Turning Turntables Into Instruments
Hawaii’s hottest deejays, using the retro turntable to make modern music, go head to head on Friday
By Moon Yun Choi
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When defending Pacific Regional DJ champion DJ Jami (Jami Ablan) does battle with another DJ, it isn’t just about spinning records. Rather for him, and other DJs, it’s about being musicians and using their turntables as their instrument.
DJ G-Spot (G. Dehnert), who’s promoting this Friday’s DMC Pacific Regional of the World DJ Battle at Indigo, shares the same sentiment.
“It’s pretty much commonly accepted now that the turntable is an instrument,” says Dehnert, 27. “Turntables ironically are even today outselling guitars. I like to think of them as more of a composer … and a conductor conducting the orchestra. The DJ is actually conducting the event, the party, the dance floor. And he’s manipulating it, changing the tempo, the vibe of the room … Yes, I would definitely say the DJ is like a musician.”
G-Spot (G. Dehnert) is promoting the event
Ablan, 21, will have a big challenge ahead of him as he’ll go up against three-time past champion Kyle DJ Solutions (Kyle Cardenas), 18. Cardenas was the champion in 2001, 2002 and 2003.
Ablan admits he’s a little worried because Cardenas is one of the best out there, but he tells himself not to be afraid of anyone and to have confidence. He also respects Cardenas because they belong to the same DJ crew, Nocturnal Soundproof, and they go way back. He says it may get heated at the moment of the competition but then afterwards “we’re like family.”
There’ll be about 10 DJs competing and the winner will advance to the 2005 DMC USA Finals in New York City this summer. The winner of the Finals represents the U.S. at the world championship in London.
Last year, 250 DJs competed at the USA Finals. Cardenas, who was among them, says although he didn’t place, “I represented Hawaii the best I could.”
When asked what makes top competitors like Ablan and Cardenas unique, Dehnert attributes it to their superior skills behind the turntable.
“They’re really good at scratching the record, beat juggling (combining two different beats between two records to create your own tempo) … The way they incorporate other people’s music into their performance set. They manipulate it and create a storyboard back to back to back with different records, attaching something from this record and cutting into this other thing where … you can actually create your dialogue using different records where one record might say, ‘I’m gonna’ and then you cut to the other record that says, ‘mess you up.’ You’d find different words and splice them together but you’re doing it with your hands, two turntables and a record.”
Regular DJs spin records, but these master DJs who compete and perfect their skills, they’re a different breed. Dehnert elaborates: “There are a couple different types of interpretation of what a DJ does. There’s the radio DJ who basically plays program music. The DJs at these types of events, they take a phonographic turntable and get pretty hands-on with it. They grab the vinyl (record) and manipulate it back and forth, left and right, different RPMs, and so forth. With the use of the mixer, they manipulate sounds.
DJ Jami (Jami Ablan) goes for two titles in a row Friday at Indigo
They cut, scratch, drop beats, slow it down and so forth just to manipulate sounds on the record. It became a culture with the origins of hip-hop, and a lot of people progressed to see who would be the best DJ so you just battle it out.”
Ablan started DJing in the sixth grade. “I remember my brother and my cousin had a turntable but they wouldn’t let me touch it. I would go into their room and practice on my own.”
He got interested in DJing after he saw the movie Juice. “It was basically about this one character who’s a DJ. I was fascinated by how they were making all that noise. I wanted to take it to another level.”
As for Cardenas, his cousin who is a mobile DJ, turned him on to it when he was really young and since then he’s been hooked. When it came time for him to pick a name, he says he picked “Kyle DJ Solutions” out of the blue upon entering a competition. He thinks what makes him unique is his aggressiveness. And when it comes to what kind of music he likes to play, he says, “All music is beautiful.”
What he likes about battling is “Just the feeling of being on stage and doing my routine … showing my art form in front of people.”
Cardenas says when he’s at a battle he’s a different person. “I’ll be their friend anytime, but once I get to the battle I get really fierce.”
He picks his music from whatever music he’s listening to at the moment and what music would go good together.
When asked how many records he has, Cardenas says laughing, “I don’t even know. I haven’t counted. My whole room is messed up with all kinds of records.”
Ablan certainly knows how many records he has — a staggering 10,000. “The feeling of finding that rare record is like finding a treasure.”
Kyle DJ Solutions (Kyle Cardenas) won three titles
He has been spending a lot of “alone time” to get ready for battle. “I’ve watched old videos of past winners. We have this thing called mind block, when you practice so hard you’re going to get frustrated. It’s hard to come up with new things. I just try to stay mentally focused. If my routine is not going the way it should, I cut back and take a break. Then I try to get my mind refocused again (and) go back to practicing. I have an open mind and do things that pop up.”
His influences have been his home crew, the Nocturnal Soundproof. “Growing up around them, we all influence each other because it was all we could really see from the island. Being on the Mainland, you could drive for hours and then you’ll be in another city and (there’ll be) more DJs. Being in Hawaii, we’re stuck with each other. This is all we got. We push each other to become better at it.”
During the elimination round each competitor has about two minutes. Judges will consider scratching, beat juggling, crowd response, originality and overall performance.
With just a few days left before he has to defend his title, Ablan puts things in perspective: “It’s fun. I don’t want this to be something I stress over. I want this to always be my hobby (and) my fun time in life.”
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