WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm DJ Qbert.
WP: You're one of the featured DJs in DJ Hero 2. How did you get involved with the game?
DQ: Well, they wanted me in the first one, but they didn't have a certain battle mode. Now that there's a battle mode in [DJ Hero] 2, they gave me a call, "It's time to get in the game."
WP: As to your involvement, was it more like let's get you in here, work on battle mode, and get the gameplay mechanics? Or were you involved in picking any of the songs? Did you do any custom mixes for the game?
DQ: Well, they showed me a bunch of tracks. I picked two tracks, and then I scratched on top of them. There's no production on my part; they made the beats and stuff, and I scratched on top of it. Then they filmed me with motion capture and tried to get all the nuances of the way I move and stuff.
WP: Is it weird seeing a virtual you in the game?
DQ: Absolutely. I can't really believe it right now. It still hasn't hit me, but it's really cool.
WP: What about the gameplay itself? As a game, it's fun, but in your eyes as a professional DJ, does it come close to capturing the feel of spinning a turntable? Or is it more like a fantasy re-creation?
DQ: It is a video game, so it's totally different, but it has fun aspects. It's kind of like, say you play normal football with your friends, and that's fun. When you play Madden NFL, it's totally different, but it's fun still.
WP: What do you think about the overall music selection, genre-wise? Is it a little too heavy in hip-hop, a little too heavy in pop, or do they have a good mix?
DQ: Oh, definitely a good mix. They've got so much variety. They've got Eminem, Lady Gaga, Dr. Dre. Even Z-Trip and [DJ] Shadow are throwing some mixes in. Chemical Brothers. It's a big range of music selections, so it'll appeal to you no matter what style of music you like.
WP: What about you? When you're getting ready to perform a big show, what goes through your mind? What do you do to get ready?
DQ: The main thing for me is weeks of practice. It's kind of like a boxing match, where you've got to perform for a very long time. For me, I'm a different type of DJ. I'm more like a jazz musician on the turntable. I've got to keep my fingers dexterous, I've got to keep my mind clear, and I've got to keep my practicing up. I've got to study all this musical theory. It's kind of like a piano recital or something, but with scratching.
WP: For people who have no idea what a DJ does, what's involved in mixing?
DQ: OK, well there are different types of DJs. There's a radio DJ. Then you've got a DJ who plays music at clubs to make people dance, which is more of a mixing DJ. Then you've got battling DJs, who do tricks on the turntables and scratch. That's kind of what I do. Of course, there's also playing it like a musical instrument, which is what I really love to do. Just kind of scratching the record back and forth and making all these weird sounds, different rhythms and different pitches and notes. Straight up like a musical instrument. That's pretty much what I do. I guess you'd call me a scratch DJ turntablist. That's the category I'd fall under.
WP: Are you a big believer in vinyl? You don't mess with the CD DJs?
DQ: Well, for this project, they had me scratch on digital so that they could get all my movements down in the computer. Personally, in my real work, I love vinyl because it's the most accurate as far as scratching is concerned.
WP: What kind of hardware do you use? Are you a Technics man, or do you have something else for your turntables?
DQ: I'm pretty traditional. I like to use Technics turntables and a Vestax mixer. Pioneer mixers, too. Rane makes a good DJ scratch mixer.
WP: What about sampling? Are you a believer in doing everything live, or do you have a digital sample that'll record and loop while you're laying on top of that with the vinyl?
DQ: Well, I'm more traditional so I like to keep it all raw. Everything is real time, and everything is happening at the moment with the vinyl and stuff. But there are instances where, "I made this new beat today, and the only way to let people hear it is if I play it MP3 style." Usually I just throw it on my iPod and put that into the mixer and play that. Play a mix, scratch it sometimes.
WP: When you first started DJing, did you think it would turn into anything more than a hobby?
DQ: Not really. I loved it so much that I thought I was just going to do this hobby forever. I really love DJing so much, and I thought, "I'm starting to get somewhere with this." I'd go to all these parties, and then the battling situation came up. I would lose all these battles, and that made me get a lot better. Trying to be like a boxer, you're always training for the next battle, and it got me pretty good to where I entered a big world competition and made it all the way to the world finals. After that, I thought, "Wow, I think I might be OK at doing this. Let me try to make a career out of this since I love it so much." Six years into doing my hobby, it turned into a career.
WP: In these DJ battles, you're competing against another person. Do you pick the music in advance? Are you just listening to what your opponent throws down and try to counter that?
DQ: Well, there are different ways of battling. Let's say, for instance, the DMC World competition. Every DJ has six minutes to showcase their stuff. You can play whatever you want, and you're judged by your creativity and personality.
Then there's another type of battle, which is the head-to-head competition, where you would get a minute, the next guy would get one minute, it goes back to you for a minute and then the other guy for a minute. You're definitely trying to counteract what he's doing or how he looks. Maybe he's like kind of pointy-looky, so you'll have a record, toss it on, point and look at the audience, and they go bananas.
Then there's another type of competition, a cutting competition. You'll see musicians do it all the time. Let's say there's a drummer playing in the background. Then two trumpeters would go against each other. They'd trade bars. This guy plays four bars, and the other guy plays four bars. That's what we would do, play like a hip-hop beat or some kind of funky beat in the background, and the DJs take turns trading bars.
WP: Outside of DJ Hero, what kind of games do you play when you're just kicking back?
DQ: Oh wow. I try to stay away from video games as much as I can because I can get caught up in that world. When I do play video games, like I'm traveling on the airplane, I'm more of a StarCraft guy. Age of Empires. StarCraft 2 just came out. Oh boy, it's really tempting to just play that all night long, but I have this thing, where I can try to hypnotize myself, "Just play one round and get back to work."
WP: What kind of advice would you give to the kids who are practicing their hand at DJing and scratching at home? What can they do to get better and learn the trade?
DQ: The best advice I ever got was from my buddy, Mix Master Mike, who's a DJ for the Beastie Boys. We were in a group called the Invisibl Skratch Piklz before he got into the Beastie Boys. I asked him the same question a long time ago. He said, "Hey, just be original. Make up your own rules." I was like, "Oh, there are no rules!" Hell yeah, I can be original.
WP: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
DQ: Well, if you're learning how to scratch and you want to get into it, we have a great school online. It's called Qbert Skratch University. We have a big community, over 1,000 members. We all trade beats together, and we all teach each other how to scratch. If you want to learn how to scratch and you're a beginner, everyone's helpful on there. It's like Facebook for scratch DJs.
More articles about DJ Hero 2