Turntablists Keep It Fresh ...

These guys incorporate bits of everything, from "Alice In Wonderland" to JFK's speeches to the "The Howdy Doody Show."

While turntablism is no longer "the next big thing," it has managed to maintain its revolutionary spirit. In the past year, DJs have crossed over from

pop music's margins to its mainstream (e.g., Billy Ray Cyrus' DJ Spinbad or

Mixmaster Mike of the Beastie Boys), yet turntablists have remained

stalwart innovators.

Om Records' Deep Concentration (1997) was one of the first major

compilations of turntablism, and the fact that it's only a year old suggests

how new this hip-hop offshoot is on the musical map. Building on this

foundation, Om now gives us the sequel, Deeper Concentration. While

MCs have their moments in the spotlight on this album, it's the hands

working the turntables that get top billing -- and for good reason.

Deeper Concentration offers a peek into several schools of

turntabling, each with its own technique and aesthetic.

One of the most creative and entertaining is composed by found-sound hounds

-- DJs who scour dusty bins of vinyl for soundbites and samples to

throw into their mix. For example, Sole & JC start off the compilation

with "What It Is," in which they adapt an old "Alice In Wonderland" storybook

record as the screenplay for their four-minute sonic short. To the

eccentricity of Lewis Carroll's original story, Sole & JC add their own

touch of eclecticism, scoring the narrative with scattered drum-breaks and

quirky sound-splices. Like the White Rabbit bounding through Wonderland,

Sole & JC create a song full of elusive musical moments that jump in and

out in the blink of an ear. And they do so to rapturous effect.

Rob Swift composes "The Age of Television" -- a

50-year retrospective on the ubiquity of television in our lives. Using

samples from the past half-century of television, he juxtaposes bits from

JFK's speeches alongside banter from "The Howdy Doody Show." Swift isn't

just a casual practitioner of pastiche, however -- he chooses some of the

most memorable and dramatic moments in television history in order to jog

listeners' visual memories as well as their sonic ones.

What these songs -- and many more from Deeper Concentration --

suggest is that the technological revolution might actually be

reversing itself when it comes to turntablism. In contrast to the

sampling fetishes that folks like DJ Shadow and Spooky indulge in, these

DJs have rejected the automation of samplers for the manual simplicity of

their

turntables. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the increasing

sophistication of orchestrated scratch routines. The Scratch Perverts'

"Course of Action" and the Beat Junkies' "They Don't Understand" are both

superior examples of how to write and arrange songs through scratching

alone.

Particularly on "They Don't Understand," DJs Babu and J-Rocc make

their four hands sound like 12 in transforming old soul records and other

assorted vinyl into drum tracks, brass sections and vocals. The two

build tension throughout the song with precision cutting and repeated

scratch phrases, only to explode on the choruses and then break it all back

down during the bridge.

These are songs, not just beats with scratching

over them. With just their hand-play, the Beat Junkies make a strong

statement that, even in our digital age, analog isn't obsolete.