Culture of Scratch works to keep DJ culture alive and thriving in the Mile High City

Categories: Interviews

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Denver has made quite the name for itself as one of the holy lands for American turntablism. After all, almost half of the national DMC competitors were from Colorado this year. While none of the locals placed in the competition this time around, scratch culture continues to thrive in the Mile High City and is pushed by those who have remained passionate and focused about the art of deejaying.

Culture of Scratch has evolved from the thriving DJ scene in Colorado, but it is also founded on a much broader sense of community and an even deeper sense of improving the local scene by not relying on international organizations to give Colorado some shine.

Chris Robisch, also known as Funktion, of L.I.F.E. Crew, Carpal Clique and Cold Kut Combo fame, is the founder of the organization, which has teamed with another Denver organization, the Absolute Family, to create a monthly networking and workshop event to strengthen the bonds that tie Colorado DJs.

With a crowd of over thirty vinyl pushers in attendance in November at their inaugural event, February's gathering on Saturday, February 19 at Community Service Apparel (2400 Broadway, Unit 1), will provide everything that the organization intends -- a central meeting place for DJs of all skill levels to get together to teach and learn and build relationships. We recently had a chance to catch up with Funktion about his involvement in Culture of Scratch and why it's a necessity.

Westword: What is Culture of Scratch and how did the organization come about?

Funktion: Culture of Scratch is an organization dedicated to spreading scratch and hip-hop deejaying throughout the state of Colorado. It kind of came together from various discussions I had with a bunch of different DJs in the state, but mostly from my talks with DJ Jeff C., Zerokewl, and Comatoast.

From these conversations came a rough outline of how we could collectively cultivate the kind of DJ scene we all crave, and from this outline, Culture of Scratch was born. The overall reoccurring theme that I kept hearing in those early discussions were that without the DMC DJ Battle, Colorado DJs wouldn't have an outlet for their art form, which is completely frightening.

Don't get me wrong, the DMCs are amazing battles, but if you really look at the facts, the DMC Battle is an international event that we rely upon to maintain our own local scene, and with the reality that this battle could eventually disappear or could even stop coming to Denver, as was the case for a couple of years, we wouldn't have much of a scene to talk about.

Honestly, if we truly want our state to be more like the Bay, New York, or places in Europe when it comes to deejaying, we have to work together to take control of what's happening. This is precisely why Culture of Scratch works with others to develop workshops, scratch sessions and other DJ based events.

Eventually, I connected with DJ Absolute of The Absolute Family -- a group of extremely talented underground artists who impact their community through their many skills. Since day one, DJ Absolute has been extremely supportive of what Culture of Scratch is attempting to do, and as a result, our organizations joined forces to create Colorado's first monthly DJ community event in the state's history. The first session was open to all skill levels and was an incredible success as over thirty DJs and supporters came through the doors of Absolute Studios to cut it up on seven setups for over three hours.

The DMCs used to be a pretty vibrant national keepsake, but it seems to have died down within the past few years. How do you think that turntablist culture has evolved in Colorado?

Funktion: My initial reaction when this happened was, "Now what?" The battle was -- and still is -- the staple of hip-hop, and the DMC's were where you'd go to earn respect from your fellow battle DJ, whether it was on a national or local level. It was our culture's tradition, but it's not our only tradition.

For me, deejaying began in my bedroom or at someone else's house sessioning for hours on end. It was about developing skills and learning from each other while building strong friendships. I think Colorado's evolution is a return to this simple concept, and that is why Culture of Scratch is attempting to create large scale sessions for the DJ community!

Here we don't have to worry about the dollars that are coming through the door or the drinks that are being sold at the bar to maintain a solid gig. We don't even need to worry about the divisive and judgmental nature that is associated with competition, especially hip-hop based competition. In short, we don't need to focus on anything but the art that we all love.

But the evolution doesn't stop there, if you look around, you'll notice that there are after school programs based around deejaying popping up all over the place -- Es-Nine is doing this in Denver, while Notch and Cysko are educating students at East High School. These days, it's about spreading knowledge so that this culture can reach the next generation of eager minds, and I feel strongly that Colorado's DJ community is on the brink of great new things!

Often in hip-hop, and especially turntablism, people tend to protect their "trade secrets." Has this been a consideration for you?

Honestly, if it wasn't for other DJs showing me what was up, I never would have been able to do the things I do today. So I look at it like we owe it to our community to pass on knowledge, not only to the next generation of DJs, but to those who are deejaying already.

I don't think it's a bad thing to show people how you do a particular cut, or what records work well with what audience, and that's simply because I could show an individual one thing, and they could figure out a million different ways to do that one move. Most likely, they'll end up doing it way fresher than I could have ever imagined, and then I'll be asking them for advice. It's really beneficial, not only to those taught, but also for the teacher!

Culture of Scratch recently obtained a sponsorship. Can you tell me more about how that came along?

Actually, Culture of Scratch isn't sponsored, but our monthly scratch session has gained sponsorship from UK based corporation, Pro X Fade. This was an incredible surprise that I woke up to on Thanksgiving morning, and I really owe it to the power of social networking. I simply sent an invite to Pro X Fade for our December 11 session, with information about the November session, as well as a link to cultureofscratch.com, and they liked our scratch concept enough to send us a couple of their amazing cross faders, some shirts, and a banner.

The fact that a corporation based in another country takes interest in what we're doing confirms my belief in what Culture of Scratch is doing! Might I also add that I've been rocking the same Pro X Fader for four years, and it's still working properly without any problems! They're completely customizable to fit your individual scratching style and can be installed in a ton of different mixers. If you come out to the session you'll be able to test one out yourself.

What can people expect during a Culture of Scratch meeting?

I really want people to understand that everything that we do is meant to strengthen a sense of community, so you can expect to experience a friendly atmosphere at our sessions and workshops. I can't stress enough that we aren't an exclusive crew, or a club of elitists. We're all about diversity and inclusiveness! The only way to understand is to participate in what we are doing!

What do you have in store for 2011?

Really, anything is possible at this point, but one thing is for certain, and that is Culture of Scratch will continue to work with others to develop new ways to spread this art form. We look forward to our future work with our friends at the Absolute Family, Axiom & Allies, Hip-hop Congress of Denver and Pro X Fade.

Besides growing our monthly session, we're working on getting more students at the Workshop, a free DJ course for beginners that is also held at Absolute Studios 3 times a month. Also, we'll be releasing quarterly mixtapes that will feature different Colorado DJs, so be on the lookout for those -- the first will be available in March. To all those interested in participating in anything we're doing please send an email to funktion@cultureofscratch.com.

Personally, what have you been up to musically?

I'm currently working on a scratch album called Android of the '80s, and it should be done sometime in the middle of next year. Besides my solo project, I've also been jamming with other musicians and DJs trying to come up with new material. One individual I'm particularly happy about working with is Fast4ward. We've been secretly working on some stuff that will hopefully be revealed in the coming months.


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