You Absolutely Need to Check Out the Amazing Turntable Symphonograph Orchestra  

DJ Lobito Brigante is on a mission “to showcase the turntable as the musical multi-instrument it deserves to be and bring great music played in a completely fresh way to a brand new audience”.

 

Some things slip criminally under the radar. Lobito’s brainchild, the 20-piece Turntable Symphonograph Orchestra is one of them. Sold-out shows at the Louvre, in Abu Dhabi, last year garnered much press attention in the UAE, but with new material now at the ready it’s time the Turntable Symphonograph Orchestra gained global attention. Big fans of the project, we’re more than happy to give them a little shove into the limelight.

 

In return, Lobito – a well-known turntablist, founder of Deep Crates Cartel, promoter, musical programmer and general all-round hip-hop ambassador based in Dubai – has dropped an exclusive mix for iamCrü to co-incide with his interview. Win-win. 

You can listen to the exclusive mix here and read all about the Turntable Symphonograph Orchestra below. Festival organisers and cultural institution bookers around the world should jump on this.

Where did the idea for the Turntable Symphonograph Orchestra originate from?

There’s a long history to turntable music, or turntablism, which is a term coined by DJ Babu of the world-famous Beat Junkies. I’ve always wanted to experiment with the turntable as a musical instrument so first seeing pioneering DJ bands like ISP (Invizibl Skratch Piklz) and the X-Ecutioners competing and playing like an actual band was a huge inspiration.

 

I was also influenced by European DJs and crews, such as Ninja Tune’s DJ Food and Kid Koala, as well as the French C2C and Birdy Nam Nam. I’d seen some attempts over the years to bridge the gap with classical orchestras, such as DJ Radar playing with a state symphony orchestra in 2001, and Polish hip-hop producer Jimek getting a symphony orchestra to perform classic hip-hop productions.

In early 2018 opportunity knocked. I’d been asked to be the first DJ to perform as part of the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s cultural programme and I showcased turntablism, mixing Arabic funk, Brazilian beats and even blending Edith Piaf with some heavy underground instrumental bass music. The show was a huge success. The director of the Louvre Abu Dhabi loved it and myself and good friend Adam Hardy were asked to curate some programming.

I suggested the idea of building the first live performance of a turntable orchestra at a high-brow cultural venue. So I started the process of cracking the most challenging musical Rubix cube I had ever faced in my career. I needed some of the best technical DJs in the world, preferably with experience working in a turntable band or team. The team was half from the US and half from Japan, with myself coordinating between time zones and language barriers and trying to work out how and what could be achieved remotely. Then together when we all met up for the first show.

 

What was the reaction of your peers to the project?

Whenever I started describing what I was attempting I could visibly see disbelief and questions piling up in their brain. Even people I consider my seniors thought it would be near impossible.

How did you go about selecting the 20 DJs who form the Turntable Symphonograph Orchestra?

I’ve been DJing for almost two decades myself so I had enough of a reputation to be able to get heavyweights to take me seriously. I selected those who are technically at the top of their game so the majority are either turntable music pioneers, DMC champions and world champions, as well as educators and people who’ve worked as part of a turntable band or on similar projects.


How did they react when you asked them to get involved?

They were super excited and generously gave their time and energy. The team I put together couldn’t have been better and has become a family now.

Talk us through the prep for the show…

The most important work happened when I agonized for four months before the show, mapping out every detail of how it might work. I spoke to several classical composers and tried to engage them but the challenge was always that they were rooted in the classical world so didn’t have the technical understanding of what’s possible with a turntable. I worked with an old university friend of mine from London, Matthew Rozeik, who enlisted Oliver Weeks, who has worked with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. So I hired them to create and master classical music stems, which I selected, and we used that as the base material for some compositions, as well as original compositions from different members of the team. Once the pre-landing prep had been done we worked non-stop for a week before the show for the actual rehearsals and then built the show structure from there. (Watch the mini doc below)

Any teething problems?
Let’s just say that multiple things nearly de-railed the project but with pure determination and hard headedness, as well as support from a great team and friends, the project went ahead and the audience would have had no idea of the blood, sweat and tears it took to make it happen.


What kit is used for the performance?
Each DJ has one turntable and one mixer, as we each play various instruments. We use top of the range battle mixers, such as the Pioneer S9, Rane 62 and 72, as well as a few other models and competition grade turntables from Technics and Pioneer.


What’s the most technically challenging aspect?

Most turntablist DJs are solitary creatures so for some of the battle champions they have to hold back quite a lot, as each piece demands different requirements from members of the team. As with any band, keeping time is the key and when you have 20 moving parts then you have to gel enough to be able to keep structure and timing.

How does the show unfold?

Firstly, there’s an introduction to what we are going to do so that the audience can see which instrument each member is playing. For the Louvre show, we did completely restructured and remixed versions of classical pieces, such as the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, as well as some of our original compositions that ventured into electronic and beats territory. At the end of the show we had some showcases on each night by some of our best talent, including a showcase by the youngest DMC World Champion ever, DJ Rena from Japan, who won it at age 12 and performed with us a few months after having won the championship. We also did a group showcase taking turns performing one after the other and also showing how we could all play together in a synchronized way.  

What was your surprise takeaway from the Louvre shows?
Well, Abu Dhabi isn’t really known to have a turntablist fanbase and yet we had two completely sold out shows, which, for me, demonstrates how the concept cuts through genre and stereotype boundaries. It appeals to a whole variety of people, from young festival-goers to people who you might see at a traditional orchestra performance, and we received incredible feedback and praise from major figures like Jazzy Jeff, Mixmaster Mike and so many others.


What’s next for the Turntable Symphonograph Orchestra?

We’re looking to play music festivals, as well as cultural institutions, and bring some vitality and innovation to both sides of the musical spectrum.

Tell us about your Wabi Sabi mix you've dropped exclusively for us...

I wanted to create something a bit unique. 'Wabi Sabi' is a Japanese aesthetic that relates to acceptance of imperfection. It's about the beauty of the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. So my Wabi Sabi mix is a mix on turntables taking you on a DJ journey through futurebeat and bass music fused with future jazz, some Brazilian and neo-soul.

Tracklisting:

  • Intro Artbeat of the People

  • Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch Mesa from Blade Runner 2049 OST (Alcon Sleeping Giant)

  • Walt Barr Free Spirits (Muse Records)

  • Madlib & Freddie Gibbs Crime Pays (Keep Cool)

  • Undisclosed

  • Edith Piaf Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (Lobito Jusfugginaround Mix)

  • Little Simz Guess Who (Age 101 Music)

  • Undisclosed

  • Flowdan Horror Show Style (Tru Thoughts)

  • Undisclosed

  • Undisclosed

  • Undisclosed

  • Dawn Day Night The Re-Animation of Scottie (Lobito FDT Edit) (Astrophonica)

  • Undisclosed

  • Taylor McFerrin feat. Robert Glasper & Thundercat Already There (Brainfeeder)

  • SOHN Proof (4AD)

  • Andreya Triana Lullaby (Shigeto Remix) (Counter Records)

  • Echo Wanderer Gham Dub (Full Melt Recordings)

  • Seanie T feat Roots Manuva Warning (Nextmen Remix) (Kudos Records)

  • Undisclosed

  • Taylor McFerrin Degrees of Light (Brainfeeder)

  • Sly5thave Still D.R.E. (Tru Thoughts)

  • B.B.King The Thrill is Gone (Extended Edit) (Unreleased)

  • Flaunt Edwards Anymore (Leaving Records)

  • Vangelis Love Theme from Blade Runner OST (Warner Music Group)

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DJ Rena