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Video Killed the Guitarist

Three recent long-form documentaries have monitored the art and escapades of turntablists. That’s the arriviste term for DJs: individuals who entertain live audiences by mixing music, primarily on vinyl LPs.

Scratch (link) features several generations of DJ, from Zulu Nation founder Afrika Bambaataa, to Rob Swift of the nimble X-Ecutioners crew, to rap producer DJ Premier (best known as half of the duo Gang Starr) to eminent Japanese figure DJ Krush. The site features a well-edited trailer and some video outtakes. Sample quotes: “The turntable was originally something you walked away from when you put on a record”; “Your parents were like, Don’t touch the turntable, don’t touch the record, you’re gonna ruin it.”

Spinsters (link), the DJ documentary with the best title, interviews a batch of women DJs, most of them based out of Canada or Northern California. Much of the film is concerned with unique challenges facing women in a male-dominated entertainment field; it’s a sad fact that professional female instrumentalists are vastly outnumbered by men, and DJing proves no different. But just as often, the interviewees talk about their love of the music. One highlight is Janet Smart (aka DJ Freya), talking about the pleasure of making what she terms a “third song” — the original composition that results from the overlapping of two pre-existing tracks.

Deviant Rhythms (link) focuses on the San Francisco scene. It casts a wide net musically, interviewing not only DJs (including Cheb i Sabbah and Honey B, among others) but various world, electronic and avant-garde musicians as well. The website includes 20 hours of outtake interviews with several dozen musicians.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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