Flash makes a splash

First published Saturday 30 May 2015 in The Argus

He is a legend as one of the founding fathers of hiphop and now Grandmaster Flash, the boy from the Bronx who was the first to lay his hands on vinyl and manipulate it backwards and forwards, is bringing his craze-dance music to Worthing.

Next month, the town’s Pavilion hosts a gig as part of the DJ’s international tour, which began in March and continues until September, taking in venues such as London’s Jazz Café, a series of festivals in London, and clubs in New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Dublin and Frankfurt.
The Pavilion date, with support act DJ Format, is something of a coup for the town, according to Worthing promoter Ed Kilroy, who arranged it.

“I thought getting Grandmaster Flash to come to a reasonably small town like Worthing would be impossible,” says Ed, who is working with local company atom Promotions to promote the show.

“But when I was being offered acts by a management company, I looked at their roster and Grandmaster Flash stood out to me because he is such a music pioneer. I think he offers something new to Worthing and people are really getting behind the idea that we get acts that rival Brighton.”

Grandmaster Flash, born Joseph Saddler in the South Bronx, has his eyes and ears on new craze-dance music, which he has added to his legendary DJ repertoire. He is entering the digital world of DJing, and this year promises a new album.
He shows no signs of slowing down the frenetic pace of DJ innovation he set when he first began experimenting with his father’s vinyl as a child, and in the early 1970s his knowledge of audio equipment led him to an idea that would revolutionise the way he played music: the turntable would become his instrument. In neighbourhood block parties, he would move the vinyl backwards, forwards or in a counter-clockwise motion, marking up the body of the vinyl with crayon, fluorescent pen and grease pencil.

Flash, who studied electrical engineering, was the first DJ to do this, in stark contrast to most DJs, who simply played the records, inventing techniques that allowed a DJ to make music by touching the record and gauging its revolutions to make his own beat and his own music, and in the process inventing the role of a DJ today.

His creativity in what was still a new genre continued unabated, with emcees following Flash to parties to rap/emcee over his beats. And once he started his own group, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, where the group blended their lyrics with his unrivalled skills as a DJ and he entranced audiences with his acrobatic performances – spinning and cutting vinyl with his fingers, toes, elbows, and any object at hand.

The group went platinum with their single ‘The Message’ while ‘The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel’ introduced DJing to a larger listening audience than it had ever known before: it was the first DJ composition to be recorded by a DJ. ‘Superappin’’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Larry’s Dance Theme’ and ‘You Know What Time It Is’ followed, and Blondie immortalised him in their hit ‘Rapture’: “Flash is fast, Flash is cool…”

In the 1990s, Flash spent five years as the music director for the HBO series The Chris Rock Show, and in 2007 Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first hiphop group ever inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Today, he is credited as a major influence on DJs including Brighton-based Fayboy Slim, who said he was “my biggest influence in turns of cutting up records”, and in 2012 Rolling Stone named ‘The Message’, which “chronicled the grim realities of drugs, prison, prostitution and youth cut down in their prime in the South Bronx” as the most influential hiphop song of all time. The magazine quoted Public Enemy leader Chuck D as saying, “‘The Message’ was a total knock out of the park. It was the first dominant rap group with the most dominant MC saying something that meant something.”

As Flash himself has said, “This is what’s important to me: first! I was first. I don’t care who’s better, who’s worse. My contribution is first. Because first is forever. I don’t care who does it later, who does it better, who does it whatever. First is forever. That’s the way it goes down in the history books.”

Grandmaster Flash + DJ Format appear at the Pavilion Theatre, Marine Parade, Worthing, at 8pm (doors open 7.30pm) on Sunday June 14. Tickets £20; ages 14+. For details, phone 01903 206206 or visit worthingtheatres.co.uk.