Pluskratch

Interview by Alan Ng & Jenkin Au
Words by Ryan Goldade & Kevin Williams
Photography by Jenkin Au

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Pluskratch is a turntablist from day one and is still standing strong as one of Vancouver’s most notable turntable scratch enthusiasts. His love for turntablism started a young age as he was finding a hip-hop outlet to express himself and to be associated with. For Paul, going to a small high school dance would eventually be one of the most significant events in Paul’s life as it was there that he was introduced to turntables for the first time. Being in a high school with majority of students in favour of punk and rock also led to the formation of a close-knit crew that was classified as outsiders, and within this crew, a group of turntablists were born. Throughout the years of scratching and battling, he has gone through many groups and bands, which have all added to his experience of being a versatile turntablist. He discusses in-depth upon each of the chapters he has experienced as a turntablist and how it has all shaped to who he is today. While he still struggles up to this date to survive solely as a turntablist, he has chosen the route to also act as the DJ on his spare time. Taking up this role allowed him to tackle forms of music production, party rocking, and expanding his network overall as a well-rounded artist. Even though his love is passionately towards scratching, he knows that he must also be able to play music that people enjoy. In this interview, we talk to Pluskratch, a former Vancouver DMC Champion about his career as a turntablist. He discusses his views upon the current DJ culture, his views upon party rocking competitions, and lastly about the future of turntablism and how he is starting to see it slowly surfacing again. Recently, he has formed “Goons From The Moon”, a two man turntablist group which utilizes both scratching and other instrumentations, and is in high hopes of being in the forefront of the upbringing of the reincarnated turntablism movement.

All these aliases you have with your DJ names. Tell us a bit more about that.

DJ Pluskratch is the name that I started off with as a battle DJ. Paul Skratch came about just for production. I wanted to change my name from Pluskratch to Paul Skratch. I always wanted that name because people would always miss spell my name. So I wanted to make it simple, Paul and Skratch, done. My Paul Mighty name was an alias for designing. That’s pretty much it.

What really got you interested in turntables? What got you scratching?

Like any other young Filipino kid in high school, they either try to be a dancer, graffiti artist. I couldn’t do either. I tried to become an MC and then I bought turntables because I wanted to get into producing and making my own beats.

What age was it when you got your first turntables?

So many years ago, back in 1996. I was like 17, 18. Once I got my turntables, I couldn’t do anything with it. I had no friends that used or had turntables. I was still underage to get into clubs to see what DJs were doing. I left it at home, collecting dust for a couple of years.

Prior to that, was there a significant moment that you saw people using turntables or a DJ somewhere that sparked your interest?

First time when I ever saw someone use turntables was back in high school. It was at a high school dance actually. There was this DJ called Mighty Maximum Possible. He was DJing at most of the hip-hop parties out there back then. It was the first time when I saw someone do doubles with their turntables. I heard about it, but I never saw it live. I was just standing there and wondered how he was doing it. It looked sick!

Earlier you said during high school, it was the first time you saw turntables. And you said you couldn’t do anything with it after you got it. Who did you seek to teach you about it?

Within friends in high school. It’s funny because we all DJ, but in different ways. Two of them were mobile DJs. They do weddings, church function, and things like that. We all tried to learn at the same time but most of them didn’t stick with scratching except for me and Mike. Yea, we just practiced for hours at home. I remember we used to skip school to practice. Mike went to Kwantlen and I was at BCIT for radio broadcasting. We would skip class, and we would go to somebody’s house and practice for six hours at a time, making the ugliest sounds. I don’t understand how my parents kept up with it. Yea, we thought we were good but we weren’t. After hours of practice at one house, we would move it to another afterwards. Once a month we would head to downtown to pick up DJ videos.

There was this guy on a cover of a video tape, DJ QBert. We bought the video and after came to the conclusion that Filipinos could scratch . They can break dance but we couldn’t dance. Why don’t we just try to figure out what this guy’s been up to? After that, I fell in love with scratching.

Do you remember the first record that you bought?

I think the first record that I bought was a battle break record, made for scratching. It was Q-Bert’s “Toasted Marshmallow breaks”. The first ever that I ever got from my dad was the Soundtrack to Cocktail.

What the fuck?

(Everyone laughs)

And The Fat Boys. That was hip-hop to me.

While we are on record, there’s always one record that DJs always go back to. Which one is that for you?

Well I am a scratch DJ so it’s Q-Bert’s Super Seal Breaks. I must have bought like six copies of that. Yea, I bought six copies of it because every time I went to a record store, it would be sold out. When I was on tour with No Luck Club in New York, I would be looking for it everywhere.

After all this practicing, when was your first public appearance as a DJ?

As a turntablist, it was back at my high school. There was this buddy of mine, he was a DJ too, who was graduating two years after me. We did a talent show thing. Nobody knew what we were doing. Imagine a gym full of kids who never seen scratching or even hip-hop for that matter. Seeing these two guys making weird sounds off turntables. The teachers didn’t know what was going on. Dead silence after our performance.

Some people only define themselves as a DJ, some people define themselves as a turntablist, some people like to juggle between the two. What do you think is the main difference between the two?

A DJ is a person, who plays music; who plays other people’s work, other musician’s songs. A Dj plays a song at a club, just whatever…. and a turntablist is a person that actually makes music. Who actually composes his/her own scratches to make their own music or compliment the song that is being playing with? That’s the two main differences.

Why do you think people blend the two together? Like yourself, you are known as DJ Pluskratch or DJ Paul Skratch.

I never put “DJ” in front of my name. Promoters would put “DJ” in front of my name. Personally, I was always Pluskratch or Paul Skratch, and never “DJ” in front. I just never saw myself as a DJ. I am just more passionate about being a turntablist. Hmm… I could see why other people would put “DJ” in front of their names. Just to differentiate what they are. Like graffiti artists back in the day, they used to put “One” after their name because there’s was only one of them. Or just like MC or B-Boy whatever.

What are your views of turntablists like yourself stepping across boundaries and playing at parties as well? Basically conforming what your audience wants to hear, such as in a club.

In a club, there’s no say. There’s DJs out there who do refuse requests, even the promoters who hired them. For me, I play whatever the night is man. You know what I mean? Personally when I play on Friday’s at Gossip. I like what the crowd likes, what the promoter tells me to play. That’s my job. I got hired to do something for somebody. If that guy is paying me, I am not going to refuse it, but if they say “it’s all you,” then obviously I am not going to go all me. All me would just be too weird. So I play something that the audience can actually relate to.

Speaking of that, the club wouldn’t really welcome scratching and raw hip-hop right?

You could take in doses, but you just couldn’t cut or scratch for like 15 minutes. If you go to a club and see a DJ scratch for five minutes, you would want him to play club music because there’s a dance floor. I would love to see it but that’s a DJ battle or a show that you wanted to see right? But if you are in a club night, nobody is going to really appreciate it.

While it doesn’t really exist in the clubs, due to the nature of the clubs, where do you think that type of music actually exists?

I’ve seen it used on sound tracks. I don’t even know any mainstream radio stations that would play it. But I’ve heard some weird stuff on the radio before. Sometimes I would flip through a channel and think my sound would actually fit in that show. It’s the weirdest thing, really ridiculous. I don’t really see where scratching can fit except for being on a sound track or commercial or behind the beat of something. It’s more ambience than anything.

I think during the 90s, it was the most prominent where scratching was heard on hip-hop music. What are your views on using turntables as an instrument?

As much as I want to say that turntables are musical instruments, it’s not. There’s no way you can manipulate a sound to match the same octave with the signer on a fly. You can’t. There’s no way. If the turntable was to be classified a musical instrument, it would be a percussion instrument. It would play rhythm, it will wouldn’t be one that plays a melody with somebody else. That’s the struggle I’ve felt. I have done festivals and with all these different musicians with different musical backgrounds. They all have the hardest time looking at me trying to collaborate with me and take me seriously. Once they see me using effects and scratching in rhythm with them, then they can see working with me.

Looking at all these challenges between the two standards of what turntables can do, between turntablism and DJing, it seems like DJing is a much more easy route to go just because of it’s nature of making money from parties and what not. In terms of your own view, how can a turntablist make money?

Like I said, either scoring for sound tracks or making music. Touring with festivals and DJing for a rap group maybe? Basically for me, I realize that I can’t make money from scratching unless I started with QBert and Mix Master Mike and all those guys. I can’t speak on their behalf and I am not sure if they are having the same problems now. I mean, I know QBert is doing that whole online scratch university thing. Maybe that’s one of the ways he’s generating income. Back then, scratch DJs were making a lot of money. I remember when he came out here, for a 10 minute routine, he got paid a couple G’s for that. I was like, that’s my goal. That’s what I am working towards. Nowadays, it’s not like people don’t understand it, but it’s the fact that it’s not that appealing. It’s all about party rocking and dancing. I don’t think you can anymore.

What do you think is the biggest skill required to become a turntablist?

Combinations in scratches. The more combinations you know, the more vocabulary you have. When playing with anybody or playing with your own music, that’s exactly what it is. Learning the basic scratches. Turntablism is always a broad term. You are either a turntablist; you scratch, you beat juggle, you drum, and what not. For me, I can barely do juggles. Ever since I stopped competing, I don’t even have two turntables hooked up anymore. I only have one turntable and a mixer and that’s just for scratching. I’ve seen guys that still juggle and it amazes me. Yea, learning the fundamentals. Then you combine it with all these other scratches you have learned throughout your years and then put your own style to it, then you get your own sound.

Through the development of technology, DJing is opening up to a lot of people. Just because of Serato, you don’t even need to find battle records anymore. How does technology play a role in the change and shaping of the whole DJ culture?

I think it just made everything sound crazier. As a party rocker, you are able to get all the latest music beforehand. Now DJs are producers. They make their own remixes. Instead of waiting to get your record pressed. You can play it the same night or day you made it. That’s the craziest thing about technology. Serato has built in effects, man, back then when I used to DJ, I brought a separate effects box in order to make those sounds. Now it’s built in software.

In the whole DJ industry, sometimes DJs would tell up and coming DJs to go back to the roots and learn from vinyl instead. What are your views to new DJs? What advice do you have for them?

I mean I know a lot of people say that you should earn your stripes. Depending on the situation. Personally, it’s not the person’s fault. If he/she came in to the scene at this time, if that’s what they have learned from, you can’t hate on them. Learn the history of it at least. I am not saying to go buy every old record in vinyl form, you can’t man. Honestly, it’s not their fault. If a guy likes to play off CDs and that’s where he learned from, then that’s his preference. You have no right to tell a person or make comments like that.

Moving to competitions, what got you inspired to enter these competitions?

I bought a lot of DMC Battle videos back then. One of the videos that I got was back in 1995, it was when Roc Raida won. After seeing that, I wanted to get as good as that. Then I heard the DMC’s was coming to Vancouver, back then DMC’s was either West or East coast region. There were no regional competitions. Yea, it was more of a personal thing. I always wanted to compete. Back then I was battling for wrong reasons, I wanted to win. It was all about getting my name out and wanting to become the champ. You can’t enter a competition with that mentality. You just got to do it for love, for yourself.

Which was your first battle and do you remember your first set?

My first competition wasn’t even a DMC competition. It was the DJ Sound Wars in 99. I was horrible. It was pretty bad. I didn’t place nor make it to the next round. It was set up on two rounds I think.

From that defeat, did that make you challenge yourself even more?

Oh yea, I wanted more, but I needed to learn before I get on right? My problem was that I didn’t want to learn. I wanted to do it right away kind of thing. I didn’t actually take time to practice. At that time, my life was all weird. I was going to school, I had like two jobs back then, had a girlfriend and DJing… I love DJing and I love scratching but I wasn’t prioritizing myself. I couldn’t juggle it all at once. I would go into competitions practicing maybe like a week beforehand only. What it really is, is that DJs practice for like six months before the competition. When I started doing that, it started paying off.

Back then the name of a DMC champion held so much more value then today.

It was awesome, you were treated like you were a rock star. If you win that, you were unstoppable and people looked at you at a completely new level. Even the prizing was crazy. Back then, you would get two turntables, a mixer, headphones, shit load of clothing and a flight going to wherever the nationals were.

Second place got a stereo and everything, like crazy! Then I heard the last competition out here, first place got one cartridge and a needle .It’s dropped so bad.

Why do you think it dropped so significantly?

There’s no money from it. Not many people actually watch this anymore. I think the whole RedBull and competitions about party rocking using Serato and what not, there’s more appeal to it, and backed up by a large corporation, like RedBull, who have money to throw these competitions. Crazy prizing and a huge budget for marketing.

Going back to competitions, which one was the one that you actually placed?

The year I first won was 2004 but I had placed 99 to 2000. Up till 2004, there use to be 3 or 4 competitions a year. What we do is we practice one routine and use that one routine at every competition. The first competition I ever won was in 2004, in Whistler. Back then I was part of a crew called “Munkee Massv.” There was four of us, myself, DJ MSA, Wundrkut and Gnius. That year in 2004, it was the first time where they had 3 DMCs at one province; one in Vancouver, one in Whistler and one in Victoria. We swept it. We were the first crew to sweep the whole DMC in the whole West Coast. Gnius won Vancouver, Wundrkut won Victoria and I did Whistler. Winning Whistler felt good because I finally won one. The previous year I took second place, prior I got third. So I was moving up. It was cool, but it wasn’t my city. I mean the competition was sick and am thankful for winning but winning for my own town would be different. The year after, I competed in Vancouver and won it.

I know each year, DJs enter with a different set, but they always kept with their own style. What did you do?

I tried to flip it every single time. I did some weird stuff with elastic bands and drummed it.  The needle picks up as a mic. I try to flip it every year. It got weirder, static sounds and rubbing needles. It’s just too gimmicky.

What do you think was the biggest thing that DMC did for you?

Get my name out. Like recognition,

Where did it lead after that?

It got me occasional rave gigs. It’s so funny, doing scratches at raves. Got me gigs at clubs and what not. Import car shows were a lot of fun. A lot of staring contests.

Throughout our discussion, there’s a constant shift where promotional culture pushes DJing to becoming more and more mainstream. Where do you think this leads to and do you think turntablism will ever come back as popular as it was before?

If you haven’t noticed, it’s coming back. If I got you guys talking about it and having interest, it’s coming back. Ever since I started the “Goons From The Moon” thing, I’ve been calling out all the guys I used to do it with back then, collaborating with them. They’re back into it. It’s just re-surfacing. It’s weird. Everything comes in waves. When I decided to come back to it and practice scratching and what not. Either it’s because I am noticing it more because I am into it or it’s just because it is coming back. It just seems like it. I just see more DJs out there that did it back then are trying to do it again. Even trying to reach out to me and asking me to session. I stopped scratching for two years, and now coming back to it, I see it and the good thing about this time. I am not trying to catch up, I am actually going into this having some history and background. I am trying to catch this wave to be in front of it now.

Speaking of all these mentors and people you have worked with before, who were the ones that taught you and are there people that you have brought up or taught them?

People, who have taught me, like mentioned earlier, Mighty Maximum Possible. It’s so random, I saw him at a high school dance, and then ran into him at a record store called Bassix. He was the first DMC Champion in Vancouver, and to be standing beside that guy was like a celebrity to me. He pretty much showed me how to cut it up. I wanted to be on the same level as him. He pretty much made me who I am today. I wasn’t good enough to hang out with him to scratch. He humbled me, but also in a bad way. If there’s a person that looks up to you – never say anything negative about what they are so passionate with. At that time I was learning from him, actually it was just him. He’d talk shit about scratching and battling and what not. He would tell me to scrap it and concentrate on real life stuff. “Scratching would get you nowhere.” Feeding that to a person that loves that something is wrong. Plain wrong. If I was a person and took it in a negative way, I would have probably quit scratching then, but that actually motivated me to keep going. Yea there are certain things that you should tell somebody. Mighty Max, he taught me a lot of stuff, good and bad. And just seeing DJs like Wax, Astrix, Precise, Kaveh around. The craziest scratch DJs in Vancouver! And my friends, the friends I actually DJ with. Those guys keep me on point.

Who are some people that you have guided or lead? Because nowadays, people look up to you.

Yea but most of the stuff that they ask is gear related. They would ask about settings and what not. If anything, I wasn’t teaching them how to scratch, but I was more of a tech support. That’s it. I know guys that come up to me and ask to session. There’s DJs out here that are established and are asking me to teach them. Personally, I can’t teach anyone to scratch. Good on those who can teach people how to mix and scratch, but I am such a bad teacher. It’s maybe because I have no patience. It’s hard for me to explain to a person how to do something.

Speaking of your future and your background of turntablism, for yourself personally, is there something that you are going to utilize all your experience and background of DJing that you want to bring it to?

Yea, I Dream In Color. It’s like the last thing I want to do honestly. It’s a project that I have been battling with for over five years. It’s something that I wanted to complete. At first, I wanted to complete a turntablist album, right? Based on my production and scratching but now it’s like my life story. I want to do it before anything happened. It’s something that I really want to finish. I think that’s making it hard for me to finish because I always change for some reason. If I am feeling something for the moment, I would do that, but would it fit with my life story pretty much. So yes, I Dream In Color.

How’s DJing and scratching keeping you busy right now?

Trying to complete my projects. Keeping me sane at the same time. It’s my outlet. I have stresses in life; it’s the only time, which takes me out of reality, which is connected to I Dream In Color. Everything that I see in life is in Black and White, but when it comes to music, it’s in color, a whole different thing.

Going back to you being a bad teacher, you’ve got a kid on the way. Are you going to teach him?

No, it’s up to him. If he wants to pick up a paint brush, he can pick it up on his own. If he wants to pick up the turntables, he can pick it up on his own.