DJ Quest And More Fire Away In 'Battle Sounds'

Director John Carluccio moves turntablists out front for rare chance to hear them speak about their art.

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

history of

hip-hop DJ-ing, which screened Friday night at the New York Underground Film

Festival.

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,

pro-party

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

club DJs,

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

DJ Q-Bert.

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

commercial,

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

beats.)

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

tournament, if

you can't bring the bebop -- or reference a key Louis Armstrong riff or

chase the

'Trane -- while adding your own flourish, well, you might as well take a

seat.

Same in the DJ world.

In fact, "Battle Sounds" closes with DJ Q-Bert offering major props to jazz

master

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

airing.