Starting from Scratch: The Curious Case of DJ Skip
It has often befuddled me — though perhaps it shouldn’t anymore — how one’s success in this industry can often be determined by every factor apart from talent and skill. Hang with the right people? Success. Have enough Facebook likes? Success. Got a new pair of pumped up kicks? Success. Look the part (even if you can’t play it)? Success. This culture of celebrity worship of individuals that spend more resources and time on image and intelligent marketing strategies, as opposed to actually bettering their craft, seems counterintuitive to the essence of an art form as pure as music. But then again, there are exceptions.
DJ Skip, I can say with the certainty of an individual who has had to remind him on more than one occasion to change his t-shirt, is not image conscious in the least. My fondest memories of this rather unique individual – in addition to the fact that he’s my band member – are of him showing up to gigs carrying a hotel laundry bag (which I would soon discover was a makeshift bag for his equipment cables); sauntering in to a high profile Delhi fashion show gig in rubber slippers; not applying conventional social filters to many of the things he says and does.
But what Skip does possess is straight up, raw, unadulterated talent.
Most recently, he did the country proud by representing India at the IDA World DJ Championships in Krakow, Poland, winning the title for India of World #3 – watch the video of his winning routine here. There wasn’t much media or industry buzz about the victory back on home turf in India – but that doesn’t bother Skip too much. I admit a biased position as band member, but irrespective of my undeniable prejudice, one glimpse of what this guy can do on the decks is all one needs to be blown away by his lightening fast boomerang scratches, his perfectly executed swing flares.
What’s truly admirable about his journey, and perhaps what his ever-present grin doesn’t belie, is that it’s been a tough road to the top. From not being able to afford a pair of new shoes to allow him to keep his residency at his first club, to winning the title for India as World #3 – Skip has come a long way. He now has several competition titles and DJ accolades to his name, plays with BLaNK, (our three-piece electronic live act), is signed onto the reputed UnMute Agency roster as a solo artist, and has dedicated himself to sharing his craft with young turntable enthusiasts by teaching at the Urbanatic School of DJs in Delhi.
These are the stories of Skip that I’ve come to learn over the years of knowing him, now compressed into interview format.
Nirupama: DJ Skip – tell me more about that first-ever residency of yours at club Number 1, in Delhi?
Skip: As you know, I actually started out doing Hotel Management! I chose to do Hotel Management because my family wanted me to do something to make sure I’d make some money. But I always loved music and would watch these DMC videos constantly, which made me want to DJ. While doing my degree, I managed to get a residency at a club called Number 1 — but it was really far from my house and college. My institute was in Lajpat Nagar, and the club was in Rohini, and my house is in Vasant Kunj. I come from a very modest family and didn’t have any money back then, so I used to carry twenty rupees in my pocket taking this bus called the Mudrika Seva— the bus that connects the ring road — and I’d travel in that bus for two hours one way, from Lajpat Nagar to the club in Rohini. The club would shut by 12, and then I would walk to my friend’s house in Rohini to stay there for the night. It was only on Tuesdays that I could go home and see my family – because that was my day off at the club.
I remember one day I broke my shoes, and the manager of the club told me I had to leave! I didn’t have any money to buy new shoes, so the next day I borrowed a pair of shoes from my friend and showed up again, ready for the console. I don’t know if the manager was ready for me, though [laughs].
Nirupama: What was it that first attracted you to the turntables and instilled in you the urge to scratch?
Skip: I was 18, and I had been into music for a while – I would also watch these DMC videos and saw all these guys from around the world doing crazy shit on the turntables. One day we hired a pair of decks on a friend’s terrace just for fun. That was the first time I actually touched the decks. And I’ll never forget that feeling. With turntables, suddenly the whole game changes – vinyls were the shit! I found suddenly I could make this physical connection with the music, I could see the music, I could actually grab the music, juggle it, all kinds of mad stuff. All of that got me into the turntables. I mean, there’s only so much you can do with CDJs, right? I realised with turntablism, this is an art form that should be preserved and showcased, and should be seen by more people.
Nirupama: When did you actually decide that music was going to be your life? How did your family react to this?
Skip: My family reacted just like any other Indian family would – they were against it. But when I showed them I could make a career out of this skill, they were supportive and happy to see that I was going places because of my passion. When I won the World #3 title in Poland, my mother was crying – I was like, ‘Ma, don’t cry – you should be happy!’ [laughs]
Nirupama: Current favourite DJs and greatest inspirations?
Skip: One of my favourite DJs whose work I’m really into right now is DJ Snake, a French DJ who plays trap. It’s experimental, and there are just a few DJs doing justice do the genre, and he’s one of them. Also, DJ Sasha and DJ Qbert are two of my idols. That day in Goa that BLaNK got to share the stage and chill with Sasha definitely goes down as one of my most memorable moments. Sasha’s style, it defines his personality. He sticks to his own individual identity, but is somehow always futuristic in his sounds. QBert is a crazy guy! Every single scratch has a meaning and an intention that he’s putting into it. He’s not just scratching for the hell of it.
Nirupama: You recently won the World #3 title at the IDA World DJ Championships in Poland – can you tell me more about the experience performing on the international stage at such a high level?
Skip: It was an unreal experience. A dream that actually came true. Krakow is a beautiful city, and the venue was simply awesome – playing on a sound system like that is every DJ’s dream. I also had the rare opportunity of seeing some of the best turntablists in the world perform. Just by being immersed in that environment I instantly learned more than I could have ever imagined. A competition will do that to you – I’ve competed here in India quite a lot too, and even when I lose I’m happy. Because losing just pushes you to become a better artist, it pushes you to cut harder, to become better at your craft.
Nirupama: In terms of the different forms of technology available to DJs today, what are the advantages of sticking to vinyl?
Skip: There’s just something about the feel of playing on vinyl. You see me even when we’re playing with BLaNK, I’m totally analog, constantly changing records — a vinyl purist in that way. I like to use old battle records, I personally feel the precision is better. You’re more accurate because you’re more in touch with your medium. Of course, the advantage of a laptop is your music collection is all in the machine — with original vinyls you have to lug around this huge bag everywhere you go, but it’s worth it for me. It’s like a workout!
Nirupama: Tell us more about your role with BLaNK?
Skip: BLaNK is a project I have with DJ Manny and you [laughs]. It’s an act where we combine different elements of DJing but fused with organic soulful elements like the flute and vocals. I’m the turntablist for the band, but if you look at turntablism its origins are in hip hop, and it’s mostly confined to that genre. Here, we’re bringing scratching to house music — which you wouldn’t expect, but we’ve been able to work it, as well as other live elements that one isn’t used to hearing with house music. It’s something different we’re trying out, and so far it’s working for us!
Nirupama: You’ve also been organising weekly “Sunday Skratch Sessions” for a few months now, in different cities. Tell us more about this initiative?
Skip: It’s a little initiative from my side to push the turntablism scene here . So wherever I am in the country, I try to do a scratch session on Sunday. It’s basically a calling for all the DJs passionate about turntablism to come out and share their knowledge, and learn more. We do freestyle scratching for like, four hours, then a scratch movie showcase to demonstrate the skills of the pros.
Nirupama: Finally, what changes would you like to see in the direction India’s electronica music scene is heading?
Skip: More originality and less monotony. DJs should not be mimicking and replicating big DJs— they should be original and creating their own individual identities. That would help push the scene as a whole, because at least there would be new sounds being created and getting heard. It wouldn’t be the same old thing every time you walk into a club. That’s how real alternative music is created, right? By experimenting and going in directions that no one else has gone before.
For more on DJ Skip, visit www.thedjskip.com
For more on the Sunday Skratch Sessions, call +919810658374