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DJ Yoda - hip hop meets classical

By Ross Purdie || 25 Jul 07
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Decks were invented for the likes of DJ Yoda. But concertos?

Since bursting onto the dance music scene five years ago and smashing the shinola out of the decaying superstar DJ mould, north London spinner DJ Yoda has gone on to redefine hip hop by making it (and this used to be seriously frowned upon..) fun.

A fan of the '80s before all that Calvin Harris crap, he's the new and improved soundtrack to your favourite John Hughes movie and the only DJ alive who's managed to make the Duelling Banjos from the film Deliverance actually duel. Watching Yoda at work is a mind tickling experience. No two sets are the same. No two minutes are the same.

Never one to take a short cut (unless scratching a Disney anthem over some drum'n'bass) he's currently pioneering a new live show that matches film clips to records while mixing at the same time. And if that's enough to leave you scratching the bit between your ears and eyes, you'll be frying your own brain at the sound of his latest project.

Collaborating with The Heritage Orchestra, the 40-piece collective who wowed last year's Big Chill festival, DJ Yoda (real name Duncan Beiny) will be performing the first ever classical concerto written specifically for turntables. It premiers at London's Scala club tonight.

Demolishing musical boundaries once again in what's being described as 'classical for hoodies', it's probably best that the man himself explains what the hell he's got himself into. We dropped by a very hectic rehearsal to find out...

Virtual Festivals: A concerto for turntables, classical for hoodies.. How did this all come about?
Duncan Beiny: "The story is that this guy Gabriel Prokofiev, who is the grandson of Sergei Sergeyevich, one of the last great classical composers to have lived, approached me with the idea. He's also a classical composer but works in dance music too and has written this complete concerto for turntables. Concertos, as you'll know, are usually reserved for say the flute or violin, and this instantly appealed to me because I think the turntable deserves to be considered as a proper instrument alongside all the more obvious ones. So, to cut a long story, we're performing it with the Heritage Orchestra, who are a full 40-piece orchestra. I've got all my scratch parts which are written as music score and I'll be following a conductor. So it's more classical music than anything else."

VF: How does it compare to some of the other projects you've done?
DB: "It's really intense and a world away from what I normally do. It couldn't be any more different than playing hip hop in a club somewhere, even compared to my AV show where I've got two DVDs and two records on the go at any one time. This is a whole new level. I've got to follow the conductor and, in turn, the whole orchestra is dependent on what I'm doing so it's fairly important that I keep up! I'm watching a conductor, the music score and two tables at any one time."

VF: So this is the first time you've done it live?
DB: "We did a small version of it last summer but we've extended the score considerably. We've been working and developing it for the last two months and we recorded it last week. We're going to get remixes of it done and release it as a CD. We're doing it live at Bestival as well."

VF: A lot of what you've done in the past is quite fun and light hearted. Are you steering yourself down a more serious path musically?
DB: "Yes and no. It was really important to me that this piece did have some humour to it and wasn't ridiculously high art. Luckily, Gabriel's managed to understand that and incorporate humour into what is essentially a classical piece. There are a few parts that should raise a chuckle. For instance, there's a part when the conductor coughs and I'm scratching his cough sound, later someone opens a drink and I'm scratching that sound as well. You know, it's definitely got the humour to it but it also works as a serious classical piece so hopefully it will have a broad appeal."

VF: Supposedly it follows on from the reworking of film scores you've done previously. I've seen you do the rework to The Goonies and Ferris Bueller and they both come across as a completed work, rather than a set..
DB: "Yeah the film scores were the start to the whole AV side of DJing that I'm following now actually. Throughout the summer I'm doing a show where I scratch some of my favourite DVDs alongside the music. With The Goonies and Ferris Bueller I soundtracked the whole film, whereas now I'm playing bits of movie in the same way that I'd play music. So I've got clips of all my favourite films, hundreds and hundreds of them including a load of music videos and stuff I've made at home, and then I'm mixing the music while scratching in the clips as well. I'll still be doing my DJ sets over summer because that's my bread and butter but this new direction should put a different spin on things and probably go down well at festivals and stuff."

VF: If you could rework the musical score to one other film what would it be?
DB: "To complete the trilogy it would have to be Weird Science. That would definitely fit in with the other two. But with the new AV mixing I can't see it happening any time soon because it opens up so many more possibilities and is more challenging. The opportunity is there to throw anything from any film at any one time, so I can chuck in as many '80s films or cartoons as I want."

VF: Suddenly everyone's banging on about the '80s. Does it annoy you when you've been plucking bits out of it for years as part of your shows?
DB: "No not really. Actually as time goes on that's becoming less and less a part of what I do. Who knows, maybe I'm growing up! That was all the stuff I grew up with and the people who watch me tend to be of a similar generation, so it makes sense. I just basically include everything that I'm inspired by into my DJ sets, so I'm just as likely to include drum'n'bass and grime as I would '80s stuff. I throw in quite a bit of country music now as well."

VF: I read you've got a burning hatred for electroclash though?
DB: "Yeah, but then there are a lot of things in music I've got a burning hatred for. I don't want to name names but if I haven't ever included it in one of my sets it's probably fair to say I don't like it. I'm lucky because people actually expect all types of music to pop up in a DJ Yoda set, in a hip hop style, so it means I can play literally what I want. So anything I don't play you can assume I hate!"  

VF: Is DJing becoming too serious?
DB: "Generally yeah, it's the same with hip hop and any other form of DJing. People seem to have forgotten the fact that it's all about entertainment really, and DJs can be pretty grim faced about it all - unecessarily so. I just try to remember that the reason we're all here is to have some fun, play some music and dance and stuff."

Go join him for some. DJ Yoda and The Heritage Orchestra play Scala, London, tonight (Thursday, 26 July) and Bestival on 8 September.

You'll also be able to catch him DJing at Global Gathering, The Big Chill, Summer Sundae and Get Loaded In The Park.

See his MySpace for more.   



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