By Noah Hubbell
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The Piklz' brand of turntable free jazz has led them to international prominence: They recently performed at the Vestax DJ World Championships in Japan, where they also hooked up with the X-Men. And last year they lectured at the Red Bull Music Academy in Berlin, where they gave two fourteen-day seminars on turntablism to 25 participants selected from more than 800 applicants. But one of their greatest accomplishments came this past June, when A. Magazine cited the largely Filipino group as a member of its "A-100" list, a roster of the 100 most influential Asian-Americans of the past decade. QBert's influence has in no small part helped raise the profile of Asian-American DJs. "They've been in it since day one with the b-boying, emceeing and graffiti, but I've noticed a lot of Asians now more than ever that skratch," he states proudly.
Although they're still touring, the Piklz are taking time off from recording to concentrate on solo projects. QBert is working on the full-length movie Wave Twisters, an animated companion piece to his seminal 1998 skratch concept album of the same name. The story takes place in inner space, inside the diamond of a record needle, and involves a dentist and a b-boy grandpa and their friends, Rubbish and Honey. "It's in a galaxy where all the music is controlled by this one guy, and it's like some wack-ass music," says QBert. "It's kind of like our society here, where our music on the radio is all that you hear. We're being controlled by that. [In the film], there are these people called the Wave Twisters who go around and try to teach people about the four lost elements of hip-hop: b-boying, emceeing, deejaying and [graffiti] writers," explains QBert, who promises a new platter of blazing remixes of the original album to accompany the film.
The movie features the artistic talents of Dug-One, Syd Garon, Eric Henry and Trish Golubev, who have shown short films in festivals around the country and who have also worked on commercials for Adidas and Blockbuster Video. This animation team has accepted the considerable challenge of visually representing every skratch and sound on QBert's disc -- no small feat, considering the mélange of cacophonous alien terrorist soundblasts that make up the Wave Twisters album. This isn't QBert's first foray into the film world: In 1998 he was prominently featured in the movie Modulations, a documentary of electronic music that was shown at the Sundance Festival, and in Hang the DJ, which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival. Wave Twisters will make its debut on July 1 in San Francisco at Skratchcon 2000, an event QBert eagerly anticipates. "It's going to be the first convention for skratching, kind of like a comic-book convention or the one they have for breakdancers, the B-Boy Summit," he says. "It's pretty much the mecca for skratch DJs."
QBert admits that the resurgence of the DJ, which these films chronicle, has surprised him. "It is pretty amazing that it's getting the response that it is," he says, adding, "It's pretty ridiculous."
Turntablism's popularity has truly become a global thing, a fact the DJ notices firsthand every time he visits Japan. "In Japan, the turntable outsells the guitar," he says. "Everyone loves the skratching, and more and more people come to the shows every time I go there. It seems like it doubles every year."
Compared to more traditional forms of music, though, skratching -- at least the QBert variety -- is still in its infant stages. But QBert feels confident that it's not at risk of a premature death. "Turntablism can only get better," he says. "There is no peak. It will keep evolving, just like the electric guitar." As for his own development as an artist, QBert says he has reached a new plateau. "I've just invented a new style," he says. "I really felt like I was lacking for all the years I've been deejaying, but I've really pinpointed this sort of formula. I've become more lyrical. I used to be lyrical before on accident, but since I've pinpointed this formula, I totally feel confident now every time I skratch.
"My goal is the same goal that I will have the rest of my life, which is the continual elevation of skratching."
As he skratches his way into the new century, QBert has every reason to feel confident -- and he's strong enough to stick by his steadfast refusal to conform to any trendy dictates of the hip-hop and DJ worlds.
"I'm just trying to be in my own world," he says.
When you're a DJ seemingly from another planet, that's the only path worth taking.