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Itch to Skratch

Paul Murphy went from being a teen making mixed tapes in his basement to playing stages across the world

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Bedford Magazine

It was 1998 and Paul Murphy hosted a slot on a before-its-time Internet radio show on Triple Bypass, owned by Salter Street Films. Murphy was playing around with some stage names, which up that that point included DJ Stimulus and DJ Smurf. When he went to check on the status of his timeslot, he noticed a name he didn’t recognize.

“Who’s in my spot,” he recalls asking Sixtoo [Robert Squire], the station’s organizer and an artist who was part of the hip-hop underground scene at the time. “Who is this Skratch Bastid?”

“That’s you, man!” Sixtoo replied. “You’re the little bastid that keeps coming in town and taking our scratches and doing them better and then coming back the next week and having the scratches down pat!”

Sixteen years later, that name is legendary on the local hip-hop scene. The kid from Bedford who mixed tapes in the basement and spent time collecting albums at Select Sounds and Sam the Record Man has, to date, performed in 27 countries.

Murphy plays more than 150 shows a year, collaborating with artists such as DJ Jazzy Jeff, Buck 65 and Classified. His discography includes an album with Pip Skid and John Smith, and numerous mixed tapes.

But he still gets to play at home as part of the scene where he earned his name. This year he played festivals such as Evolve in Antigonish and Gottingen 250 in Halifax. Coming back gives him a chance to connect with the lakes, ocean, nature and food. “Those are the things I miss the most,” he says. But it also reminds him to support the music community that once supported him.

“As someone from the East Coast, I support other East Coasters,” he says. “We live pretty far away from the other parts of the country. Even in Toronto, you’re 18 hours away from home.”

The local scene is one that still gets attention from the industry across the country. “It’s funny because people will say, ‘So, what’s in the water out there?’” he says.

But it’s not the water—it’s the work ethic.

“Because we are so isolated it makes us push that much harder to be great because we have to go that extra mile because we just don’t bump into people on the street,” Murphy says. “We have to really make our mark. I think that’s a combination of trying hard and having the time to do it. You have to scream louder because you’re a little farther away.”

Besides playing shows, Murphy also judges competitions like the Red Bull Thre3Style, the global DJ competition that has taken him to Paris, France and Azerbaijan. In those up-and-comers, Murphy says he often sees himself when he was a young talent. He notices their strategies, how they connect with the audience, and their approaches to sets. He’s been a judge every year. “I love being a part of that because I came up in competing,” he says. “That’s how I got my start. I know it’s a good opportunity for DJs who are trying to get heard and play for people.”

One of those young DJs Murphy’s encouraged to enter is Saad Zora AKA Zora the Sultan, a 25-year-old DJ from Bedford. “He’s really good,” Murphy says.

Zora appreciates the praise. “That makes me want to go have my morning scratch session now,” Zora says. “It’s very motivating. It’s nice to hear stuff like that from people who admire.”

The two grew up just doors down from each other on the same Bedford street. Zora’s older brother is the same age as Murphy and played the turntables, too. Zora himself started out as a drummer, but after several noise complaints from neighbours and inheriting his older brother’s turntables, he turned to scratching. He says Murphy was his first mentor. He learned scratching by watching Skratch Bastid videos or going to shows.

“Every show I would go to see Paul was like going to school for a DJ,” says Zora. “For DJ shows, I usually stand there. Most people would be dancing because it’s a party. But I just stand and analyze and learn. Paul has the whole package. He has all the technical skills and the presentation and the stage energy.”

Since then, Zora played a couple of Murphy’s shows, including the Bastid BBQ, which plays cities across the country, including Halifax and Crunkmas, a December show at the Marquee Club. He remembers the regionals for RedBull Thre3Style in Halifax as pointing him in the right direction. “It was really helpful because it opened so many doors to different ways of mixing,” Zora says.

But beyond the chance to make music, Murphy says his career has made him grateful for a few things, notably the travel. He says wherever he goes he soaks in the culture, the food, the scenes and, of course, the music, picking up a little bit of influence wherever he goes. “I’ve got a little bit of an outside perspective on a bigger picture, so it prevents me from getting stuck in a rut,” he says.

He thanks his parents, Jim and Joanne, for their support. It was his mother who first encouraged him to enter the DJ Olympics in downtown Halifax. He was 15 then and that decision connected him with the music scene in the city. Later, his father who drove him and friend 13 hours to a competition in Montreal. “It goes to say I couldn’t have done it without them,” Murphy says. “I am forever grateful.”

This winter Murphy says it will be time to hibernate and make more music. He expects to work with hip-hop artist Shad on his latest project. The pair has collaborated before on 2013’s The Spring Up. “I know that will motivate me to get more beats on his record.”

Murphy has simple advice for people trying to follow his example: practise, network and get out and meet people. “Support within the scene is a really important part of surviving in it,” he says. “The more people involved in it the more of a movement it can be and the more of a support system you build around yourself, the stronger it is.”

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