Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, March 31, 2000

Kutmaster Spaz
Kutmaster Spaz took the long route to learning what
DJ'ing is all about. Now he's opening up a school for
those who want the fast track to the groove.

Spaz in th’ class

Cutting class is cool
when DJs run the school

By Nadine Kam
Features editor


T took a long 10 years for Kutmaster Spaz to learn all he knows about the art of scratching, cutting and mixing, and now that he's about to open a school for wannabe DJs, to tell you the truth, he's a little jealous of the up-and-comers.

"I made a lot of mistakes and did a lot of going forward, then going backward," says Spaz, "but if someone were getting into it now, and had someone to show how it's done, it would take about a year to get decent enough to mix on radio."

Better yet, they might avoid the scoldings and lectures from the 'rents that can occur when one is improvising with whatever's in the house. Spaz knows this firsthand, having gotten his first taste of DJ'ing as a resourceful 12-year-old.

"I didn't have my own records and didn't have the money for regular R&B records so I borrowed from my dad's collection -- Makaha Sons, Homegrown, all Hawaiian artists -- that's all I had so I wanted to remix it.

"My parents had the big turntables, the wooden ones, and I was scratching their Don Ho records -- Ta-ta-ta-ti-ti-tiny Bubbles -- and they were like, 'What are you doing?!'

"I said, 'It's my remix,' and my dad thought I was turning it into a joke. He said, 'What's a remix? Sounds like you messed it up!' "

No damage done. In spite of the name, "scratching" doesn't put scratches on a disc, says Spaz, who compares the action of passing the record needle back and forth in a record groove to the pressure on a tire tread that only wears out with hundreds and hundreds of miles.

Still, his dad fretted, wondering, "What do you mean you need two turntables? Tom Moffatt only has one and he's great. I guess that means he has real talent."

Although Spaz's dad passed away a few years ago, he lived long enough to see his son achieve success at local radio stations and nightclubs, working with or opening for such artists as Coolio, Cypress Hill, Monica, Wyclef Jean and Ice Cube.

"I had to do so many free gigs because of him. He'd tell his friends about me and they'd go, 'Nah, Kutmaster Spaz, thass your son? He can play my party, then.'

"Then he'd be like, 'He not only going play your party, he goin' play fo' free."

If Spaz spazzed, he'd be denied use of the family van to paying gigs.

Having paid his dues, Spaz is currently a VJ for MYTV Jamms, a DJ for I-94, has an R&B hip hop album, "Spin City," coming out in June, and will be one of five instructors at his Universal DJ School. The other instructors are DJ SIRE, EP, DJ Xtreme and Eddie L.

The school's grand opening is Saturday. Offered will be courses in turntable and CD mixing, sound and lighting, club programming, computer re-mixing and MC techniques. Courses will run $200 apiece. The sooner one finishes, the sooner one can start building that street cred.

The need for such a school is obvious. First, you get to mess with someone else's equipment. Setting up your own system isn't as easy as being a guitarist and picking up a standard Stratocaster, which starts at about $450. A typical DJ setup requires assembly. Two turntables and a mixer will cost about $1,500. And then there's the need to stock up on vinyl records.

Also, unlike the guitar, which is so portable and popular that students have access to any number of pro and amateur tutors, novice DJs have to contend with a scarcity of mentors.

"The teen-agers who get into mixing don't show each other their tricks, except within certain cliques," says Spaz. "They think that if they keep their secrets, they'll be the best kid on the block, when really, they're keeping themselves down.

"My thing is, I've been through it. I don't have nothin' to hide from anybody."

Except his real name. Like any rock royalty, he's been subject to the occasional overzealous groupies who have followed him home from the clubs or called him at all hours of the day.

Spaz first became interested in the scratching on dance tracks and wanted to know more about the people making those sounds. Later, in teen clubs, he bypassed the dance floor in favor of watching the DJ in action.

"He was like the maestro of an orchestra. He created the mood of the club and controlled the whole party, speeding it up or making it mellow. Without him, there would be no vibe, no party."

Spaz started practicing with his parents' gear right away, eight hours a day, before and after school. "I would do my homework in school so I could come home and practice."

He says DJ'ing saved him from the low self-esteem that comes from being dyslexic. "People like me have to turn somewhere. Some turn to drugs, some become bullies. DJ'ing is what helped me get through high school."

Even so, his parents weren't happy that he kept the music going to 11 p.m. "At the time, being a DJ wasn't realistic. They didn't know I could one day make money at it. But it can be a lucrative job. DJs are everywhere now. They're replacing bands in clubs. A lot of television game shows are using DJs, and they're on all the hip-hop tours."

Then there's turntablism, in which the turntable is treated as another instrument, allowing a musician to build sonic layers, just as a second guitarist or percussionist might add to a band's basic sound.

"Sugar Ray has one; so does Limp Bizkit. They're some of the mainstream bands that travel with a turntablist."

It's one thing to learn mixing, and another to turn it into a career. Spaz's reputation as a showman is what got him gigs and his name. "People would say, 'He's spastic; he's a spazoid."

And he endured his share of criticism. "A lot of DJs, when they start, all they want to do is scratch and people don't want to hear all that. They want to hear the song. So you just go chuka-chuka-chuk. It's enough.

"The song is like meat and potatoes. Scratching is the spice. Are you going to shake the pepper over your steak for 5 minutes? It's too much.

"There are a lot of mobile DJs too, but a lot of these guys don't know how to mix, they don't know how to speak at a mic, they don't know how to talk to an audience, they don't know how to run a business. They're guys who just had enough money to buy equipment.

"If they can learn good mixing and good showmanship and manage the business end, a lot of upcoming guys will be very successful."

Not to mention learning that only dorks use their high school yearbook pictures for publicity.

"I didn't know any better," Spaz says sheepishly.

And in spite of the intimidating setups at the clubs, Spaz assures it doesn't take a lot of technical ability to get started.

"I'm not even close to being a technical geek. If you can hook up a basic stereo system," that's all you need.

"Drummers learn faster than most people. Even people who are dancers pick it up fairly quickly. Basically, if you know how to keep a rhythm, you can do it. Believe me, I have two left feet."

Universal DJ School

Bullet Grand opening: With cutting and scratching exhibitions and performance by Na Mele Rasta
Bullet When: 4 to 6 p.m. tomorrow
Bullet Place: Waipio Industrial Court, 94-547 Uke'e St. Suite 110 (across from Spa Fitness Center)
Bullet Call: 680-9590

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin