By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García
The scene from The Prodigal Son starts out typically for kung-fu movies of its’ era: an argument over who has the best fighting skills quickly escalates into demands of empirical evidence. As the strains of Get Ur Freak On start to play, the combatants … wait, say what?
Welcome to Hop-Fu, which takes a seemingly dissonant concept – the use of modern music in chop-socky cinema – and turns it into a whole other kind of storytelling. If you’ve watched films like Black Mask and Volcano High, you have an idea of what Hop-Fu delivers. The difference is, while those movies were scored in regular recording sessions, DJ IXL and DJ Excess do their work together live. At each showing, the two turntablists take a film like Prodigal and add their own soundtrack, running near continuously through the movie, ranging from straight-up hip-hop to drum-n-bass.
“You’re not DJ’ing to make people dance,” Excess said at the group’s San Diego tour stop. “You’re trying to find music to fit a scene. You’ve gotta be on point. If you’re at a club, you can play a bad song and recover. There has to be no ego – you can’t have one person thinking, ‘I’m the jam.’”
As a viewing experience, Excess’ statement rings true. Just as there were moments during the San Diego show that prompted laughter out of recognition – the Missy beat, or a verse from Lodi Dodi playing over a particular character’s dialogue – there were also times when the beats flowed with the onscreen action so well as to almost feel natural to the scene. Instead of appropriating the film, the new music augmented the experience.
Both IXL and Excess, as well as Hop-Fu’s co-creator, filmmaker John Carluccio, have long-standing roots in the scene: the two Djs have competed internationally in turntable competitions, and Excess is currently a teacher at the Scratch Academy in New York, while IXL regularly spins in the city. For his part, Carluccio was responsible for the seminal documentary Battle Sounds, which earned praise for its’ following of the DJ community in the 1990s.
Carluccio says none of the three would consider himself an expert in the kung-fu genre, but like other New Yorkers in the ’80s, they’d watch whenever WNYW, Channel 5, would show an old martial-arts movies. This choice of niche programming, one might suggest, led b-boy teams like the original Rock Steady Crew to introduce kung-fu influenced dance styles in the early part of the decade. Is it really any surprise, then, that a young Robert Diggs would grow up to lead a crew out of “Shaolin” and run soundtracks for Quentin Tarantino films?
Carluccio, who says Hop-Fu speaks to the music collector and the film collector, doesn’t seem to think so: “The turntablist as a composer was something I saw as inevitable,” he says. “The idea was to get the talent to that point.”