You may yet be unappreciative of the art form of moving a vinyl record back and forth using various sophisticated techniques; or you may already be a great admirer and simply wish to know more about the historical development of scratching. Either way, Doug Pray's documentary, Scratch, fascinatingly emphasizes the importance of the Hip-Hop DJ and the turntable as a musical instrument, charting the rise of the unique subculture since its creation in the 1970s.
Divided into eight chapters, the film is similar to Rhyme & Reason in that it allows the artists to take centre stage. Featured are various DJs – most prominently Q-Bert and Mix Master Mike – from the Hip-Hop world who provide accounts of their personal experiences, as well as give hands-on demonstrations of their talents on the decks. Pieced together impeccably by Pray, these interviewees provide a fascinating look into the theory and practice of scratching, mixing, beat juggling and making beats.
Seen very well are the roots of the phenomenal skill involved in DJing, turntabling and producing. The scratch, which was invented by Grand Wizzard Theodore and popularised by GrandMixer DST on Herbie Hancock's song 'Rockit' and by Grandmaster Flash on "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel", unsurprisingly gets a majority of the attention here. One particularly intriguing sequence shows the legendary X-ecutioners team in their early years annihilating various vinyl records with their skills in the confined space of a box bedroom.
Stemming from its willingness to venture into the underbelly of Hip-Hop turntabilism, there's a distinct welcoming aura about the whole of Scratch that will prove inspirational to even those not yet familiar with the subculture. As well as in their homes, we see aspiring DJs on the streets creating, inventing and innovating music as they play host to various block parties, which will inspire the viewer to take up what these talented practitioners are doing (with a plenty of study and practice, of course).
Shot in 16mm film and accompanied by a Hip-Hop soundtrack, Scratch is visually and audibly appreciative of this art form, culture and even its race. The subject of Filipino-Americans in Hip-Hop (particularly as DJs) comes up mid-way through, with such speakers as DJ Babu discussing the influence they've had upon the younger generations, who were not used to seeing people of their own race within popular culture. This further contributes to the upbeat, intellectual insight into the closed world of the Hip-Hop DJ by Scratch – a film that comes highly recommended.
By: Andy Carrington
Director: Doug Pray
Producer: Ernest Meza, Brad Blondheim
Screenwriter: Michael Tolkin, Henry Bean
Stars: Q-Bert, Afrika Bambaataa, Grand Wizzard Theodore, GrandMixer DXT, DJ Shadow, Mix Master Mike, DJ Babu