Along with Sun Ra, Kraut Rock, and club music, Screw Tapes were a seminal discovery for me in high school that made me the person/listener that I am today. When your bored with everything around you, a simple pitch-shift just gives you something to do. Marking the 10 year anniversary of his death, there have been a handful of writings touching on the results DJ Screw had on the world, as well as guesses to where he might have got his techniques from. At the end of the day, we know that he’s responsible for a lot of art school stoner bands, and that since the invention of magnetic tape, people have liked playing with speed…
DJ Rupture makes note that Screw might have been influenced by cumbia rebajada, cumbia records with the batteries low made fit for people with longer attention spans that just want to dance slower. Sure, this is a possibility, but according to DJ Screw: The Untold Story, a low-budget documentary on the life and times of Robert Davis, it was actually one of his mentors, a local soul DJ who would play 45s at 33 RPMs that was the initial jump-off point for Screw, along with Promethazyne and hot, sticky weather. While I would love some proof that he was banging cumbia while swervin’ through the streets of Houston, I doubt that any evidence of such will ever turn up.
There was another Houstonian that liked to get throwed: country singer Townes Van Zandt lived above a pharmacy back in the day, where he would literally fish for Codeine through a hole in his floor. One of my favorite music articles, John Nova Lomax’s 2005 Houston Chronicle article Codeine Country points this out. His music wasn’t chopped up, but it was slopped up indeed.
Let’s not forget about the Italians, who as far as I can tell were the first DJs to truly screw shit up. Daniele Baldelli (pictured above) and Beppe Loda argue over who first employed the Cosmic/Afro Disco techniques at Quaalude come-down after parties in Italy in the early 80s. Brazilian samba, reggae, and disco records were played at 90-100 BPMs to the few people with enough energy leftover to keep moving from the Amyl Nitrate, and those sunk deeply into a comfy couch from all the muscle relaxers.
Further reading: “Daniele Baldelli” by Bill Brewster, Wax Poetics Spring 2005
Then there was the Germans. Kraut Rockers Neu! had run out of money to record their 2nd album in 1973, so the B-side consisted entirely of manipulations of their previously released single Neuschnee b/w Super. This includes tape cut ups, and like the above, just playing it on a record player at 16 RPMs. Sort of the perfect Screw story, and not surprising due to the influence Music Concrete had on progressive rock.
Of course the laziest reference for journalists, and excuse to use words like syrupy, slutwave, screwgaze, and rape gaze, is Salem and other bands in club Witch House. Goth kids with a lust for drugs, pentagrams, and Gucci Mane mixtapes, who “don’t give a fuck.” Some people do, claiming their use of pitch alternation is downright offensive, but that sounds like something a white person would say. Like it or hate it, it’s DJ Screw’s fault.
For better or worse, DJ Screw accomplished his goal of screwing the world up, doing what those with similar intentions before him could not accomplish. Rest in peace Robert Davis, you just won’t go away.