Less than a year after declaring independence from the quickly dissolving USSR, and shortly before the Baltic Republic of Latvia officially came into being, Modris Skaistkalns aka Mr. Tape, appeared at the DMC World DJ Championships in London. It was 1991 and he was 25 years-old at the time. He clearly had spent a lot of time developing his unique method of mixing on reel to reel tapes. He'd already won something called the 1st World Tape Jockey Championships in Riga, Latvia in 1989. In the 1990s, Skaistkalns, went on to become a leading house producer and remixer, and formed the best-selling Latvian dance act, Group 100. Last year, he started a rock band called Moontalk.
The following performance clip is so good, and seems to come so far from leftfield, that you want to write a screenplay for HBO which tells the dude's life story and leads up to this moment.
I transcribed the passionate presenter's introduction to Skaistkalns' performance. Enjoy.
"You will appreciate that where he comes from, you cannot get Technics SL 1200s [pro DJ turntables] that easily. If you do, they're on the black market, and they cost an absolute fortune, probably equivalent to buying a Rolls Royce over here. So these boys, as you can see from their very basic equipment here— they're not even sophisticated tape recorders."
"They've adapted two tape recorders; can't get records like we can get them in Latvia. So they record off radio stations, and things like that. And because they are so keen, and they epitomize the spirit of this convention, under any circumstances, the music's gotta get through. and the mixing has got to be done. So will you please welcome two boys who've come here at their own speed, their own expense —and that really wasn't easy for them— but they're here, and I want you to welcome our two Russian, Latvian DJs. Let's give them a big welcome."
And here we have a short Dutch documentary from the late 1980s on the phenomenon of Latvian tape DJs, and their struggle for independence, and how "dancing is the only truly international language," in case you want to know more. It turns out that lots of modifications were needed to make music this way.