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The LiFTED 5: DJ Woody brings mindblowing Hip Hop is 50 audio-visual celebration to Asia

The world champion DJ is storytelling in a different way

LiFTED | Marcus Aurelius | 20 Sep 2023

The term legend is thrown around quite casually in the DJ category, but when certified OGs like Mixmaster Mike, Qbert, Cut Chemist, and more are bigging you up, then you know you're doing something right. DJ Woody is one the UK’s most influential turntablists for pioneering new scratch techniques, winning the DJ world championships twice [Vestax/ITF], putting out more than 20 releases on his Woodwurk Records imprint, and coming up with amazing audio-video DJ sets.

A decade ago, Woody produced the Hip Hip is 40 AV show, and it blew people’s minds. For the next two weeks, Woody is bringing his brand-new Hip Hop is 50 audio video celebration to Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, and Taipei to do the same. For him, “The AV sets are like a set show, I like to create a theme and narrative through the tracklist and visuals. It’s like DJ storytelling in a way. The visual element allows you to communicate and entertain a crowd in a slightly different way, using visual cues as well as the music to gauge a reaction or feeling from the dancefloor.”

LiFTED caught up with DJ Woody right before he kicks off his Hip Hop is 50 Audio Visual Celebration Asia tour to chat about battles, the AV sets, his favorite tracks to rock a party, and his love for Asia in general.

As a former world champion turntablist, do you ever get pangs of getting back into the competitions? What do you think of the modern DMCs? Did you like the Red Bull 3Style?

I’m asked this question quite often so I occasionally run that notion by myself and whilst I love the culture of DJ battles, if that hunger to battle isn’t there then there’s no point in entertaining the idea. Battle routines take an entire year's worth of focus and dedication, and these days I much prefer putting that creative energy into my record label and DJ sets and letting practice just be about creative expression.

The modern DMCs are fantastic as they’ve managed to navigate the ever-changing landscape of DJ culture and technology well in the last few years, bringing more categories to the competition to cater to the different styles and preferences within the art form. And although they had to move online during the lockdown, this year they are back in a big way with live events worldwide and an epic lineup for the World Finals in San Francisco later in the year. We’ve seen some awesome routines and skills from some amazing upcoming and veteran scratch DJs in the last decade!

I did like the Red Bull 3style. It brought a different energy to the competitive circuit, a more club-based approach which perhaps the scene needed at the time. If nothing else to show a different way of doing things.

You were a graphic designer so moving into DVJ-ing was a natural progression. Do you like doing audio-visual sets now or do you prefer audio only? Do you find sampling and making your own video edits for songs as fun as finding dusty records with breakbeats in the back of second-hand stores?

I enjoy them equally in different ways. The AV sets are like a set show, I like to create a theme and narrative through the tracklist and visuals. It’s like DJ storytelling in a way. The visual element allows you to communicate and entertain a crowd in a slightly different way, using visual cues as well as the music to gauge a reaction or feeling from the dancefloor. Whereas regular DJing is obviously all about the music, it’s much less rigid so far as what music I’m going to play and where I take the crowd so I enjoy that freedom. The visual aspect of a regular DJ set would then come from your skills and how you connect with your crowd in your performance.

I mostly DJ with regular vinyl [usually 7”s] when I do non-AV DJ sets, so digging and collecting is still very much part of my process. I really enjoy performing with vinyl. It’s the art form I originally fell in love with and being away from a screen really focuses you on the sound. It’s almost therapeutic.

Creating the AV stuff is enjoyable for me in a different way, I always loved designing visuals and to now be able to take those and manipulate them on turntables is just awesome.

This year is Hip Hop’s 50th birthday celebration. What are five songs that work every time for you and why?

In the context of the 50th Hip Hop celebration, we’re talking a whole bunch of bonafide classics! Everybody loves to sing along with tracks like ‘The Message,’ De La Soul’s ‘Ring Ring Ring,’ or ODB’s ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya.’ Or bounce around to that raucous energy of tracks like M.O.P’s ‘Ante Up,’ then there are the more anthemic tracks like ’93 Til Infinity’ by Souls Of Mischief.

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You did Hip Hop is 40 a decade ago, and are tweaking it for the 50th celebration. What’s new for this set? Are there any surprises that you can reveal? Has putting together a complex set like this gotten easier over the years?

I don’t want to give too much away, but I added an extra 30 minutes to this show with wall-to-wall Hip Hop classics.

It was a steep learning curve when I started making my first audio-visual set ’Turntables In Technicolor’ back in 2009, thankfully I already had my graphic design and music production skills down but had to learn a bunch of animation and video editing techniques. Since then things have gotten easier now I’ve found my process but it is still quite labor intensive.

Tell me a bit about your Asian tour. Have you been to Asia before? What do you expect? Have you listened to much Asian Hip Hop? Do you have any favorites?

I’ve been to Asia a bunch of times over the years and it’s always been a ton of fun. On this tour, I’ll be hitting Phnom Penh, Bangkok, and Ho Chi Minh, all of which I’ve played before, but it will be my first time in Taipei, so I’m very excited about that!

There’s crazy Hip Hop talent out in Asia, from DJs and turntablists like Koco and Kentaro to producers like Nujabes, Krush, DJ Honda, or the Bboys and Bgirls of South Korea. I must admit that I’m not that familiar with too many Asian rap crews, one of the great things about traveling though is discovering these things so I very much look forward to learning more about the scene out in Taipei on this visit!