Mix Messenger

Lyndon Stephens presents the the Irish DMC Mix Championships

Click to see Bangor's DJ Concept in action

Click to hear Lyndon Stephens speaking on Hip-Hop history

This interview is part of the CultureNorthernIreland Podcast

For most females, ‘scratching’ is something to be done discreetly, out of sight and away from prying eyes. For most males, it’s an activity that usually takes place on the sofa, in between reaching for the Tayto and the remote control. There is, however, a new breed of music makers for whom scratching has developed from a pastime into a passion, something to most definitely be done in public.

Since 1986, the Disco Mixing Club DJ Championships have sought to find the world’s most accomplished DJs and turntablists. With $30,000 in cash prizes involved in the annual tournament, the appeal to young bedroom disc-spinners is evident.

In 2006, for the first time in the competition’s history, the finals of the all-Ireland knockout stages were held in Belfast, in the city’s Stiff Kitten venue.

Using and manipulating 12” vinyl records to produce percussive, rhythmic scratches, Turntablism is a musical specialism within the DJ’s repertoire that creates new sounds through cutting and mixing the music of pre-existing songs.

Turntablism was officially recognised in the late 90s with the idea that a record deck could be a musical instrument,’ says Lyndon Stephens, the man responsible for bringing the competition to Belfast.

‘The basis of it is that the record deck is used to manipulate sound in the same way as any other musical instrument - rather than just using the deck to play recorded media as-is.’

Competitors are allowed three minutes to battle against an opponent in the knockout stages before the finalists are allowed six minutes to display their skills.

Battling involves each turntablist performing a routine - a combination of various technical scratches, beat juggles, and other elements including body tricks.

In 2006, hip-hop was the second most popular form of music in the United States, falling second only to classical. Hip-hop culture is beginning to take root outside of its native US and is producing world-class results.

Each element of hip hop culture - the dance moves, the art, the language and the sounds are beginning to blossom in cities all over the world. Each new cross-pollination brings with it new, regional spins on something that began in urban America.

‘Hip hop’s huge – with the MTV generation, it’s massive. What happens is that hip hop arrives somewhere and people consume it, before actually realising that the whole ethos of it is to do it yourself.’

The core of hip hop is in the relationship between the MC and the DJ. These two elements, combined with the physical dexterity of the breakdance crews and the illustrative work of the graffitti artists, inform the culture at large.

Irish hip hop is more than just a footnote in the genre’s history. Although still underground, since the 80's a culture has been developing, with groups like the four-strong Scary Eire performing, releasing records and making a living out of the lifestyle.

‘There are two guys from Dublin who are really good – Ri-Ra and Rob Kelly,’ says Stephens, ‘Both are achieving success in the states, keeping their natural accents. That’s what’s really grown.’

‘In recent years we’ve seen credible UK hip hop coming of age. With an act like The Streets and the commercial success that they’ve achieved, suddenly it didn’t seem ‘wrong’ to rap in a UK accent. This has started to happen in Ireland.’

‘Whether it be rap, dance, graffitti art or breakdance, the whole thing is to continually be better than your opponent. This is why it holds well with battles – people testing, getting better. If someone beats you come next year and try again.’

50 Cent sold more albums in Dublin than he did in his home state,’ says Stephens, proving that hip hop in Ireland is more than a symptom – it has become a cause.