SUNDANCE 2001 COVERAGE BEGINS: MORIARTY Drops The Needle On SCRATCH!!
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
As I sat down to write this piece, I clicked over to my WinAmp player and searched through my master playlist. I've got hundreds and hundreds of hours worth of music in my hard drive, all the CDs in the Labs dumped into the main system so it's just a mouse click away. I searched and found the album I was looking for, VIP by the Jungle Brothers. It's an infectious hip-hop collection fuelled in large part by their collaboration with DJ/producer Alex Gifford, the creative force behind The Propellerheads. I love writing to the album because of the sheer energy of the thing. I find that I frequently prowl Napster looking for remixes by DJs like MixMaster Mike or Jazzy Jay or DJ Shadow, in search of just the right piece of mood background for those wee hours of the morning when I'm sodden with Mountain Dew, trying to get one or two more articles finished for the night, trying to work my way through a batch of script pages. It's music that makes me feel alive, awake, that hits me somewhere deep in that lizard brain we all still carry around.
I also frequently sleep to playlists jammed full of this stuff, which is what I was doing last Wednesday morning around 10:00. The phone rang and I considered letting the voice-mail pick it up. There's too many projects that I'm working on, though, to lay there without guilt, so I jumped up and snagged the phone from the receiver, hoping I'd caught it in time. "Hello? Hello?" I rasped.
My brain was still trying to catch up with my body, and I wasn't sure what to make of the single word. "Hello? Who is this?"
"How many Dudes do you know?"
Just like that, I was awake. It was Jeff Dowd on the other end of the line, the one and only original Dude. This is the guy the Coens were writing about. I met the Dude through Harry, and I'm still a little in awe of the guy. He's nothing but energy and charisma and that real centered type of cool that comes from knowing exactly who you are and what you're good at. The Dude is a guru, a finder of films, a guide through the wilderness that indie filmmakers can find themselves wandering through. When you pick up the phone and it's the Dude on the other end, I don't care what you're doing. Get up. It's a call worth taking. "What's up, Dude?"
"What are you doing today at 2:00?"
"Whatever you say I'm doing today at 2:00."
The Dude laughed. "There's a film we're taking to Sundance. I think it's pretty good. You should come take a look at it." He gave me quick direction to the post house where the film would be screening.
"Sounds great, and I'll be there. What's the movie about?"
"Well..." The Dude paused, as if trying to figure out the best way to describe it. "It's called SCRATCH. It's about DJs... the guys who mix records for hip-hop."
That's all it took. I called John Robie at the Cathouse and interrupted him from his maniacal downloading of German scat porn. Together, we headed out to the screening room, arriving there a few minutes early. I was having a lack of sleep crisis, one of my eyes not really working properly. I'd been up until about eight o'clock that morning working on various projects, and the two hours I'd gotten hadn't been restful ones. I kept my eyes closed as Robie drove, swerving all over the road while waving his privates at passing female drivers. When we arrived, we spoke very briefly to the producers of the film in the hallway, and they seemed really nice, enthusiastic about showing the movie to us. I was still in mid-crisis, however, so I made my way into the theater and found my seat.
Robie and I sank into opposite ends of an insanely comfortable leather couch, and I took the fifteen minutes or so before the film's start to let the eye rest. I kept squinting out at the room around me as people arrived, and at one point, I started, both eyes coming open. MixMaster Mike, the DJ for the Beastie Boys, was walking into the room. He was followed by the Dude, who walked over and welcomed me.
After he introduced me around to everyone, he said he had to run a few errands, and he'd be back for the end of the film. He left, the lights went down, and SCRATCH kicked in. That pain in my eye? My lack of sleep? My tension about all the stuff I'd need to do on Thursday? All of it vanished. I was sucked into this film completely, held rapt from the very start.
The first thing you hear is jazz. Unmistakable cool blue tones, trumpet and upright bass against a shot of NYC streets. The music plays for a long moment before there's the shocking sound of the song being scratched once, then again, and then a beat drops in underneath, and with that simple elegant move, the case is laid out: jazz, one of the true American art forms, is the forefather of the scene we're examining in this movie, another art form that's unique in its language of sounds and textures, original in the way it uses noise and rhythm. It's as free and experimental as anything on BITCHES BREW or any of a dozen Sun Ra records. It is pure expression of something deeper than simple hit singles. It's more than music. It is philosophy.
Sounds like a heavy weight to place on a film's shoulders, right? I mean, placing an entire music scene into a fresh context, making the case that it is important and spiritual, that seems like a lot of work. Credit director Doug Pray with being more than up to the challenge. I saw his last film, HYPE!, which was a dissection of the Seattle music scene at the moment it exploded, and I thought it was good, not great. There is some wonderful footage in it, but the film didn't really clobber me. SCRATCH, on the other hand, kept me reeling as it unfolded. It's not just a great documentary. It's a great film. It captures a particular passion that seems to exist among the leaders in this musical community and makes it impossible for the viewer to stay outside that passion. Charismatic figures like DJ Shadow, DJ Qbert, and MixMaster Mike all draw us into the movie. These guys are so focused, so interesting, that we can't help but listen with fresh ears to the music in he movie.
Ah... the music in the movie. This is the best soundtrack I've heard in a hell of a long time. You want a guided tour through the history of the turntablist scene, a celebration of what makes DJs great? This is the film. We go all the way back to the originators of the sound, guys like DJ Premier and Grand Wizard Theodore. We see clips from WILD STYLE and we see Herbie Hancock perform "Rockit" on the Grammys with DXT, his DJ. We see live DJ battles between some truly amazing performers like DJ Qbert and DJ Craze and DJ Krush. We get to see the Invisibl Skratch Piklz at home and in their last-ever performance. What I'm struck by is how transitory these performances are. Like many of the great moments in jazz, these performances are for live audiences, and when they're over, they're gone. These filmmakers have preserved some amazing material, and it's one of the draws of the film.
I love the way the film is constructed, leading us without any narration through the history of the entire idea of scratching, the evolution of DJ and MC culture, the way the scene imploded then rebuilt itself differently. There's a real elegance to the cutting of the film by Pray, who edited AMERICAN PIMP for the Hughes Brothers between his own films. He's an intuitive, intelligent editor, and he manages some real grace notes here.
I love the realization I had while watching that these guys, all these young DJs who are so amazing to watch here, are just like me and my film geek friends, but with music. For us, there's the defining moment of STAR WARS in 1977 that sort of serves as our Dallas, November '63, our common cultural memory. For the guys who became DJs, that Grammy performance of "Rockit" seems to have the same effect. They all mention it as being the reason they got into the music in the first place, and they all describe the almost chemical change when they first heard a record scratching. That thrill of discovery, that sense that some secret's been revealed to you... I understand it. I was so moved by this recognition, this sudden empathy.
I love the fact that this is a positive look at members of the hip-hop community, a film that doesn't trade on the negatives, the gold chains and the guns and "bitches and hos" and all the trappings of the genre that always turn off certain audiences. Instead, the focus is on what the music means to these guys.
There's an awesome scene when DJ Shadow goes into a record store in San Francisco to show how he digs for records, always looking for that one hook no one's used, that forgotten gem. Digging is part of the scene, something for the hardcore mixer, and DJ Shadow's well known by the store owner. As a result, we get a peek at the store's basement, more a large crawlspace than anything, that's stuffed with records, packed tight with copies of everything ever. DJ Shadow looks like he's in heaven as he wanders through these stacks, prying into boxes. When Jazzy Jay takes the camera crew through his own record collection, it's staggering. There's thousands and thousands of them taking up an entire wall. "Not much gets by me in the world of hip-hop. I know it all and I never sleep," he says, and you have to believe him.
I could recite moments from the film to you one after another. They're that vivid for me, even now, almost a week later, and they're all gems. Each of them communicates some fresh aspect of the scene, or some fascinating quirk about one of these vinyl wizards. But I don't want to give away the film's great surprises and joys too early. Besides... I need to see it again.
When this plays at Sundance next month, I hope I'm there to see it. John Robie and I are currently considering a trip to Park City. If you're like the producers of SCRATCH and you have a kickass film you're taking with you next month, let us know about it here at AICN. I want to take advantage of this platform of ours to warn people to keep their eyes open for the good films I know are going to be there. Depending on how the next few weeks go, there's a good chance we'll be giving you some major coverage of this year's festival, one that promises to be packed with interesting pictures. Until then...
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Dec. 13, 2000, 6:56 a.m. CST
by Skinny Bastard
Dec. 13, 2000, 7:27 a.m. CST
by Buzz Maverik
The Wayons family has made HANDIRAPPED, a comedy about a rapper named Ceeing I. Dawg, who has brain damage, a bad limp and one eye but can still grate on your nerves with the best of 'em!
Dec. 13, 2000, 8:44 a.m. CST
by Lance Rock
Dec. 13, 2000, 9:09 a.m. CST
I hope they show the proper respect to DJ Jazzy Jeff, he was a pioneer, a key figure in the evolution of scratching.
Dec. 13, 2000, 9:17 a.m. CST
Sounds great, particularly DJ Shadows involvement. His album 'Entroducing' and his collaboration with James Lavelle 'Psyentific' were both superb and well worth a listen if you haven't heard them. DJ Shadow and other DJ's like him are testament to the fact that it's not all blatant self publicity (i.e. Pete Tong and others like him here in the UK) and astronomical fees for a couple of hours work spinning other peoples records but an all consuming, boundary breaking passion for a genre that all too many people turn their noses up at.
Dec. 13, 2000, 9:54 a.m. CST
by The Pardoner
However, there are a few people who've got their shit together. A connection between jazz and mixing? I could see that... but DJs would have to grow up first. Moby, for one, *could* get to the point of becoming a respectable musician. I'm not holding my breath, but some of what he's done shows promise, both in being good music and in being thoroughly spectacular failures. --- There was a great interview with the lead singer of the Foo Fighters - had a line that was roughly, "... I can't fucking stand picking up a magazine every two weeks and reading about some 13-year old Swedish jackass, who's going to be the next Beethoven because he found a clever hook". This nicely spells out the problem with pop music: a lack of discipline, both in its artists and in its culture. You want to be a good composer, or operatic singer, or a trumpet player, you have to work unbelievably hard. The sheer amount of knowledge that you have to acquire beggars anything but the most rigorous science, and the physical demands approach the athletic. But too much of the popular music (including hip-hop, rap, and whatever) is juvenile, simply because it lacks this committment to itself, as an artistic style. There's nothing wrong with doing something for fun, but it's not an art until it's disciplined.
Dec. 13, 2000, 9:56 a.m. CST
by The Pardoner
Getting back on topic - I haven't heard anythuing about this, but based on Moriarty's review, I'll give it a look. Good work, you weaselly little genius, you. =)
Dec. 13, 2000, 10:16 a.m. CST
I hope this hits the big screen in at least limited distribution. This is the chronicling of an important aspect of American Culture. Now we know why they call him Derek SMALLs.....
Dec. 13, 2000, 10:22 a.m. CST
First of props to the guy referencing Jazzy Jeff. He was influential (transform scratch, hello?), and, as I've seen him spin I can say from experience, he's quite good. Moby is not a DJ, and the fact that he's mentioned in a talkback about _this_ movie confuses me. I think the test for whether you know the type of music this movie is about is the name DJ Q-Bert. If you know the name, you're probably familiar with turntablism, and if you're familiar with scratch djing at all, you know Q-Bert. If not, I suggest picking up Demolition Pumpkin Squeeze Music, his finest release IMO. My other faves in the genre not allready listed: DJ Shortkut, Cut Chemist, DJ Vadim, DJ A-Track, DJ Disk, DJ Rectangle, Peanut Butter Wolf, and The X-Ecutioners (aka The X-Men, the East Coast answer to the Invisibl Skratch Piklz): Rob Swift, Mister Sinister, Roc Raida and Total Eclipse. Must make post relevant... Allright. I wonder how this move compares with Modulations, a movie made a while ago about another misunderstood niche genre of techno commonly called IDM. They seem to have pretty similar subject matter. Anyone who's not a fan of either genre seen either movie? I've never been inspired to actually listen to a style of music because of a movie, but I'd be interested if something like this would raise awareness. Anyhow...
Dec. 13, 2000, 10:38 a.m. CST
If you don't know what your talking about (in reference to the art of DJing) then you should think before you open your ass.
Dec. 13, 2000, 10:38 a.m. CST
Be sure to download the 25 minute tracks.
Dec. 13, 2000, 11:05 a.m. CST
This sounds too good. Now, first off kids, I can't stand most of what is called "hip-hop" nowadays. It just maked me grind my teeth and yank on my hair. Banal "bitch and ho" stuff that Mori was talking about. But there are a few exceptions, and they always seem to come in the form of these DJs. I will admit, I am a babe when it comes to knowlege on the subject matter... but gaddamn if I can't get enough of DJ Shadow. And I adore them Beasties too, especially circa Paul's Boutique. This is a feat indeed that I ever gave these guys a shot, because I always used to write off everything in the hip-hop category as crap. But somehow, someone snuck some of that good stuff in on me, and I'm hooked now. I'd love to check out this flick, and I'm hoping that if it does well at Sundance they may bring it over to Austin in the spring for SXSW. Yeah, hoping, damnit. I think that's the next big Austin film fest, anywho... why not? Heehee. Mori, again, your good taste prevails, and you've found another person itching for this type of film. Congrats and thanks, buddy-boy.
Dec. 13, 2000, 11:08 a.m. CST
"I met a critic/ I made him shit his draws/ He said he thought hip-hop was only drugs and alcohol/ I said "Oh hell nah!"/ but yet it's that too/ you can't "discrimiHATE" 'cause you done read a book or 2/What if I looked at YOU in a microscope?/ Examined all the organisms livin' in YOUR closet/ Would I stop or would I pause it?/SHIT, to put that bitch in slower motion got the potion and the antidode and a quote for collision 'the decision is/ Do you wanna live or wanna exist?'/The game changes everyday so obsolete is the fist and marches/ Speeches only reaches those that already know about it/ this is how WE go about it....." -Andre 3000 of Outkast... (the "/"'s are for phrasing, my hip-hop hating chums)
Dec. 13, 2000, 11:21 a.m. CST
Wow - talking Sundance already? Hell it's more than a month away. Still, I'm looking forward to the parties here in my fair state. My goal for the year is to crash some fantastic party - I've never had the guts to try in the past. Anyway, this film sounds WAY too much like that annoying film from last year about Raves. Remember how they released that one commercially and lost a ton of money on it. No, my desire for this year is to see some really cool indie film that is actually fun and interesting to watch. Something that doesn't confuse indie with "artsy-fartsy nonsense." Remember the South Park parody of Sundance? How true. Blair Witch, whether you liked it or not, had some commercial sensibilities. Same with Pi (at least in my opinion). Here's hoping there is something that good this year.
Dec. 13, 2000, 12:32 p.m. CST
by Tender Branson
I hate hip hop, I hate people who sample and mix music they didn't create. I hate hip hop, I hate rap, I hate everything I hate. I don't know a lot, but I know what I hate. A bunch crap foisted on my ears by people who have forgotten what the word "MUSIC" really means. I shit from a great heighth on these talentless bastards and one day when this enduring 'trend' goes away, all of you "Trend-of-the-moment-is-what-I-was-always-into" liked it before it was popular, fucks will too. On a side note, isn't there any fucking news about big budget, special FX laden crapflicks????? What happened to that kind of news? If all I wanted a badly written cultural thesis on why hip-hop is the saving grace of modern music, I'd call up my brother who is currently on a crusade against racial intolerence in his all-white prep-school far away from the ears of anyone who might understand what the fuck he's talking about. He would totally dig your entire review Moriarty! (Of course, you've actually conversed with African-Americans, which is a great leap ahead of my brother, who only knows them as interesting album covers.) Oh and in case anyone starts thinking I'm racist, I'm not, at all. I just hate this kind of music and people like my brother who can single-handedly disgrace an entire culture by pretending to be something they're not. Basically, I'm just upset because I confused this review with something else and that I'm snowed into my fucking house. This day sucks dick, I'm going back to sleep.
Dec. 13, 2000, 12:49 p.m. CST
Man, oh man...Moriarty graces us with a scoop on what promises to be the defining movie about true hip hop and hip hop culture, and still we have haters bringing their ignorance to the Talk Back. First of all, saying hip hop isn't music simply because all you've been exposed to is Cash Money garbage and No Limit hoohaa is like saying jazz is worthless as a form of art because of that Kenny G tune you peeped the other day on the easy listening station. Every genre of music has its bad apples...rock, r&b, metal, classical, you name it. In the case of hip hop more so than for any other genre, a few weak lyricists with big pockets seem to have ruined it for the rest. But that's only for the mainstream crowds. Those of us who love hip hop...true hip hop...and can appreciate the art form that is djing and turntablism know that true hip hop is as much an art form as jazz is. In fact, many comparisons have been made between jazz and hip hop (thus, the intro to the movie). People like Shadow, Cut Chemist, Shortkut, Atlas, Kid Koala...the list goes on and on...are ARTISTS, plain and simple. what they do on the turntables is magic, and shouldn't be slighted in the least. I, for one, am SO excited to see this movie. Hopefully, it'll open some eyes as to what hip hop culture truly is, and how significant it is in this day and age. I'll say it again...hip hop is this century's jazz...you can't hate on that. Moriarty, mad respect for your piece.
Dec. 13, 2000, 12:59 p.m. CST
hey tender, if you hate sampling and mixing you must hate Jazz, rock, country.....Well all music for that matter. If you hate music why bother mentioning it, because you know damn well most people do. Chet Baker, Louis Armstong, Mingus, Davis, Parker... they all took the best of their contemporaries and blended it with their own. Do i then say that Jazz sucks. You reak of self righteous ignorance, why i bother responding to it I don't know, maybe it's boredom. Cause I be Blackaliscious
Dec. 13, 2000, 1:01 p.m. CST
Dec. 13, 2000, 1:28 p.m. CST
Um, nice name. www.musicnotes.com
Dec. 13, 2000, 2:11 p.m. CST
Having seen DJ Shadow and Kid Koala within a month of each other, I can say that this movie sounds pretty cool so I can search out the roots of both these cool performers. Kid Koala really deserves to be in this movie, too bad if he isn't. The guy is amazing. He can play four turntables at the same time and they sound like an orchestra. Those who say you can't play music with a deck haven't heard Koala play "Drunken Trumpet" live. Find him on Ninjatune. By the way, I found DJ Shadow to be a bit too intellectual to be really fun live.
Dec. 13, 2000, 2:55 p.m. CST
I'm looking forward to seeing this movie (one of these days on video, cause it wont play my town) because it focuses on the best part of hip hop, which is the music. I loved all the old Tommy Boy hits in the '80's and I would go on to embrace lots of other acts (Beasties, Native Tongues, PE) but since about 1990 or so, the lyrics of almost all hip hop have left me cold and often pissed. I'm just a reactionary white guy trying to confess what's on my mind... but whereas NWA was talking to everybody, I hear Nelly, or Jay-Z, or DMX, and they ain't talking to me. The Pharcyde and Schoolly-D and the 2 Live Crew wanted me to like them, but the bling-blingers don't want me to like them. So, fuck them. I almost always like DJ albums (Hurricane, Terminator X, on up to Fatboy Slim, DJ Shadow) and I always loved the DJ's for the acts I liked -- couldn't wait to see Jam Master Jammin' -- and I'm excited to see a movie that focuses on them, and their musicality, and their pursuit of greatness, which seems more sincere than that of a thug with a steno pad. At the same time I don't relate at all to certain facets of club culture -- I read in Rolling Stome and Spin about jungle, drum and bass, etc etc, and I'm like, what the fuck is that. I look forward to being educated a little bit by this movie, and having the love part of my love-hate relationship with hip-hop validated by putting the focus on the DJ, not the MC's.
Dec. 13, 2000, 4:19 p.m. CST
I heard that "punk" Moby cd ..."Animal Rights", right? That was truly the most dreadful dreck I've ever heard. I'm serious; I'm really not trying to flame...I just am baffled that someone is talking about Moby like he's some kind of "Artiste".
Dec. 13, 2000, 5:48 p.m. CST
It must be easy being you.
Dec. 13, 2000, 5:56 p.m. CST
Has anyone heard anything about David Siegel and Scott McGehee's entry, "The Deep End"? The only publicity I've found so far was a one-page article in the Summer issue of "Filmmaker."
Dec. 13, 2000, 11:42 p.m. CST
by The Pardoner
wash: I never said Moby was an "Artiste". I said he *seemed to have* the potential for (hence, not the actuality of) being an artist. I did not mean that everything he creates is gold. I cannot fucking stand Animal Rights - that was the "spectacular failure" to which I referred in my original post. What impressed me about that horrible album was that he tried to do it at all. Moby was so clearly out of his depth, producing music as antipodal to the ears of his peers as French poetry to a German scholar, that he has to be given credit for having the skill to fuck up in a complete and admirably large way. Not only that, but Moby has a lofty sort of ignorance which can prove fertile ground for artistic impulses - by which I mean his asinine politics and religion. --- However, a few bits of Moby's work have impressed me on their merits, rather than their detriments, particularly in his newer stuff. Just pulling a few names out of the air, "Natural Blues", "God Moving Over Water" and "Find My Baby" were not only enjoyable, but showed a capacity for musical composition which *might* allow for some further development. Am I saying I think Moby is a genius? is a good musician? is an artist at all? Nope. But he could be. --- Lastly, MrEnigma has yet again made an idiot of himself, proving that being on the right side (mine.. heh) of an argument does not mean that you yourself are either a) correct or b) intelligent. You began with a wonderful formulation of the classic "I'm right and you're wrong because I'm right" gambit, and proceeded to prove wash's point. Good work, moron. --- Radix malorum est cupiditas.
Dec. 14, 2000, 2:19 a.m. CST
First of all, to the above poster - "Animal Rights" was Mobys initial turn-on to music revisited. Back in the 80
Dec. 14, 2000, 7:52 a.m. CST
some of these comments r a load of old pony... hip hop + sampling r relevant art forms. anyone who says it is juvenile + requires litle dedication or discipline is an uninformed ignorant fool. dont believe me? try cutting up tunes on decks, try breaking (thats breakdancing 4 those that dont know), graf (+ that doesnt mean toilet nonsense its about aerosol art), try getting on the mic + rapping. just bcos u dont understand something doesnt make it less relevant as an artform. hip hop 2 some is a way of life, a culture. sure theres bad stuff but thats the same 4 everything, but theres also a lot of positive + progressive stuff 2.
Dec. 14, 2000, 9:01 p.m. CST
by The Pardoner
I've never seen Good Will Hunting, MrEnigma. It looked pretty feeble and sappy. Did you like it? Who is Jethro Tull? You're obviously more a fan of him than I am, since I've never heard that name before. I also recommend that you drop back to the 9th grade, and take English grammar again - I'd need a degree in linguistics to even begin to explain the stupidity of your syntax. --- I have no particular taste in music. I prefer to sample, and discard the shit. The only solid loyalties I have are to The Tragically Hip and Los Lobos - poetry and ingenuity in each. Where you (SSJ) got the idea that I only like Rock from, I'll never know. The closest I get to Rock is in the two bands I mentioned previously, and even they have produced huge amounts of bad music. And I didn't dismiss hip-hop: I said it was in its infancy. It's only been around for a couple of decades, at most. --- monkey, I think you need to look up the word "discipline" in the dictionary. A discpline is not jusr something which requires an enormous amount of time or work, or even some skill. A discipline has an entire cultural or sub-cultural drive behind it, to shape new apprentices into masters of that art. This system is not present, in any rigorous or formal way, in the hip-hop culture. It will not progress beyond adolesence without this mechanism. It might, but presently, that doesn't appear too likely. I am not saying that any aspect of the culture is itself worthless, but that the culture will not produce truly elevated (by which I mean significant) art in its current state. Just because I can't paint doesn't mean I can't make valuative judgements on paintings.