DJ D-Styles talks Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Beat Junkies, top 6 scratch mixtapes, and his new album "Noises in the Right Order"
Q: I want to talk a little bit about nonconformity. It's really interesting that I was first introduced to you as a scratch DJ in the 90's from watching the early Turntable TV VHS tapes — and of course buying some of your scratch records like my personal favorite "Black Market Snuff Breaks." Recently I've been reflecting on those old works (as I struggle to keep my own attachment to nonconformity) and realizing something very profound was happening with you and the people around you.
One thing I always fight with is the manic desire for nonconformity versus the need to conform and make money and boring things like that. Somehow during most of my career, creating and authenticity have been in collision with the status quo in many ways. Everything that seems to speak deeply to me is somewhere buried in the margins being weird as f***, existing for the micro-culture itself. For my career I'd say that nonconformity has been as much a destructive force as a positive one up until the last two years or so.
I always got such a good feeling from following the music of your crews (the Skratch Piklz, Beat Junkies, etc). Your crews really seemed to take that nonconformity in such a positive direction. Was that a conscious effort on your behalf or something that evolved and just happened?
[D-Styles] I think a huge part of us being able to be ourselves and not have to conform was timing. Timing in the sense that there wasn’t anyone else doing, or willing to do, what we were doing at the time. The lane was wide open for documenting and putting out crazy shit. We didn't fit into Hip-Hop anymore and we were considered these weirdo scratch DJs that didn't work with rappers and did our own thing. It was like punk rock turntable music. The Turntable TV VHS tapes we did back then were like those Skate videos and Graffiti videos that we all grew up on. It was like the wild west back then and kids were hungry for it. It was also the time when the music industry was cracking down on sampled music and we were like Fuck that. We will make Battle Break records with crazy names and record covers and do what we want and can’t nobody do shit about it. It got to the point with me that I had to keep outdoing my last Break record with an even more crazy record cover.
I had to pump the brakes when I put out STD Breaks. Pressing plants wouldn't press the record because of the fucked up artwork. I had to get it made in Canada. Record stores couldn’t display that record publicly. It was usually a 'behind the counter' record. Those were great times man!
Yes I can barely understand why you turned down the levels a bit after STD Breaks. I remember that cover art, it was diabolically difficult to look at. It was real sick shit — but the youth needed educating...
So set the timetable for me, what year did you press your first break/battle record? What years did you start collaborating with ISP and the Beat Junkies?
My first battle break record I put out in 1992. It was mainly just drum loops that I took from ultimate breaks n beats. I added some scratch sounds and tones. Mixmaster Mike used it in his 1992 New Music Seminar battle.
Me and Shortkut joined the Beat Junkies in 1994. I joined the Skratch Piklz in 1996. Shortkut was already in the Piklz when I joined. The Piklz were originally called Terntable Draguns, with Qbert, Mixmaster Mike, Shortkut and DJ Disk.
What's your favorite break record that you've produced? The west coast break records were always on another level. For me, the 1996 battle between ISP and the X-Men serves as the ultimate documentation of how far ahead the west coast was with scratch music. I still get goosebumps watching that. It hurts me a bit to say that, growing up in the DC area; but straight up it was probably the first turntable snuff film. To me it seems a bit like east coast scratching was stuck in a response to hip-hop lineage, while you guys were in some other solar system (literally and figuratively). East coast scratchers were maybe trying to take that sampling mentality from legends like Diamond D, Premiere and Q-Tip into improvisational territory, but west coast cats were smoking acid through the pipes of a theremin plugged right into a moog. Why was the west so far ahead?
My favorite break record that I made is Sqratch Fetishes Of The 3rd kind. That was my first record I put out on the Dirtstyle label.
I think us DJs in the west coast were just influenced by so many other styles of music. Especially with scratchers... I always felt like the East Coast djs didn't like touching any beats above 105bpm. So they would only cut over boom bap tempos. But that's why NYC was so ill at cutting those hip hop phrases. I guess west coast djs embraced it all so we were cutting over drum n bass, miami bass, electrofunk, slow grimey shit etc. At least for myself I wanted to know how to flow over every bpm and how to attack different genres.
Can you talk a bit more about the Electro influence? That’s something I never really understood where it came from. Some of the ISP stuff used the most bugged out electro beats. I never really connected it to the European new wave electro stuff.
In the 80s we were all influenced by Arthur Baker and Planet Rock. Also that led to Detroit Electro like Juan Atkins and Cybotron. There were alot of German Electro artists that we loved as well. That sound and that spirit of beats is what we always loved scratching over and searched for. Egyptian Lover was another huge influence in Electro Bass music. We try to keep that same spirit in our music today.
Who were some of the other folks you saw innovating out west in the early days? I remember some of those old Eddie Def mixes messing with my head pretty good.
In the Bay Area back then it was a great time for music. DJ Shadow was a big influence to us. Hieroglyphics and Hobo Junction. Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters. Billy Jam was putting out his Hip Hop Slam video series. DJ Disk was with Primus, El Stew and Herbie Hancock. Buckethead was also a big influence. The early 90s was a great time for music in the San Francisco bay area.
Real quick. No pressure. Top 6 greatest scratch mixtapes of all time?
1. Hotsauce in the Dickhole - DJ D-Styles & DJ Qbert
2. Comprehension - DJ Babu
3. Turnfable - DJ Melo D
4. Neckthrust One - Mixmaster Mike
5. Pharaohs of Funk - DJ D-Styles & DJ Flare
6. Mr Dibbs - Turntable Scientifics
Let's fast forward a bit. Everyone knows you as one of the most unique and technical scratchers of all time, and equally as deadly with phrase scratching, but let's talk about some of your compositional work. You released Phantazmagorea in 2002, which has everyone's favorite track "The Murder Faktory." You released the Inspiration Information mixtape/album in 2003. Then it seems like you were a little bit quiet until the release of the 545 album last year (2019).
1) Am I tripping about the timeline, what am I missing in terms of your solo works? and 2) tell me more about the 545 album.
Shortly After Phantazmagorea I had my first daughter. Then after that we had twin girls and I didn't have much time and energy to create music. I don't believe in forcing it to happen and I knew that once my kids were older and independent that I would find inspiration again to work on music. That inspiration was the Invisibl Skratch Piklz LP, The 13th Floor. Then after that was the 545 EP with Pryvet Peepshow, Excess and Mike Boo. Then I finally finished my 2nd solo LP, Noises In The Right Order, just recently in 2019.
You took a break from producing music to produce some kids. Sounds like a pretty great compromise. Ah yes I forgot the 13th Floor album. As always, the song titles on that do not disappoint. Super classic. Kenny G’s Perm for the win…
Thanks! The 13th Floor was recorded in Tokyo. RedBull was kind enough to let us record at their studio in Shibuya. We spent 5 days recording there. Originally Redbull was planning to put out the LP but we used too many obvious samples so we ended up putting that out ourselves!
Damn, samples be-gone... that sucks. How long were you working on Noise In the Right order? That album is pretty f***ed up, really really great stuff. From my small-brained perspective, it feels like a more polished and refined progression of the ideas you were working on with Phantazmagorea. Dark, funny, technical, composed, very very weird.
Noises In The Right Order was recorded on and off for the last 8 years. Just different ideas that I would record and put on the shelf. I realized I was being too much of a perfectionist. Songs are just snapshots of how you felt during a certain time. I was too concerned with painting a perfect picture rather than just showing a polaroid of where I am musically. So all those songs on Noises In The Right Order are where I’ve been musically for the last 10 years. A huge influence for this album was getting back to my DJ Roots. I started DJin again doing a weekly in Los Angeles called Low End Theory. That got me back to listening to music and collecting music again. Low End Theory was centered around producers and beats.
Yes Low End Theory was classic. And wow, recorded for eight years, that's a trip. I can understand how it would be difficult to finish after all that time. Can you tell me some of the highlights of your production?
I moved around alot so part of the reason was breaking down my studio and a lot of my gear was in storage. I would start songs and not be 100% happy with them so I would just put songs on the shelf. I think a lot of musicians do that and come back when they get that rush of inspiration.
What is a piece of equipment in the studio that you can't live without? Obviously, you don't need to mention the turntable!
One piece of equipment that I cannot live without is the Roland RE201 space echo. It's a tape echo machine from the 70s that gives the music so much character.
Space echo! Yes that thing is sick.
So we started this interview before all the pandemic madness. I’ve seen you and the Beat Junkies doing lots of online scratch/DJ instruction. How is that going? What’s on deck for you in the next 12 months? Will you be releasing any new tracks?
Yeah since the pandemic we had to shift our DJ School business to 100% online. Sadly we had to close our doors at Beat Junkies Institute Of Sound and we are still waiting on when it's safe to reopen. But on the flipside we have been doing alot of teaching online. We started doing free YouTube livestreams and that eventually transitioned over to BeatJunkies.tv which is our online DJ School. It's been a very challenging time for us to have to shift fully online but we are determined to make it work.
I haven't had much time to focus my mind on making new music. My focus has been mainly on teaching. I think eventually I will start recording new ideas that I’ve had in my head.
It’s so great what you guys are doing! Rhettmatic's last Watch The Sound episode is all-time. It impressed me when I met some of your technical guys at BJIOS, you guys are really at the cutting edge of online streaming and production. The best and most inspiring part is that you guys are doing it all by yourselves, for yourselves. No corporate dickheads to water down the sauce.
Something that a lot of people don’t realize is just how tapped into technology the DJs are. Synths, samplers, software, production, broadcasting. It seems to get more complex every year.
Is there a technical aspect of what you do that you really trip out on? Like which part of your music/teaching process do you go way into the technology vortex?
Thanks. Because we chose to do it all ourselves, we have to wear many hats and learn every part of the business. Thank god for YouTube videos on how to learn this stuff. Technology is crazy because things move so fast. There are so many set it and forget it platforms out there and that’s great for the small independent DIY businesses like us. From building your own website, making your own app, live streaming and holding Zoom community chats. It's awesome that we can do this all ourselves and not have to hire or rely on someone to do it for us.
I’ve been geeking out on the whole chat room world and how that plays a huge role with live streaming. For example with Twitch... most of the attraction with Twitch is how you interact with the host.
Yes it’s an amazing time like you say. You can watch a ten minute video and learn techniques that took someone a life of dedication to learn. It’s pretty amazing. I think it's very similar to the open source software world, where the independent spirit of learning and adventures somehow creates this collective knowledge consciousness that moves entire communities forward with innovation.
Speaking of innovation, where is scratch music headed? What do you think is the next big innovation for DJs? Serato really time warped the entire DJ galaxy in terms of efficiency and access to tracks and samples. It seems in terms of technique, there hasn’t been a great deal of innovation in the last ten years, just more patterns and more musical composition. Well, maybe excluding Qbert who is a special alien. Are we at the limit?
I really like what Serato Studio has to offer. It makes the workflow of music production so easy especially if you are already comfortable using Serato. I think a combination of using technology like Serato Studio and exporting the sounds into Serato and manipulating them with the turntables is where it's headed. A lot of folks are also using Ableton live to sketch out ideas, bounce them down to the turntables. There really is no excuse anymore as all the tools are at our fingertips. You just have to find the time.
In terms of scratch techniques there haven't been a lot of new advancements but I feel we are just learning how to talk and sing with all the techniques we have. I'm excited for the new generation of DJs we are teaching and what they will sound like. It hasn't been emphasized before to balance techniques and musicality so it will be exciting for the new generation to take this more comprehensive mindset and apply it to scratch music.
After a life dedicated to turntable music, hip-hop and nonconformity, what is one piece of advice you would offer to the everyday person?
Find something you absolutely love to do in life and put your heart and soul into that. If you believe you were put on earth to do that, then don't ever stop.