Q&A: Rob Swift on being a DMC battle veteran and what he's looking for as a judge this year

Rob Swift is not only a turntabling legend, he's a part of a legendary crew. The X-ecutioners not only ushered in a new era, but they opened the door for many who rock the decks behind some of the most popular artists. Saturday, Swift will be in Denver, performing at and judging the Denver DMC battle tomorrow night at Casselman's. We caught up with Rob and chopped it up on the specific things he'll be looking for as a judge and the history of the DMCs.

Westword: You're one of many deejays who came up through DMC battles. How did it come about that you'll be judging and performing in Denver?

Rob Swift: I've made a name for myself as a DJ at first in the battle circuit in the early '90s I used to enter the DMC competitions, and DMC is the organization that outlasted all of these different battles that would occur in the NYC area and nation wide as well. For me, it's a great honor to know I'm one of the DJs that they look to take part in this annual event.

I'm gonna be judging and performing and showcasing a few things. That's gonna be fun, too, because I get to symbolize that over twenty years later -- my first battle was in 1991 -- that I'm still relevant in the scene. The idea that the DMC's would ask me to perform lets me know I've managed to adapt with the craft.

What are you going to be paying specific attention to from each DJ?

When I judge, I judge on a DJ's ability to be original; that's very important to me. Are you doing something on the turntables that hasn't been done? We all kind of fall back on the basic skills that encompass DJ battles, and putting together DJ routing, scratching, beat juggling, body tricks, but can you do them in an original way? That's what I want to know. I want to see you do it differently than the DJ before you.

Also, creativity -- I'd rather see someone make a mistake by being creative rather than be perfect doing something I've seen a million times. Stage presence is very important. Are you connecting with the crowd or in your own world? I'm being judged by my audience, and that's important for me to connect with my audience, not just on a musical level, but a physical level, smiling at them, interacting with them based on the scratches and knowing what they want.

Flawlessness. It would be nice see the DJs go through a set with a seamless flow. I know that's not always possible, but it would be nice to see.

There are some pretty familiar faces in this year's battle. Do you have your eye on any particular DJ?

I'm actually going into it with an open mind. One thing that I think sometimes judges do that I feel is unfair to contestants is they are asked to judge a battle, and they have their minds made up as to who they think is going to do the best or be most entertaining. As a judge, I feel it's very important to kind of wipe your mind clean of those kind of biases because what ends up happening is you can kind of subconsciously pay more attention to the DJ you anticipated watching.

As a result, you might neglect someone who's doing something equally as compelling. My mind frame for Saturday night is: I know some of the DJs in the competition that I've seen before and that I like, but I'm going into this with a complete neutral angle. I'm tricking myself into thinking like I'm seeing everyone for the first time.

What can we expect from your performance?

I think it's gonna be a mixture. I know it's gonna be a mixture. I've been organizing my set. I wanna do some of the classic routines that I've entered in DMC battles, when I was coming up. That would be nice to bring it all back now that it's 2011. I don't wanna be over confident in how I say this, but I feel like I have routines that stood the test of time. There are routines I've brought out for the first time in 1991, that, when I do now, people react to it as if they were seeing it for the first time.

In my routine, I wanna incorporate some classic routines of mine that I've done, because I have stuff with records that really stood the test of time, and my style over the years has evolved into me doing something different with every record in a unique way. Every set that I do has its own unique personality. I'll also showcase some new stuff and new ideas to show the evolution of Rob Swift, how I went from cutting records to doing it in a new age way.

Crowd interaction for me is very important. Sean Choi made sure that I will have a microphone, so I can properly address them. That always helps me grab people's attention and keep them involved with the music.

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Ru Johnson
Contact: Ru Johnson