DJ QBERT: Qbert’s Quest
Celebrating twenty-five years in the making, DJ Qbert remixes his artistic portfolio.
Words & Interview: Marjua Estevez
Images: Courtesy of Dunn Deal PR
Richard Quitevis, honorably known as DJ Qbert, has long been mastering the layering of drums, bass lines and scratch solos to manifest the intricate art of “turntablism.” Now, 25 years later, we celebrate the carefully paved road he’s carved for the future generation of disc jockeys. Having been featured in documentary films like the 2001’s Scratch, advertising campaigns such as Apple’s “Switch,” while lacing video games including Tony Hawk’s Underground and DJ Hero 2 (where you can also play as Qbert) with his music, the 2009 DMC World Champion shows no sign of breaking anytime soon. And for his 25th anniversary, this past February, he celebrated his journey with an art series, Bold As Scratch, through a special collaboration with WAIL. The event featured 250 copies of a visual mash-up of Qbert’s world fused with Hendrix; each piece numbered and signed by DJ Qbert, himself..
We are celebrating your 25th year in the business. Who was Q Bert then, and who is he now?
I learned a lot from back in the day. But I’m still in the same task of being a musician on the turntables. It’s a life-long mission; It’s an art. There’s no end to it. All I can do is continuously move forward. I’m always learning and moving forward. From back then? Eh, it’s still the same. I was a student then and I’m a still a student now—of my art and life… Yep, that’s pretty much it. I think. Haha. I’m always looking for new sounds and new sounds to experiment with [though], ya know?
What have been some of your biggest accomplishments since you first started out?
Most definitely winning the US Championships [of scratching, 1998]. That was a big ass thing for me… and then going on to win the world competition as well. And my movie Wave Twisters was an immense accomplishment by itself.
How did your foray into the art world come about? Was art always a point of interest for you?
Oh yeah, definitely. Ever since I was a kid things always looked strange to me—funny, weird, artistic, whatever you call it. It was everything from break-dancing to emceeing, to rapping to graffiti, to unorthodox music or weird music. And sculpture! The entire culture of it—of art, I was always into it. Even classical music inspires and teaches me a lot.
How was it doing the ad for the Apple “Switch” campaign?
It was great. I made my first scratch album on a Mac. It’s only right.
Why was your collaboration with WAIL so important?
It was just cool. Bold As Scratch infuses what is called Egyptian iconography, the philosophy and aesthetics of Hieroglyphics; it’s a collective that molded underground hip-hop as we know it today. It was great. It went hand-in-hand with where analog deejaying comes from.
Ok, so analog versus digital deejaying: what’s your preference and how do you view the scene today?
Analog. The sound quality is warmer, more authentic. But with digital there are things you can do that you can’t with analog. Where analog is more precise, digital can be more flexible. So, I do both. But I think I prefer analog. It’s way fresher.
Do you have any new ventures in mind? What’s up with your online school Scratch University?
It’s great, very cool. Over 1500 students worldwide are registered today. And I’m still a student myself, so it’s taught me a lot. These are people who reach out to a lot of other people. So now you have a bunch of people teaching a bunch of other people. It’s a really cool thing, the way it’s structured. New ventures? Well, yes. I’m making another movie, something like Wave Twisters, but much more elaborate and advanced. The anticipated video game DJ Hero 2 just came out [last fall/winter]. And we just got DjQbert.com up and running. Then there’s my twitter account. I had to have one, right? Ha! Twitter.com/djqbert. Thousands and thousands of followers, I was like “really?”
What haven’t you done that you’re hoping to do next?
Well, besides the film, my roots are always there [in music]. I’m always learning my instruments. There’s so much to learn. Again, it’s a lifetime craft, like classically trained musicians. And even they have a lot to offer someone like me. I have a long way to go. So, the turntables—that’s what’s always next.
What would you like people to know about you?
People are always asking me how did I become so successful. It’s very simple: the ultimate happiness is in giving and the ultimate evil is in selfishness.
Images courtesy of Dunn Deal PR.