While vinyl can be traced back to the late 1800s with the development of the phonograph, the art of turntablism is a whole other story
It may be an iTunes world, but vinyl isn’t dead yet. If records aren’t alive and spinning in your living room, rest assured that they’re safe and sound in the hands of certain disc jockeys (DJs) practicing turntablism—the art of moving a playing record back and forth under the needle to create an unmistakable scratching sound.
Though we can’t say for sure who the first person was to alter vinyl’s tune, many believe it can be traced back to the mid 70s and a DJ namedGrand Wizard Theodore. However, there’s no doubt music artists like the Sugarhill Gang, Kool Herc, and GrandMixer DXT were the ones who brought this art to the masses. Soon enough being a DJ was no longer about spinning in the background. Instead, it was about manipulating the turntable to create unique sounds unlike any other musical instrument.
Among the people who helped define this craft isDJ Rob “Swift” Aguilar (pictured above). Inspired by his Columbian father’s passion for spinning meringue in the early 80s, Swift began dabbling in the art at age 12. He has since mastered the techniques and successfully taken this genre to a new level.
Now one of the world’s most famous DJs, Swift has appeared on Jay Leno, Sesame Street, the 2007 documentary film As the Tables Turn, and is currently on tour promoting his latest album “The Architect” (due out February 23rd), which blends classical music with hip hop and scratching. At the same time, turntablism continues to gain popularity thanks to better equipment, DJ collaborations with mega artists, increased vinyl record sales (1.9 million were sold in 2008 and nearly 2.8 million in 2009), and the recent release of the video game DJ Hero by the makers of Guitar Hero.
“Turntablism has grown so much and taken on a life of its own. It will never stop growing. There’s still so more to accomplish,” Swift says. “In the 90s, it was a subculture that didn’t get the credit it, or we, deserved. Rappers and producers were getting all the respect. Nowadays, you have rappers turning to deejaying to stay relevant.”
As an instructor at New York City’s Scratch Academy, the world’s first DJ school, Swift makes it a top priority to teach his students to feel the music. “A lot of kids get caught up in the mechanics. You really have to listen to the music that you’re scratching to and become one with the tempo of the song. Once you do, it really influences your delivery,” says the 30-something Queens native. The second most important thing he tells them: “Have fun. When you have fun that’s when your creativity starts to flourish.”
As turntablism continues to evolve, some things will never change: You’ll always need two turntables, a mixer and, of course, vinyl. For Swift, the most significant of his record collection is the double album“Take Me to Mardi Gras” by jazz great Bob James. As the first record he learned to scratch on, he cherishes it so much that he owns two copies, one of which he had signed by James himself when they worked together.