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Concert Mon Apr 09 2007

So Swift

Rob Swift is one well-traveled fellow. Physically, yes, touring has taken the renowned DJ and turntablist around the globe. Musically, however, the man has dipped his toe into a wide variety of genres. His prowess earned him a spot as part of the early '90s scratching scene with the renowned DJ collective the X-men (later known as the X-Ecutioners), which Swift left in 2004.


Swift, who’s been on tour since late January, is swinging through Chicago in support of his new DVD documentary, As the Tables Turn. Not simply a tour documentary or a compilation of showboat-heavy "see how I do" footage, the DVD is an autobiography of the X-Ecutioners breakup and Swift's subsequent launching of his own solo career. Not to worry, though -- there’s plenty of live scritchity-scratch footage.

Kara Luger: Tell me about As the Tables Turn.

Rob Swift: It's about how I got started, and the people who helped mentor me. I think the more interesting part is the part about the success that we had as the X-Ecutioners. I kind of feel like the X-Ecutioners were a historic group in hip-hop because we were the first DJ collective to achieve mainstream success -- we had two major-label albums, we had a hip-hop video with round-the-clock rotation on MTV. We accomplished a lot, but in doing so, we had a lot of adversity and stress to maintain that success. The success ended up being the downfall of the group, really. [The DVD is] not just about me and what I've done, and what I've accomplished, but it discusses some of my failures, and sometimes not being able to handle the success.


KL: In your past albums, you've focused a lot on jazz and Latin rhythms, as well as 1950s and '60s soul. How did you wander into that, and how did those sounds inform your current music?

RS: I grew up with my father who DJ'd Spanish music, so from an early age I was exposed to a lot of different kinds of music. My brother introduced me to jazz. DJs basically created hip-hop out of other forms of music -- what's hip-hop now isn’t really what hip-hop was then. A jazz record by pianist Bob James would be considered hip-hop. You'd play that jazz record at a park dance, and people would go crazy, and dance to jazz. Or you'd throw on a rock beat from Arrowsmith, and people would dance and would b-boy to rock. I grew up with a mentality that hip-hop could be anything. It could be singing, it could be instrumental -- you make the music hip-hop.


KL: In this digital age, most forms of music are really programming-heavy. How do you keep people interested in turntablism?

RS: Well, you incorporate the new technology with what you do on the turntables. What we do is so interesting to look at and watch, so I don't really feel threatened. When you see someone with two turntables, manipulating records that aren’t meant to be manipulated, there's no denying that's impressive to watch. No matter what, man, there’s always going to be new kinds of equipment -- you have to adjust and adapt.

KL: Give me an example.

RS: For instance, I tour with two, three crates of vinyl -- people may want to hear a certain sound. Younger kids want to hear commercial music, or maybe it's an older audience who want hip-hop classics. Who knows -- a wedding might want disco. You want to be ready for any occasion.

But dragging around those crates can be really demanding on you physically. I've been using this program called Serato Scratch LIVE, which plays music off your laptop. You can manipulate it the same way you would vinyl: scratch, make routines… the only difference is, you're not looking through crates of records. There's purists out there who say you shouldn’t use a laptop. But again, you have to adapt. No matter what, I’m not going to turn my back on the turntables, you know?

Rob Swift will be playing at his DVD release party at the Darkroom on Saturday, April 13.

 
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