Photography by David Taylor
Macho Zapp's Scratch Obsession was not just a feature, it was a complete submersion into the world of scratching - taking in psychology, biomechanics, and performing in-depth statistical analysis of one of the world's best turntablists. Illustrated by striking video footage, it was an journalistic investigation never before seen, which caused BBC 6Music's DJ Yoda to say: "This is so dope! Love this!"
All things start with an idea. In Macho Zapp's case it was the fascination inherent in turntablism. We were particularly interested in the hand and finger movements on the crossfader, but we also felt there was another story to tell here - why do DJs become so obsessed with it and why do we find it so fascinating to watch?
Journalism has covered turntablism a number of times but never quite nailed it as far as we were concerned. As former world champion DJ Chile says: "That experiential factor and personal interest in the subject I guess is the major thing that's generally lacking from most serious attempts to tackle turntablism in journalism.. like it's only approached as a subject to write about."
So we needed a DJ to analyse. Former world DJ champion and regular tournament judge DJ Woody is steadily being acknowledged as among the top handful of turntablists in the world. Anyone who follows his Facebook page finds themselves astounded not only at the skill, but at the sheer creativity displayed.
He frequently invents new routines and scratch techniques, most famously the Woodpecker and Twiddlepecker scratches - both incredibly difficult to master. Fortunately he agreed to take part in our project and generously gave permission to film his techniques in slow-motion. We had actually only asked for some freestyle scratching to film but it became clear why he is one of the world's best when he decided to deliver a whole routine for us.
We hired production company Video Ink to ensure that the slow-motion cameras had professionals working them - we did not want to get this wrong! This was part of the reason the shoot took place outside - the natural light is better for slow-motion shots and the location being next to an old mill added a nice industrial vibe. At one point Woody suggested moving the decks to halfway up an old iron fire escape. Cowards that we are, we decided we did not need to add "falling to our deaths" to our list of things to think about.
Once we had the footage, the next step was analysis. Hours of replaying Woody's routine in slow-motion eventually yielded the number of crossfader and vinyl movements. And we found that, from there, we could work out more than just quantity but also speed, distance and kinetic energy - this was becoming a scientific investigation!
DJ Jon 1st at Thirsty Ear, Sheffield
In order to really illustrate the feature, we needed more footage for the background videos. 2013 online DMC champion DJ Jon 1st and the promoters of a night in Sheffield called Thirsty Ear kindly agreed for us to film. Photographer David Taylor showed his prodigious talent once again with a stunning array of photographs and showing no end to his innovation, turned an impromptu breakdancing session into some Andy Warhol-esque pop art!
The video for the chapter 'Soundtime' is from this night. The multiple hands you see jumping across the mixer are Jon 1st's - we also overlaid a duplicate copy in the edit to create the 'many hands' effect. With the skew effect we were trying to evoke the idea of time travel.
This philosophical concept was half-suggested by QBert and then filled out by DJ and researcher Alex Sonnenfeld. His point was that being able to move around a record is something that is unique to scratch DJs - unlike any other instrument you are, in effect, playing with time and the narrative that is attached to that record. This was one of those beautiful moments when a whole new perspective falls into a view and this is why Macho Zapp exists.
A special note of thanks must go to psychologist Lauren Stewart of Goldsmiths University and biomechanics professor Anthony Redmond, who kindly offered expert opinion. Prof. Redmond was particularly supportive and equally fascinated by Woody's hand movements.
We are also indebted to DJ Chile. At only a week's notice we asked if we could use the audio from one of his Youtube performances. In response he made a completely new beat and scratch routine exclusively for the feature!
As far as we are aware an investigation like this has never been performed before (another world first to add to our slow motion shots of the M44-7) and the response has been excellent. DJ QBert's Skratch University and DJ technology giants Serato both featured the article in their respective blogs with the latter calling it: "Super cool stuff!"
DJ Chile said: "Wow this is such an excellent article! Love the meticulous approach you take, approaching the subject from lots of angles." DJ Jon 1st was equally impressed: "The article is wicked, really interesting! I've not seen scratching broken down in that way before, brilliant stuff."
Read Scratch Obsession here.