Canadian hip hop scene vet and turntable master Skratch Bastid resided in MTL in the mid-to-late aughts, holding down a proper Friday club night for the ages, Stay Fly.
Back in town tonight for a smoked meat sandwich, Bastid will also take a few hours from his busy schedule to grace the dancefloor at Peopl to help celebrate their second anniversary.
We caught up to talk about the good old days and the state of the cut.
Darcy MacDonald: So what brings you to Peopl this week? What can we expect?
Skratch Bastid: Well, as a former Montreal resident I always look forward to any opportunity to come back and play, so it’ll be fun.
DM: What was that bracket you lived here, and why did you decide then to come here?
SB: It was around the middle of ’04, until ’09, so nearly five years. I’m originally from Nova Scotia and it’s kinda, like, the next big city up the Trans-Canada (laughs). But really, I just love Montreal and I’d always enjoyed stopping in on tours and so on. I found the city really charming and had a lot of fun. And I do speak French, so I thought it was a good call to put that to use and employ that, and I ended up staying.
I also really liked the local nights, like Blizzarts had a bunch of stuff going with Simahlak and Sixtoo — who is actually the guy who gave me my name (and) came from out east. I’d seen a few people move from Halifax to (Montreal) and thought, why don’t I give this a try?
DM: Sim actually holds down Blizz on Friday nights now with Get Nice, the heir apparent to Stay Fly, your old night there. Have you ever been?
SB: Yeah! Get Nice was actually named after a song on one of my albums, Taking Care of Business.
DM: What sticks out to you about that night, and those days?
SB: When I look back, I really love that room — I always found it a fun room to play because people just went to dance to whatever, really. I’d be back there for hours and play long sets of varied music, coming from a sort of hip hop perspective.
If anything sorta kinda sticks out, it’s maybe just the Montreal local scene that would come out and jam out on a Friday night. As far as a guest or something like that, I don’t think there was anyone special that really rolled through. But if there was, chances are I wouldn’t have seen ’em. We packed that place out every weekend!
In the back there, you’re kind of in a bunker. What I loved about it was it’s just one of those sweet little dancefloors. A lot of DJs brag about festivals and everything like that, but there’s nothing like a tight little dancefloor with the right people on it. And Blizzarts fit that perfectly.
I actually went to Blizzarts the very first time I visited Montreal. I was up there for a DJ competiton, the ITFs (International Turntablists Federation) and we stopped into Blizzarts. And I remember they were playing “Top Billin'” by Audio Two and the dancefloor was full, and the girls were dancing to it, and I was like, “This is where I wanna be!”
DM: “I’m home!”
SB: Exactly. The DJ booth was like, where the kegs are now.
DM: You’re a busy guy and you’re constantly on the move with events and projects and so on, but what have you been up to creatively and musically these days in the lab?
SB: Well, my last project was Spin Cycle with the Afiara Quartet and we got nominated for a Juno for Instrumental Album of the Year. That’s a string quartet project.
But other than that I’ve just been in the studio lately, and I’ve got some sessions with Shad coming up next week. That (project — 2013’s free EP The Spring Up was kinda the last, like, commercial album I was billed as producer on. So, I’m just spending some time in the studio, and it’s been really good. (But) I don’t have anything really to show the world yet.
DM: You’ve been at it for a really long time. Maybe it’s a weird question but does it still sometimes trip you out that this is what you do for a living?
SB: Well, I mean, definitely kinda — but it’s funny because it feels like every year it gets easier and easier to believe, you know? And it’s something that I’ve been working on for many, many years, and you keep getting stronger and stronger. And now I’ve been DJing longer than I haven’t been DJing, and DJing has been my job almost half my life, full time, you know?
So it’s not that I don’t know anything else, but it’s just that I can see so many different ways to survive in this biz now. (laughs) So many different ways to sustain my career. I can literally just devote all my time to my craft. It’s a wonderful thing, man. I don’t like to use the word ‘lucky’, ’cause there’s a lot of work involved. But at the same time, I’m happy in my situation and the fact that I get to make art every day.
DM: Now you’re getting a classic ‘state of’ type question, which I never ask, but because you are the Skratch Bastid, I want to know: what do you think about the state of scratching — or the non-existence of scratching — in hip hop these days?
SB: I think that scratching, just kinda like b-boying, and graffiti…the thing with hip hop when it was a smaller thing was there was really more of an interdependence among the facets within it. It needed to be, because it wasn’t so subdivided, or whatever. But then as the niches in hip hop grew, they kinda became their own sustainable scenes. So I think the reason you don’t really hear scratching in hip hop is that the DJ is no longer the backbone of hip hop music.
The hip hop music that you hear is, like, primarily producers are the thing. Back in the day the DJ was the producer so of course (there would be) some scratching added to it. But I also think that sound is a bit foreign to the modern producer. ■
Skratch Bastid plays Club Peopl (390 Notre-Dame W.) on Wednesday, April 27, 10 p.m.