Audio Samurai Showdown Cultural Architecture in Turntablism
The ???Battle???, life??™s constant companion, the deciding factor in determining who or what gets the privilege to evolve and grow and what gets swept under the rug and forgotten about. In the turntablism element of the hip hop culture it is no different. With the winning of a battle, a DJ gains status, recognition and power, which give sway and has weight over influence, leading to innovation, invention and building. This process of utilizing creativity and invention in battle is paramount in the foundation of cultural growth and evolution in hip-hop and turntablism. Due to these bouts being the proving grounds for superiority in turntablism, it is important to understand it in a cultural context to better grasp how the culture progresses and to understand the engine that drives that progression. In turntablism that engine runs on a high-octane battle cry.
It is essential to comprehend the magnitude and the significance of the battle in regards to it??™s fertilization of the seeds in the hip hop turntablism culture. When one has to think about the way, and to the degree, of which the battle influences turntablism, you only have to relate it to the ancient Spartan of Greece or the shogun samurai of feudal Japan. Both were fierce warriors whose practices, achievement??™s and dedication in battle helped in shaping the evolution of their entire cultures. Although it is called a ???battle??? no actual physical harm is caused to the DJ??™s involved obviously. Rather it is an audio attack aimed at one??™s self image, status and skills. The weapons are break records, purpose made battle vinyl, with samples of insults, drum breaks and sounds, all used as ammunition in the battle. By having these battles, the cultural norms are always being changed and updated, what was good enough one-year will be outdated by the next. It is this constant competition in turtablism that drives success, to stride to win, and by doing so; it forces innovation and growth for the culture as a whole.
From basements and garages, to clubs and stadiums, anywhere turntables can be set up. As a sign of its active evolution, DJ battles are even held online now. What is important is the ritualistic fashion in which battles take place. There is generally two turntables, (though there can be more or even just one) needles, headphones and of course the records as ammo. Besides the obvious mental preparation, great care is of course put into the selection of the records being used, as it will be up to what is contained on those records that will be utilized and molded to become a battle set. The precision of the manipulation of the records is as important as the selection chosen. The records contents are put together in such a way that it mentally attacks the opponent. After a set, which lasts anywhere from three to six minutes, it is judged by the people in the crowd. These decisions are determined by how loud the crowd reciprocates. Its important to note that even booing counts as support, so if you do not want some one to win, give them silence. Victors advance foreword and depending on how many people are participating in the event, leader boards are formed and over all winners are crowned. Being a conqueror in these events grants status and feeds the cycle of the battle by presenting a title to take. It is this process that is the fundamental gear that drives the building of the culture.
This particular battle was held in the Record Room at First Ave. during a Wants vs. Needs show. It was held among friends from the WvN crew. Loser pays a third friends birthday tab. Though it is not the usual reason for a battle, the same cultural context applies. Because in out performing your opponent you gain influence over the crowd, in this context the crowd is a representation of the culture, being shifted towards one DJ or the other through there relation to what is being played, forcing them to make the distinction of what is new and more creative. Before the battle begins there is a constant buzzing over the crowd as people anticipate the outcome of the battles and mingle. Affiliation, friendship or appreciation of skill, most likely predetermine your vote in this cultural election of sorts. But because any outcome is possible, in battles of all types, favor can be swayed. Although, like in Geertz??™s ???Deep Play???, where if someone is affiliated with a certain area or a particular cock, they will bet on that fight, it can also be said about crowds with a DJ. If someone does not want to stand against a friend or local they are likely not to attend or be present in the crowd. But it is not seen as such a big deal if someone does rally for an ally??™s opponent due to their particular taste, it is about preference. The reason for this is a DJ battle is a very ???game face??? type of activity, there is no modesty, it is all about confidently coming out on top and boasting about it while showing ease as it is performed. In its own respect it can be related to David Gilmore??™s ???manhood puzzle??? in the way the battle represents proving your dominance and power by public display toughness. The roles of status in this regard emulates a big man in tribal cultures, where their personal achievement??™s give them power over their peers. That power is what solidifies the structure of a culture to maintain its roots and traditions. In this case the battle.
The patterns displayed at a battle are a constant and very distinctive. Observations of facial expression??™s and body language depict the different types of people present. First there is the connoisseurs, the fellow DJ??™s in attendance they will lean towards who ever display??™s proper authenticity. You can tell who they are by how they are more focused looking than someone who is just there to have a good time or for support. The connoisseurs are more judgmental of the technical execution of the set. Second, there is the average hip-hop head, who, may or may not, have any certain affiliation with either of the DJ??™s competing in the battle. More likely than not, they will align with whomever they came to support in the first place. These people are men and woman alike, though mostly males are attending. Besides the obvious mandatory staff, if held at such an establishment, these patterns are apparent at 99% of battles I have attended. Assuring turntable enthusiasts are the ones who are placing the building blocks of the culture.
I chose mainly to use my interview with my friend Anton, a.k.a. DJ Anton because he had won. (Not the most creative name but??¦) When asked about weather it was ???most??? memorable to have and win, this battle, he chuckled, as it was done on a bet to see who was going to have to pay a big bar tab. But will never be forgotten. Anton said he felt like he won the Super Bowl up and looked forward to ???drinkin??™ downtown for free!??? something that was more than welcome in these hard economic times. He followed by explaining these evens are important because they make people put in the effort to stand above the crowd. He described it as important as a when he did the Scribble Jam championships, no less significant. The amount of preparation and thought that went into the set was very meticulous and thought out. Both Peter and Anton gave basically the same answer when asked about life without battles. That battles help keep the culture on the rise. The hip-hop culture as a whole is a very ???in your face??? and raw thing, proving your dominance, is as important of an aspect as it??™s four elements are. It is this cultural stride of competition between DJ??™s that constantly progresses turntablism.
The battle is meaningful in the turntablism and hip-hop culture because it symbolizes ones individual ability to rise to power through audiophonic warfare and cause progressive changes in the culture. To succeed as a warrior in this culture, innovation, invention and building are a must. That combination with sprinkles of soul and dedication are what make DJ??™s strive to be the best. That never ending cycle reveals the inner gears of, what is now, a major world culture, a culture that owes its existence and future to the DJ battle.
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Gerertz, Clifford, ed, 1973
???Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight,???
Gilmore David D. 1990,
???Manhood in the Making: cultural concept??™s of masculinity???
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
Peter Bekke, personal interview Dec. 4th 2011
Anton Pearson, personal interview Dec 4th 2011