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The Comedy of Errors

Mr Switch Is Heading for the DMC World DJ Finals

3 October 14 photos: RJ Baddeley
words: Mr Switch

Mr Switch is a scratch DJ from Nottingham with three World DMC titles under his belt. We‘ve booked him for the closing set of the LeftLion stage at Hockley Hustle, and got him to tell us why he’s going to be competing for a fourth world title...

The DMC world championships celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year, marking it as the longest-running - and the first established - DJ competition. It holds a significant position in the world of DJing, and is one of the biggest platforms for the art form known as 'scratching'. The competition has helped nurture this strange form of music, seeing it refined from an anarchic series of visual stunts on vinyl turntables in the eighties, to a level of technical precision where any song can be taken apart and transformed into a new composition live in front of you, by a flick of the wrist - and a very fast flick at that.

Some of the best DJs in the world have come of age through the competition – MixMaster Mike (of the Beastie Boys), A-Trak, C2C, Scratch Perverts - the list goes on. It is the most prestigious event of its kind. And this year I'm planning to win it. Again.

I started DJing when I was eleven. I was intrigued by glimpses of record rubbers that came from the pop charts (particularly The Avalanches' Frontier Psychiatrist, one of the best songs ever created by a DJ – and a DMC veteran, no less). Then my dad got me a video tape of one of these battles and my mind was instantly blown. From seeing the first competitor, who scratched up the The Muppet Show theme tune, I knew straight away what I wanted to do.

I didn't start playing records for money, fame, girls or parties. I wanted to learn how to do that weird thing where you moved a record backwards and forwards, because it looked and sounded amazing. I took every chance I got – youth clubs, local radio stations, community workshops – and managed to impress, despite my rather low ability at the time. I got into my first club when I was thirteen, but only because the competition I wanted to enter was being held there. I'd bartered my way in on the condition that my dad came in with me – what a pro that man is.

Fast forward to 2010, and somehow I've won three consecutive UK titles, followed by three consecutive world champion titles. I'm on the front cover of the DVDs I used to watch, although sadly I was too late to make it on to a VHS cover. Even better is the fact that I'm competing – and after-partying – with the DJs I used to watch on those videos, plenty of whom I'm life-long mates with. Eat your heart out Beliebers, I get to meet my idols and jam with them. And guess what? They turn out to be nice, normal people.

I’m a full-time DJ. Hand on heart, I have never in my life earned money through anything that wasn't DJ-related (except for one bar stint I did as a favour to a friend for one day). I'm pretty happy about that. Especially as I get to do interesting stuff through having the rep of being a turntablist. I play tons of different styles of music – hip hop, funk, garage, electronica, electro swing, bass music (a rather naff term). And I've worked with singers, beatboxers, rappers, drummers, bands (a few of the Notts crew might know Hey Zeus, the hodge podge let's-make-it-up-on-the-day freestyle jam band I'm a part of) and orchestras.

One of my biggest achievements is becoming the first DJ ever to appear on the BBC Proms - yep, the real one, in the Royal Albert Hall - back in 2011. I was scratching up classical sounds as soloist alongside a full-size orchestra. With each performance of Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, more requests to perform it appeared, with increasingly bigger and younger orchestras, until I ended up on the Proms and the National Youth Orchestra. The moral of the story: take every opportunity you're given; you never know where they might take you.

So far this year, I've been preoccupied with performing classical music – at the time of writing I'm in Armenia, about to premier a new composition called Breakbeat Concerto. Performing music written by someone else is par for the course for a lot of musicians, but never for a DJ, who chooses every song and decides everything about the timing and structure of their performance. Having a DJ led by a conductor makes the whole scratching thing feel more legitimate.

So you may be thinking, “Ok, I get the point – he's good at what he does.” So why enter the DMCs again? Why battle again having already won three times? There are two reasons. One is that I'm changing my name from DJ Switch to Mr Switch. Quite a small detail, but there are a lot of DJ Switches around – the former half of production duo Major Lazer for one, the winner of 2013's Nigerian X Factor for another.

The other is a more patriotic reason. There are three categories of world competition in the DMC: the 'supremacy', a head-to-head knockout format (the category I won from 2008 to 2010); the 'team' battle, where up to four DJs are allowed on as many as six turntables and, the longest standing category, the 'individual' (more simply known as the World DJ Championship) where each competitor gets six minutes to prove themselves the best. This is the category that has been around for thirty years, the one that all the legends have won, and the one I'm now going for.

The last person to win the big one for the UK was Plus One (formerly of Scratch Perverts), way back in 2001. That's twelve years Great Britain has gone without winning. Before him, the only other UK winner was Cutmaster Swift in 1989, the year I was born. We're one of the top countries in the battle scene, winning plenty of other titles and securing very consistent top three podium positions, but seem to just miss out on the number one spot. As a vaguely patriotic person, I felt a certain responsibility to represent my country and do it some justice. Plus Sally, who organises the DMC, kept nudging me to do it, as she reckons I'm the only UK DJ with the ability to win it. Just imagine the “you're my only hope” scene from the first Star Wars.

I predict my strongest competition this year to be the USA's I-Dee (just recently crowned the DMC Online World Champion) and Hi-C from Japan. But then I'm going into the world finals as high favourite, with the most number of world titles behind me. The six minute competition is the DJ equivalent of the 100m sprint. Fingers crossed for the win. 

Mr Switch is representing at the DMC World DJ Finals, The Forum, Kentish Town, London, Sunday 5 October 2014. He will be playing the LeftLion stage at Broadway as part of Hockley Hustle on Sunday 19 October.

Mr Switch website

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