Scene at Berklee: Grandmaster Flash

The turntable pioneer shared "the Biblical law of DJing" and other practical wisdom from the early days of hip-hop.

February 13, 2020

Scene at Berklee presents snapshots and stories from the hundreds of clinics, workshops, performances, and other events that take place in our community year-round.

There are few names as significant to the story of hip-hop’s origins as Grandmaster Flash. The DJ’s technical innovations in breakbeat looping, scratching, and more paved the way for himself and a generation of DJs to create the musical bed for what would become modern rap music. “I am not the first DJ ever—absolutely not. I am the first DJ to make the turntables an instrument,” Flash told students at the Berklee Performance Center on Wednesday during an in-depth demonstration of his most influential techniques. “I love the fact that the kids are trying to learn this,” he said. "The computer corrects you all the time. Vinyl is like being on the 100th floor, no net.”

Chief among the techniques Flash presented was his “quick-mix theory,” which he developed in order to create an endless loop between two records playing the same sample on separate turntables. He accomplished this by spinning one record backwards to the precise point where the phrase began while the other record is playing. To dial that in precisely, he discovered a shorthand that worked: to get back to the start of a four-bar musical phrase, he had to turn the record back six counterclockwise revolutions. Flash also explained how he spliced wires out of stereo components and into a mixer using Krazy Glue to create a system that would allow him to hear both turntables in his headphones—a major technical advancement. And during his final turntable demonstration, he admonished students to always remember the most important rule when sampling short passages of vinyl: "This is the Biblical law of DJing: you must never go into the wack part."

Learn more: Berklee’s Ensemble Department offers a range of turntable courses and performance groups led by faculty including Brian "Raydar" Ellis.

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