Of the four traditional elements of hip-hop— rap, graffiti, break-dancing and DJing—the latter has to be the least social. Rappers can get into circles and freestyle just about anywhere, and so can break-dancers, though they need more space. Graffiti artists often can’t even paint larger pieces without help. But DJs have it rough. As if one turntable wasn’t hard enough to lug around, they need two of them and a mixer.
Imagine, then, as many as eight DJs spinning and scratching at the same time. It’s not exactly convenient, but that’s what happened during The Skratch Lab, a show held at Til-Two Club in City Heights last Sunday afternoon. A recurring series thrown by the Battlestar Massive DJ crew and members of weekly podcast The Lab Mixshow, The Skratch Lab is like a dance circle but for DJs.
The festivities included a scratching tournament, a mixing contest and impressive solo exhibitions from DJs Manwell and Inform. But the open DJ stations were the most remarkable aspects of the show. Before any battles began, local DJs stepped up to join in a freestyle scratch session. It’s not every day that you see six DJs in a chorus line, scratching back and forth between each other, conversing through rhythmic sound distortion as if in some kind of Martian Morse code.
While it was fun to watch, The Skratch Lab is probably less about entertainment than building community in the DJ scene. The conditions weren’t perfect: The room’s tent-like roof exposed visitors to the cold weather all day, and the mixing contest felt like going to a bar with a great DJ and finding no space to dance. But for the niche audience that enjoys scratching, the series offers a chance to see veteran and upstart DJs alike.