December 26, 2008
Review and Photos by Eric K. Arnold
Better than: Leftovers, sweaters from Grandma, reindeer roadkill
'Twas the night after Christmas, and all through the house, no one was unstirred, not even a mouse. The Independent's line up of Q-Bert, Mochipet, and Joyo Velarde was remarkable in that it was an all-Asian American bill, something that happens rarely. Even more rare was a headlining gig by Q-Bert, a humble dude who's often referred to as the "world's best DJ."
Make that the Universe's best DJ. Though he claims to be from Daly City, there have long been suspicions that Richard Quitevis, aka Q-Bert, is in fact an extraterrestrial being. Q's otherworldly turntable skills and schwa-like facial features have done little to dispel this notion; if he's actually a visiting Venusian who pals around with Klaatu and has a interstellar scraper with a sick-ass sound system featuring subatomic subwoofers, it wouldn't surprise anyone who's followed his career since the early '90s.
Those old enough to remember the "West Coast Rock Steady DJs" - who later became the Invisibl Skratch Picklz - know that Q-Bert (along with his fellow Picklz Mix Master Mike, Apollo, and Shortkut) has long been synonymous with what's often referred to as "true school" hip-hop. Back in the day, this meant a lot, especially since at one point in time, New York was considered the epicenter of hip-hop culture. In the world of battle DJs, anyone representing the Bay Area had to be ultra-dope to be mentioned in the same breath with NYC's finest. And anyone who could consistently beat the Big Apple's champions on a regular basis -which the Picklz did, most notably at a showdown with the X-Men (aka X-ecutioners) at the Palace of Fine Arts in 1996 - was giga-dope.
After destroying all rivals with his unbeatable "crab scratch" technique, Q Bert was famously asked to retire from competition, to give other DJs a chance. Having become the stuff of legend, he then retreated to the Octagon (an eight-person, sixteen-turntable battle station set up at his house), made the ultimate "skratch music" album (1997's Wave Twisters), created an awesome animated film (also called "Wave Twisters"), lent his technical expertise to DJ-friendly companies like Vestax and Ortofon, hosted a turntablist summit called Scratchcon, and contemplated the mysteries of the universe.
In 2008, turntablists are no longer the next big thing in pop culture, but Q's skills haven't diminished one bit. He's still giga-dope in a live setting, and certainly worth watching. He attracted an interesting crowd - lots of dyed-in-the-wool hip-hop heads, many of them former breakdancers or graffiti writers - which unfortunately wasn't the best look for the opening act, singer Joyo Velarde.
The wife of indie hip-hop star Lyrics Born, Velarde has loads of stage experience under her belt, yet virtually none of it as a solo act. The Independent gig was one of her first forays as such, and all that can be said is, what took her so long? She has a charming presence, an angelic voice, and good material. Velarde's versatility was well-evident on songs like "I Love the Way We Are" - on which she busted a rhyme -- and "Some Special Way," which sounded a lot like hubby Lyrics Born's recent radio hit "Differences" (on which Velarde is featured). Sure enough, LB came out to perform "Differences," which was then followed by "Feels Like" and the slightly house-y "Take You Home." Velarde's smooth, urban soul/R&B shtick probably would have went over better with a more dance-oriented crowd, but if her short set was a preview of what can be expected from her first solo album -to be called Love and Understanding - she's just getting started.
Mash-up maestro Mochipet followed, with a laptop funk performance which was somewhat less visually-stimulating, but still pretty cool from an aural standpoint. He was going along well -- until he called out an audience member who he didn't feel was gooving hard enough, and the dude called Mochipet out in return, loudly exclaiming that he was there to see Q-Bert. Ouch.
As for Q, he rocked the party with his arsenal of technically-excellent scratches, beat juggles, and flares, living up to his reputation, but without adding another chapter to it. It was enough to make one almost feel nostalgic for the days when hundreds of people would stand around slack-jawed, watching turntablist tricks. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what people did.
Personal Bias: I was present at the ISP/X-Men battle, when Rob Swift, Roc Raida, and Total Eclipse were, er, totally eclipsed by Q-Bert, Apollo, and Shortkut.
Random Detail: Dressed stylishly in a white blouse, leather skirt, and boots that meant business, Velarde could easily have been an Issey Miyake model.
By the Way: DJ Q Bert's "Wave Twisters" and "Turntable TV" are now out on DVD; visit www.thudrumble.com for more info.