[ dj krush ]
by Mark Teppo

To sum up DJ Krush: vinyl is an instrument. In much the same way a scalpel is an indispensable instrument of a surgeon or a hammer is permanently intertwined with the carpenter, vinyl has an inseparable relationship with Krush. He can coax it into a shimmering aural ocean, throwing you deep and far from shore. He can smash it into skittering break-beats that will get the entire floor stomping. He can stretch and pull the wax until it seems like a writhing, crooning beast in his hands.

Let's start at the end to set the flavor. Krush live. November, 1998. A packed house at ARO.space in Seattle. He's sandwiched between the opening DJ and Luke Vibert. The best thing about a DJ show is the lack of dead time between sets. We'll put up a Post-It note to get to my tirade about the senselessness of opening acts at another time; but DJ shows are wonderfully seamless. One guy steps back and another one steps in. The only way you can tell something has changed is by the shift in the beats and rhythms. And, at ARO.space that night, you could tell. Not in a bad way. The opening DJ was good, spinning right as the doors to the inner sanctum opened, loosening the crowd and getting the floor filled. Then, paff! he stepped away and DJ Krush took over. The change was immediate: the beats sharper and thicker, the bass falling from the speakers like cones of heavy water, the rhythms popping and snapping. You can only get a hint at how fantastic Krush is live from his discs. He peels away the upper layers of his music, losing the vocalists, and gives us just his frenetic skill on the turntables, pouring out thick waves of deep down-tempo.

[ 'i grab his head and put it in the turntable' ]

"I Grab His Head And Put It In The Turntable."

Born in 1962, Hideaki Ishii found his way into the hip hop scene after viewing Wild Style--the 1982 seminal documentary of the hip hop and graffiti art cultures in New York City. The revelatory moment has to be the set that Grandmaster Flash turned in during the course of the film, scratching his way across two ancient turntables. Ishii took this to heart and set about teaching himself. At the time, there wasn't any DJ culture in Japan. "Two turntables and a microphone" were not standard equipment in any band. But Ishii had seen Grandmaster Flash and knew it could be done. It was just a matter of time and attention. In 1987, he formed the Krush Posse, bringing Japanese language and culture into a heretofore American dominated land of hip hop; and, in 1992, he was one of the first DJs in Japan to perform with a live band.

But DJ Krush, as he was now monikered, wasn't to be satisfied with simply scratching behind and around a band onstage. He was a force all by himself and the production and playing of vinyl opened up a whole new realm of exploration. The music, the beats, was an open invitation to experiment, to create innovative sounds. DJ Krush found himself an audience beyond Japan through Mo Wax in the UK and Shadow Records in the US. 1994 saw the release of his "bag of tricks," Strictly Turntablized, and 1995 brought us Krush in the US and Meiso in the UK.

[ wild style ]

Strictly Turntablized shakes your CD player, announcing Krush's arrival in your house. The disc is a collection of instrumental tracks, a down-tempo dream that highlights the fat, sweltering beats that are unmistakably Krush. This is the culmination of his progress to date--a tight album of heady DJ tracks, kicked and tweaked by a masterful hand on the deck. It opens with a simple declaration: listen. You've got your beats, your upright bass, your squelchy horns. It's not much more than sixty seconds, but in that time Krush manages sharply delineate his sound from anything coming off the American shores. "Kemuri" gives us a repetitive machine drone, a chocka-chocka beat that lumbers as much as it spins, and an echoing guitar line that sounds like a basic track that Kevin Shields threw down before tossing it into a blender and giving it the MBV-puree. Not a sound that you'd expect to hear on the floor. Krush isn't done yet. This is where we get a taste of his ability to scratch, the breaking, fussing sound of his fingers on the vinyl an accompaniment to the wandering line of the guitar.
[ strictly turntablized ]

The album is filled with unusual, otherworldly tones like the sound of water swirling around a steel pan that opens "Silent Ungah" or the echoing tones of a glockenspiel which take us into "Dig This Vibe" or a chattering electronic burble which underlies "Fucked-up Pendulum." But it's always a means to setting the mood, coloring the background if you will, before he brings in the beats. Over this wash and thump, he adds the melody. Sometimes it is a live trumpet, a staggering saxophone, a tinkling of piano keys, the quivering scratch of a record. He builds his tracks by layers.

And, with his following records, he adds the next layer: vocals.

Keeping The Motion

Krush opens with an allusion to Wild Style: the rattling sound of a paint can, the whistle of a look-out, and the fading sound of a tagger's feet as he splits from the scene. Hot on his heels is the Krush vibe, rolling and filling the room. Krush gets right to the point, adding the vocal layer lacking on his last album, beginning with "Keeping the Motion" and guest vocalist Monday Michiru. This isn't Strictly Turntablized, Krush has moved on already. "Walking away from shadows of the past/Keeping the motion/Don't ever look back." It's as much a sultry torch song as it is a manifesto of Krush's direction--always forward, always looking to push himself and his instruments to the next stage.

[ krush ]

He builds from where he has been. "Roll and Tumble" begins with a loop that is oddly familiar and there is almost enough of it there for you to remember where it could be heard on Strictly Turntablized. But it is buried almost immediately beneath a piano and bass that attack the beats with total abandon, turning a four bar bridge into five minutes of tight interplay between string and key. And somewhere in there, that little loop that sounded so much like something you knew has been swallowed, appearing only at the end as a source for Krush's scratching. A final reminder that this ain't no jazz you've heard before.

"On the Dub-ble" hurtles us across the water to an island of sun and spliff, drenching us in a dub-infected rhythm beneath a warbling trumpet. Krush has a weakness for the trumpet sound, a leaning he will indulge extensively in a year or two; but, for now, this is a short island trip, one that clears away much of the smokiness of the dark clubs he has been keeping us to with the early tracks.

But it is just a quick interlude and then the trumpet takes us back to the city. "Edge of Blue" reminds us so much of the percolating cascade of notes which typified Miles' electric years. "Big City Lover" pulls us back into the dark bars, though the mood has definitely turned from torch songs to R & B. And slightly beyond. "Into the Water" is filled with a guitar line intertwining with Krush's scratching that sound like Eddie Van Halen attempting to replicate a Robert Fripp soundscape concert, only Eddie's doing the whole six hour show in about five minutes. It's a strange world that Krush weaves around us and he makes our exit a little easier with "Ruff-Neck Jam," even throwing in a recognizable sample from the Gil Evans Orchestra beneath the sax and flute to calm our transition.

[ dj krush ]

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