If you go to DJ Skratch Bastid’s show on Friday night at Coasters, you might end up breaking the law.
The DJ, whose real name is Paul Murphy, sells illegal remix tapes at his gigs.
“The mix tapes are part of an illegal hip hop culture,” said Murphy, speaking from Vancouver.
Since hip hop’s inception, mix tapes have been used by up-and-coming artists to spread their name directly to listeners—and are not consider copyright infringement in the nuanced world of DJ ethics.
“I’m selling the mix tapes off the strength of my technique,” said Murphy. “I’m not blatantly trying to rip off somebody, I’m just trying to show my interpretation.”
Murphy doesn’t consider himself a reckless musical pirate attempting cultural anarchy.
Remixes are permissible in the hip hop world, but only as long as your skills are good enough.
“Why restrict yourself to a presentation when it comes to copyright when you’re not taking away from the artist’s legacy or image,” said Murphy. “You’re just adding to their infamy or adding to their great music.”
Murphy’s repertoire features remixes that often only use one song, rather than multi-song mash-ups.
To keep the song bumping and the dance floor alive, Murphy spends a lot of time toying with instrumental sounds and fluidly splicing together vocals.
And the single song recipe is also another way Murphy gets around any moral headaches about copyright.
“Most of the remixes I do are pretty true to the original,” he said. “I can’t really say it’s not theirs because it’s obviously their vocals, but my take on it.”
Take Murphy’s remix of James Brown’s I Feel Good (I Got You) hit for instance. Murphy doesn’t consider his version of the tune, which toys with the horn section and slows it down to an almost jazzy beat, a form of profiteering.
Murphy acknowledges that some checks and balances on large-scale musical theft should exist, whether its artist-to-artist requests or through a music label’s lawyers.
“It’s an uphill battle for anyone who owns music because it’s so easy to download data,” said Murphy. “It’s like breathing air.”
But the steep trend toward swapping music is nearly unstoppable, he said.
“Without throttling the internet, it’s going to be impossible to do anything data-wise,” he said.
The current solution, at least in the US, of suing the living daylights out of small-scale music downloaders, isn’t really helping the cause either, he said.
“They’re going really heavy at it and I don’t agree with the way they’re going about it,” he said.
“They’re trying to get example cases—ridiculous example cases that are going to pay for the cost of suing everybody,” he said.
“It’s ridiculous because the damage caused by one person downloading a song is not thousands and thousands of dollars. It’s 10 dollars.”
Canada is currently performing nation-wide public forums on reforming copyright, with American-style legislation as an option.
The federal government’s first attempt at stemming copyright infringement died on the order paper last year when an election was called.
Legislative reform might make room for the rapid advances in recording and dissemination technology—advances that make current copyright law, and copyright philosophy, ineffective.
Murphy has produced one major album, which, interestingly, also dances around any copyright issues.
“What I did was sample beats and then have a band come in and recreate them as honestly as they could to a similar vibe,” said Murphy.
The album, Situation, was written and produced with Murphy’s friend Buck 65, a DJ and hip hop artist whose real name is Richard Terfry.
The album was mass produced and sold to music stores, said Murphy.
Murphy couldn’t make an album the same way he does mix tapes, because albums are much more profit-oriented.
And mix tapes are in their own category, a part of “hip hop’s underground culture,” said Murphy.
The album was also a big deal for Murphy because of his collaboration with Terfry, an Canadian artist with an international following.
Both Terfry and Murphy are Nova Scotians, and Terfry has been a “mentor” to Murphy for years.
“I use to listen to (Buck 65) on the radio,” said Murphy, who grew up in a Halifax suburb.
Murphy made a name for himself in the “902,” as the Nova Scotian hip hop scene sometimes calls itself, a reference to the area code.
But five years ago, Murphy made the move to Montreal to garner a larger audience.
“There’s only 300,000 people in Halifax and I wanted to play for more,” he said.
But Montreal, too, grew a little tired, and a month ago Murphy settled in Toronto.
“People in Toronto grew up with hip hop—they know their stuff,” he said.
Montrealers aren’t as familiar with hip hop, but are more open to free form – creative variations of the genre.
“They might not know it as much but they’ll dance to just about anything,” he said. “And that was a good experience coming from Halifax because things are a little more mainstream out there.”
Murphy played Whitehorse once in March 2006, and found the diversity of the city appealed to him.
“You’ve got a whole bunch of mishmashed musical styles and people from around the country,” he said.
Playing at far-flung venues is a
kind of street-level music sharing that basically does what downloading can do electronically.
The more people he can meet and share his remixes with, the more exposure he gets.
“(Whitehorse) is a transient city,” said Murphy. “And I’m a transient person.”
DJ Skratch Bastid plays Coasters on Friday August 7.
Contact James Munson at