QBert on the Photon Fader, his studio gear, and his favorite decade of drums to sample
What makes a legendary artist in the DJ community? Often it’s having a lasting impact – and QBert continues to do that. In today’s interview from DJTT guest contributor Alex Amaro, Q talks about his most recent projects, his studio gear, and more. Read on.
Who is QBert?
QBert is part of a select few artists who have not only formed the foundation of DJ culture, but also continue to reshape its future. Having started in the mid-1980s, Qbert (Richard Quitevis) has spent three decades as a pioneer of the concepts, technology, and art form of turntablism. It’s safe to say that he’s played a substantial a role in making DJs such a large part of modern music culture.
It’s not just the turntables that become an instrument when QBert is on the decks. His hands move across records effortlessly, controlling the needles as if independent from his body, creating otherworldly soundscapes showcasing his incredible imagination and impeccable sense of rhythm and timing.
Many of Q’s contemporaries have been comfortable remaining legendary figures in the history of hip hop. Qbert, however, has remained at the forefront of the musical conversation. This is in large part because he embraces technology innovations, but at the same time never has forgotten that the roots of DJing lie on two turntables and a mixer.
Through his imprint, Thud Rumble, Q continues to find new ways to make an impact on the culture. An upcoming product he’s working on – the Invader DJ mixer – aims to give DJs the power to ditch the laptop by putting the computer inside of the mixer. It is the culmination of a 20 year dream – Qbert always imagined a world where the computer would be inside of the mixer. While CDJs may have almost made that possible in some regards, the Invader DJ Mixer actualizes this for the hardcore scratchers.
His other recent endeavor, the dynamic Photon Fader, is a MIDI crossfader controller designed to put precision scratching into the palm of your hand. It specifically is designed for portable scratching with any device.
The Q (and A) with QBert
I met up with QBert at the San Francisco-based ThudRumble.com studios to chat about the power of the Invader Mixer and Photon Fader, what kind of gear he uses to create the psychedelic sounds in his music, and his upcoming album.
Hi Q! Can you share more about the Invader DJ mixer and when we’ll see a final unit rolling off the line?
Yeah. So right now, we’re doing this thing called the Photon Fader which is kind of the guts of the Invader Mixer. And the Invader Mixer is the whole package where you can have a screen finally on your mixer and you can use whatever [DJ software] you want, go on the internet at the same time and, download tracks right away. You can stream your shows right there on your mixer and you don’t have to have a laptop anymore.
It’s the Photon Fader that’s controlling all the sounds on your laptop, or the sounds on your iPad, or your sounds on your iPhone or iPod touch. So, you put that in the mixer and that’s your internet right there. Now we just need to make all the fader parts.
How do you see the standalone Photon Fader making things easier for DJs?
For me, it’s good because when I’m on tour I like to use certain tables. But In the hotel room. I can’t lug all of this stuff with me so I just bring a little Photon Fader, my laptop and a portable table. It’s a really small setup and I can get my practice in before the show. That’s just one of the gazillion uses for the Photon Fader.
You’ve remained an avid proponent of Traktor. Can you talk a bit about why?
Traktor has a double the processing speed of Serato, so if you’re doing really intricate tiny little scratch things then you’re going to want to use Traktor. I mean nothing beats vinyl, but it’s [almost the same]. So, it’s like I can’t even tell sometimes. It’s kind of like some of the movements aren’t being picked up in Serato. I like every frigging movement of course ‘cause I’m trying to speak with my hands. I can’t have that latency if you’re going super ridiculously slow on the turntables, I want to hear that.
Do you use a Traktor mixer when you travel?
An assumption is I gotta use Serato but I prefer the Z2. You see a lot of hardcore DJs in using this guy.
You recently posted about the return of the SP-1200. Did the original unit play heavily in like your studio?
Still does, nothing sounds like it. You know, I have a million electro machines and things like that, but that 12 bit sound from the SP 1200 and the way it hits, it’s totally unique. So that’s an important piece of gear even to this day and it never has gone away in my life.
What other pieces of gear are you using in the studio?
I got a [Kontrol X1], I got all kinds of Serato mixers, and the Pioneer DJ S9. Plus, the Reloop [RP8000 MK2] turntable that just came out (woo!). They’re amazing. You can do all kinds of stuff with that. You can play melodies on it like a keyboard.
The Reloop Elite, oh my God that’s a great mixer right there! And I love Stanton turntables. People don’t know about them, but the pitch on that is ridiculous. Like you can go like negative 1000 to positive 1000. I’m exaggerating. Let’s just say it spins so fast, you can do pottery on it.
You’re quite adept at flipping sounds – how have you expanded the locations from which you source material?
First and foremost I like dirty ass drums from the seventies and sixties. The quality of drums at that time had every frigging drummer [sounding] different. They were using analog weird tube equipment. Doing echoes through actual caves and you know doing the drums with the sound of a fish tank and all kinds of weird things to make the drum sound nasty. And they put it through tape and it gives it that warm quality. And sometimes the tape sound would depend on the temperature in that city or the temperature in that studio. It’s always a treasure hunt when you’re looking for beats and breaks from [that time]. When you get into the eighties and nineties and it’s too clean.
I get sounds from everywhere. Grab some microphones and go out in the forest and find some animals that sound nuts. Put those guys in reverse and put it through different synthesizers and effects like plate echoes. Then play them again and reassemble it back into some other shit.
Can you talk about your new upcoming album?
It comes out in August. I made a movie a long time ago called Wavetwisters. The new album is a prequel, the origins of all the old characters and how they got to become who they are. So every song is, is the origin of each character. It’s called “Origins: Waves to Zero”
You can get half of the album for free right now on Thudrumble.com. Every song is a different texture. I am trying to go into a different dimension in each song I do. So every song uses different drum machines or different ways of recording.