Grandmaster Flash throws a party on his own schedule. There’s a slow start to the evening at Amager Bio; a DJ has been spinning since the doors opened. About 15 minutes after the show was supposed to start, some break dancers run on stage and take turns showing off their old school moves. It’s fun and everyone in the crowd goes mad, but it only lasts 10-15 minutes, and then we wait another half hour for Grandmaster Flash himself to appear.
Things finally get started with a brief video about the history of scratching. This is formally the first part of the evening, in which Grandmaster Flash focuses on the legacy that has undoubtedly brought people out tonight, providing insight into his methods and his record collection. There’s also a camera set up on his rig synced to the screen behind him so we can watch him scratch in real time. It’s fun to watch, and considering this can all be done digitally now, it’s nice to appreciate the actual skill behind this approach.
This reflective state turns to a memoriam of hip-hop artists who’ve died: Phife Dawg, the Notorious B.I.G, Prodigy, Guru from Gang Starr, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Big Pun, Heavy, MCA, Jam Master Jay, and Tupac Shakur. With the exception of Prodigy, enough time has passed since these artists’ deaths for the segment to feel celebratory rather than somber.
With a majority of these artists also hailing from New York City, there is a natural segue to Flash’s tour of the Five Boroughs (and Long Island). While the B-roll of street signs does start to wear thin, the narrative built around the show up to this point is impressive. It goes beyond nostalgia and becomes more of a history lesson.
But there is room for nostalgia. The reflective part of looking at the past is over, and now it’s time to hear 30 seconds of a song you love (or at least you know) before it cuts to the next track. Having had that extra hour to buy drinks, the audience is ready to oblige when asked for the umpteenth time to make some noise or throw their hands in the air. And even though a couple of drinks are flung for no reason and someone’s climbed on the stage and then been escorted out of the venue, this evening is joyful. Grandmaster Flash has instilled a sense of history in us, but the essence was always a good time.
Photo by James Hjertholm.