how to cut and paste a better planet
Scratching below the surface with turntable legend DJ Yoda
The seminal scratch DJ creates a more understanding world with a few samples of his favourite things – including David Lynch, breakfast and autumn leaves
Turntablist DJ Yoda is often namechecked as one of the top DJs in the world “to see before you die”. Well, don’t die just yet, because he’s about to release a fifth artist album. Class of 2022, you are cordially invited to Prom Night on 18 November.
I first met DJ Yoda – aka Duncan Beiny – in North London in the 1980s; the golden age of hip-hop and the preferred decade of the nostalgia-loving time manipulator, which saw the birth of his namesake, Yoda. While we were all watching MTV, Duncan got a summer job to save to buy turntables, and taught himself some serious skills. But, as long as I’ve known him, there’s always been one thing he loves as much as music. And that’s a good breakfast.
We’ve devoured eggs everywhere from Sydney to Barcelona, because Duncan does not play around when it comes to the most important meal of the day, and a global tour is a reason to sample a city’s take on it. He collects retro cereals as if they were rare vinyl reissues; hundreds adorn his studio walls in London. “There are cereal cafes all around the world now,” he says. “It makes me happy.”
As Season 02 of TOPIA Magazine is inspired by The Egg, it seemed right to catch up with the multi-award-winning superstar DJ-slash-egg appreciator who scrambles pop culture clips into mashups to make us feel good. “I’ve always found escapism in music and film, and love albums and movies that take you somewhere,” he says.
A couple of decades and five albums on from his 2006 debut artist album, The Amazing Adventures Of DJ Yoda, the AV wizard has worked with everyone from Action Bronson, Boy George and Banksy to Dr. Dre, M.O.P. and Biz Markie. “I got to make two songs with my favourite rapper of all time before he died,” he reminisces. “I felt like quitting after that, because I didn’t know what else I was even looking to achieve.”
The latest album, Prom Nite, features international megastar guests like LA rapper Choosey, Jamie Cullum, Eva Lazarus, Liam Bailey, Beardyman – and Emmy-nominated Hollywood A-lister Lily James. “It was amazing to work with Lily for her first proper song. She used to live downstairs from me, and we always talked about making some music together. We discussed tastes and found common ground.”
This time, Yoda’s gone all Doo-Wop Soul, with perfectly curated hip-hop samples, of course. “I had quite a tight focus and theme with this album that I wanted to do something with Americana and the 1950s. Something that would make you think of nerds, sports jocks and lockers and high school – but infused with hip-hop and dreaminess. It sounds bonkers now I’m saying it out loud!”
The first single, ‘Feel Like Home’ features the Gospel House Gospel Choir and was recorded in the darkest depths of lockdown. “I felt like we all really needed something uplifting,” he says. “They’re about as positive, energetic, creative and fun a bunch of people as you’ll find anywhere.”
In TOPIA’s regular My World of Good series, revolutionaries and pioneers get to create their version of a better world. So I asked Duncan to uplift us with ten samples of what he considers Good.
DJ Yoda: In My World of Good…
1. Everyone has watched Twin Peaks
“It’s no secret that I’m a Twin Peaks obsessive, and my love for David Lynch is as equal as my love for hip-hop. There’s just something that can’t be put into words about the world he created – it’s a feeling. David Lynch’s ideas need to go mainstream. He’s a true creative and is inspired by meditation. If we were all like him, we’d be living in some kind of utopia.
I collect any and all music that relates to Twin Peaks. It’s a surprisingly large body of music. And I DJ at the Twin Peaks Festival in the UK every year – it’s like the least danceable music in the world, but I absolutely love it.
2. We’re less connected
I don’t think everyone knowing everything about everyone is doing us any good at all. Everyone seemed a bit happier when they were only dealing with what was physically in front of them. Tech is a double-edged sword but it’s vastly enabled creativity on a global level.
3. We have space and time
Giving someone the space and time to truly express themselves
is a treat for everyone involved.
In this mediascape of short-attention-spans we’re currently living in, podcasts give us a rare opportunity to do this with long-form interviews. I really like the What Had Happened Was podcast. Open Mic Eagle interviews a different hip-hop luminary every season for TEN one-hour episodes. He breaks down each section of their career and explores the human side of artists behind the music.
I had a podcast I was featured on come out on vinyl last year – it was called Hardcore Listing. So now I can scratch my own voice off a record, which is cool!
4. There is no shame
I’m strongly against the idea of ‘guilty pleasures’. I think if you like something, as long as it’s not causing harm to others, then you should feel no shame! That’s how I justify my love of Stock Aitken and Waterman.
5. I’d be able to beam me up
Teleportation would be the ultimate superpower for me! I would love to be transported to a high school in Mid West of the US in 1955, the setting for Prom Night. I think that would be cool, like Back To The Future.
6. Every week serves up something surreal
I thrive off new experiences. I’ve DJ’d everywhere from The British Library to Malawi and Kenya to China to Brazil, and live the kind of life where every week feels like the most surreal gig I’ve ever done. My biggest show this year was randomly in Romania, where I played a Tik-Tok-themed AV show for 10,000 people at Electric Castle Festival – and I just DJ’d in Las Vegas to introduce Serena Williams onto the stage.
I’m not scared of standing on a stage and DJing, and don’t get nervous. Can’t explain why, but I feel like it has something to do with the fact that my motivation was never to perform in front of people.
It feels like a side product of what I do, rather than the point.
7. I get to eat a breakfast of champions every day!
My breakfast of champions is… the eggs in Sydney. I’m a huge breakfast fan. It’s probably my favourite thing in the world. I like eggs done interestingly, and Australia and New Zealand are the places for this, like… “butter-poached crab, curry scramble, house-made crumpet, radish and fragrant herbs”! Bondi Beach, Massachusetts, Devon and anywhere Mediterranean are my happy places – the reasons all being food-related.
8. Everyone listens to Lightnin’ Hopkins
I’ve been listening to a lot of really old blues recently. I find it puts me in a nice place, and it’s super relaxing. Start with Lightnin’ Hopkins’ self-titled album.
9. We protect Bob Mortimer
… and delete Kanye West.
9. We truly look around us
There’s a doorway opposite Exeter Cathedral that I really like. It’s atmospheric and looks like something out of Lord of the Rings! I recommend it.
10. Everyone has listened to Prom Nite
Next, my plan for the winter is to tour a new Audio-Visual Show that’s designed exclusively for 360-degree immersive dome spaces. It’s been really fun to put together. You’re going to be completely surrounded by the visuals.
DJ Yoda’s tips of Good people to follow
– @fall_cozyy – pictures of autumn leaves
– @newsfooduk – limited edition cereals and chocolates in UK supermarkets
– @cursed.image5 – really random pictures!
– @mylothecat – 80s cartoons set to 90s rappers
– @recaptured80s – pure 80s nostalgia
– @housegospelchoir – uplifting joy
Want more from Season 02 of TOPIA?
What’s so good about this?
If you grew up in the 1980s, you’ll know what a glorious time it was to be alive. Now, more than ever, who doesn’t love a bit of nostalgia that takes you back to some of the best movies, music, TV shows and popular culture of all time? Listening to a DJ Yoda mixtape – and watching him in action – is a time machine to a better world.
Meet the writer
Lisa Goldapple is the brain behind the world of TOPIA, and a wise-cracking detective somewhere in the multiverse. She might not behave as good as gold, but thinks good is golden. To understand her rare brain, a bit, follow @lisagoldapple and read Mind Blown: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope”. And sign up to the TOPIA newsletter, A World of Good.