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Prime Cuts: 'To get the nod that night was an amazing, amazing experience'

RnB/Hip Hop | Sunday 17th September 2017 | Phil

The Scratch Pervert & champion DJ tells us about his favourite DMC moments, Mos Def's crazy versatility and what's what in general in an exclusive interview with Guestlist.

On a typically drizzly, British day, I arrived late as per usual, trying to find the entrance to a well hidden and mysterious basement studio in deep South London. A big metal door, fit for keeping people well locked in or totally shut out suddenly opened, and the man himself showed me into his studio, a studio that had so many synths lined up that a Korg collector would have swiftly wet his musical pants. Prime Cut's most recent performance was profiling Arturia's new piece of equipment the Drumbrute, an analogue drum machine with a random beat sequencer, to which he then connected an old kid's toy soundbank for good measure. The video has clocked over 1.2 million views on Facebook in under a month and is featured below.

So, I pulled my bag of sweets out and began to listen intently. He briefly talked me through starting a petition to get his kids into a decent London school, how that guy Rees Mogg really does his nut in, and how pleasantly surprised he was with the high quality and wholesome feel of the new Tribe Called Quest album. After offering me what he described as a below-par cup of instant coffee, we got down to business.

DJ Prime Cuts your name should need no introduction... I’ve always assumed you were one of the founding members of The Scratch Perverts...  I’m actually not a founding member! It was Tony Vegas, Mr Thing, First Rate and DJ Renegade. The guys set it up and had it happening before I fully joined, and were out gigging doing things like Scratch at Scala and playing at the Blue Note, flying the flag of the crew’s name. Then Tony went to New York won the ITF Eastern Hemisphere which bought a lot of heat to the crew. I was already on board but had a decent job working at a production house in Soho so I was holding that down more than DJing at the time. I became more friendly with Tony and they were all practicing on a regular basis and I started thinking it would be a cool thing to be involved in. I was acutely aware that, being 24/25 yrs old at the time, if I didn’t give the whole DJing thing a crack now I wouldn’t get a chance again. 

So I quit my job at the end of ‘97, then throughout ‘98 was just hard on practicing with the guys, getting ready for the '98 ITF teams and the '98 UK DMCs. 1998 was definitely the big turning point for me personally because I was fully involved with the crew and was 9 to 5 DJing. We were voted DJs of the year in The Face before we’d really done anything, simply by existing. The media at the time was really interested in scratching and turntables and, fortunately for us, it all came together at the right moment. When you go from doing anything as a hobby to doing it everyday, you up your game massively.

Fair play to you for giving up your solid 9 to 5 to give the DJing thing a shot... Well I had to get myself sacked from my job so that I would be able to sign on and I’d actually just been promoted! So I told everybody at the company I was going to be an arsehole for a minute and it took me two weeks of being rude and late. My boss still wouldn’t sack me and I thought I might have to start a fight or something! The final straw was me asking for a pay rise in a disciplinary and he sacked me immediately. He could tell by my reaction that I was over the moon. For the first 6 months I was signing on down in Streatham until the DMCs happened and everything skyrocketed.

Well if I ever need to get sacked I’ll know what to do! A few years back I was plugging an event called Hip Hop Honours UK and we managed to get MK and Harry Love to spin for us. How did Harry come to join the crew? The hub was Deal Real Records, and a few people who used to work down there went on to do great things, including Estelle, Shorty Blitz, MK and Harry himself. Everybody would congregate and it became a massive social hub, Harry used to come down there while he was still at school and obviously showed a lot of natural flair on the turntables and for production. So around ‘98 he was invited to join the team and although he never entered any competitions he was out on the road doing gigs with us most of the time.

Yeah I grew up listening to Harry’s beats and have always been a fan of his production. So moving things along... Over the course of a few years, The Scratch Perverts had some epic clashes with The Allies in the DMC World Team Battles, all of which are now part of DMC history... Do you stay in touch with Craze or A-Trak? I last saw Craze was when we both played at Fabric last year. It's always been a pleasure to see him, a very nice chap and a very down to earth human being. He’s surprised me on social media over the last few years with how politically engaged he actually is, because I lived with him for a month and never caught onto the fact that he was in anyway politically motivated. It was a pleasant surprise that he was pro Bernie and critical of the Trump Administration and the right wing in America in general.

The first time we met Craze was at the '98 DMCs at Shepherds Bush, he was there doing a showcase. The following day I was nursing a hangover and at a trade show in Earls Court. I ended up having a beer with him and realised he was on a very similar level to us humour wise and that he didn’t take any of it or himself seriously at all. Obviously history shows he’s a demonically gifted turntable dude, but none of us knew what was coming when he did his showcase (which was wicked) and none of us had seen the routine he was going to win the U.S DMCs with. We just didn’t know what was in the pipeline, so I was quite glad I was friendly with him because watching that routine from the ‘98 U.S final, I would have to say that, that is still the pinnacle of the whole thing for me.

Even over Kentaro’s perfect score in 2002? You have to see everything within the context of the time as well. Cash Money’s ‘88 was mindblowing. Everything is always changing, but in that particular Craze routine there’s all this influence from other members of The Allies, there's a new method of juggling that I think came from Develop. It just took the level of intricacy up another level and it felt like a whole new thing had arrived. It was wonderful.

I suppose that’s one of the cool things about turntablism, a bit of creativity or a bit of new equipment can lead to such innovative DJing techniques and tricks. I think when vestax brought out their mixers in the mid 1990s with the new crossfader technology and the increased lifespan of the mixer allowed for more intricate scratching. All that stuff has a knock on effect and pushes the artform forward.

With that in mind, how do you feel about the arrival of Traktor and Serato and how it affected the hip hop DJ game? Many of my mates who DJ were blown away! I’m not an anti-digital person, I think digital technology is amazing and has made everything accessible pretty much all the time to everyone and there’s a lot of positivity attached to that. But I am someone who comes from a background of going to record fairs and record shops since the age of 13, and I’m a firm believer in that you have to pay your dues.

The nature of music, underground music and music that you are passionate about demands that you put in the work and that you have some knowledge and background in the whole thing. So now you can get up to speed a lot quicker. But as far as skill and sheer OMGness of DJing goes, no, I haven’t seen it push anything forwards and if anything for me personally, it has made me now focus on the one thing that I think you can’t rely on any kind technology for, and that’s scratching. Either good at scratching or you’re not and, to be honest, everything else can fuck off, that’s the only thing I care about. I don’t care about any other clever use of any other thing, just put a beat on and scratch and preferably, use an ‘aaah’ or a ‘fresh’ because you’ll never get a better sound to use. There’s lots of people that find it boring but I actually find it the opposite, I find it really exciting in that it's a level playing field that really shows where you’re at with that skillset.

I totally understand, if a DJ is proper sick at scratching I can listen them scratch just one sample for like an hour... Guys like Toadstyle, IQ, D-Styles, Q-Bert, it's just an absolutely joyous thing to behold when guys like that are scratching. When you’re watching someone on that sort of level, you don’t need anything else. Just a beat, a cut, job done.

Yup, I mean I’ve been lucky enough to see Q-Bert like 3 or 4 times and I always feel privileged to see any DJ who is just simply that good at scratching. I supported Q-Bert at the 100 Club a couple of months ago. It was awesome. Absolutely fucking awesome. He did this drumming thing which gets faster and faster and My God, he got to this level of speed and you know he starts doing that mega fast chirp and I was thinking ‘Oh he’s reached his ceiling, that’s as fast as he’s gonna get, I can live with that, I can sleep easy tonight’. And then, he went back to the drumming and he got quicker and quicker, and at the point when you’re ready to shout ‘NO, Stop!’, it got even quicker!! It was borderline physically impossible to do. It was so fucking wonderful. Such a cool geeza as well, chatting to him after, he’s just mega mega humble and just cool. Great guy.

Yup, there’s not many in the same league as Q-Bert! Although I suppose it depends on your aims, do you think that the skills involved in turntablism and advanced hip hop DJing brings a heightened understanding to DJing that other genres might lack? No, I think that if you’re putting in work and playing any kind of music it all has a relevance to the gig at the end of the day. Hip hop djing and turntablism is a totally different beast to playing a two hour set in a club. It’s a very different kind of discipline. In a six minute long DMC routine you’re representing yourself in a very short timeframe and it’s completely different to playing in a club. We did a thing in Poland recently and we were playing after Kentaro, and he had a very similar approach to us in doing his club set. Same with someone like Craze, although because you can, you do draw on your skillset which has been honed practicing a very focused six minute routine. For me personally I still find it very exciting watching someone like that do a club set, even if it's not a crazy six minute routine.

So how do you think you can really stand out from the crowd as a DJ with all the new technology and auto sync DJs these days as a pose to when you guys were residents at Fabric? If I knew the answer to that I’d be rich haha! I don’t know really, I suppose social media plays its part today, you need numbers behind your name when trying to generate work. I’d like to think it's still down to decent taste in music and a degree of skill. I mean go back 8 or 10 years the scratching thing didn’t feel like it carried currency in the club so you didn't do it. It was more about selection and for us, smashing through some big music and the music is what got the reaction.

We've lived through a time where the playing field, skill wise, has been levelled. Paris Hilton has a residency in Ibiza, that tells you where the game’s at. I think that has actually served to make scratching a more exciting proposition for an audience now because you can’t sync button it. As far as the sync button stuff goes, I really don’t give a shit. For me it’d actually be handy if it worked when it was really tricky, but mostly DJs use the sync button to sync metronomic music that’s a peice of piss to mix anyway. Try the sync button on an old funk or jazz tune and, welcome to hell, coz it will fuck you right up. It's not about people editing down tunes so they're perfectly in time. Mistakes are a part of DJing, it's good when things fuck up a bit…

Well for me one of the traits of a top DJ or MC is carrying the show when the needle jumps or the mic is dodgy, when things go wrong…Talking about equipment failure I remember me and A-Trak in the ‘99 ITFs, the turntable wouldn't change from 45 to 33 and you can see I was screwing about it. I think he had some technical problems too. When you're on stage it seems like a massive thing but if you just hold it down and crack on, it's gone in a moment but your brain is thinking like ‘Fuck!’

Well when you've put in at least a solid couple of months getting your 6 minute routine right... Oh yeah for sure. In fact it was a two round battle. The first round is up but nobody's put up the second round, which was a 60 second round where we had to just scratch over a beat for 60 seconds. I actually choreographed a routine to the Alphabet Aerobics instrumental. I'd love to see it again to be fair. I'd also like to see our set at Glastonbury 2003 in between The Roots and The Streets in front of 10,000 people. It was the penultimate set in the dance tent on the Sunday. I was right next to the bass player of The Roots. The heavens opened up and the whole tent was absolutely heaving. To go on in that slot was such a great experience. They should both be on VHS in a box in my loft somewhere. I keep meaning to get them digitised and put them online, I'll have to do that soon!

So back to scratch DJ stuff... Favourite DMC routines ever? As I said earlier Craze U.S. ‘98 was huge. P-Trix at the Worlds in ‘99 was another wicked routine. To be fair there's so many. Steve D in 1990 was the first time I'd seen someone really flip a beat juggle. Any Miz routine, the Aladdin routine in 89. Those are the pivotal ones for me because at the time of Cash Money and Aladdin it wasn't like I going to the gigs, I was still at school. A friend of mine used to get all the VHS’ in and we just spend an afternoon eating cheesecake and studying the videos, and when I saw something like Steve D's funky drummer beat juggle it would send me off into a 10,000 hour attempt to replicate it. I still find it really exciting to see those routines now.

And how about your own routines at the DMCs? Do any of them stand out for you? The one that was probably sweetest for me was the 1998 UK DMC because it was the first time after quitting my job and really going for it. A few of us from the crew were in the competition and when Swift called out the crew name and the crowd erupted I was thinking wow, the audience knows the name The Scratch Perverts! It felt like things had really changed. I remember finishing my performance and thinking, ‘Did I do enough? Did I do enough? Is that gonna win it?’, and to get the nod that night was an amazing, amazing experience.

So in ‘99 you were in the Vestax Extravaganza in Tokyo and you came 2nd to Swift Rock who sadly passed last year… Tell me about that experience. Funnily enough my daughter recently found the jade green plaque I was given from the comp! It was the first time I'd been flown to Japan, and it was off the back of winning the 98 UK DMC. It was my first time ever in Japan and it was wicked to meet Q-Bert, Shortkut, and D-Styles who were all judging. It was a chance to meet Shortkut again because I'd got him over to London the previous year for a night I was doing called Rockers Revenge at the Blue Note. The first night was Jazzy J and Cutmaster Swift, the second one was Shortkut and the third one was Babu. But yeah, it was just mad being in Japan…. I also shared a room with Hype from Germany who was a good laugh.

I've never been but from what I've heard it's cool! Well lots of my mates who are turntablism enthusiasts felt that if it had been in London or if the judges had been different, you'd have probably won that one… To be fair I've never watched that one back, I don't know if it's online. It's probably for the best haha... I don't remember my performance being fantastic by any means, I'd need to see it again to be honest. But I was gutted to hear about Swift Rock passing, that was very sad news. He had some of the sickest juggles in the game.

For sure. I know Craze used to look up to him a lot. While still on the topic of Japanese business, did you see DJ Yuto's winning DMC performance last year? Yeah I did I was actually judging that night! The year before I'd swerved it but I'm normally there every year. I've only missed a few but the one I regret missing was 2011 was when Vajra (Chris Karns) won it because it was around the time my son Theo was born. I'm often down at the Worlds there just to see what's going on.

And obviously you'll be down there this year…Of course. We're doing the Daredevil thing…

Yeah the Daredevil tribute with his brother Matman, Muzzell, Cutmaster Swift… Richie (Ruftone) is doing it, Blakey’s doing it, Woody, Tigerstyles… there's a bunch of us. All of us were there at his wake and we all had a little cut over his music and it was a very sweet way to share a common love for something that he also was very much involved with…

For sure, from what I've understood Daredevil was a very well loved guy as a person as well as being a talented UK DJ & Turntablist as well as a producer... Yeah. I mean he had been in several of the DMCs over the years, we had him down at the Beatdown competition that we used to run at Fabric…. Um... (Long Pause) Yeah, very very sad but looking forward to the tribute. Hopefully we'll capture the same spirit of it all down at the World Finals.

Looking forward to it too mate. Well onto some of your music… The 'Hip Hop Don't Stop' mix that you did was a top selection of golden era tracks squeezed onto two CDs, and to boot a few of the mixes and tricks on it were parts of some of your routines. It was massive referencing point for golden age U.S acts for me so my appreciation for that one especially! I suppose it's a totally different marketplace now to when 'Hip Hop Don't Stop' dropped in like 1999? It was of its time really.  The internet was only just becoming publicly accessible and the compilation CD still had a role to play. By the way things are now, I think it'd be a podcast or something of the sort as people don't really buy compilations anymore. Also you've got SoundCloud, Mixcloud and all the other platforms for pushing mixes of other people's and your own music. These days mixes are pushed into the ether, they aren't really commercially released. I actually remember doing the 'Hip Hop Don't Stop' mix. We did it in 98 and it was released in 99. I put all the tunes in bag as if I was going to a gig, grabbed 4 Red Stripes and just got merry and just went with the flow. It all fell into place without having to think about it all too much, the records start to say ‘This one’s next, then this one would sound good…’ It felt like a very natural thing as it unfolded…

And that's probably why it's such a top mix! Around the same time you were also doing quite a few dope collabs with DJ Vadim that included tracks with El-P and Sir Beanz of APC… There were a ton of things. That was about the time I got myself sacked. So that's when I was signing on and wiring up Vadim’s studio, so while I was there I was doing cuts for his stuff.

As someone coming into the game, it must have been super dope knowing that you cut some tracks with El-P and Beanz... 
Yeah it was a mad, mad time!

All that old Company Flow stuff is so dope, I've still got a lot of it on heavy rotation… Yeah I remember when 'Funcrusher Plus' first came out and '8 Steps to Perfection'. That 12' is still very dear to me. At the time the thing that resonated with me was that I was no longer in full time employment and making ends just about meet through music. So Vadim was paying me to wire up his Mac desk as well as us doing the 'Architects of the Great' mixtape. He was running Jazz Fudge Records too at the time which was a great little press angle, with its Russian-British-American triangle of influence and there were some great tracks coming out. Friction with Iriscience was so dope.

Yeah another quality track from Vadim! Talking of mixtapes, one of my all time favourites along with your 'Hip Hop Don't Stop' mix is 'Soundbombing 2' mixed by J-Rocc & Babu. As a mix it was the complete package, beats rhymes mixes and even the artwork on the cover. Are there any mixes that you still listen to that stand out for for you? I was really into a lot of the scratch tapes that used to come out….

Oh, like Q Bert and D Style’s ‘Hotsauce in the Dickhole’? Yeah that's one of them! Any of those mixtapes from those guys from around that time were just phenomenal. 'Pharaohs of Funk' By D Styles and Flare from 2000, also Toad Styles’ 'Switchblade Sermons' from 2001 are both proper sick. I'd spend hours and hours listening to them and just really enjoying them.

Me too mate, though I only ever listened to a few. Scratch mixtapes like that just don't happen these days any more I suppose… With the internet now people can put up routines. There's a guy from L.A called I.Q who does the IDA Championships and he's an absolute animal on the cut. We did a showcase for the competition, which he won three times in a row.

Are the IDAs an online thing? The scratching is online and they do two different sides to the competition: ‘Technical’ is like a hardcore DMC rotine style thing and ‘Show’ allows you to incorporate other music tech like mpcs and audio visuals.

Moving along, although great DJs like Blakey, Daredevil and more recently Mr Switch have emerged, do you think there's a reason why there hasn't been another British scratch crew since The Scratch Perverts? The guys that went before us were pretty well known. I think (Cutmaster) Swift was on Wogan and I felt that whilst they or even us weren't ever household names, many people knew Swift, Pogo, and Billy (Biznizz) and then we came along. It was just timing really. There are other crews out there though, there's a scratch community and they do a scratch BBQs, though I'd never made it along as my interest in the whole thing waned, and I only just picked it all up again about a year or two ago, so I kind of feel like I'm beginning again. Not skillswise, but in that it all just feels brand new to me again.

Well I hope to see you playing out on the regs again having spent a lot of time in Fabric Room 1 in the early 2000s! So I've always felt there would be space for a C2C style group in popular British music…But then again, the French public have always had a bigger appetite for hip hop than we do over here… The French market is definitely very different from the British market. We did a gig around 7 or 8 years ago with Birdy Nam Nam in Paris. We've always gotten on very well with them. So we had a few drinks with the lads then went to the gig which was in an enormous venue similar to Brixton Academy, and it was completely sold out. We were like ‘Shit, these guys are really a big deal over here’. As a British turntable act, it was an amazing thing for us to see a massive audience who were there JUST to see some turntable shit. It was mad the fact that a French turntable crew could sell out a 5 or 6 thousand capacity venue.It was wicked. We've had a loyal audience but the British market is just different. It's great to see Birdy Nam Nam and C2C doing so well over the years. I saw C2C the year before last at the DMC World Finals as the headline act and their live set is pretty mind blowing! The audio visuals are set on an individual basis and are on individual screens in front of each of the members…

I managed to see C2C a few years back at a French festival and it was awesome! Yeah it was a sick, SICK show… and I think their decks lean slightly forwards so the crowd can have a view. Or perhaps it was just an optical illusion. Maybe the problem was I wasn't drinking that night haha!

Well I've always said it'd be a great thing for there to be a British turntable act with the public support that C2C get in France… So, you and Tony hit up a couple of tracks on Skitz's Countryman LP back in the day… 
Yeah I did Twilight, and Tony did Fingerprints…

So would you guys consider taking part in a similar project now? There's a lot happening on the scene right now and it's looking like it's going to keep on getting bigger and better... We supported Jehst at his album launch recently and it was like a 3 hour set after he'd done his performance of the new album. It was a really responsive crowd so we did a section of playing UK rap stuff and it was nice to revisit those records for the first time in a long while. I also did a thing down Peckham not long after and did a mini Mark B dedication which was also nice. It makes me remember that the time when I was really involved with stuff there was a really healthy scene, so it's great to hear there's stuff going on again from a UK perspective. But as far as working on anything other than musical output from myself and practicing DJing is concerned, I'll have to think about it after. What excites me right now is being in my studio environment. It really feels like I'm literally starting from scratch... If you'll excuse the pathetic pun haha!

Yeah no-one really knows that I'm putting music out. The third release has just been finished but with the first two I took a leaf out of Sun Ra’s book and did hand painted covers. It's a long, laborious thing to do, but it just feels like you’re making something unique. I'm not trying to push it at all, I'm just really enjoying putting the records out, hopefully that will be enough. Then at some point, people will join the dots and be like ‘Ah, that's that outfit.’

And that's on your own imprint? Yeah, 'Hardworking Families'.

So that's what you're pushing right now... I'm not really pushing It, I'm just making it. The other dude who is in the crew...That's actually him knocking at the door! (Opens door) You're probably even the first person I've actually mentioned it to, but it's just an exercise in seeing if, in a day and age where everything is over saturated, overly hyped and and everything is pushed to the max, just putting the fuckin records out and see if that's enough! I don't imagine it's gonna happen overnight, but the 2nd release made it onto Phonica’s recommended list which was a beautiful thing. The second one was better than the first so let's hope I keep on that trajectory and if so this thing will eventually fly.

So it's just 'Hardworking Families'? Yup. That's the artist, the label, the whole thing.

So…a random one thrown in for good measure...Name a producer, a vocalist and a rapper who you'd love to work with right now...  Nils Frahm. He'd be fun to work with. I have a Juno 60 and a Fender Rhodes ready for him! It's all ready for him...haha!

Vocalist? Aaah fuck...

You heard that Rag n Bone Man? Yeah, he's mates with Stig ain't he?

Yeah I'm pretty sure he's mates with a few of the boys on High Focus Records aswell… so Rag N Bone Man? Have you heard Anderson Paak? Yeah he hasn't put a foot wrong that dude. 'Malibu' is a wonderful album. He's got a real serious vibe to his voice. Not gonna happen in a million fucking years, but it'd be nice to do a tune with Anderson Paak or Rag n Bone Man... and Stig!

Well I do feel many stranger things have happened mate! A rapper? Aaah an emcee...there's an endless list of people...We were lucky to do a tune with Black Thought and Mos Def back in the day, and that was, that was quite something meeting both of them. It was at Olympic Studio in Barnes which has now shut down. After Mos Def finished doing his verse, he strolled into studio 1, which is where Hendrix and the fucking Beatles used to record, sat down at the grand piano in there and started playing some beautiful jazz piano. We could heard it drifting in from the other studio and we were thinking ‘How talented is this cunt? He can rap, he acts, he can play the piano!?! Bastard.

Fair play to both of them, both very talented chaps. I think it's great that Questlove started the Okayplayer media platform… Yeah, also another phenomenally gifted individual. And a very engaging human being.

So just to wind it up, any DJs for us to be keeping an eye on at the DMC Worlds? As long as it's the person who deserves it, that's all you can hope for really!

 

I could talk with you about hip hop and about your adventures as a DJ all day! Looking forward to the tribute performance in honour of Daredevil. So many thanks to The Scratch Perverts’ DJ PRIME CUTS, former ITF, DMC, and 2 x DMC team world champion, legend of UK game and the world of turntablism, your dedication to the art and time today is very much appreciated!

 

You can listen to and cop the first batch of Hardworking Families on vinyl with beautifully hand painted covers and limited cassette here.

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@PhillyTea

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