The Scratch Perverts are Tony Vegas, Prime Cuts and Plus One, undoubtedly three of the best turntablists in the world. They’ve won more ITF’s and DMC’s between them than there are acronyms for DJ battle competitions. I interviewed Joel aka Prime Cuts, and asked him where how the name came about. “It was born out of names Tony and Theo from the Wiseguys were playing around with for a bit of a laugh really. I remember I really hated the name at first, but it kinda works and sticks in people’s minds… people don’t forget it too quickly.” And why didn’t Prime Cuts like the name? “It made me think of dirty old men in raincoats, and now I am a dirty old man in a raincoat, so maybe it is applicable [laughs]”.
They quickly became the UK’s premier crew expanding to an eight strong team that included names like First Rate, Killa Kella and Mr Thing, the latter of which was here recently with DJ Vadim on the Russian Percussion Tour. It was only at the beginning of last year that they decided to slim back down to the original members of Tony Vegas and Prime Cuts. This was partly done to keep the name synonymous with the absolute highest standards and partly because this year will finally see the Scratch Perverts record their debut album. The split is well documented on the web and in print, but I wanted to ask Joel if he had any regrets or is he just simply sick of hearing about it.
“For me it was a very necessary step in the evolution of the Scratch Perverts. The crew is now a three-man outfit and it will be that until the end of the scratch perverts. Legally, the name is owned by all three of us. And I’m hugely confident in this crew.” Originally the crew was cut back to Tony Vegas and Prime Cuts, but now Plus One has been added to the line up. “It never felt like we were adding a third member, he was always a part of the crew. He’s a good friend and really dope DJ. He has an incredible musical brain and maturity, and we just felt it is the right time (2 years ago) to make it official.” I had to ask if he thinks they’d do a big ‘Reunion’ tour ala The Stones in 20 years time “I’m not sure we’ll all be alive in 20 years time [laughs]”
Being from the UK, and wining the DMC’s in New York, the home of hiphop, I wondered if Joel felt there was a difference in styles across the Atlantic. “Every area brings its own influences. In UK we have a lot of different music. I don’t think you get the mix of music you get in London anywhere else in the world. The UK in general has a lot of different kinds of music; it’s very multicultural, very integrated. The States are a bit little more isolated and I don’t think things mix together so much. We’ve got forms of music that’s been born from that [multicultural mix]; chiefly drum and bass, which is a reflection of a lot of different music forms and cultures coming together to form a completely different sound.”
“And that’s something we really try to embrace as the Scratch Perverts – the music we are surrounded by at home, to just to be “us” and what we know, and what we’ve absorbed over the years. There’s no point us trying to do a real heavy New York sounding hiphop album because that’s not us, we’re not from New York and that’s not what we’ve experienced.”
Hiphop culture seems to be on the up and up. You see DJ’s in advertisements selling anything from juice to cars. Joel says “that it’s all good. You’ll go to a local bar in London and there’ll be “Nothing” by Noriega playing, and you’ve got Missy Elliot in the charts, and I think it’s fucking great. It’s a wonderful thing and it’s a music people can get their teeth into a lot more than some of the dance culture which is there for you on the night and that’s it. I feel there’s a little more substance to hiphop. It’s got a cultural background and history that other styles don’t have.”
I asked him what impact he thought the Scratch Perverts residency at Fabric has had on the UK hiphop scene. “I’d like to think it’s drawn some people into it” he says. “You get a real mixed crowd down there; you get the crowd that’s there to see us, and then you get your club crowd, and then you get those from out of town. I get a real kick out of playing records that I know a lot of people there won’t have heard of, and watching people leap around and go crazy to it. One moment really sticks in my mind where I played an old school tune “Rock the Bells” by LL Cool J, something that I don’t normally play out. I played it and people went crazy. We actually got a remix off the back of that night because Howie B came up and loved it so much.”
Having said this, I had to ask him what he thought of the commercialisation of hiphop, specifically through MTV giving the Best HipHop Artist award to Jennifer Lopez. ‘I don’t really fucking care to be honest. The whole kind of awards thing is bullshit anyway. Who are MTV to say ‘you now are worthy of this’?” he asks. “For me if you’re a creative and honest person when you put something out there hopefully a lot of people relate to it. That to me is the awards ceremony right there on the street, where people embrace your music or they don’t. You don’t need a panel of judges made from nobodys, has beens and wish-they-were’s to say, “Yes, you are now Hiphop”. The fact that they chose J-Lo shows they have no fucking idea anyway.”
Being one of the most talented DJ’s in the world, I was wondering what he thought the most difficult aspect of Djing was. “Allowing yourself to have the confidence to be completely original” he says frankly. “When you first start djing it’s natural to mimic the people that you like, and I think it’s quite difficult to have the self-confidence to branch out and do something totally mad original. I was DJing for years before I did any original stuff that was really my own, and it takes a while to build that confidence”.
With DJing becoming more popular, and technological advancements in sound reproduction, and innovations such as CD Mixers and Final Scratch, I wanted to know where Joel saw this all heading. “I don’t see that Final Scratch and CD mixers completely revolutionise the turntable per se, as they basically do exactly the same job. The nice thing about them is you can burn your own sounds and tracks and then manipulate them. I see those things as a studio based tool. I don’t see them replace the turntables in a live environment because what’s the point? The turntable is already a better equation. It’s a fucker taking 200 records to and from a gig, but I’d rather that than a laptop into a sweaty club spinning mp3’s that doesn’t sound too clever.”
“As far as a studio thing they’re incredible. I have one of those pioneer CDJ1000’s and I love it, its an amazing thing to have. It means you can cut your own sounds. You can burp into a microphone and scratch your own burps, whereas before to do that you’d have to cut a dubplate and they’re not nice to cut and scratch.”
“That isn’t to say I’ve been sitting here burping and scratching for the last six months” he adds, laughing. I asked if he has a preference for either DJing or producing, and, as I suspected, he enjoys both. “I like the insular aspects of working in a studio and creating something, then handing it over to Tony Vegas and Plus one and seeing what their reaction is, and I get a great kick out of it when they really flip on something that I’ve done. And I love Djing because it’s there and then and I like the atmosphere and the party vibe when it’s a mad night out. I imagine that for the first half of next year there’ll be more producing than djing, but once the album is out we’re going to hit the road again.”
Their up-coming tour of Australia will see them doing some larger festivals and some smaller club gigs, and asked him what he thinks about this. “It’s nice when you have the intimacy of a close club gig, but for me it’s all about the atmosphere – if you can created the same atmosphere you do in a small club in a huge venue then that’s even more incredible. When we played Sydney last year we played to 1500 people, which is a pretty large venue, but the atmosphere was unbelievable – I would site it as one of the best gigs I think we’ve ever done, of all time. The atmosphere was at fever pitch and when it’s like that it just drives you to perform better.”
My final question was what was it about DJing that’s kept him going, what does he like best about it. “I suppose the lifestyle – getting the chance to meet and see people you wouldn’t normally have, the chance to travel to places like Australia and get payed for the pleasure of doing it and seeing people have a good time. It’s something we never lose sight of, we have one of the best jobs on earth, and we try to break our balls and work as hard as we can, improving what we do so everyone enjoys themselves as much as possible if they’re kind enough to come and see us.”
And luckily Adelaide will not miss out on seeing this awesome act, as they’ll be here in Early January next year.