Tony Atwood’s Throwback Vinyl of the Day: Grandmaster Flash

Grandmaster Flash carefully studied the DJing styles and techniques of earlier DJs, particularly Pete Jones, Kool Herc, and Grandmaster Flowers. As a teenager, he began experimenting with DJ gear in his bedroom, eventually developing and mastering three innovations that are still considered standard DJing techniques today.

Backspin Technique (“Quick-Mix Theory”) a.k.a. Early New York party DJs came to understand that short drum breaks were popular with party audiences. Aiming to isolate these breaks and extend them for longer durations, Grandmaster Flash learned that by using duplicate copies of the same record, he could play the break on one record while searching for the same fragment of music on the other (using his headphones). When the break finished on one turntable, he used his mixer to switch quickly to the other turntable, where the same beat was queued up and ready to play. Using the backspin technique, the same short phrase of music could be looped indefinitely.

Punch Phrasing (“Clock Theory”): This technique involved isolating very short segments of music, typically horn hits, and rhythmically punching them over the sustained beat using the mixer.

Scratching: Although the invention of record scratching is generally credited to Grand Wizzard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash perfected the technique and brought it to new audiences. Scratching, along with punch phrasing, exhibited a unique performative aspect of party DJing: instead of passively spinning records, he manipulated them to create new music.[6]

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