a little weird draggy sound.
Musician.com: What is a crab? Does it sound like a crab skittering across the record?
Craze: No. A crab is more on the fader. A drag is more on the record. What a crab does is like you take your thumb and, you snap your fingers, all the rest of the four fingers on the fader, but you put a little pressure on the thumb so when you snap all the other four fingers, it goes back and forth four times real quick. It makes it sound like d-d-d-d-ddddttt.
Musician.com: You are the world's best. Are there things you pioneered that no one else is doing?
Craze: Um, I mean, everything has been done. What I do is to take it to the next level. I don't think I am a pioneer of anything. I just took what I used to see back in the day and I took it to the next level. I just did different stuff of what already existed. I don't think of myself as an innovator.
Musician.com: You are unusually modest. The hip hop thing is usually more boastful. What is the next level? Do you just have more technique?
Craze: Honestly, the reason why I think I won this year is I went up there and I acted like I was in control. I have skills, but everybody has skills too. My only difference was going up there and entertaining the crowd and showing everybody that I was in control. When you have a real technical routine you just go up there and you are just trying to memorize everything that you are doing. I was like, whatever, if I f*** up, I f*** up.
Musician.com: Do you see yourself more as an entertainer, not just a DJ?
Craze: I would like to think of myself of more as an entertainer/musician than just like a DJ. When I go into a club and I am trying to give everyone a real good time and do something real crazy. I want to mix those two in.
Musician.com: Who are your heroes?
Craze: Mixmaster Mike, Rock Raider, DJ Swamp and Mister Sinister. They are all still out there. Mike is with Beastie Boys, Swamp is with Beck, and Rock Raider and Sinister are part of the Executioners crew.
Musician.com: Do you go through gear?
Craze: Technics turntables don't f*** up unless you start banging them all over the place, but I go through a couple needles every year. I don't really abuse them that hard.
Musician.com: What records do you spin the most?
Craze: "Dance to Drummer's Beat," I forgot the artist. "Legs" or "Hoops And Mallets" by Art of Noise. And all the scratch records on the Invisible Scratch Pickles records label. But I will scratch anything. And I do keep them clean. I rub them down with alcohol after the gig.
Musician.com: What do you listen to to chill out?
Craze: Drum and bass like Ed Rush and Optical, Dillinja, Krust, Roni Size and Breakbeat Era, Breakbeat Culture, all the funky shit. A lot of the turntablist guys are not open to drum and bass, it ain't cool yet. I started doing raves so I got into it. But a lot of these kids are afraid to experiment.
Musician.com: Among jazz musicians, there is a big difference between European players and American players. Are there similar differences among Euro and US DJs?
Craze: Yea, the UK DJs are real technical. Real, real technical. (Laughs) That is good, but sometimes they don't have soul. They are real funky and good, they are doing some crazy shit, but sometimes they come off a little stiff. As opposed to a kid from the states, maybe some of them are not as technical as they are, but they will come off with soul and they are looking good.
Musician.com: They are kind of anal in the UK.