Harry Allen and Rob Swift

2018-19 MIT Sounding Series

MIT hosts harbanger, a battle DJ septet

About the Performance

Eran Egozy, Professor of the Practice in Music Technology at MIT and co-founder of Harmonix Music Systems, facilitates an intensive two-week course during spring 2020 Independent Activities Period (IAP) centered on the performances of hip-hop battle DJs. The course explores the history of the art form, offers a hands-on introduction to DJing, and serves additionally to assemble harbanger (pronounced “harbinger”); a turntable septet performing in a groundbreaking final concert.

Visiting Artist Harry Allen instructs the class on the history of DJs who have advanced the scratch DJ art form since its inception. Conversations via video conference will be facilitated with prominent and knowledgeable hip-hop experts.

Visiting Artist and DJ Rob Swift leads battle DJ instruction in intensive master classes. Students work to perform custom works created for the seven-DJ ensemble, with emphasis placed on mastery of highly syncopated styles and techniques.

The DJ septet performance is part of the 2019–20 MIT Sounding series, an annual concert series curated by Evan Ziporyn, faculty director of CAST and professor of Music and Theater Arts, and presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) and MIT Music and Theater Arts.

This artist residency is supported by the Abramowitz Memorial Lectureship Fund. 

Public Events

Past Events

the wave function collapses
harbanger DJ Septet Concert

January 16, 2020 / 8:00-9:30pm
MIT Building W97
345 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA

harbanger (pronounced “harbinger”), a turntable septet created by Visiting Artists Harry Allen, Hip-Hop Activist & Media Assassin, and X-Ecutioners’ DJ Rob Swift, in a groundbreaking concert featuring DJs Axis Pro, Bobby Bangers, Don Santos, Emoh Betta, Menace, Slipwax, and Treeman, debuted compositions by Breakmaster Cylinder, DJ Treeman, and DJ Don Santos.

The concert also included selections from the new eponymous album by Da Odd Couple (Rob Swift and Mista Sinista), an energetic, psychedelic collection of scratch-based beats that (head) nod to the future while embracing the genre’s roots.

Table Talk with Rob Swift
January 9, 2020 / 5:30-6:30pm
MIT Building W97
345 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA

To help attendees develop their knowledge of authentic Hip Hop DJing, Rob Swift shared his thoughts on his five tenets of DJing during a lecture and Q&A session:

Appreciation: Cultivating an understanding and acknowledgement for who, what, when, where, why, and how Hip Hop DJing as we know it was conceived.

Resourcefulness: Turntables weren’t designed to scratch or “beat juggle” on. Yet that’s what Hip Hop DJs do. Having the ability to adapt to the gear you’re using in order to make it work for you is the most crucial part of DJing.

Originality: True, authentic Hip Hop is against plagiarism and appropriation, and so artists (DJs, B-Boys, MCs, or Graff artists) must pride themselves on inventiveness.

Tenacity: Hip Hop DJs who stand out are those with the drive to dedicate long hours to training and perfecting their skills.

Guardianship: Once you’ve reached a level of mastery, you practice your techniques less and focus more on practicing the art of paying your knowledge and skills forward.

Collaborators at MIT

Eran Egozy, Professor of the Practice in Music Technology and co-founder and CTO of Harmonix Music Systems

Ian Condry, Professor of Global Studies and Languages with joint appointments in Comparative Media Studies and in Anthropology

Philip Tan, Creative Director, MIT Game Lab

About the Artists

Harry Allen, Hip-Hop Activist & Media Assassin, is an expert in hip-hop culture. He has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times; on National Public Radio, MTV, VH-1, CNN, and the BBC, among others. He is also known for his long-time association with the seminal hip-hop group Public Enemy, and for his widely heard “cameo” on their classic record, Don’t Believe the Hype.

Allen hosts the blog Media Assassin where he writes about race, politics, and culture, much as he did for VIBE, The Source, The Village Voice, and other publications for over 30 years. He serves as an advisor to the Archives of African American Music and Culture (AAAMC) at Indiana University.

A frequent guest lecturer at colleges and universities throughout the United States, Allen presents photographs of Public Enemy’s members taken before the band was formed in a talk called Shooting the Enemy. Many of these images are now part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s permanent collection.

Allen was a 2017 Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellow at Harvard University. He recently founded the HARD Agency, a boutique for developing “unique and provocative” projects. He and his wife live near Washington, D.C.

More at the artist’s website: Harry Allen

Forward-thinking and naturally geared toward creating revolutionary music, DJ Rob Swift has worked with everyone from Linkin Park and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Mike Patton and Herbie Hancock.

Swift began his career by learning from his older brother, father, and mentor, and joining the Harlem-based DJ crew that would come to be called the X-Ecutioners in 1991. Within a year, he had achieved the prestigious DMC East Coast title and gained an international reputation as a masterful DJ.

Swift continues to pursue fresh directions to expand his musical palette and connect with audiences from all walks of life. In addition to dropping a DVD titled As the Technics Spin (2009) about the thought process behind his classic battle/club sets, his most recent albums, The Architect and X-Files: Lost & Deleted, blend genres to form the soundtrack for his vision of what hip-hop could evolve into, rather than where it is now.

Swift currently works as a professor of DJing at The New School for Liberal Arts in New York City.

More at the artist’s website: Rob Swift