Many believed the incomparable hip-hop DJ band the Invisibl Skratch Piklz would never be heard from again after they parted ways in the late nineties. But several years ago, a few of the original members started playing shows in Cali and then last year, Piklz members DJ D-Styles, DJ QBert and DJ Shortkut were among the headliners at the Red Bull Thre3Style World Finals.
It was here where the announcement of the first ever full-length Invisibl Skratch Piklz album, since their inception more than twenty years ago (and more than fifteen years apart), was made. The 13th Floor was released on September 9, and the roughly 35-minute record perfectly showcases the band’s diverse musicianship with distinct jazz, hip-hop and rock influences.
It’s been more than twenty years since the Piklz performed together in NYC, and they made up for the long hiatus this weekend, beginning on Friday night at Scratch DJ Academy and continuing into the weekend with performances on both days of this year’s Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science in Queens.
Their highly-anticipated visit will finish tomorrow night at Highline Ballroom where the Piklz will perform The 13th Floor in its entirety. Several special guests, including Rob Swift and DJ Scratch have already been confirmed, but there are rumors of even more hip-hop legends planning to drop by. (Tickets for the event can still be purchased here. You’d be a fool to pass this up, especially when tickets are only $20.)
Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble sat down with D-Styles, Shortkut and QBert on Friday night at Scratch DJ Academy to discuss their early introductions to hip-hop culture and learn more about their new record, as well as what fans can expect from them in the future.
What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop?
D-Styles: My earliest memory is hearing the Run-DMC album. It was probably about 1984. That was actually the first record I bought, too. Just hearing Jam Master Jay cut it up on that really influenced me.
DJ QBert: “Rapper’s Delight.” I remember this kid brought a magazine to school. It was about hip-hop culture in New York. Everyone had all these weird laces wrapped around their legs, the fat laces, and graffiti on the sides of their pants and stuff. That was like around 1980 after “Rapper’s Delight” came out. That kind of stuck in my brain. I was always wondering, “How can I get these fat laces?”
DJ Shortkut: 1983. Everyone breakdancing by the bathrooms.
D-Styles: It was always hidden.
You’re talking about the bathrooms at school.
DJ Shortkut: Yeah, they didn’t know what we were doing, and they were seeing kids spin on their heads. So, of course, teachers are going to think that’s a liability. It was always, “Hold up just a second. That kid might break his neck. The teachers might see us.” So, they made us stop all the time.
DJ QBert: Yeah, right? I remember that.
So, there have been several members involved with the Invisibl Skratch Piklz at one time or another, but how did you three link up?
DJ QBert: I think we’re the most available, and also, I guess we get along the best. Some of the other older members are…how do you say?
Not as present?
DJ QBert: Yes. Not as present in the moment at all or there either.
D-Styles: We’re always trying to make music, so it’s easy to work with one another.
DJ QBert: Mix Master Mike would have been around, he’s just super busy, you know, DJing for the president and things like that. So, it’s mainly us four. Of course, Yogafrog helps us out, too, being our manager.
Can you talk a little bit about how each of you got into DJing and how you’re now considered pioneers of the turntablism movement?
DJ Shortkut: In the 80s, the Bay Area had a big culture of just sound systems, and we all came from that. We all came from DJ crews, us hanging out with a bunch of our friends. We used to do weddings and all that stuff. And actually, this one crew used to battle at like a ballroom. That kind of elevated to DJ battles.
Q was the first one to kind of bust out of that scene into more of the international scene, but our foundation is more of just the sound system, doing weddings and birthdays and school dances and stuff.
D-Styles: We used to do house parties just to survive and make money. And then when we started battling, it basically allowed us to travel a little bit more.
Have your practice methods evolved at all over time?
DJ QBert: In what sense?
When you first started, do you feel that you practice in a different capacity than you do now?
D-Styles: I think back then, when we were younger, we had a lot more time. We used to ditch school and just cut all day. (Everyone laughs) We just practiced six to seven hours a day.
Now, we don’t have as much time as we’d like to, but I think we’re smarter now. We know what we should be practicing, and, you know, we kind of zone in on what we have problems with. We know what we need to fix. We’re more mature in that sense.
DJ QBert: That’s kind of like what Michael Jordan said. He said whatever he was really bad at, he would practice that the most.
What are some your favorite scratch battle records?
DJ QBert: Dirt Style records. The sound effects are dope. Shortkut has a new one, Mini Wheels. That’s coming out soon. Super Seal.
D-Styles: I think Super Seal is the most used scratch record, period. It used to be Super Duck Breaks by Babu.
DJ QBert: That’s a good one, too.
Babu’s the reason I’m asking this question.
DJ QBert: There’s a Super Seal 5 coming out, too. It’s like a five record set. When you put the records together, it makes a big picture.
DJ Shortkut: Five records? Man, crazy.
DJ QBert: But it’s only available in Japan.
So, the Invisible Skratch Piklz have been together over twenty years. Why was this year the year you chose to release The 13th Floor?
DJ QBert: That’s a good question.
DJ Shortkut: Just opportunities came up, and the timing was right, so why not make an album? We never had one. I think the timing just came our way in the last year and a half, kind of made sense for everybody.
We were able, with the help of Red Bull Music Academy, to record in Japan. Our schedules all worked out where we could be together. Normally, we’re all traveling and doing different things. It ended up right where timing-wise was just right, and yeah, we were able to knock it out in five days.
DJ QBert: D-Styles had a lot of cool beats to start off with, so we kind of just went in there with some ideas and just made it all happen.
D-Styles: It was now or never. We’re getting older. Before that, we were all doing solo stuff. QBert had an album, Wave Twisters, and I had my album, and we were all just busy on our own solo stuff. It just kind of came around again where it was like, “Man, let’s do this.” Like Short said, we had the opportunity to record.
What’s the story behind the title?
DJ Shortkut: We were just joking around. There isn’t usually a 13th floor, especially in the States. Bad luck, whatever, superstitious. But we thought about it, like, what would you hear on a 13th floor kind of soundtrack? You open a door, and you’d hear a little bit of this, a little bit of that – just scratching with different flavors. Different whatever.
DJ Shortkut: Yeah, unexpected.
Any favorite standout tracks from the album?
D-Styles: They’re all pretty unique. There’s this one song that Q made called “The Beatdown Madness.” People don’t realize that he’s juggling the sound, and then Short’s cutting stuff on top, and I’m cutting stuff on top. So, you’d need to see it live, but that’s probably one of my favorite songs.
DJ QBert: I like that Moog track. What’s the actual name of the Moog track?
D-Styles: “Fresh Out of FVCKS.”
DJ QBert: Yeah, it’s really, really super sinister. I love that.
What were you calling it?
DJ QBert: We didn’t have a name for it, so we just called it the Moog track because it’s a Moog keyboard. Is that a real Moog?
DJ Shortkut: Yeah, it’s a real Moog.
You’ll be performing the album at Highline Ballroom on Monday. Any surprises or teasers you can share with me now?
D-Styles: Special guests. Rob Swift from the X-Ecutioners is gonna be there.
DJ Shortkut: DJ Scratch.
DJ QBert: Perly is battling Killa-Jewel from Canada. It’s a real battle. Statik Selektah is in the mix. He’ll be rocking on the turntables. We’ve got some new tracks, too, that we might throw down.
D-Styles: I was gonna say, you should invite Edan to come out.
DJ QBert: Ooh, yeah, Edan is amazing. He’s one of my favorite artists from New York.
I have an individual question for each of you. D-Styles, you’re a longtime resident of Low End Theory in LA. How has it changed over the years, and when can we expect it in NYC next?
D-Styles: I don’t know. We haven’t had any offers to do that. But, you know, we’re approaching ten years, and I’ve seen the different styles of music change from the beat stuff like Dabrye and Prefuse to the dubstep to the trap stuff. Now it’s kind of the whole juke footwork stuff is big. I don’t know, but we’d really love to do a New York show. Yeah, hopefully.
I’d love to help bring you here.
D-Styles: Yeah, we gotta talk.
I’ll be in touch. Shortkut, how will your move to Dubai affect your status with Invisibl Skratch Piklz and what prompted your move?
DJ Shortkut: I went to Dubai a couple years ago and pretty much fell in love with the city. Besides the stuff I do with the crew, for my personal stuff, just kind of have a bunch of opportunities down there. I’m about to open up a DJ school over there. I’ve got a residency in the works. But as far as with the crew, I was able to fly from Dubai to come here, so whenever a show calls, I’m gonna be there.
And Q, your company Thud Rumble with Yogafrog is set to release the Invader mixer, which contains an Intel-powered PC inside. Can you talk about where that idea came from?
DJ QBert: Back in the days when the laptop came out, there was so much room on top of the mixer. We thought why don’t we put a screen on top of this mixer? That idea has been around for so long, and many DJs have kind of thought of the same thing, so it’s just now kind of coming to fruition like DJ Hard Rich’s beat programmer and all that. I’m just kind of designing how it can look and stuff and the functions and all that. But we’re going to demo it at the Maker Faire tomorrow.
Oh, I want to go to that so bad.
DJ QBert: Hey, Traci! Can we get her into Maker Faire tomorrow? She wants to check out the Invader mixer. We might have three of them going. We’re going to test it out to see if it works well.
You guys are playing at 1pm and 5pm tomorrow, right?
DJ QBert: Yeah but we might just be there anytime, all day. The demo will probably be all day. I might go early just to mess around with it.
Is there anything else you guys want to add or promote?
DJ QBert: He [D-Styles] just came out with a record. What’s that 45 thing?
D-Styles: Oh, we don’t have it anymore.
DJ QBert: It sold out? Repress it! [To Shortkut] What’s your new record?
DJ Shortkut: Mini Wheels, yeah. Me and QBert worked on a record called Mini Wheels. It’s got loops…you can practice doubles on it, scratch drums, a little bit of everything. And hopefully soon, we’re gonna work on the second album.
So this record got you wanting to work on another album?
D-Styles: Now, we’re like pumped.
DJ QBert: We have a limited white vinyl that’s almost sold out. It’s on thudrumble.com.
I got it off Bandcamp.
DJ QBert: What’d you think about it?
I love it. It’s one of those albums you can just put on a loop and listen to on repeat.
DJ QBert: Thank you.
Thanks so much for taking the time.
DJ Shortkut: Thank you!
D-Styles: Yeah, thank you.