Era-defining local legend DJ Qbert scratches out his first album in 16 years, Extraterrestria
Qbert's domination of the DJ world could be read as the apex of that scene, which faded in the 1990s with the rise of digital technology. And of course Qbert went on to create his own crew of fellow Filipino DJs: The Invisibl Skratch Piklz, with Shortkut, Apollo, Mix Master Mike, and several others. The Piklz went on to become insanely popular, establishing scratching and other turntable manipulations as a form of art and a highly marketable genre — turntablism — that changed the sound of hip-hop and dance music. Mix Master Mike went on to become, in essence, the fourth Beastie Boy; one early ISP member was A-Trak, current turntable-wielding heartthrob of the superstar EDM crowd.
In fact, the current popularity of turntable-rooted DJs like A-Trak and the burgeoning trip-hop and late '90s revival makes the timing of Qbert's return auspicious. "A-Trak runs a dance music scene and I think it's great that he brings the scratching into it, he's really unique in that field — so more power to him for turning on a different crowd to the sound. But for me it's never really gone away, pure scratching. There's a zillion underground cats who are genius at what they do — Quest, Deeandroid and Ceslkii, Disk, tons more. And maybe the widespread recognition isn't there, maybe it isn't in your face like it once was, but they're all around. It's like the guys who still do yo-yo tricks. They don't know things have moved on. They keep practicing and practicing and doing incredible things, regardless of how many people are following. They're always battling, always progressing. Never put down your yo-yo, man," he laughs.
As for connecting to a new generation, working with (gasp!) turntables and (double gasp!) vinyl at this stage of DJ history is a deliberate artistic choice. Even with a resurgence of interest in analog techniques — a specific reaction to digital overload — does Qbert fear that scratching will be seen as merely a retro novelty?
"I think no one can deny that, whether you're old or young, using a turntable to make a scratch sound — well, you can't deny that it sounds really bugged out. How else are you going to make that sound unless you're actually moving the sound with your own hand? Just to hold the sound and grab it, move it back and forth — that's unique and fascinating to people. It's like a sci-fi movie in real life, a sound that people have heard since maybe they were little kids, but one that also points to a future where man meets machine. It's a real manipulation, a sound design in itself. What other instrument can do that?"