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It looks like a little snake head, two fangs exposed and poised to bite. It's bulky, elaborate and even intimidating. I'm an amateur in the field of turntable equipment, but by looks alone, this thing is already intriguing.
Dallasites Michael Hossack (DJ alias: Ghost) and Randal Sandan Jr. (DJ Horn Solo) didn't invite me to their practice space at Universal Rehearsal in North Dallas for a mere peep show, thankfully. The guys from Revolutionary Audio attach their invention, the RAKE multi-stylus head shell, to a turntable and get to work.
Ghost throws a record on and sets the RAKE down (a cartridge with two needles running simultaneously). He starts spinning the record and scratching competently, but he hasn't done much impressive yet. Then he slaps the fader from left to right, and a completely different drum beat starts up, synced perfectly to the first one. Hey now.
From here, Ghost throws the mix back and forth between the two tracks repeatedly, creating the kind of on-the-fly beat arrangements that were once limited to digital and tape sampling equipment. I'd heard rumors about the RAKE nearly a year ago and thought it was nothing more than a gimmick, putting two needles on at once to replicate what I thought could be done with two turntables and a mixer. But after the impressive demo, one question comes to mind: After decades of hip-hop culture and turntablism, could this really be brand new?
Hossack and Sandan waited almost four years to answer that question, preparing their invention in secret and waiting until now to unveil their turntable twist. "We've gotten our ass covered, so to speak," Hossack says, touting the filed patents that make theirs the first-ever multi-needle rig in the world.
"After so many hours of standing over a turntable..." Sandan pauses. "I dunno. It just popped in my head." In November 2002 (125 years after Edison's phonograph was first demonstrated, they point out), Sandan duct taped two head shells together as a lark. "The first time, they ripped apart, but I thought I heard something."
He called old friend Hossack, a fellow turntablist (and member of rap-rock group SDAT) in a city that's certainly not known for such DJ mixing and scratching, and they worked together to refine the concept and eventually create a unified model. The biggest design coup was to engineer the stylus' output so that both needles shared one audio feed, which means the RAKE doesn't require special equipment. Plug it into any turntable and mixer, and you're in business.
Revolutionary Audio hasn't had trouble selling the concept; they've already signed a deal with Monster Cable to produce the RAKE's wiring, and they're currently working out a deal with prolific Danish cartridge manufacturer Ortofon to license the concept for worldwide production. If all goes as planned, the world will get its first sneak peek at next month's DMC World DJ Championships in London, where Ortofon spokesman (and utter badass) DJ QBert will demo the RAKE himself to tease an eventual 2007 launch.
In addition, the guys are starting RAKEBeat Records which will sell RAKE-specific records with synced beats (much like the one described earlier). Not that such records will always be necessary; Hossack throws a Jimi Hendrix record on the table and plays a warped take on "Purple Haze," interrupting verses with guitar blasts from the next track, "Manic Depression." "It's about rediscovering your vinyl," Hossack says. "As Cut Chemist said [one of many DJs name-dropped who have been "blown away" by the RAKE], 'It's time to go back through the old records.'"
Revolutionary Audio is already moving forward with an even cooler concept--a RAKE with a variable XY axis. "The first question everyone asks is, 'Can you move the needles?'" Hossack says, and the Outrigger model of the RAKE will allow DJs to do just that. It will even allow two needles on the same groove, which will result in analog flanging, beat delay, echo and many other effects.
That model is still in development; until then, Hossack and Sandan are looking forward to finally seeing the RAKE on shelves. It's but one attempt by the duo to put Dallas DJs on the map; in addition, they'll open Dallas Arts and Media Labs in Deep Ellum in mid-September. At the school, DJs will be able to either learn techniques (particularly with the brave new world of the RAKE) or simply practice on public equipment. Makes sense: The DJ world may be turned on its head in a matter of months, so it's time for a new school of thought.
"When I was learning about the world of mixing, that was one thing that was always stressed: You can't play two simultaneous sounds off of one record," Sandan says. "And we've proved them wrong."
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