I’ve been in two minds about writing about this subject for a few years now…it probably will be my most extreme and maybe hypocritical rant.
Can anyone be a DJ? Yeah ..ofcourse, but not everyone can be a good DJ....just look around you!!....the evidence speaks for itself…. you can’t tell them and they’ll never accept that criticism….but you can always laugh at them. No, you don’t have to beat match and mix to be a good DJ…and if that’s all you think it is about…..then you are likely to fit in with the above sort of person.
I’m lucky…..really fucking lucky, I started Dj’ing in 81. I was taught to play to the crowd by a guy called Mike., he’d made his money from Roller disco’s in the late 70’s and was highly popular as a mobile DJ in the south of England…..I started helping him at my schools “Youth club”…it gave me a chance to impose my taste on unsuspecting school mates and also play what they wanted….you name it …we played it…and good fun it was too. Mike also taught me how to set up pa equipment and manage sound…he had a damned good system, some of which I still own. It sounds naff, but considering the range of music being played and the amount of different groups of music lovers, I feel it was a very unique thing. So that's where I learned crowd control - playing to the crowd, reading the crowd.
The Mike Vernon Record Show was also a Mobile outfit that went round the south of England and London each weekend providing sounds for Weddings, Bahmitzva's and Divorces. We had set playlists to start off the evening, they ALWAYS worked. After a certain point we could always mix it up a bit and cater for requests. I think the one event that caused me and Mike some confusion was a Primary School end of year party.... 11 year olds don't have a set taste in music....I'm not sure if that still is the case, but it's something I won't forget (Luckily I'm not likely to be asked to do another Primary School Disco!!)
Throughout the 80’s, it may have been pretentious being a DJ, but it wasn’t wanky. I’d played at friends parties and gigs in Crawley where genre mixing came naturally to me. 1987 - Marychain/New Order/Kylie/Bunnymen/Chic/Cabaret Voltaire/Detroit House …I was predating Erol Alkan by decades…..any old mashed up tit can beat match 4/4 all night long, but can he keep the floor going if there’s not enough alcohol and drugs out there…..talent??? Not if its just beat matching!!
I’ve even had mixed tapes stolen from parties… I always took that as a compliment .
When I moved to Brighton in 98 I failed to realized what a small, up its own arse town Brighton is. I was still spending loads on vinyl and cd’s and I saw that an obscure little outfit called Dakar & Grinser were playing at The Loft (Hope & Ruin). I contacted the promoter and asked him if I could do DJ support as I was into them. Being no good at promoting myself and quite negative, I expected a big NO….instead Jeff Disastronaut said yes…..unfortunately Dakar & Grinser were so pissed off with their London turnout that they fucked off back to Germany and left me to DJ a longer set than anticipated (like all night)…..I got positive feedback for my slightly eclectic electronics…and that did me!
I managed to blag my way in (thanks to Tamzine) as a warm up at the hugely popular and long running Dynamite Boogaloo, (ofcourse, I had to put up with "we don't want you to play 80's shit". Why would I, so I didn't, until it became popular again and so they said "can you play more 80's shit".....as long as people were dancing, did it matter what I played?? It gave me a chance to mix styles and get the buzz of actually getting people dancing before the residents came on…..I couldn’t have been that bad as I also took the role of resident replacement when they were not around…great fun, good times!!! So ….while I’m plugging myself (which is what DJ’s do…yes it’s all about me me me) should I mention……Ladytron (Ruben didn't like warm-up DJ's as he liked to play his own mixes, but he liked what I played so I wasn't kicked off), Black Strobe, Client, V/VM, Fujiya & Miyagi, Avant Garden Centre, Damage Manual, We Love Pop, Warsaw Clubs -Tomba Tomba, Pruderia, Saturator and Pewex, Alicante’s Culture Club, Fuck the Pain Away and SlutDisko, Brighton Pride Pop Stars. I was even invited to play Man Parrish’s Sperm Party in New York…make what you will of that….I decided not to play as Manny contacted the night before my flight to say that there was a high possibility that they might lose their venue that night!! (I had more space to bring goodies back from NYC then!!)
There seems a really strange …very irritating scourge that sits in its festering bedroom until 5 every morning perfecting it’s beat matching and mixing…..this scourge becomes a leech when it finds out you’re a DJ….it thinks it has something in common with you and invites you round its house on the pretence that it has some great tunes that you’ll like……BULLSHIT…..basically you’re dragged into 2 hours of listening to someone beat match the most tedious shit you’ve ever heard in your life! “So do you think I’m good mate?” ….”Yeah, you can mix”….”Do you think I’ll get a gig at the local pub?”….”Does anyone go there and what would you do if no one was dancing?”……”But they would dance…I’m brilliant, everyone loves this stuff?”……Yeah…what ever!!!!! Can I go home now?
Does anyone know how to work the equipment? I learned…..just by watching….why can’t you …you lazy fucker!
The club’s fucking empty and you’ve got it on full volume and it’s going to be three hours before anyone gets here…..thanks for fucking up my hearing and all the people that work in the club…Oh yes, thanks for blowing the sound system for when I need it loud later on….you peaked it three hours previous and gave me zero headroom…Twat!
You’re using my equipment and you give me your word that you’ll take full responsibility for it…how long is your nose? I don’t care if someone else poured a pint into my mixer…you said it was your responsibility….Bullshitter!!
You want me to teach you how to DJ….put it like this…I’ll advise…but you’ve either got it or you haven’t…you can find out for yourself how good you are…but there’s no way in hell anyone is using my collection of music for their own DJ’ing anymore. The odd track maybe…but nothing more. Why should I pay for you and take no credit…Selfish C***s.
Technology Matters - actually it doesn't, it helps.......but it's the music that matters. So there you are with a full dancefloor, everyone's going for it. Some guy comes up (it's usually a guy) and starts sneering and taking the piss because you're using CD's or Digital. It's almost everytime isn't it? If your punters are going for it, they don't give a toss what media format you're using. I've DJ'd every format. Ofcourse, I prefer Vinyl, there is a tactileness to it - I don't have to extole the virtues. But as new vinyl got so expensive in the early noughties, I found myself ripping it to CD's as I didn't want to damage it when out. It also gave me the the ability to switch styles more easily when having been stitched up by useless colleagues and venue owners. I can recall one 8 hour set - me as only DJ (luckily the toilet was next to the decks), if it wasn't for CD's, I wouldn't have been able to keep a 300 capacity club, full and moving until 5am.
Ofcourse it's more fun to watch someone spin vinyl (especially if you're a DJ). The trouble is most DJ's when at someone elses gig are not going to be on the floor, that crowd of blokes around the decks are just DJ's. Yes, I'm equally as guilty, but I like to label watch and try and guess what the next track is...ok??? There is a Hauntological Aesthetic aspect to vinyl, (Stephen Mallinder did a great talk on this)the above picture is a classic scenario and yes, as a DJ, I get great pleasure in seeing something like this and knowing that if I had the chance to flick through the rest of the vinyl, it would be a pleasureable experience - that's beacause I am a DJ (potential hypocrite) and I'm not on the dancefloor enjoying myself!!!
I can remember being asked to set up a private party in the top room of a pub I was resident DJ in. I couldn't have the decks as there was a DJ downstairs - nevermind.... I didn't have any of my own DJ equipment (it's audiophile for domestic purposes). I managed to cobble together 2 record decks, a domestic CD player and a Mini-Disc player all put together with a basic 4 channel Realistic Mixer (fader only box with no cue facilities). Because I know my music and knew the crowd I managed to keep a great party going. The punters had to go downstairs to get their drinks, where the general public were getting aware there was something good going on up there. I ended up clearing the main bar because everyone gatecrashed the party - even the DJ with the proper decks packed up and went home!! It's about the music - not the technology.
DJ’ing breeds selfishness…..(I’m equally as guilty, but not as much as some, which is probably why I’m not that successful, but I wouldn’t want to become something I’m not). There are few people I can DJ one on one with…….it has to be an enjoyable, non competitive experience about keeping the floor going and involving eachother.
I'm pleased to be able to say that I currently work with a group of music lovers where the ego's are sensitively kept under control. We are very much into the ambience of the event, to the extent that if it's not dance orientated and someone starts to dance, we secretly consider it to be a bit of a pain in the arse, because we are then under pressure to continue in that vein.
I’ve had to put up with too many fuckwits who screw up a night by just thinking about themselves and not what the nights about…I’ve been too nice to them…I doubt they would be the same to me (they haven't)…..but then they wouldn’t have to as I would go out of my way to compliment their night. If you want to be a good DJ…you have to resort to stuff you don’t like sometimes…especially if it’s a private do or a club night/venue you’re not familiar with and if you’re good…..you’ll have failsafe DJ tools to get you out of shit…won’t you??..What? You still don’t know what I’m talking about……hmmm…say no more.
Let me give you a scenario I was involved in about 10 years ago, it's a story of two ego's, one larger than mine that ruined an evening. I had met some DJ who had been involved a couple of times with a popular night I was resident at. He was turning up at prime time and playing obscure Electro-Tech and mixing it with his own music, it was neither inspiring or floor filling. But he was young and egotistic. He asked me if I could cover a 3 hour slot for him whilst he finished his main job at a private party in a rather commercial club in town. I agreed. But asked him if I could contact the girl who's birthday it was. I rang her and explained the scenario and also explained where I was resident at and named the other nights I had been involved in. When she heard the name Fuck The Pain Away, she got excited and said that was great as she had been to my night and should just play that sort of stuff. This was where I subtly said that although it was HER birthday, I wanted to know what sort of music all her friends liked, at which point she got what I was talking about and agreed that it should be more mixed up with what had been commercially acceptable from a Dance/Pop point of view in the past 20 years.
Anyway, I turned up at this venue and managed to get the floor going and keep it that way. At 1am, the guy who asked me to DJ turns up, the floors full and moving and his comment is "What are you playing this shit for?" I knew what was going to happen from that very moment, I took a step back and just said "I filled the floor for you, it's all yours". First track of his - one of his compositions - floor cleared - I go to the bar and get a drink and watch a good party go wrong. After 30 minutes of destruction, I had so many people come up and ask me when I was going back on - I was honest enough to explain that I had been asked by the present DJ to cover for him until he turned up, it wasn't my gig, it wasn't my party and I wasn't anticipating going back on. This is the point where the girl who's party it was, intervened and asked me would I consider playing again. The two of us knew this was going to be awkward and I asked her to take full responsibility for any fallout. So - in retrospective I should have said no and left, but because of my ego, I took over again, only to realise so much damage had been caused by the other idiot, that most people had left.
What goes round, comes round......and it comes round quicker in music trends. Well, why follow trends? I hear you ask, but having an awareness does help, a bit like knowing your boundaries and when to take risks. I've got tracks that I (the key work here is "I" aka ME!!) think are absolute floor fillers, I know someone else who totally believes that those tracks are fillers too, but we've both seen that 30 years later they still remain Floor Killers. I have friends who have faith in me playing genres I'm not that familiar with and have asked me to play what has turned out to be a very successful set. I like the edge, I like working as a team with like-minded people.
Being totally fucked on alcohol or drugs means that .... you're totally fucked on drugs or alcohol, but don't worry...whatever you play will sound good to you. I think the point I'm making is this, you can control the floor to a certain point, unless an external force is also influencing. There's nothing wrong with a bit of pre-set nerves, infact I'm a firm believer of "the day you don't get nerves, is the day you should give it up for a while".
I've just returned from a successful dance party where Kin;Aesthetic Stephen and myself managed to keep, what we both initially thought was a difficult crowd to predict, on their feet. We both agreed that the challenge was going to be changing genres and not getting stuck in one that keeps the floor full for 3 tracks only. A challenge, but great fun. Prior to leaving for the event, I noticed an advert on Beatport's Facebook profile - it was for a track that has been reissued, that I was playing 12 months previous, there was a video of a guy using Traktor and a large crowd (300) with only 6 people shuffling around. My initial reaction to this was that it seems you need to wait less than 12 months to reissue anything these days. Other more vicious comments were the fact that the DJ was using Digital and not Vinyl and this was the cause for 300 people not enjoying themsleves, obviously written by DJ's. (I've had a dancefloor ruined by a Ketamine dealer, it was like a zombie apocalyse). Last night we used both Vinyl and Digital, no-one gave a toss becuse they were too busy enjoying themselves.
So you see what I’m getting at…yes…it’s a rant…but I still see this far too regularly!!!