Scratch Session, Banjos to Beats' summer DJ series at It'll Do, is in full swing. The first installment was two weeks ago with DJ Nu-Mark, and legendary mixologist DJ Z-Trip will preside over the turntables Friday night.
On a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Z-Trip expressed his excitement to be a part of a lineup that also features Just Blaze, Kid Capri, Mix Master Mike and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
“We’ve done something like this a couple of times here and there over the years,” Z-Trip says. “The thing is they happen few and far between, but when they do happen, they’re amazing. This one in particular is a little bit different for me because we have someone like Kid Capri involved. He’s a guy that I haven’t done that many shows with, so it’s great to have him included.”
Z-Trip, like most DJs, began learning his craft at house parties and clubs. He’s gone on to perform at major festivals all over the world, including Coachella. Z-Trip says his approach to large festival environments versus smaller venues is different, but he gives all of himself to every gig.
“On one hand, we all started in clubs, but to play a room this size [at It’ll Do] is not anything new," he says. "It’s just a return to form. At the same time, you can play huge festivals and be in front of a lot of people, and that’s amazing. There’s something I really love about that [because of the energy]. Sometimes it’s equally as fun or even more fun to play a small, intimate venue because it’s a completely different animal."
Smaller venues allow DJs to approach their performances with more nuanced song selection, and greater emphasis can be placed on displaying their technical skills in the booth.
“I’ll select songs that have a little more wordplay in them," Z-Trip says. "Also, in a small room, for the audience, it’s like looking at sleight-of-hand magic if you know what I mean."
Z-Trip’s career started in the late '80s, so he’s rooted in vinyl culture but at the same time is an advocate for technological growth. He admits he’s surprised at the resurgence in vinyl aficionados in recent years.
“The funny thing is when digital music took over, a lot of DJs around that time started dumping off their collections," he says. "If you went to Amoeba records, you could find super rare hip-hop records for like $5 to $6 that now would cost you $40 to $50. At the time I was like, 'Ah, man. People gave up; they’re over vinyl now.' Then all of a sudden you would go to Amoeba, and all of those records were gone. There was a whole resurgence of people who just came in and bought them up, and I didn’t see that part coming. I was like, 'Vinyl had its day,' but to my surprise it came back stronger and harder, which is really wild.”
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the wave of popularity with “mash-up” DJ style was attributed to artists like Z-Trip, DJ AM and others. Z-Trip feels it was really just a return to the fundamentals of hip-hop.
“Just to clarify — when people think of mash-ups, they think of taking two random pieces of music and making a new thing out of it," Z-Trip explains. "That part is really just a byproduct of it. The real guts of what that was about was trying to introduce different music into the mix, and all of us took that from people like Bambaataa, Kook Herc, Grandmaster Flash and all those guys. They were playing parties where you’d hear a James Brown record, then you might hear a Kraftwerk record, then you’d hear funk, disco. You’d have all these different kinds of music happening at once, but the sound was still hip-hop."
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In the late 1990s, Z-Trip says, the music became more homogenous. Certain clubs would only play current music in one genre.
“The mash-up thing happened because it was about trying to reintroduce other sounds and styles of music into the club but in a way people could digest it,” Z-Trip says.
Z-Trip says he believes Scratch Session is just as enjoyable for the DJs on the bill as it is for the audience because of the freedom they’re allowed and the inspiration DJs get from one another.
“If a DJ is really good, he or she will be able to take you on a journey, show you different styles and play some things you haven’t heard," he says. "I can tell you without a doubt all of the DJs that are on this bill will do that. As a fan, I want to see what all the other guys are going to do. In this day and age, there aren’t many DJs who still covet the craft and really try to push the boundaries with it. I always walk away with something new, and I love the inspiration I get from these guys.”