Friday, June 22, 2012


By the mid-90's every element in hip-hop (especially Rap) had gotten some form of shine on film with the exception of DJing & Turntablism. Graffiti was showcased in the classic documentary Style Wars as well as Wild Style and Krush Grove. Breakdancers & B-boys were also showcased in those same films along with more mainstream movies like Flash Dance. Sure, DJ's were also represented in those films but with the exception of Grandmaster Flash's segment in Wild Style, the DJ kinda played the background. And yes, movies like Juice did inspire many kids in the early 90's (myself included) to become DJ's but when you really strip that movie down, DJing & scratching wasn’t really represented as much as we were lead to believe by the movie trailer and advertisements. But there had yet to be a film that focused strictly on the DJ. Specifically the art of turntablism: scratching, battling and using the turntable as an instrument. In 1995 documentaries like Rhyme & Reason and The Show were dubbed "Hip-Hop Documentaries" when in reality they shoulda been called "Rap music & Industry documentaries". Around the same time, filmmaker John Carluccio had begun work on the extensive documentary; Battle Sounds (a film about the art of scratching & turntablism) which was completed in 1997 and became a hit among scratchers, battle dj's and turntablists all over the world. In fact the term; "turntablism" was created during the production of the film, essentially making it an artifact in hip-hop history. The documentary exposed the world to turntablists like; Mixmaster Mike (who later became the DJ for the Beastie Boys), Roc Raida (DJ for Busta Rhymes and was responsible for the scratches on many classic hip-hop albums) and Q-Bert (probably the most recognizable and well known turntablist ever). It also exposed a younger generation of scratch DJ's and turntablists to innovators and pioneers like Grandmixer DXT (grammy award winning artist who scratched on Herbie Hancock's Rockit) and Grandwizard Theodore (the man who literally invented scratching). But most importantly, the documentary showed that scratching was more than just moving a record back & forth and making a bunch of noise.
Unlike other documentary filmmakers who focus on a subculture (or in Carluccio's case, a subculture within a subculture) then abandon it once the project is over, Carluccio became a staple in the turntablist community - He was a consultant on the documentary; 'Scratch' (which wouldn’t have existed had it not been for a film like Battle Sounds), founder of the TTM scratch notation system (a system that allows DJ’s to note/write down their scratching like music notes and to use the turntable as a musical instrument) and has filmed/documented classic DJ battles (2000 DMC US finals), turntablist events like the Battle Sounds festivals and recently DJ Shiftee's 2009 DMC world championship winning set (see video below). His most notable & innovative post-Battle Sounds project would have to be "Hop-Fu" - a live hip-hop meets kung-fu project where DJ's (Excess & IXL) perform a live score using scratching over kung-fu films which has been going since 1998.

This edition of "5 Questions" might be the most personal one as it ties together pretty much the three things that make up what I do in life (architecture/design, film & scratching). Enjoy...

1. What are the last 3 movies you saw? (feel free to elaborate on any of them)

John Carluccio: Prometheus - Liked it, but keep those LOST boys (Lindelof) away from my sci-fi mythology. They will always break your heart.

Only When I Dance - Great documentary about Brazilian ballet. I'm a sucker for films like this (Hoop Dreams, Mad Hot Ballroom, Dark Days, etc)

Safe House - Average. South Africa is slowly becoming the new Hollywood thriller location.

2. Who, in your opinion, is the best active filmmaker working right now?

JC: That's tough, I like Woody Allen, he still surprises me. Paul Thomas Anderson and Darren Aronofsky are always dope. I find Phillip Noyce interesting he did Rabbit Proof Fence, The Quiet American and Dead Calm which I really dug. I wish he would do more stuff like that. I use to say Martin Scorsese, but I think he needs to make a small low budget film again, like Coppola did with Tetro. I'll watch anything from those I just mentioned and Spike Lee, Wes Anderson, Nolan, Eastwood, Jarmusch, Spielberg, Mann, Nolan, Tarantino, Burton, Boyle, Del Toro.... 

Excess & IXL performing "Hop-Fu"                                                DJ Shiftee's 2009 World DMC Set

3. As an architecture graduate who loves cinema, I must ask you: Why the shift from Architecture to filmmaking?

JC: Architecture is a great discipline. Some students at Pratt would call it Archi-torture. I loved it. It's a permanent art, so you have to really know what you're doing and make sure your design is on point. But there is also a limited amount of opportunity to be really creative and expressive in that world. I remember always hearing; "you die on the drafting board", referring to the age that you finally get to really design in that career. So I just had too much creative energy to wait for my shot. Film was more impact-full. A bit less restrictive and just spoke to my passion to communicate one on one with people.

4. Is Hop-Fu something you'd consider taking to television or would you be too worried about what networks would do to it?

JC: We actually had a development deal with MTV in 2001. Morgan Spurlock helped us get that deal. Kung Fu cinema is very exploitive, so I was open to MTV exploiting it too. It never panned out.

Roc Raida & Q-Bert in Battle Sounds (1995)

5. Outside of a movie like Juice or Wild Style, would you consider Battle Sounds to be the first true link between strictly turntablism and cinema?

JC: I'd have to say yes. The term was created at the same time as the production of the film in 95. You got to check out my latest turntablist project at

BONUS QUESTION: What is your favorite film about or based in Brooklyn?

JC: Dog Day Afternoon, Do The Right Thing, Saturday Night Fever.


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