NEW YORK -- MCs, pass the mic. It's time to give the DJ some.
The often overlooked DJs get plenty this time in John Carluccio's hip-hop
documentary "Battle Sounds," a chatty, 60-minute tour of the 20-year
hip-hop DJ-ing, which screened Friday night at the New York Underground Film
Carluccio, hooked on the DJ-elimination competitions that he attended in
'93/'94, wanted "to let the artists speak," artists, that is, who generally get
little chance to publicly discuss their craft. "Battle Sounds" moves the
turntablists out front for a rare chance to hear what the guys (and they're
all guys) behind the tables think about the art of spinning.
Motivated by his love for music and noise of all kinds, as well as the
dedication shown by the DJs that he saw perform (the "strong mentality of these
second-place guys ... that's a story"), director Carluccio -- with Rocket Rio
Valledor and crew -- shot hundreds of hours of video, which they eventually
pruned into "Battle Sounds."
Over and over again, the film shows funky new beats being born. "You're
producing your own beat, you can change up the whole tempo, you can slow it
down ... You take two records and make them sound totally different from
what [the artists] originally intended them to sound like," said Method Man
routine originator DJ Mr. Sinister. "But it takes time. The Method Man routine
took about a month to organize."
As the movie's title suggests, these DJs are not your garden-variety,
spinners who provide backdrop for rappers or dancers. These performers
are mostly seen solo, either participating in head-to-head elimination
competitions or practicing routines at home. As DJ Quest puts it, "You got all
these different kinds of DJs. You got the guy that talks on the air, the
mobile DJs and now you got the guys that fuck it up -- that's us."
"Battle Sounds" casts an incredibly wide net. The basic lineage runs from
forebears such as DJ Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Funkmaster Flex and DJ Grand
Wizard Theodore to current leaders such as the X-ecutioners, DJ Shortcut and
In addition to the many candid interviews, performance footage and
break-it-down, how-to sessions provide plenty of jaw-dropping displays of
serious turntablism. "There is craftsmanship involved; it's not just
looping. It's important that people watch this and understand that 'This is
something I can't do,' " the 28-year-old Carluccio said.
Like any developing art form, hip-hop DJ-ing has seen a number of
breakthroughs over the years -- unveiled mostly in competition -- that raise
the skill bar ever higher. Some of the best footage in the film features DJs
breaking down these routines, starting with one of the first really
break-out scratch jams -- Herbie Hancock's "Rockit." (While many were
grooving on those robot legs and the somewhat freaky sight of Hancock playing
that piano-guitar, others were picking up on the odd sounds in between the
What comes across most forcefully in "Battle Sounds," besides the ferocious
skills, is the immense respect and awareness that the DJs have for the
landmark routines put down by those that came before. That, and their
intense desire to tear those landmarks down and build their own.
Like legendary jazz cutting contests, another kind of elimination
you can't bring the bebop -- or reference a key Louis Armstrong riff or
'Trane -- while adding your own flourish, well, you might as well take a
Same in the DJ world.
In fact, "Battle Sounds" closes with DJ Q-Bert offering major props to jazz
Pee Wee Russell, suggesting a new direction for serious DJs.
Meanwhile, Carluccio continues to shape and reshape "Battle Sounds," hoping
to extend the documentary to feature length (90 minutes) for a possible PBS