Turntablism is tightly interwound with the history of hip hop, but of course the sucka MCs are always the ones getting all the credit. With few exceptions (RJD2
, DJ Shadow
), DJs that strike out on a pure instrumental path have been largely ignored. At least in commercial terms and by records sales. Where they haven't been ignored is in their roles as record producers and in the ears of other artists, who seek to emulate their experimental feets on the wheels of steels. Turntablism is ascending, and its experimental edge is pushing musical composers, producers, and rappers to new soundscapes and styles.
In this vein, I would like to talk about three amazing compilations of experimental turntablism, all come into my possession within the past month. The first one, Deep Concentration 2: Deeper Concentration,
and the second, Deep Concentration 3
, all come from the Deep Concentration Series put out by Om Records
. This series oversaw a blending of hip hop and other electronic music forms that produced an unbalanced and exciting pan-turntablist experience. Deeper
opens up with Sole And JC's tribute to Grandmaster Flash's "Wheels of Steel," the meandering "What It Is" that asks a question about exactly what the state of the music they play is around the turn of the century. After that, it bounds into one of my favorite tracks, the oozy "Interstellar Hydroponics" that trips through a fast breakbeat and warbling synthesizers (with the token clips from old scifi movies). Aside from that, there's the obnoxious thunder of DJ Ming and FS's "Madhattan Bound," combining loud drums and scratches with old big band jazz samples in something that sounds like Soul Coughing's "Bus To Beelzebub" with random Jazzstep Drum N' Bass interludes. The real treat is DJ Spooky dropping some illbient into the album with occasional collaborator Organized Konfusion on "Murder by Syntax." It's an MC and a DJ, but it ends up sounding like free form poetry with alarms in the background. Deeper
is full of stumbling rhythms, light synths, Spaceballs
samples and abrasiveness. That's precisely what makes it an exciting and unpredictable record.Deep 3
plucks a different string. It's smooth opening track "The Human Condition" is full of laidback jazz samples from marimbas and xylophones and moves in a suite like format between several different mellow sound textures, breaking really briefly into a swift drum n bass section that moves into rapid, funky synth-pop. While Deeper explored the ground of Illbient well, Deep 3 is more about fusion of DnB, World, and Downtempo styles into hip hop. Deep 3 completes a loop between Hip Hop and DnB that has been further explored in the British style of Grime. It builds with Radar's "Antimatter," to collapse into the creepy world beat of Musaics' "Babylon Rhythm Exorcism." Other highlights are Planet Asia's relaxing "Fresno State of Mind", and the hyperweird Space Travelers' electrofunk piece "Buggin Out" that recalls Afrika Bambaataa's recent effort.
My true favorite of the piece is the rough and raw "Cynicism" of Highlanders, made totally with highly distorted scratching DnB fuzzy bass that moves through an entire DnB cycle, wrapping what would normally be 6 highly boring DnB songs into one rapidly mutating, eclectic DnB suite. Deep 3
, while just as diverse as Deeper
, definitely has more of a DnB feel to it, but the Hip Hop influence of obscenely deft scratching washes the tired genre of DnB with new life.
Lastly, there's Constant Elevation
, from Astralwerks,
that absolutely wonderful record company that gives creative people entirely too huge production budgets. While unrelated to Deeper and Deep 3, its mission statement is "bridging the gap between hip hop and electronica," so its feel of experimental turntablism is akin. El-P drops in on the opener with the grinding downtempo of "Day After the Day After," followed by one of two (and the better) appearance of Omid with the middle-eastern/classically influenced psychosis of "Schrodinger's Cat." Freestyle Fellowship and Peanut Butter Wolf Plus Madlib also make excellent contributions, but basically don't provide anything more groundbreaking than their usual stuff. This Kid Named Miles (that's really the guy's DJ name), gives some great old school, big beat funk flavor that smacks the crap out of anything Fatboy Slim ever accomplished with "Slight Amnesia." The biggest surprise (well, not if you listen to Blackalicious records), is Chief X-Cel's inspirational, symphonic closer track "Multitude." Constant Elevation
is less experimental than the Deep Concentration series
, but that makes it a ton more accessible, and it features a lot more prominent artists.
These three compilations are a great introduction to turntablism in general, and provide a lot of takes on its possibilities. They also showcase a lot of directions the hip hop and electronic underground are headed in. While the weaker and less open-minded listener will probably want to try out Constant Elevation, Deeper
and Deep 3
will definitely dazzle anyone. It's just a question of whether your musical mind can take the sensory assault.