Scratch expert DJ Yoda chats about his new video mashup sets
‘I’m not really the kind of DJ that likes to put on a record, stand back and watch it go around,’ says DJ Yoda – aka Duncan Beiny – over a wobbly line from London. ‘I get bored too easily.’ He’s not kidding. As anyone who’s been to one of his gigs will tell you, Yoda’s sets are some of the most complex, varied and – yes – funny around. He’ll happily move from his signature Star Wars themes to The Chemical Brothers to Dolly Parton to NWA, throwing in movie and TV samples for good measure. It’s no mean feat, but the man’s scratching skills, honed by years of DMC competitions make it a cinch for him.
Which is, oddly enough, a problem. ‘I don’t want to sound conceited, but it’s pretty easy for me to just rock a club playing records now,’ he says. ‘I’ve been doing it long enough that it kind of comes naturally to me.
So now I want to set challenges for myself and do something interesting that hopefully the crowds haven’t seen before.’ Hence his new audio-visual show, in which he mixes not only records, but also videos. ‘I got all the best bits from YouTube and all my favourite bits from movies and cartoons, and I can scratch and mix them as well as the music. It’s like having control of the remote control, basically. It requires a huge amount of concentration; it’s a huge show. But I want to do something different.’
The idea of ‘doing something different’ comes up frequently in conversation; he seems to have an almost neurotic desire to ensure that he stands out from the competition. Was this, we wonder, why he had a comedian opening for him on his recent UK tour? Or was it just a clever bit of psychology to ensure that antsy clubbers would be happy with whatever Yoda served up, so long as the joker was off the stage? ‘Neither,’ he laughs. ‘The video show is funny, or tries to be, so it’s in keeping with that. And I didn’t want some nerdy DJ playing all of the same records before I went on. And the comedian did do absolutely brilliantly in maybe 75 per cent of the sets. He either killed the crowd or died on stage.’
Outside of his tours, Yoda’s commitment to changing up a gear continues unabated; he’s planning Imax and 3D editions of the video show, and is scratching with classical musicians to promote DJing to a wider audience. With all this going off, it’s a wonder he has time to seek out new music. But seek out he does, and his interests are as eclectic as ever. ‘There’s a group called The Very Best who do African music-meets-electronic music – I rate them very highly. There’s a producer in America called Emynd who makes club music – that’s something I’m into now – and Rothko, the dubstep DJ… That’s three totally random things, isn’t it?’ Indeed – and that’s DJ Yoda all over.
Here are five things that DJ Yoda has learned over the course of his career.
1 Be original. ‘Don’t try to copy anyone else – keep it as simple as doing what you love. Musically I always tried to do my own thing, though when I was first trying to scratch I copied other people’s tricks, because it’s impossible to get going otherwise. At that point I was copying people like DJ Qbert, who’s one of the best scratch DJs in the world.’
2 Don’t be overbearing when you’re producing vocalists. ‘As a producer, I’ve learned not to push the vocalist into my vision of what a track should be. Let the talent do what they do best, and adjust your style to fit.’
3 DJing prepares you for fatherhood. ‘Leading a DJ lifestyle means you’re used to being jetlagged and so can adapt pretty well to waking up in the middle of the night to help with the baby. It made me crazy enough to be a parent.’
4 Think hard about your DJ name. ‘I hate the name DJ Yoda, but when you think about it, 90 per cent of artists’ names are pretty stupid. If I could do it again, I’d stick with my real name, because my surname is Beiny [pronounced ‘Beenie’]. And my initials are D and J. So my actual name is DJ Beiny. Missed opportunity there.’
5 Know your audience. ‘I’ve been playing a lot of Brazilian ghetto music lately, and I got the opportunity to play in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I was playing all these tunes when one of the promoters came up to me and said, “Do you realise that a lot of these tunes are gang warfare songs?” That was pretty hairy, yeah.’