Scratch that itch
NZ ITF DJ Championship. By Peter McLennan, Pavement June/July 1999.
If all that scratching is making you itch, scratch the itch at the New Zealand finals of the International Turntablists Federation champs for hip-hop DJs in July and August.
Who’s got the skills to pay the bills? Always a pressing question. And if you’re a DJ, it’s one that will be answered at the New Zealand finals of the International Turntablists Federation Championships in July, when our best Djs will square off against each other for turntable supremacy and a chance to compete at the international finals in the United States.
‘’The ITFs were originally set up by Alex Aquino from San Francisco” explains Pavement hip-hop columnist and organiser of the New Zealand ITF finals, DJ Sir-vere (aka Philip Bell). ‘’He used to be the manager of the Invisibl Scratch Pikls, one of the best DJ crews on the planet. What happened was, the DMC champs put in a ban that the Scratch Pikls couldn’t enter their competitions because they were too good. They just kept winning every year.
“It’s the Q-Bert rule, so they can’t enter! And the DMC champs is only six minutes each. You do a routine and the judges decide who wins and that’s it. So they decided they’d have a battle version of it – DJs on DJs – and that’s the most ruthless competition to win in the world.
“For ITF, you do a three minute routine and out of all of them, they choose eight to go to the semi- finale’s continues Sir-vere. “And they do 30 seconds each, back and forth between each DJ, so you can directly diss the other guy in your routine, almost like a mini boxing match. You do two rounds, then two more, then the finals is three rounds. It’s way more dynamic. It’s super exciting to be there, it’s really hardcore, man! When we did it last year at [inner city Auckland bar)] Control Room, the crowd just went bananas, We’ve found that the standard of competition has got better each year.
“This year, I think they’ve finally got a grasp on it. In Wellington, they run them monthly, as a semi-battle, to get them into the form of them,
"This is the year we break through because, in the past, our winner would go to Australia and battle for the Australasian title, whereas we don’t do that now. We go straight to the world final because we’re to strong. Like in the final last year in Australia, there were three New Zealander’s and one Australian and the Australian won it. So I said to the guy in Aussie, ‘This is stupid, man! We’re obviously way stronger than you guys are.’ They wouldn’t want to hear that but that’s the truth, So I ended up doing a deal with the organisers and this year we’ll send the winner directly to the world final.”
Sir-vere has been to the world finals himself, travelling with NZ ITF champ DJ Raw from Wellington to San Francisco in 1997.
‘’It was pretty wicked, man!’’ exclaims Sir-vere, ‘’It’s exactly the same format but he was battling the world’s best. At the time, Raw was probably just slightly below the top four, whereas now he’s by far the best New Zealand DJ But he’s retired from battling now. It’s a real pity. He’d waste everybody easily, he’s so good. He got into the final 16 in the world. That’s awesome!
“The Wellington crew are so united and there’s such a huge DJ scene down there. Auckland is getting there but we’re two years behind them in organising ourselves. And I’m not saying two years behind them skillwise. But in organising a unified DJ crowd, Wellington is by far the best. They get together regularly. We have a unity problem in Auckland. And Wellington is so easy too, so central. In Auckland though, you’ve got P-Money from Papakura and, say, a whole bunch of guys here in central and it’s a long way out.”
Geographic problems aside, Sir-vere, former co-host of the sadly defunct Wreckognise hip-hop show on MTV with DLT, rates the local DJ chews very highly.
“Hip-hop here at the moment is pretty awesome,” he waxes. “Like on the True School hip-hop show [on Auckland’s 95bFM every Thursday night], we get all these guys to come up and freestyle on the mic. That’s going off every week.”
What is the attraction of the ITFs for Djs and crowds? “People like competitions, especially DJs,” insists Sir-vere. “I can’t think of how many times I’ve been to a gig and someone says, ‘Man, I can do better than that.’ With people who can scratch and mix, there’s an element of competition that will never go away. I just like the fact that we can represent Aotearoa New Zealand by sending somebody to the world champs.
“Initially, the reason I did it was because they had DJ Rockraida and he’s one of my favourite DJs I said I definitely want to get involved in that. I just wanted to do the gig with him, And then I realised that Rockraida was secondary to the fact that this was another way of advancing our local hip-hop scene, Look at it now. It’s awesome!”
The NZ ITF DJ heats take place in Auckland and Wellington in the first week of July. Guest DJ is Shortkut of the Invisibl Scratch Piklz. The New Zealand finals are held the first week ofAugust in Wellington, with a guest DJ to be announced shortly