Turntable Tricknology: DJ Qbert

By Niki Esko

If one wanted to know about DJ Qbert, then one could visit his website, find him on Wikipedia, watch a DVD such as Scratch, or just ask some peoples (& one wouldn't have to stick to Bay Areans to get that info). He is what I believe English speakers would call "Famous." Beyond his lists of achievements and beneath his DJ celebrity is a down to earth person with dreams just like everyone else. To create, we must destruct mysticism, destroy thoughts of inadequateness, fear. When I think of writers I most admire, I see them as souls first, as poets second. Let's do that here.

Now, I don't want to assume that everyone knows who homeboy is. He is a composer, producer, entrepreneur, raw vegan, spiritualist, artist, musician; and the labels can go on and on and on. An important idea that has always stuck in my mind is that the turntable is an instrument, and Qbert proves this as fact.

Photo of the QFO, Qberts creation.

Peep a portion of his skill in this video (you'll never forget afterwards). For those who are already fans and friends, eat this up for its nutritional value ;)

Q + Turntables + Drumming = Good Times.

Growing up in the Bay in the 90s allowed me to be raised by all the elements of hip hop. The memories are still fresh in my mind: my older cousins and friends getting into deejaying, emceeing, breaking, and myself into graffiti. I once heard someone say, "I can't associate Asians with hip hop. It's so weird to me." Well, here in the C-A, we know no other way. Plenty of pride was born from Cali's hip hop culture, especially for those who were of Pilipino descent because some of the well-known artists were Pinoy. Not only were they popular names but talented, creative, and hard-working youth.

Although DJ Qbert is part Pilipino he is also Negrito, Turkish, Spanish, and Chinese. However, the positive/negative tribalism of the Pilipino community has almost completely claimed him ;p His talents, personality, and goals cannot be defined by ethnicity, race, or location alone:

Many people can research your story or hear about it in films; tell us in your own words how your relationship with turntables began.

it was a part of life for every music lover back in the early 80's.
there were no cd players or mp3s... just turntables and records. so that's what all the djs used and still to this day, it is the best thing to use to control the sound of skratching and playing any recorded sounds like a musical instrument. the influence of skratching started with the break dancing movement and all the music at the time had some skratching in it. it was just a normal thing with this under ground phenomenon.

You compose, produce, battle, and the list goes on. How often do you practice? What can you say about the amount of work you put into your art?

i love to practice everyday... it's like caligraphy. you have to draw the sound or paint it. so if you miss a day of practice, you can tell in how fluidly you sculpt your sound. i need to practice skratching at least 2 hours a day. then there's time for composing, producing, making videos, exercising, learning, meditating, and experiencing life, etc.

What [so-called] genres influence your music?
mainly jazz from the 30's 40's and 50's. but i also love my funk from the 70's and 60's, that james brown kinda stuff b-boys breakdance to. and then there's classical, rock, blues, blue grass country, indian music, etc etc etc... i love it all.

Have you, or are you, studying music theory?
all the time... i am and always will be a student in this art. when you think you know it all, there's a million things you still haven't thought of.

Do you have any rules to live by when it comes to handling your success?

rules are meant to be broken, ha! but normally i just keep level headed and always remember that i am an entertainer and that means that i serve people... i'm not some kinda star that is there to be praised. i have to work hard to give people a good time. i'm a slave who loves his job =)

How does your music fit into your vegan and/or socially aware and/or spiritual lifestyle? If you couldn't touch a turntable again, what would you turn to? Would you be able to breathe?

i guess i would do something with music in some way or another... there's tons of other musical instruments out there. i also make beats and produce. but being a raw vegan, hmm.. that keeps me really healthy and because of that i can be a better clear headed and clear spirited person who can have an open mind to create for a longer period of time than someone who's gonna die sooner or get sick from eating crap =P but actually some people who eat crap, are really healthy. it can just be a state of mind. but i like what i eat and i feel right doing it.

Can you pick out one moment that stands out from the rest of your music career?

there's a billion times, but i'll pick one that will hopefully help other djs. when i discovered that music is poetry, and that was a big key to making it all sound delicious. making my skratches rhyme like i was an mc rapping =)

Currently, who are your biggest influences /or where do you find the most inspiration right now?

benny goodman, miles davis, pee wee russell and louis armstrong... the phrasing on their instruments is out of this world!

What are your plans or out-of-this world goals for the future? (Anything.) Where can people see you perform next?

well, i want to make another film with my next album... so that is a big project that i hope will be out of this world like my first movie "wave twisters". also right now we just got our own channel for google:
youtube. com/thudrumble . it's what i've been doing for the last 2 months... just posting videos of skratching and random stuff that we think is entertaining in some way or another... you gotta see it. we just posted our 88'th video in commemoration of 8.8.08!

I believe that everyone has a passion in life, no matter your background, no matter if you were born with privileges or grew up in the slums or barrios, no matter if you are a male or female. It is just a matter of search and discovery. Once a person finds that one thing, he or she should stick to it for life. They should be taking steps, every day, to feel complete through that art. That will take an interested person, an eager and excited-to-learn person. A person who finds wonder in several things, who sees the details of life. Writing poetry is the world to me; but, being socially active, school, the joy and pains of love, spirituality, intellectual thought, radical books, friendships, art, music shape that passion every second. Your passion can open new doors for you, lead you to new projects, innovative ideas. I say, never fight that feeling of wanting [music, graffiti, design, spoken word, etc] every day. Go through with it with a bold heart.

Hard work will always be hard. We all have to figure out if what we're working for is worth the effort.

DJ Qbert's balance of thought, spirituality, and art can be an inspiration to everyone discovering that they are not one dimensional, that no one is. After interviewing Q I saw him in a brighter light. I hope that you do, too.


Qbert is a nominee for America's Best DJ 2008 put on by DJ Times
among other turntablists such as ?uestlove, Mix Master Mike, and Funk Master Flex, Last day to vote was Aug 16th. Keep up with the contest at DJ Times

Contact him on his website or myspace
Watch more of him, listen to tracks, peep future projects, and visit his online store at ThudRumble

We'll close this session up with a vid from the youtube ThudRumble page. Qbert + J-Dilla = "Yes"

All that scratchin' is makin' me itch!

Spoken & Heard: Ed Koch

By Niki Esko

Two Sundays ago was my last night in Austin. During my stay, my friend Mike had taken me to three poetry events around the area so that I could be around poets as well as read my own pieces. I don't think I should mention the names of the events because I don't want people to judge them right away.

The first event was at dandy-fine and filled with interesting low-energy people. We attempted the event @ The Red Scoot Inn but the cliques were ever-present and full of themselves. Another event was satisfactory @ Sticky Fingers which was equipped with an acoustic outdoor stage and cheap lighting; it was a night filled with really different kinds of poetic energy.

The other event which wasn't so hot was the... oh wait, I shouldn't mention the name. No, screw it, Ruta Maya Poetry Open Mic every Tuesday. The purported 'uncensored' open mic was completely censored. The words "You can't use that kind of language" actually crawled out of the co-host's mouth; he then proceeded to kick the poet off the stage. Ruta Maya is actually a great space for art, poetry, social awareness, organizing, and community (fair trade organic coffee anyone?) BUT the event planners need to seriously reconsider their co-host Marty-- oops! Did I say his name? Oh well.

Thank goodness for Sunday's open mic @ Kick Butt Coffee.

At first, I just wanted to read my poetry one last time before I headed back out to the Yay Area and didn't care if a host was wack or if the audience was rude. Early into the evening I met many young poets that I wanted to interview. Womyn represented strong, men supported each other; family was in the air. A particular poet that stood out is a dude named Ed Koch, a young Bo-ri-cua from New York residing in Austin.

Ed performed two clever poems with style & grace: BATSLAM and NERDLOVE. Can you imagine? Maybe, maybe not because Ed intricately wove the complex with the light. BATSLAM took direct quotes from the movie Dark Knight (which, I believe, he saw a billion times) and added fresh point-of-view. Here is one of my favorite stanzas from this poem:

"This… guy had a father, wait- he had a wife… wait, they had no matches on prints, DNA, dental…
Clothing is custom, no labels… nothing in his pockets but knives and lint.
A criminal of the stranger sort. Oscar worthy if you love a sicko.
Closest thing to Frank Miller.
And 300 seconds later, he’s here… to kill the bus driver."

If you only get to see Ed read a couple poems, make sure one of them is NERDLOVE. This poem makes me wanna go Wii in my pants because I am a nerd myself. Here are some lines:

"So let’s exchange post-it notes with scribbled love quotes,
go to a bar, and before we have dork sex, flirt via text.
Because all I wanna do…is summon the rage of Akira, the hands of Lion-O, and the POWER OF GRAYSKULL-
and make happy little trees with my tongue all over your body.

You make me wanna download every episode of Star Wars, Star Trek and Stargate.
I wanna take off my Yankee jersey and throw on a T Shirt that says-

Ed Koch was the featured poet @ Kick Butt Coffee this past Sunday. I heard he made poetic love to that mic! Be sure to check him out sometime and give him all your listening energy.

Photo courtesy of Mike Avila

Ed shares a few words with us (if you're a writer or performer of any kind, I encourage you to read every word!):

Tell us a little about your background.

I’m 29, born and raised in the South Bronx. I’m Puerto-Rican. My criminal record is clean, hahahahaha. I was a child performer when I was a toddler and spent most of my childhood as a professional actor (1984-1992). I graduated from Vassar College with a Bachelor’s degree and my Major was Urban Studies. At Vassar, I took enough courses to qualify for a Theater Minor (though they didn’t allow it) and I also ran a theater group. I moved to Austin in June of 2007 after working in public television for 7 years to live with my then girlfriend (things didn’t quite work out). I wanted to take a big risk in life, move to a new city and things seemed right. I love so much about Austin, it’s hard to see myself leaving this town.

What competitions have you been a part of/involved in?

I used to do talent shows as a kid. I did Showtime at the Apollo once, performing as a Prince look alike, doing lip sync for “Let’s Go Crazy”. I came in third place. I was on my high school’s speech and debate team, and made it to the State Championships twice in Duo Performance. I started slamming downtown at the Austin Poetry Slam and I was a finalist to make the Austin South Flavaz National Slam team this year.

Who is your all-time favorite poet? Musician?

I’ll throw Pablo Neruda and Miles Davis into the mix, simply because I’ve turned to them so many times this past year for inspiration. If I had a choice whose poetry I could listen to every night… it would have to be either Da’Shade Moonbeam or LaLove Robinson, who are both Austin slam legends. I’m forever incited and excited by their words. And there are too many musical genres to point to, but I’ve been listening to a lot of R&B lately… mostly Blackstreet and Aaliyah.

How did you get into writing and performing? How'd you meet the Spoken & Heard peoples?

When I was little, I used to perform with a group of girls and we would impersonate Menudo. My grandmother hand-sewed replicas of their costumes and my mother taught all of us their dance moves. We’d perform at local hospitals during the holidays and compete in talent shows. My mother tells a story where I was watching one of the local morning shows and told her that I wanted to get into professional acting.

Ten years ago, I was writing rhymes and working on an original play. Now I’m a featured poet at a local Austin open mic. Slam poetry has allowed me to get back to both performing and writing. I met Element615 through one of my good friends, Da’Shade Moonbeam. I’ve been a regular at Spoken & Heard ever since Element615 started the event.

What do you love to write about? Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in my life experiences- sometimes I can be very autobiographical with my work. I also find inspiration in the people in my life: family, friends… the people who are closest to me. Sometimes I’ll have phases where I’m writing about spirituality and military strategy. It’s weird, but I run with what comes to me.

Tell me a little about the humor behind the two poems you read on Sunday. How do your personal interests affect your writing subjects? Oh, and do you really consider yourself a dork?

I think I was born a nerd and raised a dork.

The humor behind the Dark Knight poem is very basic in its pathos- I’m obsessed with Batman. I’m probably gonna write at least one more poem about Batman, because there’s so many angles to take with a comic superhero.

I actually started to write “NerdLove” while waiting at the drive-thru of my local Whataburger. I was thinking about how cool it would be to date a woman who liked cartoons. Then I started freestyling about being Shazam in bed, and then it trailed off into me turning back to normal if she said my name.

Explain, with the best of your ability, how you feel when you're performing.

Sometimes I forget the audience is there. I’ll try to sink into the words I’m reciting and focus on their imagery or my gestures. Other times, I find myself engaged with every person in the crowd. I’ll feed off reaction and improvise. I think I’m at best when I’m loose, I feel like I’ve rehearsed the material enough times, and I’m focused on breathing.

Performing gives me a big rush. There are so many parts to performing- they all add up and give me a sense of feeling both connected and detached. The icing on the cake is the feeling I evoke in people.

Where can people find you & your words regularly? Do you have a CD or book? Are you in the process of putting any together?

Right now, the only place you’ll find my poetry is at Spoken & Heard or wherever I slam locally. I’m planning on putting all of my work in one place soon, but as far as CDs and books and concerned, my second year in Austin is going to be very exciting. The quickest way to find me now is on the web (myspace. com/twoblocks).

What advice would you give to those who want to write but are hesitant about sharing or performing?

Go to a local poetry event. Meet people. Find someone or something inspiring and write about it. The key is not taking yourself too seriously. Once you find the right place and the right time, do it for YOU. No one else.
The key is to be comfortable with yourself and to build community with other artists, poets, and people.

Check out the event (address noted on the flier), the websites (noted on the flier), and say "Hi" to Ed @ Spoken & Heard's next open mic!!

More photos will be added by the end of this week!

Bay Strong: Hopie Spitshard & EyeASage

By Niki Esko

*I did not put together these videos. This is a repost to promote both Frisko artists, their show, and womyn emcees!

Support local artists! See you @ MILK!