MUSIC REVIEW- Wrong turn: Scratch Academy misjudged audience

The University Programs Council at UVA tries very hard to bring a diverse range of events to the campus to expose the student body to things they would otherwise have to travel long distances to experience. Although I disagree with their unwillingness to use the local Charlottesville community when selecting events, I understand their primary mission is to serve UVA. At least twice a year the Programs Council brings in something hip-hop-related to appease the urban or urban-curious demographic.

Last Friday, March 31, the Programs Council hosted the Scratch DJ Academy at Old Cabell Hall. I was eager to attend the event for a number of reasons. One, I'm absolutely addicted to DJ culture. Two, I was interested in seeing how the group would be received by the student body. And three, the contrast of urban sounds and culture in such an elegantly classic venue would definitely tickle my irony bone.

The event started late due to a flight delay and late arrival of the two representative members of the Scratch DJ Academy. Audience members who stayed seemed as eager as I was to see exactly what the duo was all about. I quickly realized that my expectations had been undeniably unrealistic. With a name like the Scratch DJ Academy, I expected boundary-pushing DJ'ing that would open people's eyes to the infinite possibilities of turntablism. Silly me.

The Scratch DJ Academy should change their name to "Hip-Hop for Dummies." I almost became nauseated by the way the two presenters explained the history of hip-hop and DJ'ing so pedantically. DJ Esquire and the other DJ (whose name escapes me) conducted their presentation as if they were talking to a group of fifth graders.

Although they radiated enthusiasm and were obviously lacking no knowledge on the subject at hand, I somehow felt belittled as they spoke. It was if they had forgotten the last decade of popular music has been dominated by hip-hop. It was if they were ignoring the fact that the last decade of popular culture has been influenced by hip-hop. They approached an art form that is alive and well like it was archaic and arcane. DJ'ing isn't Baroque music.

Am I so out of touch and oblivious that it's crazy for me to believe that college students know what a record is, or a mixer, or a scratch, for that matter? I mean, during his demonstrations, DJ Esquire was using Final Scratch technology to mix and blend beats. Why not explain how amazing that is?

For those who don't know, Final Scratch is a program and turntable set-up that allows the DJ to select audio files on a laptop and manipulate them like a record on a real turntable. A record on the turntable acts like a trigger to a special needle that controls the audio file. So instead of a DJ having to lug around a crate of records, all s/he needs to bring is an iBook full of MP3s. Now that is special! We were sitting in a performance hall at a university. I do believe the students could have grasped the concept.

On a positive note, the Scratch Academy did bring people on stage to attempt scratching for the first time. That was cool. But the evening quickly deteriorated into an ego show, where the DJs began to testify to what DJ culture has done for them in their lives. Honestly, who cares?

It was like being at an Evangelical Christian revival, but instead of recruiting for the church, they were testifying to try to make believers of the heathens who may not fully embrace hip-hop culture.

I felt like such a snob. However, I will say this. The actually Scratch DJ Academies in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles are amazing places where aspiring DJs can learn from some of the most accomplished turntablists of our era. I don't believe the ambassadors at Old Cabell Hall were great representatives.

They may be good DJs, but we all know that being able to play ball doesn't mean you can coach it.