History of the Hamster Switch

The term ‘Hamster switch’ is the original name used for the fader reverse function built into almost every scratch mixer sold today. Interesting name, don’t you think? Have you ever wondered how and where the hamster switch idea originated and who coined the term? Can you imagine a professional scratch mixer without one?

Hamster Style!

“I thought it meant having my arms scrunched in while scratching or something.” – Anonymous DJ post

A few years back—well actually quite a few—there was a crew of turntablists who, at the time, called themselves the Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters. One of the founding members, DJ Quest, is credited with coining the term ‘Hamster Style,' which refers to scratching with a ‘reversed’ crossfader. In other words, having Program 1 appear where Program 2 was and vice versa. With your fader reversed this way, scratching is done outward—away from the zero level point—with your thumb instead of your index and middle finger.

A brief History

Rewinding the clock a bit, we get to the story of how ‘Hamster Style’ came about and when DJ Quest first coined the term.

In 1986, DJ Quest bought his first mixer, a Pyramid PR-4700. As most good things come into being—by accident—DJ Quest connected his turntables the wrong way around. His left deck was on the right side of the crossfader and his right deck on the left side of the crossfader. Liking his setup configured this way, he stuck with it and continues to use this reversed arrangement for all applications.

Skipping a few years ahead to 1992 we get to the story of the Home Turf show—a popular T.V. show in the 1980's and early 1990's on KRON channel 4 San Francisco. Home Turf was geared toward the urban youth, using Hip-Hop in many of their segments and featuring talents like DJ Quest, Q-Bert, Disk, Eddie Def, Apollo, and Mix Master Mike. In the particular show where the 'Hamster' term came to life, a battle was staged between DJ Quest, Positively Red, Kevy Kev and others. After DJ Quest finished demonstrating his skills for the masses, DJ Kevy Kev stepped up to Quest’s rig for his set, but couldn’t understand how everything routed, so DJ Quest blurted out that it’s ‘Hamster Style’ and the term stuck ever since.  

The Evolution

DJ Focus designed the first form of Hamster switch and called it the Hamster box. The Hamster switch idea was intriguing enough to make Vestax give it a try and they began offering this feature on a popular mixer model, but as internal switch option only. It wasn’t long before this way of scratching evolved to a point where the DJs wanted to Hamster on the fly, without needing to open the mixer and select one way or the other. In 1998 Rane obliged the growing request with the TTM 54 Performance Mixer and moved the switch, dubbed the Hamster switch, to an external control for the crossfader and, uniquely at the time, with the channel faders as well. Although other companies started using the term Hamster for their reverse switch, Rane was the first company to acknowledge the Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters crew.

Catching up with DJ Quest

A quick interview with the man himself, DJ Quest.

Rane: Is The Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters crew still together?

DJ Quest: 'Bullet Proof Scratch' is still a crew. The name has changed from Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters to Space Travelers to Bullet Proof Scratch, randomly performing 2-3 times a year in different combinations.

Rane: Having coined the term Hamster style, do you use the Hamster switch within your Rane mixer?

DJ Quest: From time to time I like to hit the reverse switch for fun and have a go at it just for practice sake or simply understanding how it's done so I'm able to demostrate certain techniques. I do not use the 'Hamster' switch on my set up, as I like to use the full channel reverse. Including Serato decks and 'jugglin'.

Rane: Who came up with the name ‘Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters’?

DJ Quest: The name 'Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters' was made by Eddie Def.

Rane: Are there any tricks that would be impossible or practically impossible without a hamster switch?

DJ Quest: No tricks are impossible without Hamster Style, but the texture sound achieved by Hamster style is more unique than traditional style, by affecting the accents of the individual notes.

Rane: Thanks to the hamster switch, do you know of any unique Hamster style scratches that have been created?

DJ Quest: Can't think of any particular scratches created by using Hamster Style, perhaps there is but again, it affects your approach and over-all flavor as well as it may facilitate technique for an entry level DJ, shaving off some of the learning curve.

Rane: Do you have any advice for scratch DJs just starting out?

DJ Quest: Advice for DJ's: If you're struggling to execute a pattern you hear someone else doing then 'shoot yourself in the head', JK. Make up your own. If you are willing to put the time into practice, and are willing to learn the right technique opposed to combo-patterns YOU WILL develop your own flavor. Also, scratch left hand, right hand, Hamster, regular, upside-down, in the dark, under water... Just keep changing it up until you figure out what your strengths are.

Big Ups

What started as a random chance occurrence has become a mandatory feature in every serious scratch mixer currently in production. Thanks to DJ Quest and the original Bullet Proof Scratch Hamster crew, scratch mixers will forever be the home of the Hamster switch. Long live Hamster style!

Pyramid PR-4700 photo by Zane Ritt / Courtesy of DJpedia

TTM 54i Performance Mixer