By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the Bay Area’s most formidable hip-hop turntable talents, DJ Quest celebrates the release of his latest album Biotronic at San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts Saturday afternoon.
Turntablist extraordinaire DJ Quest (aka Carlos Aguilar) was born in El Salvador and moved to San Francisco in 1982. A lifelong music obsessive, Quest went from being a bedroom DJ who spun records at his middle school to a seasoned veteran of house parties and international scratch DJ competitions by 1990 while still in his teens. He co-founded the boundary-shredding Bay Area turntable crew the Bulletproof Scratch Hamsters along with DJ Cue and Eddie Def and helped create the first-ever battle record/DJ tool, Hamster Breaks.
Quest also was the DJ who coined the term “hamster style” for the way he connected turntables to his mixer in reverse (that is, the turntable on his left side would be live when the mixer’s crossfader was moved to the right side). Companies would later invent a “hamster switch” on mixers that would flip the configuration of the turntables with the push of a button. Along with fellow famed SF battle/scratch DJ crew the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, the Scratch Hamsters — who would later rechristen themselves the Space Travelerz — helped make the Bay Area an epicenter of turntable science in the ’90s and beyond.
In 1996, Quest teamed up with stand-up bassist Andrew Kushin and drummer Albert Mathias to form Live Human, an experimental trio that explored the improvisational aspects of both jazz and hip-hop DJing into a remarkable new sound. While the turntable was introduced as an instrument in a jazz context over a decade earlier with DST’s scratching contributions to the influential Herbie Hancock tune “Rockit,” Live Human took the concept to a new level between Quest’s virtuoso skills and the seasoned interplay of the rhythm section (Kushin and Mathias has already worked together in several ensembles).
The band would be one of Quest’s principle creative outlets, issuing a number of live and studio recordings over the next two decades including the acclaimed Elefish Jellyphant for American indie-rock imprint Matador. The trio also toured Europe, wowing audiences at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2001. The DJ also collaborated with a variety of MCs and producers including such notables as Dan the Automator, Latyrx and TopR during breaks in activity with Live Human as well as putting out new mixes, battle tools and collaborative recordings like the live Quest Quartz Crew album in 2008 and Cosmic Parasite with DJ Cue and Eddie Def three years later.
The trio ramped up its activity as its 20th anniversary approached in 2016, performing live with more regularity and recording its first new effort in a decade, scratchBop. Delving deep into their free jazz and bebop roots with Quest manipulating an arsenal of sampled horn and woodwind sounds including trumpets, saxophones and clarinets, the recording is arguably the trio’s most jazz-influenced album yet.
While Quest spends time serving as a mentor and teacher to young DJs through community organization Horizons Unlimited of San Francisco’s DJ Project, a program that provides instruction and opportunities for youth in DJing, audio production, event promotion and more, he has continued to produce a steady stream of new music. His latest album and first new solo recording since 2016’s Queztocoatl, Biotronic further explores Quest’s love for electro. Drawing on such varied influences as Kraftwerk, Egyptian Lover, the film music of director John Carpenter and Detroit techno originator Juan Atkins’ early project Cybotron and adding his own advanced style of sonic manipulation, Quest has crafted a danceable, futuristic soundtrack for our dystopian present.
For this special record release show celebrating Biotronic, Quest is the headliner at a “turntable jazz jam session” that will feature his longtime collaborator DJ Cue, Space Travelers/Gurp City MC Eddie K, Z Villa and kids from the DJ Project participating. Quest’s longtime Live Human partners Andrew Kushin and Albert Mathias will also be onhand providing live beats for the DJs to scratch over during the performance.
DJ Quest Biotronic Record Release Party
Saturday, June 29, 3 p.m. Free
Intersection for the Arts