Few names are as synonymous with turntablism as that of DJ Qbert. Truly one of the pioneers of the art form, he has won 3 DMC World Championships and appeared in numerous commercials, video games, and documentary films.
In the early 90’s, his group The Invisibl Skratch Piklz revolutionized turntablism by becoming the first group to use their turntables to perform just like a live band. They became so dominant in battles that lore has it other groups didn’t even bother to enter competitions with the Skratch Piklz.
Since striking out on his own, he has released many albums, including Wave Twisters (1998) which continued to push turntablism forward. In 2001, Wave Twisters became a movie, combining live action and animation. The movie follows the original album beat for beat, using only the samples and scratching to provide all the sound effects and dialogue. Simply put, it has struck a chord with both fans of turntablism and underground art with is brilliantly twisted characters and innovative storytelling techniques. It even achieved mainstream success, appearing at the Sundance Film Festival the year it was released.
Through it all, one of Qberts’ main goals has been to promote the fact that the turntable is not just a tool for listening to records; it is a full-fledged musical instrument. In fact, he painstakingly created the first musical annotation system for reading and writing turntable compositions.
DJ Qbert was kind enough to answer a few of my questions as he geared up for a slew of global tour dates.
Speer) I’m sure you get asked all the time, but… what are the chances of a follow up to the Wave Twisters film?
Qbert) Working on something right now! I want to make something new and better than wave twisters! Wish me luck!
Speer) Hmm... better you say? How long did you spend developing your musical annotation system it and how has it helped push turntablism forward as a musical art form?
Qbert) Well it's just a thing that was inspired by DJ A-trak and John Carluccio... these guys already had systems to notate skratching ideas and i just adapted my own skratches with their basic ideas for how skratching can be written out. It's a very simple and understandable system when you know the basic code.
Speer) You've even created the Qbert Skratch University to teach the art form online (www.QSkratchU.com). How does the University work?
Qbert) It's like a Facebook for skratch DJS! They have their own page and they can load up beats and dowload beats from other students' pages! There's also lessons they can learn from... beginners to advanced. there's also an area where they can upload a video to me and i can help them take it to their next levels! students learn from these videos as well! It's a great community with hundreds of students and always growing... everyone shares ideas in the chats and forums... all that! There's even a training dojo where skratchers can practice skratching with other advanced djs at different levels... like a Question & Answer session with a pre-recorded DJ who leaves spaces open for you to skratch and take turns!
Speer) The interwebs are buzzing with rumors that you will be involved with Activision’s DJ Hero 2. Are there any details you can reveal about this?
Qbert) I'm just gonna make some crazy fun music for this game and see what happens from there... hopefully people will dig it.
Speer) Well, you’ve appeared on and even composed some video game soundtracks in the past. You were even a secret unlockable character in Tony Hawk’s Underground. Are you a big gamer? It seems like your dexterity and hand-eye coordination would give you a devastating competitive advantage.
Qbert) I'd have to say I still love Street Fighter the most! I am a big Ken and Ryu fan! But to get more productive, I think of my work as an actual real life video game!
Speer) If you do a search for DJ Qbert on Youtube, you get thousands of results… These videos include not only your early 90’s battles, but also hilarious self-produced instructional videos and comedy skits. In addition to being one of the pioneers of turntablism, would you agree with the notion that you are one of the pioneers of “viral” media?
A) Yes, especially when I can get a positive word or more out there that will empower people and help them to continue to make the world a better place!
Speer) One of my favorite characters you have created has got to be Scratchy the Seal… where in the world did that puppet come from???
Qbert) Well, don't wanna spoil it for you... you'll have to see "The Origin of Skratchy Seal" on our last "Turntable TV" DVD!
Speer) You perform all over the world… any chances you’ll be anywhere near our neck of the woods in Florida anytime soon?
Qbert) I hope so! Love the weather out there and tell DJ Craze I said Whatup!
Thanks for taking time to chat with us, Qbert. For more information on DJ Qbert as well as merchandise and tour info, visit www.ThudRumble.com.
Special thanks to Maria Storman for setting up the interview!