The unfortunate news came in around the same time that I had been contemplating what the subject matter of my next Geek Tech column would be.
(Repeated iMac hardware woes have now twice thwarted a Snow Leopard review.)
While contemplating the achievements of Roc Raida's astounding, yet still too short DJ career, I came to the realization that DJ culture and turntablism are fantastic, explosive expressions of all that is Geek Tech, and well, geek in general.
The technology of recorded sound and playback has mesmerized us for a century now. In the past few decades however, the playback technology itself has morphed into the actual instrument. The art of scratching and mixing records is well known to most by now. The passionate skill that DJs employ while flipping, mashing, chopping, and merging sounds together into a tapestry of sonic amazement has entertained us for decades, and turntablism's greatest talents, such as the late Roc Raida, have achieved God-like status among fans. It's the kind of respect, admiration, and awe previously afforded to Hendrix, Clapton, and other axe-wielding giants.
Turntablism though, in it's own way, is very Geek Tech. The actual recording and playback of sound via microphones, spinning, vibrating platters, needles, electricity, and speakers is a wondrous human achievement. It's almost magical. Sound moves us. The DJ has become a shamanic super-hero, usually taking on an alter-ego with a larger-than-life superhero name (Grandmaster Flash, etc.) and processing a universe of sound and revealing it's mysteries to us via their own special cipher, with their own distinct perspective.
Geeks love technology, especially hacking technology. Hooking up two turntables and pushing the technology to the extreme by mashing together bit of sounds from multiple records in a dazzling display of beat juggling is a prime example of technology hacking taken to dizzying new heights.
And of course there's another Geek Tech element to DJ culture that can't be overlooked, and its certainly something all-too-familiar to geeks: the relentless obsession of record collecting.
The evolution and influence of turntablism over the years, from hip hop, to techno, to the current eclectic mash-up culture, is a testament to what can be achieved when gifted artists combine technology hacking with the inspired obsession to collect new sounds and blend it all together into something totally new, creative, and truly extraordinary.
As we mourn one of turntablism's greatest innovators, it's worth reflecting upon, and celebrating the unique, artistic culture he helped to build, popularize, and inspire.