The annual Easter Weekend Community Skratch Games are just around the corner. Rashers Tierney caught up with Deviant for a chinwag on the state of the scratch scene and updates on their crowdfunding campaign to produce a skipless vinyl record. My word, it’s the future.
You heads are nine years into the games now. Tell us about the first one, where did the idea come from and how did it go?
As with all subcultures the skratch circle in Ireland is tight knit. But it’s small, like 15-20 active heads even in the very best of times. And it’s spread out. In 2005/6 most of the heads were based around Dublin and there were a few heads in Cork & up North but, somewhat bizarrely, Galway became a sort of skratching hub based around Jimmy The Hideous Penguin, Mikey Fingers, Tweek (now Danny Deepo), Merrylegs and myself.
Up until this point the only proper get together for all the skratch heads were the DMC & ITF battles. Now, these battles were kinda fun, and immeasurably important in terms of gaining experience, but they were also extremely fucking stressful. We just wanted to hook up with the heads from around the country in a more relaxed setting. Also, battling had become pretty boring and a lot of us just weren’t into choreographed skratch fighting anymore. Initially we planned a private session in the house but word got out that the ‘biggest skratch party of all time’ was going down so we figured that rather than trash our own gaff we’d trash our mate’s pub instead.
It went about as well as a load of odd chaps molesting records in a pub could. It may very well have been the best craic ever.
There’s something of a cult following attached to the games. Why are people so loyal in heading along year in year out?
Fuck knows. There’s so many factors.
The Bierhaus. The variety of performances. The audience. The bag of meat. The skratch legends mixing it up with the fresh faced youths. The non-profitness of it all. I think there’s a sincerity to it that attracts people.
Galway itself has a huge part to play. There’s not many better places to park yourself for a bank holiday weekend.
Controller-ism is something that gets a bit of heat online, like you see tonnes of websites dedicated to the art of digital music manipulation now, not to mention tonnes of accessories for it. Does the Skratch games have much room for it or is it a strictly turntable affair?
It became apparent to us early on that we didn’t really want a purist turntablist affair. DVS blurs the lines anyway so to exclude controllers, samplers, fx or whatever would have been disingenuous.
You guys also have a crowdfunding campaign on the go at the minute. For something called a skipless record? What the hell is that and why would anybody need it? Just use CDs no?
A skipless record is a specially formatted record for freestyle skratching. The samples are arranged in loops equalling one rotation of the record so that when the needle jumps (and it will jump!) it’ll land on the exact same sound. Turntablism is a fragile art, where it can all fall apart with one skip of a record. Skipless means you can shred in a more carefree fashion. Every turntablist has a few of them, it’s mostly for practice and freestyling.
You could skratch with a CD. That’s cool by us. But it’s not the same. Most skratchers prefer a skipless over CD/DVS. The act of skratching is more tactile and tangible with an actual record, there’s less (meta)physical distance between your hand and the sound.
What’s the ratio of imported acts viz a viz the homegrown honchos at this year’s games? Who in particular would you push people along to see?
Everyone’s a homegrown honcho at the Games and I think the event is best experienced as an immersive weekend. Arrive at 5pm Saturday, leave in the wee hours on Sunday.
The Open Freestyle Battle Royale on Saturday evening is generally my favourite bit. Always competitive, always controversial but always genuine fun.
There’s a UK wing to your operation too, the Community Skratch BBQ. How did that come about? Do you get many people travelling over?
I became good friends with the Surgical Cuts crew when I lived in Brighton. DJ Manipulate came over to visit me in Galway and was fully into the little weirdo skratch family that we’d built up. He’d already put on a few skratch nights in Brighton (‘Hand Music’) so he was already moving on that front. Seemed logical to extend the Community a bit more formally.
There’s always a sizeable contingent of Paddys at the BBQ. However, with chapters in Norway, Sweden and Poland there’s an international flavour at all the Community Skratch events.
Does the scratch scene suffer from the same sort of nonsense as other scenes? Like is there built hierarchies, with ideas of what hip hop is laid out and set in stone and a resistance to change?
I’m speaking for myself here – skratching as a movement is shit. There’s a real cringe element to most skratching, where it’s either a feat of pure technicalities or a pretend fight. It’s a real fine line from thoughtful manipulations of sound to flailing about and giving the finger to imaginary haters.
I could genuinely write about this all day. I hate skratching. I love skratching. I’ll leave it there.
Tell us a bit about yourself. A few years ago you brought out Send In The Hounds as a release on Community Skratch Music. This was something of an engagement with traditional music. What was your source material for the samples and does your interest in trad extend beyond it being a hunting ground for quirky vocal hooks?
I grew up in Killarney, a beautiful and inspirational place but also full of outrageous paddywhackery catered to tourists. Up until my 20s I considered trad as the twee soundtrack to my childhood summers. It wasn’t til I got into Planxty that my ears changed.
As do most Irish DJs, I’d randomly inherited some more straight trad/folk records over the years too. I didn’t feel a massive attachment to trad or folk but as someone that’s grown up here I had to engage with it. Your surroundings must inform your music. That’s just hip-hop 101. There’s trad samples in every single one of my releases. I don’t know why SITH is the only one where I made a conscious effort to include only Irish music – some kind of mid twenties declaration of identity after a decade immersed in American and British music culture? In hindsight, SITH was me trying to make a Planxty album.
I’m not particularly interested in purism (except for turntablism but that’s from the point of view of a practitioner looking to stay informed and keep learning the art) so trad as in ‘traditional Irish music’ that must be played as ‘traditional Irish music’ is a dead-end to me. I like to see all musics as just a loose collection of sounds, rhythms and cadences to be expanded upon. Genre is best left as descriptive term to aid in communication of musical ideas. Anymore than that and it’s back to technicality for technicalities sake, or tradition for tradition’s sake.
The terms ’skratch music’ and ’turntablism’ are problematic in this regard, in that they describe a process rather than a genre, i.e. a skratch musician could make samba music or jazz or hip-hop. However, ‘skratch music’ and ’turntablism’ are mostly treated as genres in themselves. Maybe this contributes to the aforementioned ‘skratching is shit’?
Serious question, how has the establishment of things like the Go Bus and its lightning fast flashes across the midlands built up connections between East and West Coast music scenes here? Is there more interaction and gigging happening? Or am I confusing you for P. Diddy some time in the mid 1990s?
For sure, but arguably it’s more apparent in Limerick (where I live) than in Galway. The 2.5 hr bus between Dublin and Limerick has been a revelation. A REVELATION!
The Community Skratch Games 2015 takes place April 4th and 5th in the Bierhaus, Henry St., Galway. Performances begin at 5pm each day and admission is free. Check out the Crowdfunding campaign here.