Era-defining local legend DJ Qbert scratches out his first album in 16 years, Extraterrestria
MUSIC "I always wanted to know how music sounded in outer space. And with certain types of crystals you can supposedly tune into different frequencies, receive other transmissions. Often I meditate with crystals, go to sleep, and dream about music from outer space. Then I wake up, make stuff like that on the turntables, and take it from there."
That's a lot of there to take it from, but DJ Qbert is no stranger to mixing the cosmic with the underground. A legendary emissary of scratch who became the international representative of turntable culture in the 1990s along with his "band" Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Q has always mixed a heavy dose of Bay Area flavor into his masterly sets — which aren't typical DJ sets by any means, but untethered, jazz-like flights during which a set of turntables and a crossfader, manipulated lightning-fast, become their own kind of spaceship. His polyrhythmic scratch concertos summon white noise, radio interference, oceanic undertow, Looney Tunes quick cuts, vintage advertising jingles, embryonic hip-hop, Big Brother menace, and fiendish, childlike glee. Great beauty, too, especially when you think of them as pure sonic expression, floating free of time and space. Not that you can't dance your ass off to most of it, mind you.
We were talking about his new album Extraterrestria, dropping in March on the Thud Rumble label and backed by a huge Kickstarter campaign that aims not just to fund the disc, a marketing campaign and a tour, but also typical Qbert innovations like amazing touch-sensitive digital album packaging that simulates DJ controller equipment. (More details at www.djqbert.com)
"The album is actually two albums in one, two different discs," Qbert, looking tight in a buttondown shirt and track pants, told me. "Extraterrestria is music from another galaxy, hip-hop beats from other planets, collected by the Galactic Scratch Federation. It's as bizarre and unique as I could make it, a collection of weird noises and different time signatures with as much scratching as possible. The second disc is called Galaxxxian, which is hip-hop from earth beamed into space: raw, primitive. It features a bunch of MCs — Kool Keith, Del Tha Funky Homosapien, Mr. Lif, Soul Khan, Bambu — doing their thing, which a lot of time, you know, means going for the sex, drugs, and hip-hop and roll. We're not quite on the extraterrestrial level, yet."
Other biggies like Dan the Automator, Chad Hugo of the Neptunes, cellist-trombonist Dana Leong, and rapper El-P (here a producer) also contributed. "What with the recession and everything, a lot of us have been trading with each other, so we can continue collaborating. Like I'll do a beat for your album if you do a verse on mine. Something where the money's phased out, a barter thing. It's put us back in touch with what's real," Qbert said.
TWIST THE FORCE
As we talked on the second floor of the California Academy of Sciences, the first floor was rapidly filling up for the Academy's weekly Nightlife party, this week a launch celebration and fundraiser for Extraterrestria — and a reunion of sorts for turntablism heads, albeit one bursting with fresh young faces. As b-boys and fly girls made their way through exotic landscapes, whale skeletons, stuffed giraffes, a butterfly-flooded rainforest dome, and aquarium displays including live stingrays, giant octopi, frisky penguins, Claude the albino alligator, and phosphorescent jellyfish, I couldn't help but be reminded of the deliciously loopy, phantasmagorical animated movie version of Qbert's era-defining previous album Wave Twisters, released 16 years ago.