Scratching In A Band – Expand Your Opportunities

Scratching in a band is not common place. There are many instances of a turntablist performing with other turntablists. However, seeing a turntablist perform with guitarists, bassists, drummers and other types of musicians is a rarity.

While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this, it is unfortunate in the fact that an art form as enjoyable as scratching is getting passed over by many people that would likely welcome it with open arms. The lack of tablists performing with bands stems from the background it sprung from.

Hip-Hop birthed scratching and the bulk of Hip-Hop is based around programmed beats. This eliminated the need for a fully fleshed out band and also brought in a very cool way of performing music that was extremely unique for the time. A lot of great innovation came out of Hip-Hop which has continued to be built upon over the years, not least of which is scratching.

What Breaks Tradition Also Creates It

While Hip-Hop decidedly walked a very different path than other forms of music, it now suffers from the very standards developed to define itself. Like Hip-Hop, turntablism was a significant break from the genre that birthed it, while still maintaining some real roots to the music it came from. In fact I would consider turntablism to be not as disconnected to Hip-Hop as some may think, but rather a dramatic expansion in expressive dj capabilities. Hip-Hop has always been about taking other genres and creating something new out of it and turntablism is really no different. Thus there's no reason to chain tablism to lots of set standards and unnecessary limitations.

What Music Stands To Gain

Looking more in depth at other genres of music, you'll tend to notice at their best, they sound extremely expressive. Yet there's a lack of uniqueness that turntablism so easily captures, simply because genres like jazz and rock aren't nearly as new to the world. Also, in a lot of ways tablism is really an answer to people that don't recognize how truly expressive the turntable is as an instrument.

Turntablists have taken huge strides over the last decade and a half in developing a scratch vocabulary that easily puts them on close to, if not equal footing as other musicians. That being the case it seems only natural to take the next step and join forces with non scratch musicians, continuing to expand our expressive options within music. This is especially beneficial to our development considering the fact that most live instrumentation encompasses much more variety than a typical 4/4 Hip-Hop beat.

They Don't Understand

One issue that crops up when gaining exposure for turntablism, is it tends to be tough to comprehend for people that don't practice the art form. In its most hardcore style, scratching is very percussive and somewhat dissonant since there really isn't a way to generate exact notes within any particular scale. In a lot of ways you could relate it best to rap which also significantly lacks melodic content. However, the beauty of scratching is you're not limited to scratching in such an in your face style.

You can take any melodic sounding record and chop it up in a variety of ways while still retaining the melodic content of such a record. In a band context this means you'd have to be ultra vigilant that the sounds you use are generally in tune with the rest of the band. This doesn't mean that tablists seeking to play in a band should abandon much of the complex scratch vocabulary that exists. In fact possessing a high level of technical aptitude in scratching makes melodic style scratching much easier to facilitate. It also allows you to break up the more melodic style with hardcore cuts should it sound appropriate to do so based on the music your band is performing.

Reaching Ears and Opening Minds

Scratching isn't necessarily a hard pill to swallow for people. It has more to do with how it's presented. Scratching in a more melodic style within a band as described above, is a very effective way to introduce people to turntablism. Seated among music that people already enjoy, scratching can really spice things up in a nice and ear friendly way.

Examples and Ways to Get Started

While it is rare for turntablists to be in a band, it is not unheard of. Some examples of songs or bands featuring scratching that you should check out include: Herbie Hancock 'Rockit' (featuring scratching from DST), Praxis (featuring scratching from TurntablistDisk), Gunkhole (featuring scratching from D-Styles, Ricci Rucker and Mike Boo. The best example being their DVD 'Live In Bologna' which involves a drummer, standup bass player, as well as a sax and flute player) and Secret Sidewalk (featuring scratching from Mike Boo). I have also played in a band and a quick segment of one or our performances can be found here: Live at 19 Broadway

Joining a band isn't as intimidating as it may seem and can be as simple as linking up with even one musician that's not a tablist. Simply place an ad on craigslist or network on sites like twitter and facebook and go from there. Just remember, the goal is making music that's enjoyable regardless of being in a band or otherwise, so have fun scratching and soak in everything that will come your way as a result.