DJ Shortkut on Staying in the Bay Area, His Love for Tech, and the State of the Turntablism Scene
Celebrating 25 years of DJing this year, Bay Area-born DJ Shortkut has had the kind of career that most DJs strive for: He's claimed multiple West Coast DMC championships, played alongside the legendary names of hip-hop, and designed best-selling DJ equipment for the Vestax brand. As part of the DJ collectives Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Beat Junkies, and Triple Threat DJs, his contribution to scratch and DJ culture has led to honors such as Germany's Grandwizard Theodore Lifetime Achievement Award, and he's one of the most well-known DJs to come out of the Bay Area. Shortkut recently spoke with All Shook Down about his DJ beginnings, advice for the younger generation, and his take on the current scratch battle scene. He opens up for DJ Spinna this Friday at Mighty.
Give us a brief background on your introduction to the DJ scene.
I started DJing in 1987 during the height of the mobile DJ scene in the Bay Area. A lot of the neighborhood kids in my area would have their DJ setups in the garage. As a little kid seeing this, I got hyped just by watching the DJ mix under a mini-concert-like setup. And at that time, there were more than 100 sound systems in the Bay Area. When I turned 12, I got my own setup using my birthday money. I got into a sound system in 1989 called Just 2 Hype! and learned the fundamentals. And the rest, as they say, is history.
This year you celebrate 25 years of DJing. What sage advice can you offer the younger DJ generation?
I'd say being versatile and open to all genres -- even if it isn't your thing -- is important nowadays. In this era where anyone can be a DJ, you got to do something that makes yourself stand out from others.
You've been part of some great DJ collectives like Beat Junkies, Triple Threat, etc. However, it seems like these groups are becoming scarce these days. Why do you think that is?
It could be a lot of reasons. Competition may be one of them. Back then, we believed in strength in numbers. We learned off each other. But like I said, now that anyone can be a DJ, everyone is going after the same gigs, and [it] sometimes seems like it's every DJ for him/herself. But that's just more for the working DJ aspect. I know many groups still exist, especially in the turntablist scene.
With the Red Bull Thre3style battle and other party rocking-format DJ battles now competing with traditional contests like the DMC, do you think that the art of the scratch battle is in decline?
Not at all. If anything it seems like the Bay Area passed the torch to Europe, mainly in France and Germany, where the last few world champions came from. But I'm glad there are other competitions like the Thre3Style out there because it gives opportunities to other DJs to shine who don't purely scratch and beat-juggle.
Recently you've been using a lot of video mixing in your sets. How did you get into that?
Once I heard from Rane/Serato that they were making a plug-in for their software that supports video mixing in 2006, I got a head start and collected videos of all kinds such as music and movie clips. It's similar to digging for records, which I have a love for, but now it's more of finding the rarest vintage footage available and always trying to find the best quality. I pictured video mixing to be [an] added feature to a DJ set. Also, it can be educational to the new generation, [which] might not know the faces or culture [of] old tunes.
With so many DJs moving exclusively to MIDI controllers and internal laptop software, do you feel like something is being lost in the art of DJing?
I love the new technology and its convenience. I do miss looking at records to determine what to play next. That is what I think is missing, and unfortunately the new breed of DJs won't experience this unless they make it a choice to still buy records.