There is something innately attractive about the guitar, an intrinsic pull—be it in the promise of flocking groupies or the fan boy dreams of Hendrix-like rock legend. Which makes this listener all the more thankful for DJ Wordy, who put down his guitar, left his rock band, then proceeded to teach himself the art of turntablism, to the level at which he is now one of China’s leading exponents of the digital art.
Opening for DJ Kentaro, his set was both swaggeringly cocky and scientifically precise, warming up the crowd masterfully with a set that, while gliding between Kraftwerk-influenced electronica, old-school nineties hip hop and ragga, maintained an easy, mid-paced tempo which slurred and swayed as much as it rocked. In between, samples celebrated the local—a Mandarin rap was set to MIA’s “Paper Planes”—and the entertainingly pop cultural, such as when he dropped in the Ghostbusters theme song. A three-time winner of the national DMC turntable championship, those looking to work out that hip hop itch would be well-advised to get themselves to one of his monthly Hot Pot parties soon.
By the time Kentaro took to the stage, momentarily partnering with Wordy, the crowd had filled out thoroughly. “This is a journey into sound!” announced the sample, and the turntablist—the first Asian DJ to win the World DMC Championship—wasted no time demonstrating his considerable scratching ability, a performance the live video feed projected for the audience to observe. Even when one table quickly went out of order early on—a problem swiftly rectified by staff—he kept the crowd engaged with some golden era hip hop.
In addition to his obvious skill, what separates Kentaro from other DJs is his engaging, confident stage presence. Wearing a black bowler hat, he frequently held one pointer up to the crowd, as if saying “Wait for this!” before dropping one perfectly timed beat after another. Otherwise, he exuded utter control, reinterpreting and reshaping tracks with eclectic originality, as well as a healthy dose of flair, such as when scratching around his back.
While the crowd seemed most receptive to Kentaro’s slower, sing-along reggae jams, those looking to dance were less impressed by the occasionally lengthy beat-holding, scratch-indulgent passages. Regardless, all would have admired the ease in which he silkily led followers from the syncopated glide of dancehall and hip hop into a powerhouse middle section of pacey drum and bass. By that point, he had won over most of those who had previously been too sullen or self-conscious to move, and punters of every calling—from stiff-collared suits to the baggy jean-ed, and everyone in between—were grooving along gleefully to a set both crowd pleasing and jubilant. Particularly hypnotized was one attractive young lass at the front of the stage, positioned directly in front of the turntables, who didn’t seem to stop moving once, and would occasionally throw herself against the stage walls in barely-concealed adulation and longing, arms outstretched in a virtual embrace.
This is 2010 after all: could it be that turntables are the new guitar?
Written for Beijing City Weekend, April 19, 2010: http://www.cityweekend.com.cn/