Unlike most of Joe Strummer's fans, DJ Scratchy didn't worship The Clash frontman as a punk God. In fact Scratchy (born Barry Myers) was given a far more nuanced impression of Strummer while touring with him throughout the band's early breakthrough and again during the frontman's solo comeback in the early 00's.
Oddly enough, seeing Strummer's faults made Scratchy respect him all the more. Ahead of Scratchy's Beijing residency at Hot Cat Club (May 31-Jun 2), the pioneering DJ recalls one spat he had with the alt-rock elder statesman while they were touring in 2002. Scratchy – a longtime photo enthusiast – snapped a shot of Strummer when the songsmith wasn't looking. "I showed it to him, and he barked at me: 'I don't want to see that,'" Scratchy says, during a recent phone interview with the Beijinger. But Strummer's outburst wasn't a typical superstar tantrum. Scratchy recalls that "Thirty minutes later, right before he was about to go onstage, Joe found me and apologized. He explained that he'd just heard one of the Ramones (EDITOR'S NOTE: Dee Dee Ramone) had died, who he'd known very well, and that I'd caught him at a bad time. You don't get those kind of apologies, or that kind of humility, from a lot of people in his position."
Below, Scratchy tells us more about his kinship with Strummer, the impact that he and his peers have had on today's punks, and his strictly old school ethos.
You kicked off your China tour with a Shanghai residency, and apparently your gig at The Shelter was one of the most successful in the venue's history.
Yeah it was really brilliant – a great crowd that was very enthusiastic. I was doing one of my reggae nights, reggae with a twist. I think the majority of people there didn't know what I was playing, but the hope is that they always pick up on the feel and the energy of the tunes. I don't think I could've asked for a better debut in China.
Is it advantageous for the audience to not know most of what the DJ is playing? Maybe it makes for many pleasant surprises?
I hope so. I hate predictability. I hate it when it's just about how hip or trendy something is. It's all about finding a balance as an entertainer. "Educator" is one of those words that sounds a little too pompous for these situations. But I think it was Ari Up of The Slits that used the term "edutainment." I like that better. It's about challenging people, going against their expectations. They've got to come with an open mind. Of course I get people who only expect certain things, and if that's the case there's another bar down the street where you can hear Lady Gaga. That's not what you'll hear at a Scratchy Sounds show.
Do you think that attitude is part of what made you so close to Joe Strummer?
Yeah, I would hope so. It was certainly part of what drew me into punk – that it was something radical. Part of what Joe and I shared is we were two weeks apart in age. So we grew up with the British Beat groups, and rhythm and blues, and rock n' roll, and all of that throughout the '60's.
So we shared a musical affinity. But The Clash and punk were about doing it for yourself, and not following the status quo. That was the template we came from. They were my favorite band, and when I got to be their tour DJ for two years, it was a combination of feeling incredibly fortunate, but also feeling like I was totally in the right place.
Joe Strummer has become so iconic that people might have a lot of assumptions about him. What did you learn while touring with him that might defy such expectations?
Joe was as flawed and human as the rest of us. And I don't say that to denigrate the man, it was part of what made him so special. That was part of punk too – it wasn't about perfection. Life is for the learning. One of the great things about Joe – especially when we met up to work during his Mescaleros period, during the last year of his life – you felt that the older he got the more he realized that he had to keep learning. So he wasn't one of those people that thought he knew it all. And The Mescaleros were a great reflection of how he combined the whole punk attitude with new musical influences, without really sacrificing what he was about.
Have you heard that that music – and the work of contemporaries that you also toured with like The Ramones, Blondie, and Iggy Pop – is still influential for many young Beijing bands?
That's great. We were trying to change things. And it wasn't just about changing things for now, but having an impact on the future as well. It's very important that it's not dead music. The music I'm interested in is not something you listen to today and dispose of tomorrow. I still listen to The Kinks and The Animals and other groups from my youth. It sounds as fresh today as the first time I heard it.
It's the same with The Clash and The Ramones. Though it was very relevant to that time, if it's just parochial, then that's just pop music. So all the music I now play at shows, whether it's music from the 50's, to something that's been recorded this year, I'm listening to it and listening to the substance of it. That's why a lot of dance music doesn't appeal to me, because even though it works in a club environment, if I put it on at home I'd be yawning in minutes. So I don't play dance music, I play music you can dance to. Music comes first.
Scratchy's Beijing Residency will be held at the Hot Cat Club this weekend, May 31-June 2, and will feature a documentary screening, a Q&A, and of course his beloved spinning of ska, reggae, and punk classics. For more details, click here or see the poster below.
Photos: Celeste Urreaga, DJ Scratchy, Matias Nakanishi
Visit the original source and full text: the Beijinger Blog