Several DJs have incorporated live instruments into their sets recently, but none have done it quite like Radar.
Earlier this month, the Phoenix turntablist made history by performing "Concerto for Turntable #1" with an 80-piece symphony orchestra.
Radar wrote the piece with Arizona State University composer Raul Yanez using scratch notation, their adapted version of the classical staff system. The composition is based on Radar's recent single "Antimatter," the first turntable track ever to include a written score.
"I started working on scratch notation four years ago," Radar said. "I wanted to be able to write what I was doing in sheet music so other DJs could perform the same material. I'm trying to write my own music, not play other people's."
Radar, a schooled percussionist, logged most of "Antimatter" on his own, but enlisted the help of Yanez to notate the song's big solo. Once Radar showed Yanez that he could scratch an octave and a half of notes with a turntable, the two began composing "Concerto for Turntable #1," with conductor Joel Brown and the Arizona State Symphony Orchestra in mind.
The composition was finally performed March 7 at a free concert at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, Arizona. A sell-out crowd of 3,000 was on hand for the 10-minute performance, including a PBS film crew that captured the event for an upcoming special.
Radar and Yanez are currently finishing two additional turntable movements, which may feature a turntable quartet. They're also planning a world tour with local orchestras in each city.
Radar's trailblazing efforts fall under the mission of the Bombshelter Crew, a no-rules Phoenix DJ troupe that focuses on fusing all forms of music through innovative ideas.
"Bombshelter is a concept that all music is pretty much universal; the only thing separating it is about 10 beats per minute," Bombshelter co-founder Emile said. "At 92 beats per minute you got hip-hop, at 100 take out the vocals you got trip-hop, at 110 you got R&B or maybe two-step, at 120 you got house, at 130 progressive house. You haven't done anything to that beat other than speed it up, but you got the urban black market here, the gays here, and you are separating all these different types of people and stereotyping them based on a tempo. It's musical racism."
The Bombshelter Crew's genre-bending take is captured on Future's Past, a mix album due Tuesday (March 20) that combines a wide range of tracks released on Tom Chasteen's Exist Dance Records over the past decade.
Radar and Emile recorded the album on four turntables and two mixers in one night. Radar holds back from scratching on the album to focus on a solid mix that slowly builds in tempo from beginning to end.
"A lot of people from my scene, they skipped over the main concept of DJing, which is mixing," Radar said. "The basics of hip-hop were founded on parties, bringing people together with mixes."
Future's Past blends a bit everything, from techno (Freaky Chakra's "Transcendental Funk Bump") to hip-hop (High Lonesome Sound System's "Champion Sound"), including Tranquility Bass' "They Came in Peace," the song that inspired Emile to form the Bombshelter Crew.
"I remember hearing it when it came out in '91. It was just amazing," Emile said. "It was hip-hop, and kind of psychedelic. And then every other release [on Exist Dance] was something different. A lot of people like different types of music, but a lot of DJs are monochromatic. I don't see anything out there that would indicate to me that playing one style of music is acceptable."
The Bombshelter Crew, which also includes Z-Trip, with whom Radar mixed the underground classic Future Primitive, is supporting its recordings with North American shows of all styles.
"We play drum'n'bass, hip-hop, hardcore, dub, electro it all depends on the crowd," Radar said. "We can never get burned out. And the crowd won't either. They can't just say, 'Oh, it's Bombshelter.' Because we don't even know what we're going to do."
"Radar is going to be doing the symphony until 8 or 9, and then we're going to do a set at the house club, shoot over to the rave and then do a downtempo acid jazz night afterwards," Emile envisioned.
The Bombshelter Crew is also working on several other recordings, including a revolutionary techno hip-hop record and an electro album.
"We're not about wearing shiny shirts and getting chicks," Emile said. "How many DJs can say they have a concept behind what they are doing? [Paul] Oakenfold and those guys, those are Mariah Carey remixes. We're trying to push instrumental music forward."