Party-rocking DJ Hedspin has a hybrid approach
The country’s reigning party-rocking DJ, Hedley “Hedspin” Tuscano, used to set up other people’s interviews; now he’s fielding requests for his own time on the record.
“I was a marketing rep for Sony Canada,” says the 33-year-old New Westminster native. “I remember driving all the members of Maroon 5 around the city in my parents’ Mazda before anyone even knew who they were. It’s kind of funny to think about that now.”
Hedspin left that day job years ago, around the time he became one of the city’s most in-demand hip-hop and R & B DJs. The decision to become a full-time DJ was a milestone in his long love affair with music, which dates back to his preteen years.
“Starting about 1989, I would take the SkyTrain downtown every weekend and go to all those record stores along Seymour Street,” he recalls. “I started buying 12-inches because it was all about getting the different mixes and B-sides. It was just cool to have those tracks that not many other people had.”
When he was in high school, Hedspin—like many others in the city’s nascent hip-hop scene—experienced something of an epiphany.
“I went to DJ Sound Wars [at UBC] in ’94 and that’s where I first saw Qbert and Shortkut,” he says of the legendary Bay Area turntablists. “After their set, the crowd was dead quiet; people couldn’t believe what had just happened. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen.”
Hedspin connected with those California DJs on two levels—in their mutual love of rap music, and in their shared Filipino heritage. One of the great untold stories of West Coast hip-hop is how profoundly the form has been embraced by Filipino communities from Los Angeles all the way to Vancouver. Hedspin and fellow local DJs like Rico Uno represent just the latest chapter in that rich story.
“I think that influence goes back to the mobile-DJ culture in California, which was almost like Jamaican sound systems but more geared toward parties and weddings,” he says. “There was a lot of Filipino DJs with their own companies competing for that market—that’s where that battling mentality started. When I was a teenager, I was part of that culture here. There were groups of Filipino DJs that would be fighting for the same gigs. Getting someone’s wedding was a big deal.”
Now that he’s a two-time winner of the city’s Red Bull Thre3style battle crown, it’s hard to believe that Hedspin crashed and burned during his first nightclub appearance in the late 1990s.
“I was at the old Madison’s, hanging out with DJ Wax, who had a residency there,” he recalls. “At one point, he had to use the washroom so he just left me there and said, ‘Go on.’ I had a few records with me but no concept of how to read a crowd. I think I played Funkmaster Flex’s ‘Six Million Ways to Die’ and I killed the dance floor.”
Things have been looking up ever since, with Hedspin securing his first residency at the Urban Well and then going on to become a fixture in the stable of G-Man and Rizk, the city’s premier urban promoters. Nowadays, the biggest challenge for an established spinner like Hedspin is setting himself apart from the young bucks who can simply download all the songs it took the older guys years to find on vinyl.
“I was very resistant to digital deejaying at the beginning,” he explains. “But eventually I tried it out and liked it, first just because it’s so convenient, but also because you can do a lot more with it in terms of the technical aspects of deejaying. What I’m working on now is trying to have my DJ sets be more like producer sets where I’m creating songs on the fly.”
That hybrid approach is evident in a YouTube clip of his recent winning set at the Vancouver Thre3style competition, as Hedspin mixes in a dizzying range of songs across multiple genres and triggers a bank of samples on his Akai MPD24 pad controller.
When he faces the national champions from 17 other countries at this year’s inaugural Thre3style world finals, it will mark a new peak in his still-evolving career, one that even his parents will recognize as a remarkable accomplishment.
“I don’t think they really understood until a few years ago that this was something you could make a career out of,” he explains. “It took them a while to come around. But I’m looking forward to bringing my mom down to the worlds. That’s something I want her to check out, to see how I make my living.”
The Thre3style world finals take place December 14 to 17 at various venues around Vancouver.