BY MATTHEW HENGEVELD Making music with turntables quite honestly scares the shit out of me. I understand MPC drum programming, vinyl scratching, chopping loops and synth programming. However, mixing a live performance in front of an audience, regardless how rehearsed it may be, is an impossibly difficult task. One small slip-up can ruin an entire set; it’s not like missing a snare drum or hitting the wrong note on the tuba. Musicians with turntable expertise are like circus performers— stellar freaks of nature that leave us staring agape at their wacky hijinks. One such freak of nature is Cut Chemist, protégé of DJ Shadow and former member of Jurassic 5. He is perhaps the undisputed turntablism king in LA, and his new album, Ozmatli, which clearly influenced much of this set. Think Nonato Buzar and Sergio Mendez bossa nova accompanied by high powered drums and being pooped out by Kid Koala… and you’ll get the gist of this album.
But before I get into it, let’s face the elephant in the room, Jurassic 5 was a sophomoric and half-baked crew. Akin to wearing a Ché Guevara T-shirt in high school, or painting pot leaves on your binders in the fourth grade; Jurassic 5 had the right idea, but lacked authenticity. Jesus F. Christ, they made a song with Dave Matthew’s Band. Ick. So, to put a nail in the topic — J5 was talent without a clear direction. It was a limiting factor for most of its members, and we are all better because of the break up.
In 2006 Cut Chemist released the bouncing, skank-riddled which mixed danceable tracks with bits and pieces of hip-hop scattered within. The Sound Of The Police shows Chemist departing entirely from the hip-hop scene and entering a realm of pure turntablism. It resulted in an album that sounds like a travel agency’s waiting room. He bounces freely from Mexican salsa to airy Brazilian ballroom dancing and then swims across the Atlantic for some haunting noir-ish keys. Later he mixes Middle Eastern vocals on top of heavy Moroccan strings. Pounding Tablas transform into James Brown-esque soul from Africa. Guitar loops quickly turn into Doors-like Fender Rhodes loops. He states on the backside of the album is cut into two sections, South American and African. Part one, the South American section, sticks on topic with minor intrusions from pianos that clearly derive from American Jazz. This leads to some ambiguity. I know very little about the overall history of South American and African music, but I do know that Brazil’s music history is just as diverse and globally influenced as the United States’ music. Therefore, I don’t really think that one can say this mix portrays a good consensus of musical tradition from either Africa or South America. That is kind of important for the ethnomusicologists and the Alan Lomax’s out there. Part two, the African section, stumped me. He was spot-on with the percussion, but other elements were too varied to be cohesive. I felt slightly cheated hearing The Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” looped for so very long.
Sound of the Police was recorded live with one turntable. And if you are as stupefied by turntablism as I am, you’re going to feel like an audience member on Criss Angel: Mindfreak. To use only one turntable… well that’s like seeing the fattest dude you know do a double backflip handspring. Strange tidbits of over-amplification and fragmentation bring a sense of modernity to the otherwise droning loops. He litters tracks with hints of his turntable mastery. Some of the vinyl he spins cannot have the bass response that we hear, but he gives a subtle hint by briefly unfracturing the bassline in one of the South American tracks, giving some method to his madness. Just look at Cut Chemist. Shit, man. That’s some crazy shit. You’ll wish he were your dad. Your dad will wish you were Cut Chemist. How the fuck does he do this with just one turntable!?