Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Refining The DJ

How many of us say we are DJs? How many of us really are DJs? What does society think of the DJ?

Personally I shy away from telling people I am a "DJ", especially as a lot of the time I play house music. I can't help but sometimes think when I tell people I play house music they picture this, when really I am this. To those who may be uninterested, uniformed or simply don't care, most club DJs play house music, right?

So how does society picture the DJ? In a 2010 interview with Juno Plus, Jeff Mills said: "I have seen and heard some incredible things (from digital DJs) and with the new technology. It’s going to take us into a completely different realm if we can make it more open so regular people understand how this technology really works. There seems to be a great divide between the DJs that use this technology and the audience, because I don’t think the general audience knows how digital DJing works. I think most people in the audience assume that the DJ is still mixing, even though they are using computers."

Most DJs I see today perform from behind a laptop. Personally, I have trouble connecting with what they are doing, imply because I don't understand it. For others it is obvious. I recently saw Truncate (thanks to Andrew Till at MACHINE) and noticed that both CDJs and turntables had been removed from the booth. All four DJs playing that night were using Traktor, so there was no need for them. This was the first time I had seen such a thing.

Truncate and the supporting DJs played strong peak time sets, but on a personal level I felt the absence of a DJ. I know that I can associate and identify with the movements a DJ makes in the booth when playing vinyl or CDs, but so to can a digital DJ when watching one of their own. Truncate's set may have been one to remember.

So I pose the question - If a vinyl enthusiast, CDJ trained, house and techno obsessive blogger, does not understand entirely what a laptop DJ is doing - how much does Joe and Flo?

TEDxBrickLane is an event being held at Vibe Bar in London's east end on the 29th of March. It is a series of eight talks, each no longer than 18 minutes each, looking at different aspects of the DJ, including; the history and reasons behind the DJs rise in popularity over recent decades and the knock on effects it has had in the way we consume music in the 21st century.

Speakers include Ibadan boss Jerome Sydenham, Funktion-One founder Tony Andrews, expert in illegal drug use in society Dr. Karenza Moore and revered music writer and reviewer Joe Mugs.

TEDxBrickLane will be streamed live at and and will sit permanently on the TED's website and YouTube following the event.

If you are in the London area this Thursday, drop on by for a pint and chin stroke, if not may I suggest a glass of red and a reliable internet connection.


  1. i first played out with a laptop in 2001 and felt embarrassed for the crowd having to watch someone who looked like he was playing tetris. the next week bought a midi controller so they could " see " that i was doing something.

  2. I'm sure a lot of DJs such as yourself are aware that some people may not know what is going on. Introducing a midi controller adds a tangible element to mix as well as proving that the DJ "is actually doing something" and not checking their emails or playing tetris.

  3. I suspect that this is mainly a dj muse about crowd perception. I don't think Joe or Flo really care and are just there to dance and enjoy the music. Whether its vinyl, traktor or midi controller its the same type of bloke hung round the booth checking what the DJ is doing/using/playing, whilst everyone else is just having a good time and that has not changed in over 15+ yrs.

  4. A DJs observation yes. The perception of the “DJ” is going through a transitional phase. Traditionally the DJ is seen as someone spinning vinyl, exemplified by spinback jocks in Black Eyed Peas or Kanye West videos. Then again BEP may now be endorsing apple as they did with nokia. The point is - ask Joe or Flo what a DJ does and nine time out of ten they will say the say something along the lines of “they mix records, or at least they used to (possibly adding), today they use laptops.”

    A few years ago the laptop comment would have be replaced with CDs and before that it was simply “they mix records”. Shouldn’t we be giving Joe and Flo a bit more credit than branding them as brainless minions dancing to whatever the DJ plays?

    I’d like to image they at least they take notice of what is going on in the the DJ booth, be it out of curiosity. The ones that make the effort to venture out of the Melbourne CBD to a underground club to see an act such as Truncate, may not be up to date with the latest Modularz or Droid Recordings release, but they haven’t paid a lofty door charge to see DJ xx play the 2012 remix of Delirium's Silence.

    It would be naive to think nothing has changed in 15 years.

  5. I didnt say 'nothing' had changed in 15 years, just that its still the same sorts of guys hanging at the booth.
    Ive Dj'd and clubbed in different countries for well over 15yrs so id say my opinion is far from 'naive', but again I didnt say nothing had changed and it is just my opinion.

    Yes the DJ is a visual focal point in a club but outside the bedroom/aspiring jocks, I dont think many care now the music is mixed, as long as its mixed, cheating well that seems to be universally hated.

    I dont understand why you think people would be brainless minions or that thinking people go clubbing to simply dance and listen to good tunes is doing them a disservice? Put it this way when Sasha
    , Cox et al were starting out, we (as in a nation of clubbers) would go to free raves, thousands upon thousands weekend after weekend to "danc(e)ing to whatever the DJ plays" There were no big names because this was when it all started. Where we brainless? Just having a good time and connecting with the music, before edm became a brand and the superstar dj was born. There were no blogs, twitter etc because there was no internet.

    So maybe Jo and Flo a bit more credit for just dancing and enjoying the music, they are not brainless. They go to club y because they know what type of music is played there or that x is playing and they like x's music style. People rarely are swayed to what film they see by who the projectionist is, rather that they like the movie that is being played

    Not everyone in the club obsesses that x is using traktor and y is still using vinyl. 'Names' come and go and so does the technology, but the music remains and so does the dancing.

  6. I would have to agree with Justme on this.

    Obviously if a punter is attending a underground party he/her music knowledge will tend to be a little bit more accute. But further interest in the scene seems to not change there desire to want to know what the person is actually doing in the dj booth.

    I have been playing for 12 years myself and some of my best mates still have no real idea of what and why i use certain dj equipment. As long as the tunes are banging and people are having a dance then thats what they will focus on.

    Throw in a dj that actually interacts with his /her crowd rather than just playing tetris on there laptop and showing no interest and people on the dance floor are even happier.

    so my experience from djing and also being that guy next to the dj booth earlier on still seems to be the same type of guy showing interest these days. anyway these days Rest of the punters are anyway running around on some form of ephedrine or who knows what ... so just remembering to get home let alone what equipment sandwell district used is the last thing they can remember from dancing for 5 hours

    Totally off the subject .... cheers for a killer blog mate and keep the tea pot boiling.

  7. Both of you make valid points.

    From a DJs point of view what the DJ does technically is somewhat significant, if not integral. I agree that for the average punter (and some DJs) dancing and music is what fuels the night. I was once one of these dancers with limited music knowledge, but I always took an interest in what the DJ was doing and to a certain extent understood. This doesn't mean I was up close and personal taking note of every EQ adjustment, but I was aware that certain things were being done to make the music happen.

    There are people out there that may not care what the DJ is playing or how they are playing it, if it sounds good and makes them dance then who cares? But there are people out there like I used to be who consciously or subconsciously made that connection with the DJ. So how important is that connection?

    Both styles of DJing is art form, just different types. I saw Planetary Assault Systems live at Berghain last year and from what I could see Luke Slater was using a laptop and a few other bits and pieces. Needless to say it was incredible and I danced the night and day away, but I had no idea what Slater was doing. In that case I am glad I had no idea what he was doing because it added to the mystique of his set and made it memorable one. The "unknown"was a big contributing factor. Had it been Mathew Jonson or Function programming physical drum machines and synths, although I am no where near at the standard of them, personally I can connect with that little more, which makes for a different music experience all together.

    My point is the connection or lack of that people make with the DJ. Like Jeff Mills said the general audience may still be unsure of how digital DJing works - whether they care is another story all together.

  8. The same jeff mills also said that he really wanted that people wouldnt look to the dj :) and he even played some gig in tresor long time ago where they moved the dj booth away into the corner, i have the same point of view, i like when people enjoy music..
    actually i still like djs who play vinyl as i still do (with some traktor scratch involved), but doesnt what format hes using, its how its done and its all about the passion and not the fashion.
    and i dont call myself a dj, for the same reasons you dont, i would rather call myself a music spreader of some kind :)

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