Thursday, May 28, 2020
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The Unrestricted Flow

Courtesy of Taylor Weik
Courtesy of Taylor Weik

It’s a DJ move that is so basic, so subtle, that they call it the baby. There’s more. There’s the Tear, the more complex version of the baby scratch. There’s the Transformer, the Scare Flare, the Uzi spray. The scribble, the cut and stab, the thumb-twiddle, the laser, the phaser, the hydroplane. All complex scratch moves that, to the average party-goer dancing on the floor, look like nothing more than the random pawings of some drunk guy.

Dho bows a little in jest and steps back, signaling it’s my turn to try out a baby scratch. I step up to the massive turntables — two of them connected by a control board — and try not to think about the fact that I, who prior to this lesson didn’t even know what BPM (beats per minute) stood for, am practicing on thousands of dollars of DJ equipment.

Other DJs fill the room. They’re all signed to Inviscus Entertainment, the start-up company that owns this Santa Ana warehouse-turned-studio. Now they’re gathering around me, smiling and crossing their arms. I already have stage fright.

“Two fingers on the vinyl,” Dho urges, and he winds the vinyl back several times. He says he wants me to try the baby scratch just as the chorus begins.

“Okay, this is the part, so hold the record here.”

Hesitantly, I place my middle and ring fingers on the spot. Because I’m holding the record, all is quiet on this end, but the other turntable on the right is playing another song. When I perform the baby scratch and release the record, Dho will shift the sliding button in the middle (called the fader), and the right record will mute, transferring sound over to my end.

I swipe forward and backward, then release, just as Dho did, but it sounds nothing like the high-pitched ffft-ffft from the movies. Instead, it’s a deep, voom-voom, and on top of that, I release the record too late, so the record’s chorus doesn’t match up with the other record that Dho switches over.

I’m expecting laughs, but one of the DJs observing from below the platform, Kenjamin Ho, aka DJ Kho –– no relation to Dho –– says encouragingly, “You’re almost there. It was a little slow, is all. You just have to go for it.”

The others nod, and Dho winds the record back and says, “Yeah, do it confidently. Pretend you’re actually a DJ, and if you fuck this up, everyone is going to stop dancing and leave. It’s going to be embarrassing.”

Co-founders Khoi Le, Matt Pham and Josh Pham, aka DJ Josh Smiles, know what they want in a company. It was one day after school in seventh grade that Khoi’s friend brought his friend over so they could all learn to dance. Break-dancing, or bboying, was a big part of Southern California Asian culture, and the trend hit the Santa Ana-Westminster area back in 2002.

In junior high, they tried to start a dance crew, where they’d recruit other hip hop heads and battle crews around Orange County, but it didn’t work out.

In college, though they were now separated by distance — Khoi studying engineering at UCI, Josh going into mechanical engineering at UCSD and Matt focusing on economics at UCLA — they still managed to come home to Orange County every weekend and followed another trend together: fashion. They were fascinated by young people who were starting their own clothing lines, and wanted to produce a line of cool snapbacks, jerseys and baseball tees they could see their friends wearing around.

One night the trio sat around in Khoi’s room, struggling to come up with a name for their brand, still just a concept. Maybe it’d become real if there was a name. Upon spotting Khoi’s fluid dynamics engineering book on his desk, Josh flipped through and began jokingly suggesting names from the bolded vocabulary words. He stopped at “viscosity,” a term he’d also been learning about in his classes at UCSD, a term measuring the friction of a fluid. The more viscous the fluid, the slower it flowed.

“What if we called ourselves in-viscous, you know? To promote creativity,” Josh suggested. The others liked it, and for a while they just walked around calling themselves Inviscus.

College also introduced them to party culture — something all three of them fell into. They’d share music with one another online, and they started bringing massive boomboxes to all their friends’ house parties in an effort to entertain everyone.

The DJ scene had been transformed. What used to be a culture of individual DJs and good music was now a scene dominated by companies who saw parties as lucrative business deals. This was it, the friends realized. This was a trend they could definitely follow. Josh dropped out of UCSD to pursue DJing, and in 2012 after Matt and Khoi both graduated, they filed papers in order to become an official business.

I try it a few more times, scratching better and better. Khoi Le, one of the co-founders of Inviscus, yells “Hey Dho, I think DJ Tweik is ready to learn the Chirp.”

A DJ comments on my quick learning and says if I keep it up for a couple months, I could be good enough to be signed to Inviscus.

“Oh, no, I’m just doing this for a story I’m writing,” I laugh.

“Journalist goes to Inviscus Studios to write a story and turns into the world’s next hottest DJ, DJ Tweik,” he says, verbally painting a newspaper headline. “Now, that would be a story.”David Ho, more commonly known in the DJ community as DJ Dho, carefully places his left middle finger and ring finger on the vinyl, then in one swift motion, swipes his fingers forward and back, creating that classic manipulated scratch sound that I’ve seen all the DJs make in the movies. Then he lets go, allowing the vinyl to spin on its own, bringing back a 70s track by some underground artist that sounds similar to Earth, Wind & Fire.