Woody started DJing in 1992. He made his name through the competition circuit when in 2001 he was the first European DJ to win the ITF (International Turntablist Federation) World Championship title in San Francisco. A year later he won the Vestax World title. He has worked with turntable manufacturers to make his own equipment, toured the world, and even has his own signature scratch – the Woodpecker! We speak to him to get his advice for DJs starting out…
VIP: How did you get started as a scratch DJ/turntablist?
Woody: As far as a career, it snowballed from the fact that I got into the competition aspect of DJing. I was doing it for several years just as a hobby without any aspirations to make it as a career, just through the culture of DJing that exists within hip hop music and stuff. Basically I wound up entering DJ competitions and at the time that was essentially the route to a career in that field. I ended up winning a UK final and then eventually winning a world final and that sort of springboarded what was a hobby into a career. I’d already been sort of doing gigs nationally at that point just through contacts within the scene and whatnot. I’d also put on some events myself which sort of helped in terms of garnering connections and contacts, but it was the launchpad of getting on the battle circuit, and the distribution of videos that had my performances on, that spread the word, really, and that led to gigs further afield and more opportunities.
VIP: What equipment did you learn to DJ on?
Woody: For years I didn’t really know exactly what you needed but I got a very cheap pair of no make belt drives and a very cheap mixer. From there I was pretty much self taught. When I got my first set up I did meet a couple of other scratch DJs locally, but they were just into scratching and not really into mixing or beat juggling or any of that. There were no instructional videos so it was just a case of listening to mix tapes I had, listening to the records I had, and it was before there were any tutorials out really, trying to listen to things and work out what was happening, and figure out what I was watching when I was watching videos, deciphering it myself really…
VIP: How much time would you say that you put in?
Woody: It’s been up and down over the years but I’d say multiple hours a day over the years generally when I was putting the work in. At the height of my DJ competitions, which is probably when I had to put the most work in, and to be honest I was working full time and I was also promoting gigs, so as and when, but on the day off I might do six or seven hours (with breaks) per day, but saying that there was only two or three days off a week. But to get to that standard (world title) you’re going to have to put in some serious work, definitely.
Watch him in action here:
VIP: What is it that makes an A* DJ?
Woody: It all depends on which genre you’re in and how you’re classifying DJ. Obviously the branch of scratch DJing which is the lineage where I come from, literally using the turntable as a musical instrument, where it literally does take as much practice as learning to play the piano, that is almost a separate art from what a lot of club DJs do. I think essentially it’s learning the basics, from a broader perspective, it’s working musical theory into the art of mixing music together and finding DJ equipment to do that. Essentially I think it’d probably be important to teach the fundamentals of where the culture came from, as far as give it some context, so far as where the artform of DJing rose from, so give it a cultural context so teach the basics of the history of it. And how the different sort of scenes of electronic and dance music and hip hop came from it, and the culture that it all came from, so a bit of background, bit of history but also musical structure and technique. So a bit of beatmixing, manual beatmixing to foundations of scratch techniques but I don’t think necessarily advanced turntablism must be a prerequisite for a good grade because that isn’t everybody’s chosen field of interest…
I think you need the fundamentals of technique on turntables, I think that’s essential. Giving them a skill base for whether they end up applying that to CDs or controllers or whatever it is. It’s an important foundational skill set.
VIP: What do you think are the key skills of a DJ/turntablist?
Woody: Off the top of the head; understanding time signatures, being able to count and know what the first beat of the bar is and general music structure is important, and then from there obviously the fundamentals of where hip hop came from. Sort of being able to repeat a break and that sort of stuff, being able to loop a beat manually, using a crossfader and two turntables, beatmatching – being able to pitch two records on turntables manually and beatmatch them, and then just the foundations of what mixers do as far as the very basics on EQs and the faders and whatnot, cueing records, even to basic effects and stuff, how and where to use them. And then going on to basic scratch techniques so just the fundamentals really, baby scratches, transformers, scribbles and the different variants – but I don’t think it’s necessary for everybody to master all the techniques, going into more advanced stuff like flares and crabs, just to distinguish them and know what they are.
To read more interviews like this one, take up a free 30-day trial.