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Grandmaster Flash on ‘The Get Down’ and how he used science to pioneer DJ techniques

Grandmaster Flash (Mamoudie Athie) teaches Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore how to do his “quick mix theory” on the turntables in “The Get Down.”)

In Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix hip-hop saga “The Get Down ” a young Grandmaster Flash  (Mamoudou Athie) gives the main characters 24 hours to figure out the key to his quick mix theory. Their only clue? A purple crayon.

The quick mix theory allowed Flash, 58, to repeat, on a loop, the parts of songs that party crowds found most exciting, and he could blend drum breaks from different genres of music. He would mark a record’s climactic point — known in the series as “the get down” — with a crayon or a grease pencil.

The pioneering mixing technique is just one of the authentic pieces from the early days of hip-hop that made its way onto the screen in “The Get Down.” And Flash worked closely with Athie and Luhrmann to make sure they got it right.

“What I found annoying with Baz was he would ask the same question 30 times,” Flash said in an interview with The Post. Luhrmann would occasionally have the legendary DJ use a Sharpie and paper to replicate what he would do on the turntables. The director’s persistence was puzzling, but when Flash saw rough cuts of the series — with his technique being replicated deftly onscreen — it all started to make sense.

How Baz Luhrmann captured the essence of hip-hop in Netflix’s ‘The Get Down’

Flash spoke to The Post about how he came up with the technique, finding the perfect turntable and how he got his name.

The interview has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.

“A major violation to vinyl.”

My mother and my sister used to have house parties. What I noticed is the part [of the record] where there was a drum solo, the crowd would become more reactive at that point. I’m like oh wow —  so why isn’t that most of the record? How can I take this 10-second part that I, personally, thought should be the whole entire record and — If I was speaking in 2016 —  manually edit it and cut and paste it on time to the beat?

So I watched DJs, I listened to DJs and after much thinking and much planning, I had to do what was considered a major violation to vinyl.  People hated me for it. DJs at this time thought I was very disrespectful.

Making some adjustments to classic turntables.

I was a geek coming up. I did extensive studies on the stylus. I had to figure out the proper needle that would stay inside the groove when it’s under the pressure of the vinyl being moved counterclockwise. That was the first step. The second step was figuring out what to do with the rubber matting that comes with the turntable. When I was trying to move the vinyl counterclockwise, it caused too much drag and too much friction, so I had to remove it. Then under that was the steel platter. The problem was I couldn’t put the vinyl on the steel platter because if there was a cut on the other side, I would ruin the record.

My mother was a seamstress so I knew different types of materials. When I touched felt, I said, “This could possibly work.” The problem with felt is that it draped, it was limp. So I ran home and got a copy of my album and I bought just enough felt to cut out two round circles the same size as a 33’ LP and — when my mother wasn’t looking — I turned the iron all the way up high and I used my mother’s spray starch. I sprayed it until this limp piece of felt became — I called it a wafer, like what you get in church at Easter. Today it’s called a slipmat.

So I figured out the proper needle. Then I put the felt on top of the metal platter and then I put the album on top of the felt, so when I moved it now it was fluid. Then it was a matter of me finding the right turntable.

The search

I tested anything from a Fisher Price to a Magnavox. I went into junkyards and any stereo equipment that was thrown out, I brought it into my bedroom and I would test it. I called it the torque theory. What was most important to me was when the platter was still and I powered it up, if it took the turntable the whole turn to go up to speed then that particular turntable had poor torque. I needed the muscle because I was going counterclockwise with the vinyl.

After going through countless turntables,  I was going past a store on Hunts Point in the Bronx. There was this ugly steel gray turntable in the window. I went inside and I asked one of the salespeople, ‘Can you take that turntable out of the window because I would like to do somewhat of a test on it?’

“This is the turntable that I’m gonna use.”

It was this little known company, it had a little sticker on it — and it said Technics. The model was the SL-23. So I try it and when I rest my hand on it, the torque on this is pretty good. Then I stopped the platter and I powered it up, and I stopped the platter and I powered it up. This turntable came to full speed at almost a quarter of a turn. I’m like, “This is the turntable that I’m gonna use.”

They were $75 a piece. I had a messenger boy job after school so I had to save up my money to get two of these turntables. This particular turntable is considered the great-grandfather to what is known as the 1200. Every DJ that seen me with these turntables started buying Technics turntables.

I came from a scientific approach. Once I came up with the queuing, the proper needle, the “wafer,” duplicate copies of records, the mixer, which I had to rebuild, I was able to take a 10 second drumbeat and make it seamlessly 10 minutes. 

I was so excited. My best friend Mike spent the night at my house and I woke him up at 3 in the morning and I said, ‘Mike. You need to see this.” He says, “You’re putting your fingers on the record?!” I said, “I know, Mike, I know.”

Extending the 10-second drum beat created a music bed for the MC/rapper to speak. So this was also the beginning of rap.

Becoming Grandmaster Flash

Bruce Lee was everything. Whenever a new Bruce Lee movie came out, we made a point to go see it. And he was a Grandmaster [an honorific martial arts title].

So in the winter of 1972, one of my fans who came to my party said, “Man you handle those turntables like a Grandmaster.” He started doing the Bruce Lee [movements.]  I started saying it — “Grandmaster Flash. Grandmaster. Flash.” I was just DJ Flash for a period, but Grandmaster Flash — it just fit.


Review: ‘The Get Down’ is a lavish remix of hip-hop history — and a big mess of a TV show

How Baz Luhrmann captured the essence of hip-hop in Netflix’s ‘The Get Down’