Just like many other kids who were alive in the 70s/80s, I remember watching the Grammys where Herbie Hancock did a live performance of ‘Rock It’ (which at that time had the most visually eclectic music video to date.) There was a lot going on in the performance – mannequins were moving around and other Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions swung in the background. But what I remember most was the DJ in the background, where for the first time ever I saw someone scratching. After that, I fell in love with the art and later with the skills of so many accomplished DJs, including Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jay, Jam Master Jay, Chuck Chillout, Marley Marl, Red Alert and Premier to name just a few.
Very late into the craze, I decided to save up my money and get DJ equipment myself. With immeasurable hope, I turned the pages to the back of a Source magazine advertisement and bought two of the most inexpensive Gemini turntables and a mixer that money would buy. (They even threw in ten albums which I desperately needed, as buying two of each record wasn’t something that my 12-year-old budget was ready to handle.)
When my box and turntables arrived, within about 3 hours I realized a few things. First, I learned that you pretty much get what you pay for. But most importantly I learned that even the most expensive gear and dedication wouldn’t buy the years of practice and perfecting of the art it takes to be a true Hip-Hop DJ. Watching DJs as a kid, all I saw was the scratching and crossfading. But only when I used the turntables myself did I see just how much skill was involved. I had to try to remember the positioning of the song, so that when I went from one turntable to the other, I would be at the correct position. I had to remember to discern between what I was hearing in my headphones versus what was coming out of the speaker. All in all, I developed more respect for the art of DJing that day than I ever had watching it alone.
Over the years, the art has been mastered and taken to new levels, as evidenced by watching movies like Scratch and guys like Mix Master Mike, Cut Chemist and many others. DJing is such an iconic art that in Japan (where arcade gaming, although on the decline, is much more popular than it is here) there are more than a few games that feature turntables and simulate DJing. I always wondered if one of those games would make it stateside and, more importantly, if they would be worth playing.
A bit over a year ago, I remember hearing that Activision reserved the name “DJ Hero”, (among many other Hero-based game names they reserved). Ideas began to circulate in my mind about how a game like this might play out. Exactly how would they translate the art of DJing to a video game?
About six months ago, I had my first look at the DJ Hero controller, and I was pretty impressed. It looked like the iconic Technics 1200 model turntable that every Hip-Hop aficionado is familiar with. (And actually I’m pretty surprised that Technics hasn’t attempted to sue Activision – the resemblance is more than minor.) However, when I saw the screenshot, I thought I was seeing only part of the peripheral. Where was the other turntable? Well, Activision aired on the side of simplicity for the controller rather than authenticity. Initially I thought this was sacrilegious to only have one turntable. But after having played the game, I think – for now, at least – that they made the right decision. So, does this game bring me closer to the experience of actually simulating the art of DJing? Read on to find out.