Published on February 26th, 2014 | by Vekked4
Interview: DJ IQ – IDA World Scratching Champion
Today we have an interview with the current IDA World Scratching Champion and 2012 QSU Valedictorian, DJ IQ. Recently he has been in the spotlight for tearing up online scratch battles, but he has a long history in scratching leading up to his recent success. This is sort of a 2 part interview since he ended up winning his IDA title just after the initial questions were sent, so there are some IDA specific questions tacked on the end. Enjoy!
Where are you from?
Born and raised in Los Angeles, California.
How long have you been scratching/DJing? How long have you been battling?
I’ve been skratching/DJing since around 1992, but maybe a little earlier as I used to skratch on my Fisher Price toy turntable when i was a kid. The first battle I was in was in 1997(the one on Youtube at Exodus Records in 1997)
Here’s a little throw back clip of IQ battling in 1997:
For those who don’t know, tell us about the Handroidz?
It started around ’92. The founding members were Oligee, Konfusion, and I. When we started the crew it was meant to be more instrumental, focusing on beats and skratches. All three of us were on the cuts, but only Oligee and I were on production. In addition to music, Konfusion and Oligee were also into the graff/street art scene and they would always be working on art in their piecebooks and on the walls. In the mid to late 90’s we added MC Abnormal and producer/DJ One-3 (now known as Computer Jay), which gave us a lyricist element as well as another producer element. We did live shows throughout L.A. incorporating turntables, drum machines, an MC, a live drummer, a Fender Rhodes piano, and various analog synths. I think we were one of the first crews to fuse Hip-Hop/turntablism with electro-funk instruments and drum machines.
I entered numerous DJ battles around that time and in 2004 we released an album entitled, “Six Billion Dollar Hand”(http://handroidz.bandcamp.com/) produced by Oligee, myself, One-3, and additional production by up-and-coming producer Artik, who is the younger brother of Oligee. Years later, we slowly disbanded. Oligee moved on to join Ima Robot and pursue more production outlets (currently one half of the group Oliver), One-3 pursued a new identity as Computer Jay, and Abnormal pursued other projects.
After many years of doing shows and going thru the trials and tribulations of being a Hip-Hop group, Konfusion and I decided that we would return to our roots by focusing on just beats and skratches. Konfusion and I remained as the official Handroidz. So to state who exactly is the “Handroidz”, it’s strictly Konfusion and I but we have an extended family called the HDfamtree which consists of Oligee, Artik, AJ, Prefyx, Computer Jay, Abnormal, and The Lady Tigra.
IQ & Konfusion performing as the Handroidz:
I started hearing your name pop up a lot more frequently once you started entering the online scratch battles, first QSU, then IDA and DV. Have you always been entering scratch battles, or what made you decide to start doing a lot of them recently?
I just started entering them recently because when I used to do battles in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, there was really no purely skratching battles except ITF but it still wasnt really a purely skratching comp(it was more skratch routines instead of freestyles). So when I heard of these types of battles popping up I was like, “hell yeah I should be able to do ok in them,” because I felt pure skratching was my thing and so far I’ve been doing alright.
What goes through your mind when doing a video for a scratch battle like the IDA ones? Do you care about how the judges will see it or just treat it the same as you would any other scratch video?
The problem with me is I’m such a perfectionist that I always think I can do a better video than the one I recorded before, but that makes it really stressful for me because I end up doing so many takes when a true “freestyle” should really only require one or a few takes. Obviously you can’t make a perfect video but I try to make it as close to perfect(in my mind) as I can but I feel like I end up having good parts and not so good parts/mistakes. Having mistakes is a good thing though because it shows our human side and if a video is too perfect it can come off as being robotic/mechanical which can seem stiff and less funky/soulful. Also like jazz, the key is to flow off of the mistakes where it seems like there “are no mistakes”. So in reality it’s a good thing to have mistakes to keep that balance and the mistakes are where new skratches develop from.
On the other hand, sometimes I can record a video in a few takes but that usually isn’t often. My process when recording a video is to warm up for like an hour or two until I feel like I’m in the pocket and my flow and techniques feel natural. I try to get some sleep before hand(if i’m tired) because cutting when I’m tired obviously affects the mental and physical attributes/focus of skratching. I set up all my recording equipment first because I feel like the time taken to set up the audio/video equipment can disrupt my concentration. This is my least favorite part of the recording process because it can be a distraction and I want to be as free as possible when skratching and the whole idea of pressing record, then stopping, then recording, then stopping… especially when doing a bunch of takes can take a toll on you and after a while it starts to become a task instead of a “freestyle,” so that is one of the biggest obstacles I face when recording a skratch video.
Another factor is trying to understand how others/judges will see it. In most cases I try to figure out what kind of judges will be viewing it(what they like whether it be funkiness or technicality, speed or power, etc.) and try to incorporate aspects that will be understandable/relatable/
impressive but still keep the individuality that is distinctly mine and how I can stand out. So I think every video is different in that aspect because at the end of the day you’re at the mercy of the judges and just because you see it one way it definitely doesn’t mean they will see it the same.
I notice you use the Vestax 06 pro still, and it appears to be still the stock fader right? Any reason you prefer the trusty 06 with stock fader over newer stuff?
Yeah, I still use the trusty 06 with the PCV fader, haha!, I know a lot of people think it’s “old school” and are surprised when I tell them I use the stock PVC fader, but it’s what I’m used too and feel most comfortable with. It’s like how an acoustic guitar is to a guitarist, I feel the 06 is straight up the rawest/simplest skratch mixer ever made, no bells and whistles, just the essentials. It could use a little upgrade here and there but to be honest it’s been adequate enough for me over the years and i haven’t really felt the need to upgrade to anything else. I really like and got used to the way the crossfader feels/cut’s off. I also really like the knobs because they’re not rounded at the edges where in my experience other knobs tend to slip and I feel like certain skratches don’t catch sometimes. I also like the upfader slopes because I can do stabs with them where some mixers have upfader slopes that i’m not used to. It’s also really small and compact so when I do showcases with my brother Konfusion(one half of the Handroidz) we can fit all our equipment(2 techs and 2 06’s) on a small 5ft table.
What’s your usual practice regime these days? How much do you drill techniques, and how much do you just freestyle?
I usually try to get at least an hour a day of practice but sometimes i dont have time. So when I do, I just try to train to slow, medium, and fast tempos so I get a well rounded practice. If I feel like I don’t have the energy to train different tempos I’ll just skratch to whatever I feel comfortable with at the moment which is usually around 85-95bpms or 120-130bpms. I don’t really drill techniques nowadays as much as when I first started because I think when you first start out that’s when you try to figure out/learn techniques and then after several years you tend to work on flowing with those techniques and becoming more free and I feel like that’s the point where I am right now. I try to be as free as I can and just enjoy the musicality and self-expression of skratching. I feel like when I skratch, my hands just go and I’m listening to my skratches rather than controlling them, if that makes any sense. I’m a pretty quiet person so when I skratch it’s like my way of communicating. So I tend to freestyle more as I think it’s the highest level that any artist can achieve and it frees you from any limitations. I don’t really like to be bound to any particular structure so when I skratch I just want to eliminate any cognitive thinking and let the music flow thru me like a jazz musician.
Do you have any favourite scratches/combos?
2 click orbits, stabs, reverse tears, one-clicks, chirps, transforms…all of these combo’d in different ways.
How do you come up with new combos?
I just try to do what sounds good and if it happens in a certain combo than that’s great, if not, it doesn’t really matter. Obviously the best way to come up with new combos is to skratch as much as you can because usually the mistakes are where combos tend to come from.
Do you have any technique advice for building speed, becoming more precise, practicing in general?
I think speed comes over time as well as precision. I think a way that I learned precision was to learn and copy skratches that DJ Premier did on his earlier albums which were more phrase based rather than a single sound. This helped me learn where each sound/syllable was on the record and how to lay them in the beat at precise times. This would help me concentrate more on record control/placement rather than techniques. It also helped me learn how to be funky but I also think that funk is not really something you learn, you either have it or you don’t.
What’s your philosophy for solo scratching? What makes good or bad solo scratching?
My philosophy is to try to be as free as possible and try not to repeat skratches and be funky as well. Also to really try to “speak” when you skratch meaning have empty space, different pitch and tonality, variation, accents, etc. I noticed a lot of skratch DJs nowadays are so aggressive when they skratch and that’s fine but mix it up, be aggressive but at times relaxed rather than doing turbo flare-chirp-quadruple blah blah blahs for 16 bars straight…
Were there any “a-ha!” moments that changed the way you scratched and think about scratching?
Not really…maybe when I decided to switch my record hand from left to right(I don’t even remember when that happened but it was definitely earlier on when I started), I did that because obviously my record control would be better and over time my fader control/speed would develop plus at the time I saw Qbert and D-styles using their right hand as their record hand and their left as their fader hand and I wanted to be as good as them so I did it that way, haha!
Are you thinking during a scratch freestyle? What do you think about?
I’m thinking but not so much, I’m trying to bypass the cognitive level and let my “fingers do the talking”. I think of what skratches I want to do but only for a split second and I think about what flow will complement the beat and how certain skratches will be placed within the flow but that all takes place really “without thinking” so it’s kind of hard to explain but I think that’s what happens in my brain, haha! It’s kind of like how people learn different languages. At first their aware of how words are translated in their brain and then after they become fluent it becomes natural without really thinking anymore and I think that’s what happen when I skratch. It’s just another language.
How do you get in the zone to do your best scratching?
I just skratch for several hours and usually sooner or later I get into the zone. I I usually don’t have a problem focusing/getting in the zone because I feel I’m at a level where I don’t have to think as much anymore, it’s rather a process of the music speaking thru me. I try to think about how I want the skratching to sound and hope that it will come out the way I hear it in my head. As long as I got a funky beat going and I’m comfortable with the setup i’m on, I can usually get into the zone.
How do you get out of a rut?
I usually just stop skratching and do something else because I don’t think its good to force anything. I’ll make a beat or just work on techniques/combos or anything that has nothing to do with skratching and come back to it later.
Is there anything outside of scratching that has helped develop it? (like, do you play any instruments? have non-scratch influences?)
Yes, I play other instruments but not on the level that I do with the turntable. I play drums, keys, bass guitar, percusion instruments but can only really get by on them, nothing on a pro level. I think learning/playing other instruments helps build/understand timing, rhythm, melody, structure, etc. which are important to know as a musician. These concepts help with building a strong vocabulary of skratches and as a result reduce repetitiveness. I also listen to jazz solos and a lot of jazz, funk, soul music which help me understand different timing and melodic/phrasing concepts. Indian music with the tabla instrument is also influential in that the percussive element is very similar to skratch patterns.
OK now for the future. What can we expect to see from IQ? Any music/releases/projects? More scratch battles?
Music releases: Handroidz skratch album/mixtape, break record/loopers, collabs with producers/skratchers in the US and around the world
Maybe more skratch battles…
Do you play out much for scratch-based stuff? What kind of gigs? (don’t have to answer this if you don’t want)
Every now and then, Hip-hop gigs, Turntablist gigs.
What do you see in the future for scratching? What would you like to see ideally?
I’m not sure…I hope it will return back to the funk and being less robotic/mechnical. I’d like to see more musicality, jazz, funk, etc. and less aggressiveness. I would like people to realize that skratching is not about being the fastest but having a combination of attributes(speed, control, funk, jazz, power, vocabulary, rhythm, timing, melody, etc). I want skratching/skratch DJs to be as highly respected/regarded as Jazz/Funk music/musicians and want skratch musicians to be able to make a living of it comfortably. I also want the commercial DJs to stop degrading the art of DJing and I want more talented DJs with actual skills to get the credit/recognition they deserve.
Any advice for up and coming scratchers?
Know your history, learn the fundamentals(basic skratches) first as well as flow and techniques, learn record control, then practice and keep practicing…and then practice even more…
Who are you main influences/favourite scratchers?
Premier, Richie Rich(3rd Bass), Aladdin, Qbert, D-Styles, MixMaster Mike, Shortkut, Beat Junkies, ToadStyle…and many, many others, but those come to mind of the top of my head.
Post-IDA World Title Questions…
How does it feel to be the IDA World Scratching champion?
It feels good! It’s definitely an honor to be recognized as number one on a worldwide scale for something that I’m am super passionate about. I feel truly blessed and thankful.
How did you feel about your chances before hearing the results?
I knew I had a good chance, but I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. In the rounds leading up to the finals I was at the top in terms of points but as you know battles are always tricky because you’re at the mercy of the judges and sometimes their scores are not what you expected. Judges all have their own experiences and preferences and so it can be really hard to read the judges especially if you’re not familiar with them. At the same time it can be really hard for them to judge a battle when the level is so high. So I was surprised when the results were announced but at the same time I was glad they made the right decision(in my mind), haha!
Out of the other competitors, did any video stand out to you in any round?
All of DJ TMB’s, DJ Spada’s, and DJ Ben’s videos.
What round were you happiest with your video?
I wasn’t really 100% happy with any of my videos because I’m a perfectionist but I thought were all ok. I would probably say my final round video was my favorite.
What did you think of the competition overall? Is there anything you would change as far as the format or rules or anything?
I thought the competition was really solid and the level was super high. I don’t think I would change anything about the format/rules/etc.
Are you going to continue doing scratch battles after this? Will you defend your title next year?
I’m not sure yet…I’m not really into the whole battle side of djing, I really just did this competition to have fun, be competitive, and put my name out there but as I got past each round it reminded me how stressful and nerve racking battling can be so I might have to take a break from it and just work on my music because I consider myself a musician first before anything else.
I might defend my title next year but I’m not sure yet, we’ll just have to wait and see when the time comes around…
Any last words/shout outs?
Thank you DJ Vekked and Turntablistworld.com for this interview! Thank you to everyone who has supported me and my crew The Handroidz over the years! to all the DJs(or anybody in any field of art or whatever) out there; be humble, work hard, and stay dedicated no matter what in whatever you do. Handroidz til infinity! Shout out to My girlfriend DJ Eri for all her love and support, my brothers: DJ Konfusion and Non-Typikal aka Type-Slickk for the knowledge and training, Mom and Dad, Luna family, Recipe Skate, HDfamTree, DJ Qbert, DJ D-Styles, SkratchFunktion LA fam, Thud Rumble, QSU, Beat Swap Meet LA, IDA World organization, and all those I forgot, sorry but 1 love yall!!