A Flick Of The DJ Switch – Interview with DJ Mr Switch
Now let’s not have any confusion about who DJ Mr Switch is. DJ Mr Switch is DJ Switch and not Dave ‘Major Lazer-Switch’ Taylor. But Tony ‘3 Times’ will have that cleared up as you read on.
Anthony John Culverwell aka DJ Switch aka Tony ‘3 Times’ – so called for his three back-to-back world DJ championship titles, as well as his three consecutive UK supremacy & team titles – began moving records at the tender age of 11 but has since conquered the world over with his scratching superpowers. From Africa to Bulgaria, China to Denmark, with countless diverse gigs across his homeland of England under his award-winning belt, he hasn’t looked back.
Shortly after his recent bout at the DMC championships he tells me about being the first DJ to ever play at The Proms, his love of Doctor Who and taking on America:
How much influence from your past do you still use in creating the routines you play out today, and similarly how influenced are you by the current climate of noise. How important is it for you to utilise modern technology and do you think there will be a day when your format is completely controller based?
I would love it if I could play all my shows on stuff like the Denon turntables. With my current setup of laptop + turntables, it feels like the needle is the weak link in everything. There’s this analogue trapping which shouldn’t really be there – the needle has nothing to do with how you actually interact with the record & manipulate it. And if it gets damaged (which can happen at any time) then it screws with your whole performance.
Most of my best/signature routines come from ‘flipping the record’, getting new patterns out of recognisable tracks, which I feel gets a bit lost among many turntablists these days. Even if you’re doing complex stuff you want to make it so that it’s understandable for the audience, and the best way to do that is to use familiar music. This routine won me my first world championship in 2008:
Doctor Who!? Are we really quite a fan?
Hell yeah! In 2012 I did a marathon watch of all the ‘classic series’ episodes – all 704 of them! I paced myself at 2 per day to fit them all in. I’m very proud of that. The show’s given a lot to me over the years, little nuggets of info that you pick up on. Plus an appreciation for weird sound effects, that the BBC Radiophonic Workshop made up for all these different monsters. As a DJ you always look out for interesting sounds to sample & use.
Are you still the 3 x World DMC Champion or is it 4x? How did it pan out the other Friday?
That Friday was the 2013 DMC UK final, and I’d been gently nudged into going for the big 6 minute title – my 3 world champion titles I currently have are in a different category, the Battle for World Supremacy, where DJs go head-to-head and you’re left with last man standing who wins. The 6 minute battle is more of a showcase, where everyone does there thing, then the judges pick a winner.
Sadly I didn’t win – it was very very close between me and defending UK champion Ritchie Ruftone, literally the closest decision I’ve ever seen. I was entering to try and win the big world title back for the UK. The last guy we had win it was one of the Scratch Perverts back in 2001. I’m a bit disappointed not to have won, but I was happy with my set & the crowd gave me a lot of love, I just hope Ritchie can win it for Blighty.
And no-one’s ever taking my 3 world titles away from me! I’ve got jackets and trophies and all.
Turntable trickery is quite a skill. How come you’ve got into this so much rather than just mixing out a few funky beats?
I started DJing purely to do the scratching stuff – that was what captivated me. I thought I had to learn mixing in order to get to that. DJing is my full time job, and that covers a lot of different angles – clubs, radio, festivals, videos, recording scratches for tracks, playing with bands, beatboxers – but most of my work has come because I have this edge, of being able to do this kind of stuff. It makes you more versatile. Manipulating sound has greater & wider application than purely playing songs.
What was it like to get the call inviting you to the BBC Proms? I’d’ve thought the first word would’ve have “Really!?” in slight dismay and apprehension..
Haha well it was definitely a surprising call to get, especially when I later found out that it would make me the first DJ to have ever been on the Proms. But I’d actually already been performing the Concerto For Turntables for the past two years. I was first asked to do it via a MySpace message (back in the day…) from Will Dutta, who had commissioned the piece. That first show was to probably about 150 people, and I had the orchestra on a backing track CD.
I did a fair few solo shows with it like that, then I performed it in part with the BBC Concert Orchestra on tour, and then the offer came up through the NYO. We rehersed at the start of the week, and did two shows together before we even got to the Proms. So actually, performing at the Royal Albert Hall couldn’t have been made easier, because I knew the piece inside out by that point and I was very well attuned to how the conductor & orchestra played it. I did have a slight freak-out moment in my dressing room though.
This show was going to be my biggest audience (including radio listeners & TV viewers) as well as being recorded & re-watchable, so I was very conscious of doing a good show that I’d be able to watch back and think ‘I did well‘. I think I got there:
Has America called yet? Because a good few other countries have, haven’t they?
For some reason America is still a target for me to play, likewise Japan and Australia. All three have come up as possibilities but they never crystallised. I have had the joy of playing some amazing & wonderfully random places. The first time I played abroad I was 17 and went from Bulgaria to Greece via Macedonia – an amazing little tour. This year I have projects in Armenia, Poland and Latvia all penciled in.
I’ve seen JFB in action a couple of times, before now. You bounce & battle with each other every now and then don’t you?
Yeah JFB and I have a lot of fun together. We both won a UK title in 2007 which is how we first became aware of each other. He’d already done a couple of videos for Denon when he asked me if I’d be interested in doing a team set with him, and that became the Fatboy Slim rooftop turntable dubstep remix viral video – watch and listen. And we’ve started doing more live sets together in the past few years – joke battles, party sets. Hopefully we’ll get around to doing some EP stuff together. J keeps getting better as a producer with each track, and I also got him onto the electro swing thing. He’s a lovely lad. Puts himself down a lot & always striving to be better at what he does.
Is ‘Digital Turntablism’ the way forward now or do we still hold a love for vinyl? What kind of gear do you have and what gear do you want?
Definitely love the vinyl! It’s above and beyond MP3s in terms of having something physical to treasure. I do vinyl sets once in a blue moon, like when I’ve been asked to do a UK garage set, and you cannot get hold of those tunes without having bought them on vinyl when they came out, all the dubs and stuff.
But then why wouldn’t you embrace current technology for what it can do? I’ve been using Serato Scratch for pretty much all my live sets since 2006, and it means you can play in ways that simply aren’t possible with vinyl, like jumping to different parts of the track instantly. My favourite toy I’ve got recently is the Denon 3900 digital deck – a CD deck that has a moving platter, so as someone used to vinyl you can pretty much jump on and scratch/mix as normal. You don’t have to worry about needles breaking or things like that.
Have you experimented with equipment to see if you can muster up some kind of performance similar to that of Beardyman who’s attempting to do ‘One Album Per Hour’?
I’ve met Beardyman a few times and I do envy the high level of freedom he has as a musician. Similarly for Reggie Watts, if you’ve seen his stuff – you can’t really call it anything other than a man doing things to a microphone! The closest I have to that at the moment is my Nottingham-based freestyle band Hey Zeus. We hold true to the principals of never practicing & making stuff up live on stage – it’s very refreshing & liberating, especially because all the members play in regular bands with fully formed songs.
I’ve only just moved back to my native Birminghamland, and had some lovely jams with a guitarist, where he made up songs & I found samples to accompany him. Just describing it sounds boring, but maybe that will become a thing in future. It made me very excited.
I saw Beardyman at the Strawberry Fields Festival a couple of years back and I believe you’re performing as well. Looking forward to it? Because it’s a cracking little gig there..
Yes never been to Strawberry Fields Festival before, I know of it by repute and have heard only good things about it. The warm-up party we had in Derby was brilliant, even the two power cuts we had didn’t dispel anyone! The beatboxers & MCs just jumped up and jammed until they got the power back. The line-up looks brill, very carefully selected. Looking forward to catching up again with MistaJam and The Petebox on Sunday, which is when I’m playing.
What’s next for DJ Switch?
Well as of 2014 I will be called DJ Mr Switch, thanks to a lot of confusion about me and other people called Switch. So I’m in the middle of working on lots of new videos which’ll help promote that – for the IDA battle in Poland, a sequel to the Denon rooftop video at some point. And there are two projects closely related to the Concerto For Turntables in the works, but I can’t say anything about either of them really! All will be revealed in time.
A busy man. A nice man. A humble man. And still with a lot of potential to do very well for himself in the future. With backing from big names, underground legends and support from major players in dance music technology, the soon to be DJ Mr Switch will be leaving us blinded by his talents once more. I know I am and I no doubt will be again.
DJ Switch is performing at The Strawberry Fields Festival on August 11th, 2013
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