Features

Grandmaster Flash: A Flashback in time

For every art form, there is always a source; a person who gives the initial breath of life, instilling that very first heart beat. A person who pushes the art form into the spotlight. For abstract art, it was Picasso. For martial arts, it was Bruce Lee. For theatrical arts it was Shakespeare. And for the art of turntablism, it was none other than Grandmaster Flash. However, as break dancers undeniably prefer to be called ‘breakers’, turntablists would also much rather be labelled ‘scratch DJs’. Funnily enough, Flash was the original scratch DJ. And by original, I don’t mean a pioneer who helped revolutionise the scratch. On the contrary, he invented the scratch. Along with crafting these turntable techniques which are still widely used to this very day, Flash also influenced a whole new culture through his music. Admittedly, Hip Hop culture as we know it stemmed from a time when your tennis shoes gave you access to exclusive clubs, everyone knew how to break, the car you drove was a reflection of your status and the music you listened to, was always courtesy of Grandmaster Flash. ITM’s palu takes a flashback in time with the man who started it all.

Broken glass everywhere, people pissing on the floor, you know they just don’t care. Flash grew up living among these images. The Bronx was indeed a jungle however Flash found refuge through his interest in electronic technology. As a result, his parents sent him to a special school to pursue his career as an electronic technician. And it wasn’t until later, when Flash witnessed the musical styles of Kool Herc that he became truly inspired. “When I saw Kool Herc, he was playing this very warm, soulful type of music and what was most amazing to me was when the record was playing, there was a section of the record which was later to be called the break where the least members of the band were playing. When that part came the audience became very active. The only difference between Kool Herc and I was that he didn’t have beats per minute as part of his process and I’d found that to be a serious missing link to DJs being able to entertain a crowd. So it’s almost as if god had said, listen you’ve got to figure that out. I had to build these things in the 70s.”

Swiftly building the techniques as well as his reputation in the 70’s, Flash rapidly tasted the sweetness of fame alongside his counterparts, Afrika Bambaata and Kool Herc. Between the three of them, Hip Hop was born, the world seemed conquerable and the foundations for a new culture were set in stone. Flash reminisces back to the old days. “I have fond memories of those times, but on the other hand I had a rough time too. This DJing thing that I created, a lot of people didn’t grab it at first and it was ridiculed for so long that I would have to say that it was the great experimental years.” He explains. “We were able to play black music, white music, fine music, blues music, jazz, rock and so much more. It was a wonderful experience and it was great for the experimentation of the struggling years” Not surprisingly it was the experimentation in the struggling years which led Flash to rub two records back and forth; this technique was later to be called the ‘break’. Similarly ‘scratching’ and ‘cutting’ were also discovered and developed. Flash shares his thoughts about his achievements. “I don’t think about history too much or what I have created, because a part of me gets very nervous. When you’re an inventor, whether its medicine, or motor cars or whatever the case you hope your invention comes to use. I was pretty fortunate to invent something that the public finally took hold of. You could spend a lifetime trying to invent something and then if everybody said no we don’t want it, then that could’ve have been a very sad thing.”

Not only did people embrace Flash’s invention but it opened new dimensions for aspiring DJs such as Q-Bert, Jazzy Jeff and Cash Money, providing an art form which is still prominent today. As well as this, it also launched Flash’s career as a recording artist. His work with the Furious Five would go down in history as pushing forward a radical new black sound; ‘The message’ being one of the very first serious rap records to ever be recorded! It seemed like the perfect collaboration. Yet consequently the dream died and so did the collaborations of Grandmaster flash and The Furious Five. Like many breakups, Flash explains it was all due to different priorities and the destructive business dealings of the record companies.

The Furious Five may very well have faded into the background; nevertheless Flash continued living his life working hard at DJing and refusing to be pulled into the shadows. “I said to myself eight years ago when I decided to no longer be a recording artist, I want to put Joseph Saddler (Flash’s real name) in the books of hip hop. So that meant I had to totally reinvent myself to whom I really was which was a DJ. I refuse to be folklore. I refuse to be a myth. I refuse to be topic of conversation. I want to interact with the new artists and the new public. Those are the people I want to touch now. Those are the people I want to show this art form to. All the old schoolers they have the knowledge, I feel they are responsible to show the young people what it’s all about. I don’t want to be a mystery. I don’t want to be a myth. I live. I breathe. I’m human. I’m here to stay”

As for his upcoming tour, what exactly can Australians expect from a Grandmaster Flash performance? “I’m coming to Australia to lay down a fact. When I was asked to do this, I said the only way I will do this is if I can go from page one, the beginning. The beginning years, as in before I had money, before I was famous, before anyone knew was it was all about, before I had an MC crew, before all that. We’re gonna go old school and we’re gonna go back to the genesis. And that’s where I want to go with this. I’m coming as a prophet with knowledge and a mission. And I’m going to do my best to entertain.”

Catch Grandmaster Flash on his mission delivering the message at the following venues:

Melbourne – Tuesday 13th May @ Prince of Wales
Adelaide – Wednesday 14th May @ The Governor Hindmarsh
Melbourne – Thursday 15th May @ The Forum
Perth – Friday 16th May @ The Metro
Sydney – Saturday 17th May @ Hordern Pavilion
Brisbane – Sunday 18th May @ The Arena.