Scratch and spin
Turntablist DJ Saurus has a hand—or two—in many local musical projects
Eric Sasz, aka DJ Saurus, is a pretty imposing figure. He’s a big guy; his head is almost shaved; and when he’s on the decks spinning a set of classic soul or hip-hop, his attention and focus are almost fierce.
Talk to Saurus, though, and any impression you might have had of him as a stern and unapproachable beat-aesthete dissolves. His voice is soft, his demeanor is earnest, and he talks about his various musical endeavors enthusiastically.
“We’re doing so many positive things in this town,” he says, while setting up his turntables in the back corner of Hurricanes, the downtown bar at which he holds down a Thursday night residency.
He talks about the growing popularity of turntablism, the art form that consists of using records not just to play music created by others, but also as the raw material for newly-created music of one’s own, whether by mixing elements from two records together, by cutting back and forth between them, or by scratching—moving a record back and forth rhythmically over a particular passage.
Saurus recently attended Skratchcon 2001, a turntablist convention at the Yerba Buena Museum of Arts, and he talks enthusiastically about that experience as he gets ready for his set. The convention featured presentations and demonstrations by notables in the field, including DJ Qbert (of Invisibl Skratch Piklz fame), DJ Radar and filmmaker John Carluccio, whose “Battle Sounds” documentary explores the highly competitive DJ and turntablism scene. Saurus brought home ideas—and a couple of newly developed systems for the notation of scratching—to incorporate into his work with Sign Language, his turntablist crew.
Sign Language is only one of his many current projects. Apart from his ongoing set at Hurricanes, Saurus is also closely involved with local bands Keyser Soze and the Brian Landrus Project. Both groups combine jazz and funk in various degrees, and Saurus scratches for them as well as contributing in other ways; both have album releases planned for this summer, and Saurus has helped with production on both. In fact, one of them will be released on his own fledgling independent label.
At Hurricanes, Saurus is unflappable as he sets up his decks and organizes his vinyl; on this particular night, he’ll be alternating spinning sessions with sets by the Brian Landrus Project. He hooks up cables and adjusts levels, moving gracefully from his crates to his turntables, clamping a headphone between shoulder and ear and generally ignoring the squawk and clatter of the band setting up around him.
He starts spinning a preparatory set, and classic soul pours out of the speakers. As one song approaches its finish, he starts cueing up another, using the pitch controller on the opposing turntable to ensure that the tempo will be consistent from one song to the next and that the beats will fade together seamlessly.
When an appropriate musical moment presents itself, he starts scratching, demonstrating impressive skill without drawing undue attention to himself and away from the music he’s showcasing. It’s a paradigmatic moment; it seems that in everything he does, DJ Saurus exhibits a rare combination of skill, enthusiasm and modesty that serves the music well.