The most important events in turntablism history

From hip-hop pioneers in the '70s, through to modern digital turntablists, we explore the culture that keeps pushing the art of DJing forwards.

On August 11th, 1973, a New York DJ named Kool Herc threw a party that would change the world. This is the day many people consider to be the birth of hip-hop, arguably the most significant musical development of the past 50 years. In retrospect, what Herc did that day was simple: he showcased a new DJ technique he’d been working on, one that involved cutting between the drum breaks of two copies of the same funk record. This single innovation set the stage for hip-hop, b-boying (breakdancing) and turntablism, which would eventually break away to form its own separate but related culture. 

In many ways turntablism thrived by pushing to extremes. The DJs practising this artform aim for the highest possible levels of technique, maxing out the possibilities of their turntables, mixers and controllers. They compete against each other at battle competitions, under enormous pressure, judged by experts in their field. They spend months preparing performance routines that usually last no more than 15 minutes, combining the sounds, rhythms and patterns of existing records to create something completely new. At the heart of the culture are passionate ideals about what turntablism should be, and what it should represent.   

Our timeline begins in New York in the early ‘70s, moves through the explosive arrival of battle competitions in the ‘80s, past the wild creative developments of the ‘90s, and finishes up with the modern era of digital turntablism. However, it would be remiss not to at least mention the other key events and influences that laid the groundwork for turntablism to flourish. 

Experimental composers like Pierre Schaeffer and John Cage were manipulating turntables to artistic ends as far back as the 1940s, while Kool Herc himself drew inspiration from the DJs he saw back home in Jamaica, before his move to New York in 1967. And none of what Herc and other early hip-hop DJs did would have been possible without the release of the Technics SP-10. This was the first mass market direct drive turntable, with a more durable motor than the belts that had driven earlier models. With this essential piece of gear, vinyl records could be used and abused in ways that were previously unimaginable. 

The original spark of energy from these developments, a sense of endless creative possibilities, is still alive in turntablism 50 years later.

Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash: The pioneers

“You got the b-boys that b-boy’d in the parks so they could release some energy. You have the graffiti artist that did drawings… to depict how they were feeling. Then you got the MCs that were writing down their feelings on paper. Then once the DJ played music they would get on the microphone and start spilling these words out so that they could get whatever’s bottled up inside them out. That’s basically how hip-hop was born.”  

This is Grand Wizzard Theodore, widely credited as the inventor of the scratch, describing the creative atmosphere of The Bronx in the 1970s. Early in the decade, Kool Herc noticed that dancers were responding best to the stripped-back, percussion-heavy drum sections of the funk records he was playing. He began isolating these “breaks,” or “break beats,” and cut between two copies of the same record to create an extended loop, a technique he called the “merry-go-round,” which was inspired in part by the battles he’d seen in Jamaica between dub DJs. 

Herc was still a teenager when he first showcased this technique to an unsuspecting audience. On August 11th, 1973, him and his sister, Cindy Campbell, held the “Back To School Jam” in the recreation room at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, a venue that, although lowkey, was a step up from the house parties he’d been playing until then. 

“This first hip-hop party would change the world,” Herc later said. He called his crowd, the dancers who adored his breakbeat style, “b-boys” and “b-girls,” the beginnings of the movement that would later be known in hip-hop circles as b-boying, or as the media called it, breakdancing. 

By some historical accounts, fellow Bronx DJs Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash were inspired by Herc’s sets, and began to build on his style at their own parties. Bambaataa was the founder of the Universal Zulu Nation, a former street gang that became a hip-hop collective and refuge for disenfranchised young people. (The group eventually disassociated itself from Bambaataa in 2016, following a string of allegations related to child molestation; no charges have been brought against him to date.) Known as the “Master of Records” due to his enormous, enviable record collection and the breadth of the music he played, Bambaataa would go to great lengths to discover the funky breaks hiding in overlooked pieces of music. 

Meanwhile, Grandmaster Flash, who later rose to mainstream prominence with his group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, was pushing the craft of DJing forward. Where Herc and other DJs cued their records from the faint sound of the needle or by looking at the grooves in the vinyl, Flash built a cue switch for the mixer, enabling him to accurately spin back the record to the beginning of a break in his headphones, something he called the “quick-mix theory” or “backspin technique.” 

Then there was “clock theory,” where he marked key sections of the record with tape or crayon, and “punch phrasing,” a technique in which he chopped in short musical phrases using the mixer. It’s now hard to imagine a time in which these techniques weren’t utterly commonplace, something for which we have these early pioneers to thank.

Grand Wizzard Theodore invents the scratch

The invention of the scratch has to be one of DJ culture’s greatest stories. Around the time of hip-hop’s birth, Theodore wasn’t even in his teens. But he had two important things going for him: a hunger to learn and the right connections. Mean Gene, his older brother and the DJ partner of Grandmaster Flash, had been mentoring him for years, with Theodore using Gene’s equipment whenever he could. The discovery of his signature move, however, came from a slice of good fortune.   

“I used to come home from school, practice and try to get new ideas,” Theodore told RBMA in 1998. “This particular day I was playing music a little bit too loud. And my mom comes and says, ‘If you don’t turn that music down!’ My earphones were still on and while she was cursing me out in the doorway, I was still holding the record and my hand was going like this [back and forth] with the record. And when she left I was like, ‘What is this?’ So I studied it and studied it and studied it for a couple of months, until I actually figured out what I wanted to do with it. Then that’s when it became a scratch.” 

When Theodore showed off his new move at parties, the response was a mixture of bafflement and awe. People were hearing tracks they knew but in a totally new way. Theodore’s performances drew bigger and bigger crowds. Scratching became a foundation of turntablism, as hip-hop transitioned from block parties in The Bronx to clubs Downtown and eventually to the global stage. 

Herbie Hancock and Grand Mixer DXT launch a “Rockit”

At the 1984 Grammy Awards, all the buzz was about Michael Jackson and his world-beating LP Thriller. The television broadcast drew 43.8 million viewers, the Grammy’s highest-ever ratings. It was, however, Herbie Hancock and his android break dancers, performing his hip-hop hit “Rockit,” that arguably stole the show. 

The whole performance seemed like it had landed from the distant future—especially the big reveal that the dancers were, in fact, men, not machines. Maybe even more significant was the track’s scratch routine, performed live on the night by Grand Mixer DXT, which gave countless aspiring (or soon-to-be aspiring) DJs their eureka moment. 

“And then I knew,” said Mix Master Mike in the 2002 documentary Scratch. “That’s what I’m going to be one day.”

When “Rockit” hit #1 on the Billboard dance chart in 1983 it was the first mainstream track to prominently feature scratching. Hancock—known as a highly successful and influential, if recently stagnating, classical and jazz musician—had become interested in the emergent hip-hop sound, and in particular scratching, which he’d recently heard on the Malcolm McLaren track “Buffalo Gals.” With scratching so central to the song, “Rockit” made a case for DJing as a form of musicianship. Its video, with its uncanny robot-like sculptures, was an early MTV classic. But most people wouldn’t have known what the hell that zigga-zigga sound even was before Grand Mixer DXT, with his iconic white jacket and oversized headset, tore up the turntables at the Grammys.  

New Music Seminar begins its “Battle For World Supremacy”

Hip-hop has competition in its DNA. In its early days DJs strived to outdo each other with innovative turntable tricks and new or undiscovered vinyl breaks. Rival b-boys and crews danced against each other, encircled by a frenzied crowd. In later years, as they gradually grabbed the limelight from the DJs, MCs traded blows on the mic. All of which made the DJ battle competition a natural evolution. 

The New Music’s Seminar’s “Battle For World Supremacy” debuted in New York in 1982. The wider event was a music industry get together, which wound up providing a platform for emerging DJs and, when a separate competition was introduced a couple years later, MCs. With hip-hop culture rapidly gathering momentum, the stage was set for some epic battles at NMS.  

Unlike the DMC championships that came later, where DJs were judged on six-minute routines, at NMS two DJs went head-to-head for ten minutes, trading two-minute routines, with only one of them progressing to the next round. 

“The audience influenced the judges sometimes,” Tom Silverman, the event’s confounder, told RBMA in 2015, “but the judging panel was supposed to be judging things based on creativity, uniqueness, skill. And then they held a number up just like the Olympics. Between the Olympics judging, the belt and basketball countdown clock, all this stuff made it really exciting.”

Geographical rivalries intensified the competition. By the mid-’80s, a new wave of DJs from outside of New York had emerged, hailing from cities on both US coasts. Some of the fiercest NMS battles of all-time pitted East versus West, one flavour of turntablism against another. 

In 1987, there was Cash Money, the funky Philly DJ, versus LA’s Joe Cooley with his relentlessly intense style. The battle between those cities was revived in 1989, when Miz battled Aladdin, and Miz delivered one of the earliest examples of a technique later known as beat juggling.

Meanwhile, DJ Jazzy Jeff out of Philadelphia saw off the UK’s Chad Jackson and New York’s Barry B to become the champ in ‘86, a moment that set him on the path to stardom. NMS wound down in 1995, and with it The Battle For World Supremacy, but it left a long and influential legacy. 

The DMC World Championship hits the scene

Inspired by his experiences at the New Music Seminar, Tony Price, who’d recently begun Disco Mix Club as a subscription service, along with a magazine for DJs called Mixmag, decided in 1985 to set up an equivalent competition in London. In a few short years, what began as an upstart mixing competition at a DJ conference was now attracting so much attention that it took over London’s Royal Albert Hall, with James Brown and Janet Jackson in the audience.

DMC’s rapid development can be traced to 1986, when DJ Cheese won the title with an electrifying routine that introduced scratching to the competition. The Championships quickly became the world’s foremost scratch battle. 

DMC is still going strong today, though it has changed considerably over the years, adding new categories, allowing digital DJing, and going online during the pandemic. But at the core of the World DJ Championship remains a simple concept: DJs have six minutes to wow the audience and judges. This concentrated performance window created an environment of intense competition. DJs went to extreme—and sometimes ridiculous—lengths to stand out. “Body tricks,” where DJs manipulated the crossfader or records without using their hands, became the norm. An element of novelty has sometimes been a part of DMC, but its best routines are among the most impressive feats of musicianship ever witnessed. 

The list of past DMC world champions is a potted history of the greatest scratch DJs and performances of all time. From late ‘80s champions like Philadelphia’s DJ Cash Money; to the early ‘90s team routines of Qbert and Mix Master Mike, who claimed back-to-back titles; to A-Trak winning as a 15-year-old in 1997, then the youngest-ever champion; to DJ Craze taking the first three-peat between 1998 and 2000; and France’s DJ Skillz repeating the achievement between 2018 and 2020. A special mention should also go to DJ Cheese, Cash Money, Mix Master Mix and Denmark’s DJ Noize, a select group of DJs who won both the NMS and DMC championships. 

Bringing things up to the present day, check out the most recent champion, the UK’s JFB, taking the 2021 prize with this routine, which features an insane display of beat juggling. It encapsulates some of the themes we’ll explore later in this piece, and shows just how hard turntablists are still pushing technology and technique. 

Beat Juggling emerges…

On one level, beat juggling, perhaps the biggest development in turntablism during the ‘90s, is simple. The DJ, at lightning-fast speed, manipulates two identical drum patterns on two turntables to create a new drum pattern. Beat juggling is the point at which DJs essentially compose new music. 

But take a look at DJ Rob Swift’s genealogy of beat juggling video and you begin to understand the complex web of moves that, in his view, led to the development of the technique. (Rob Swift’s YouTube channel is a treasure trove of turntablism content that includes educational recordings from his Brolic Army DJ school.) Beginning with Grandmaster Flash’s “backspin” technique, he lists no less than 14 different moves—including three from Steve Dee, credited as the inventor of beat juggling—that may have been swimming in the beat juggling gene pool. 

It also illustrates the distinctive musical language—“‘Backspin’ with 1/16th note triplet fills,” “‘Strobe’ aka ‘Chase Pattern’ with ⅛ note fill combo”—that developed around turntablism, a codification that never caught on in other areas of DJing. The DMC championships now include a separate category for beat juggling, with DJs showcasing their extreme rhythmic dexterity across two-minute routines.

…along with a whole range of new techniques

As techniques began to be named, credited and disseminated in the 1990s, turntablism strengthened its sense of identity and history. A strong culture of craft and innovation meant DJs could invent a new move or combination of moves that would be forever associated with their name. We won’t go into the full details of all the hand movements and so on here (the internet is full of “how to” videos). But there are some techniques that anyone interested in turntablism should know about. 

Setting aside basics like the baby scratch (pushing the record backwards and forwards) and the scribble (the same motion at twice the speed), the transformer is one of most widely known turntablism tricks, perhaps partly due to its famous originators: Cash Money, Jazzy Jeff and DJ Spinbad. The name comes from the staccato sound the giant robots made when they changed shape in the ‘80s cartoon of the same name. (Jeff is also credited with the invention of another onomatopoeic scratch, the chirp.) The flare, invented by DJ Flare in ‘87, is a close cousin of the transformer, only this one starts with the crossfader open. 

By the time we get to the orbit, you see how techniques build on techniques. Qbert showed the flare to DJ Disk, a fellow Bay Area DJ and collaborator. DJ Disk added another click, creating the orbit, or, as it’s sometimes called, the two-click flare. Speaking of Qbert, he’s the man behind one of the most difficult techniques for rookies to master: the crab, a move that, at its most advanced, requires DJs to tap the crossfader with four fingers against their thumb. 

These moves came to form the basis of turntablism as an art form, and they’re still part of the repertoire new scratch DJs learn today. 

People start calling it turntablism

Despite waves of innovation across the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the scene still lacked a concrete identity. There was a sense it was still in the shadow of  hip-hop, which had pushed DJing away from its integral position within the culture following the meteoric rise of MCs (or rappers). Other types of DJing—club, radio—were defined and understood. But the very concept of record players as musical instruments, of DJs as musicians, needed a name. As Rob Swift put it in Scratch: “We wanted to have a concrete, specific identity.” 

We’ve been using the word “turntablism” throughout this piece, but it actually wasn’t until 1995 that the term was widely used. Its origins are a little hazy. DJ Babu is credited with popularising the term and possibly coining it, though DJ Disk and DJ Supreme are also sometimes credited with coining it. Either way, it caught on. 

Turntablism entered a key era that brought with it important developments. Invisibl Skratch Piklz, the Bay Area scratch supergroup that had Qbert and Mix Master Mike at its core, with DJ Disk, DJ Flare, A-Trak, Yogafrog, Shortkut and D-Styles joining later, became highly influential, the dominant force at DJ battles. The X-Ecutioners, a New York group that originally included Mista Sinista, Rob Swift and the late Roc Raida, were another dominant crew, along with DJ Babu’s Beat Junkies. These crews captured the spirit of turntablism, with its emphasis on collaboration and healthy competition. 

For obvious reasons, turntablism isn’t readily associated with recorded music (notable exceptions like the track “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” aside), but the mid-‘90s did see a few important releases that helped solidify the newly christened culture. The Return of the DJ Vol 1 compilation, released in 1995, became the first album to exclusively feature turntablist routines, with Rob Swift, Cut Chemist, Peanut Butter Wolf and Invisibl Skratch Piklz among its contributors. 

The Piklz also released the first “break record,” a collection that pioneered the idea of fully extracting breaks from their original sources. Was this cheating? Some DJs thought so. But it definitely made their lives easier. 

On the subject of sampling, in 1996 DJ Shadow released Endtroducing…, which later entered the Guinness World Records book for being the first album made completely with samples. It was a smash success, regularly held up as one of the best albums of the ‘90s, and was a record that beautifully channelled the energy of turntablism and the cult of record digging. 

International Turntablist Federation: A new battle emerges

At its peak in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, the International Turntablist Federation was, along with DMC, one of the two major events that serious battle DJs would compete in. There were, however, key differences between the competitions and their ideologies. Where DMC had the international reputation and the history, ITF had upstart energy and the aim to represent the raw essence of turntablism. 

ITF wanted to move past DMC’s use of music industry judges, who rewarded novelty and crowd responses, by installing expert turntablists to rigorously assess DJs on their technical skills. It further intensified things with a head-to-head knockout format, with DJs deciding on-the-fly which routines to use against their next opponent. It’s no wonder ITF was known as the toughest comp in the game. 

But ITF’s major innovation, one that’s still alive in competitions to this day, was breaking the tournament into categories, a first for battle competitions. The fact was, DJs excelled in different areas of turntablism, but until ITF came along they were all judged together. “Advancement” was the category for all-rounders. Scratching and beat juggling became separate competitions. And the team category was a response to the rise of the DJ crew. 

ITF was soon called the “Olympics of DJing.” Its goal was to spread recognition and awareness of the idea of the turntable as an instrument. The somewhat cruel irony, then, is that these days there’s scant information about the event online. Michael Shum’s YouTube channel features a good number of videos from the competition. Mike C, a DJ who competed in ITF, pulled together an oral history document a few years back, in which organisers and past participants reminisced about legendary battles—Babu’s win over Roli Rho in the first beat juggling finals; the Beat Junkies taking back-to-back team crowns in ‘97 and ‘98; A-Trak doing the same in the advancement category in ‘99 and 2000. And let’s not forget the insane assembly of talent at the first ITF in ‘96, when X-Men lined up against Invisibl Skratch Piklz, a showcase of the extreme possibilities of DJing as teamwork. 

ITF passed the torch to the newly created International DJ Association in 2005, at the tail end of an era that many people held up as the golden age of turntablism. As Mista B put it in the oral history mentioned above: “ITF, at its peak, was the very center of turntablism.” 

Turntablism goes digital (and some DJs hate it)

Within a relatively short burst of technical innovation in the early 2000s, most of the seeds were sown for the future of turntablism and DJing more generally. It was a period that began with the rise of Napster and MP3s in 1999, and ended with the release of Serato Scratch Live in 2004. In between, we had the CDJ-1000 from Pioneer DJ, which introduced digital vinyl emulation, and Stanton’s Final Scratch, the first digital vinyl system, with the company later joining forces with Native Instruments, which was itself developing its flagship Traktor DJ software. Meanwhile, Ableton Live was redefining music production, live performance and, for a time, DJing, by introducing MIDI controllers into the booth. 

Watch the winners of DMC and Red Bull 3Style, today’s other major battle competition, and you’ll see digital DJs standing on the shoulders of that early technology. The essence of two turntables and a mixer remains, but layered on top is almost every type of performance tool available to the modern DJ, from sampling to sync, touchscreens to performance pads and cue points. In some ways this makes perfect sense. Who better than turntablists to push the extreme possibilities of digital DJing performance? But this now harmonious relationship belies years of fierce debate in the community about technology’s possibly corrupting effect on the soul of turntablism. 

Like most progress vs tradition debates, there was no right or wrong—it was more that DJs argued over whether turntablism fundamentally meant playing actual records. There were perhaps echoes here of earlier debates within hip-hop, where a new style or subgenre would be scrutinised for its “real hip-hop” credentials. The digital DJing question was in some ways deferred by the instability of the early vinyl systems, but by 2007 Red Bull had started 3Style—a local competition in Vancouver that would soon go international—in response to the new wave of digital DJs. 

In 2011, DMC gave in to growing pressure by allowing the technology into the event. “Virtually everyone was using custom pressed records the year before (rather than ‘real’ records),” remembers Mr Switch, the 2014 DMC World Champion. “And then digital came in and I believe every single DJ bar one that year used digital, even though they weren’t obliged to. It was the DJs pushing for digital to come into the competition. They would practise and create their routines at home on digital setups but have to press custom records (there were no ‘real’ records in sight by this point), because digital wasn’t allowed in.”

Once the flood gates were open, the digital trend came to define this most recent era of turntablism. DMC now features an “all vinyl” category, but the apexes of battles these days are mostly defined by DJs pushing technology to its limits, in much the same vein as turntablism’s pioneers back in the ‘70s. 

“Open format” shakes things up

It could be argued that open format was a development that turntablism needed. At its peak in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, incredible levels of technical sophistication were being reached in the turntablism scene. DJs were codifying and perfecting techniques that would provide the foundation for much of what came later. But, in the long term, there was a question of how the scene could continue its momentum and renew itself. Could it keep attracting new people? Could it appeal to people beyond its devout followers?  

Open format DJing was made possible by the very technology that was causing such fierce disputes within the turntablism community in the mid 2000s. With platforms like Serato and Traktor, DJs began loading up their digital crates with different styles of music. For sure, turntablism has never strictly been about playing hip-hop, however deeply rooted in hip-hop culture it may be. (After all, hip-hop itself was created by bringing together drum breaks from different genres.) But with access to so much music, DJs sensed the possibilities in wild combinations of genres that were more difficult to perform on traditional setups.   

DJs started to think just as carefully about the music they played and the way they mixed it as they did about nailing beat juggles and crabs. The likes of A-Trak, Jazzy Jeff, Skratch Bastid and the late DJ AM, who played highly influential genre-mashing performances at high-end clubs across the US, were key early adopters of the open-format ideology. 

The emphasis on unique overall performances, as seen at Red Bull’s 3Style, also gave rise to new techniques, such as tone play, where, in its modern digital form, a DJ uses performance pads to recreate the main melody of an incoming track. Put it all together and you had a style of turntablism with the power to move large audiences.

Still, since it rose to prominence about a decade ago, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for open format. In a Twitter thread from 2019, A-Trak discussed the ongoing issue of infrastructure within the scene, which has lacked the kind of music-industry backing that EDM has been afforded. Open format DJs, who typically spend enormous amounts of time practising and preparing for sets, operate in a climate that rewards DJ/producers, with hit records rather than deck skills landing the biggest DJ gigs. It’s tough to say if this balance will significantly shift in the coming years. But the best of these club-ready versions of turntablists— A-Trak, Jazzy Jeff, Skratch Bastid, Four Color Zack, DJ Vice, Z-Trip, Craze, DJ Puffy, ESKEI83 etc.—deserve to play the biggest stages.  

Red Bull 3style combines DJ battles with the dance floor

The stories of Red Bull’s 3Style competition and open-format DJing are very much intertwined. In 2007, when Red Bull began 3Style as a local event in Vancouver, it wanted to showcase the new breed of digital DJs who were combining turntablism skills with multi-genre performances, an approach where moving a dance floor was as important as technical prowess. 

DJs at 3Style were given 15 minutes to impress the judges and the crowd, with at least three genres included in their sets. They would be assessed on track selection, mixing, live editing, overall presentation and crowd response. Nothing radical, you might think. But by 2013, this format had helped 3Style to become a major international force on the battle scene, with Red Bull proclaiming it the biggest DJ competition in the world. 

Compare classic ‘90s battles with the performances of past 3Style winners like DJ Puffy, DJ Damianito and ESKEI83, and you see the open-format evolution fully illustrated. For the most part, the vibe at the older battles feels more underground, more elusive, more raw. The 3Style events, on the other hand, look like festival stages in full flow, the crowd very much there to dance. 

It seems this also makes the concept more easily transportable. Finals have been held in Japan, Chile, Azerbaijan, the US and Poland in front of large, enthusiastic audiences. Still, 3Style has maintained links with turntablism’s roots through its choice of judges—Jazzy Jeff, Mix Master Mike and A-Trak have been among the most notable. The pandemic unfortunately waylaid the event these past couple years, but the hope is that 3Style soon returns to showcasing the explosive intersection of turntablism and club DJing.   

Women in turntablism

An enormous lack of women DJs is the unfortunate flip side to turntablism’s competitive masculine environments. Since Jazzy Joyce took on Cash Money in 1987’s Battle For World Supremacy, women entrants in the finals of major battle competitions have been few and far between. 

That only two women featured in Doug Pray’s influential 2001 documentary Scratch felt sadly representative of turntablism’s first few decades. While not directly explored in the film, Christie Z-Pabon is credited with instigating a raft of changes while working at DMC between 1998 and 2000 that significantly improved the competition. “Christie has put on some of the best hip-hop events and DMC competitions I’ve ever been part of,” Cash Money told Black Book in 2011. As a DJ, producer and educator, DJ Shortee, the other woman featured in Scratch, has maintained a prominent and respected position within turntablism, once being labelled the “queen of the scratch world,” by DJ Times

In a recent investigative piece, Martin Hewitt, writing for Juno, spoke with women turntablists Dolittle, DJ Reiko and L.Atipik about possible steps to improve the situation. Hewitt pointed out that the early rounds of DMC do usually feature women, but that out of 350 entrants in 2020, only five weren’t men. Examples like DJ Perly—who recently placed third in DMC’s World Beat Juggling finals, is a four-time DMC World finalist, and in 2017 became the first female US DMC champion—are outliers in a heavily imbalanced field.  

“I have always wished that DMC had a female department,” Reiko said. “I think more people would be willing to take on the challenge if we had that.” The DJs also mentioned dedicated workshops and mentorship programmes for aspiring women turntablists, supportive environments (like the Beat Junkie Institute of Sound’s Ladies of Sound division) in which skills can be developed. 

DJ Shortee offered a small ray of hope earlier this month when, alongside fellow DJ Sassssh, she organised a showcase of womxn scratch talent at the Technics-Stokyo booth at NAMM. “I’m still processing how epic it was,” she said of the 17-strong DJ showcase. As was highlighted in our piece about the gender imbalance in music production last month, prominent visual representation, like at DJ Shortee’s showcase, can be vital in boosting participation in cultural areas that have been historically male-dominated.

The hope is that in highlighting the historic contributions of women turntablists—such as the late Pam The Funkstress, Killa Jewel, Kuttin Kandi—along with recent success stories—DJ Rina, Kayper, DJ Michelle (who is only 8 years old), Annalyze, Javin, Step1, Perly—more women will feel inspired and empowered to become involved in turntablism.  

Words: Ryan Keeling

Grandmaster Flash photo: Mika-photography