Archive for the ‘ DJ Culture ’ Category

Open Question: What’s Next for DJing?

I firmly believe that DJ’ing and DJ culture as a whole has evolved so beautifully and elegantly. It continues to be an artistic pursuit that provides transformational experiences for many people (good job everyone!).  I was thinking – what’s next for us?   I’m musing on the stages of evolution for an art form and trying to frame it in terms of DJ culture.  I brainstormed a list of phases below.  I’m trying to work out what’s next for us and how we can keep evolving.  I can honestly say, I think our future is strong but also delicate.

I’ve kept the descriptions of each phase very general ( and somewhat cryptic ) because I want you to have some reference to what I mean – I’m sure I missed other ways to describe these phases.  Ask yourself these questions too: Where are we exactly in this spectrum in relation to DJ culture and in relation to music performance at large ( bands for example )?  Is a particular phase a function of location?  What important events have occurred or need to occur in music or technology that ushers in one phase from another?

Phases of evolution of the art of DJ’ing:

  • Pioneering – the first DJs.
  • Foundation – Small group of DJs working out the mechanics and method, the art form is being established.
  • Exclusiveness – Underground only for the select few.
  • Momentum – Forums for public performance, complete support.
  • Exponential Growth – DJs and market is fully immersed and mass audience are knowledgeable that DJs exist.  Variety of tool sets available.
  • Peak  –  Market saturation. Expectations and pressures at all time high.  Full understanding of tool sets. Potential for backlash.
  • Plateau – Technique/musicality is in stasis, longer periods of time between innovation which occur as blips not milestones.  DJs creatively regrouping. Backlash and commercialization evident.
  • Resurgence – Time has passed, less faithful and creative weeded out (although this can occur in any phase), core remaining group building foundations for next level.   Audience returns/new audience injects fresh energy and ideas.
  • Climb – Lessons from previous phases are applied.  Respect of art form re-established.  Fresh perspectives become norm.  Next phase in evolution is in full swing.

Another way to look at this list is as a cycle.  It’s quite possible you can apply the first phases to something that is happening right now in a particular technique, performance or genre.  That’s great – go for it.  The point is to find your center of understanding and take it from there.

I ran this by a trusted DJ.  We talked about when looking at it from music and performance history as a whole, DJs have only just begun (Exclusiveness/Momentum).  Looking at it from the inside, from the NYC DJ perspective, we are just cresting Exponential Growth and into Peak (again, debatable).  My gut feeling is we’ve got a potential bump in the road no matter what.  That’s Plateau. We need to think seriously about Plateau.  In my opinion, it could be the longest lasting and sedentary stage – triggering the next phase will be tough.  However, we could look at this way: Plateau might be what we need in order to take a breather and regroup from Peak.  I’d like to think that’s what Plateau can do for us, the questions still come however – are we there yet to even think about it, do we fight it or let it happen, is the concept even relevant for our culture?  I wish I had the answers.

Recap: We are evolving.  Where are we? What do we do about the possibility of Plateau? If you feel we are in a certain phase, think about what you can do as an artist to deal with the current situation and adapt/change/set yourself apart.

I’ve created a poll below.  I am curious as to where you think we are. Unfortunately, the poll doesn’t allow me to finesse location or your criteria for your answer so write to me if you want to explain or discuss this post further (BIO).

TRAINWRECK: DJs – Don’t Be Angry!

I’ve seen a T-Shirt company called “Angry DJ” that sells T-Shirts with slogans saying “Serato Don’t Make You A DJ” and “I Am Not Your iPod”.  It is no surprise to us that there are so many things that make us just damn plain angry.   Now while these expressions hit a nerve, offer a sense of universal understanding, and are quite funny, I contend that they are a quick fix in our troubled culture.

Acting out anger doesn’t serve you period.  Is it frustrating to see someone who in your opinion is taking the easy way out of DJing?   Is it frustrating to be misunderstood by the audience and venue owners? Absolutely on both counts according to a survey of DJs I conducted.  The anger you are feeling is expressive of what you are passionate about and that’s great!  It means you care about what you are doing and what it means to you in your life.  But if you are spending your valuable time being frustrated and angry you are not focusing on what you should be really working on – finding your true audience, working on your skills, and developing your creativity.  Anger, much like jealousy ( see Jealousy As a Creative Killer ), is a distraction, a wasted emotion.

I’m sharing this quote from Werner Herzog, famous director, that might lend some perspective on your anger ( read: snap out of it ).

“Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work.”

“Angry DJ” T-Shirts brings up two really hot topics.  The digital vs. analog debate and requests.

Requests are a fact of life for any DJ.   It’s how you deal with them that makes all the difference.  How do you think an audience member would feel if they saw a DJ wearing a T-Shirt ( because you know some DJ is actually going to do this ) saying “I Am Not Your iPod”?  That’s not educating the audience, that’s further distancing them.  On top of that, if you’re spinning at a venue where you secretly feel it’s necessary to say that to the patrons – you’re spinning at the wrong venue.  Remember, you don’t have to just play out anywhere and if you are constantly dealing with an audience that is making requests, you didn’t do your homework to recognize you are the wrong DJ for that venue.  Instead, get good enough to be considered to spin at the venues where there is the right audience for your music.  Only the top 10% of all DJs in the world do not get requests.  It’s a reality in our culture, so there’s no reason to get angry and frustrated about it, or take it out on your audience – just deal with it. ( Scottie B, the founder of Angry DJ T-Shirts, claims he’s the UK’s #1 DJ and he made a T-Shirt about it so you have to assume maybe he’s getting requests too and he’s #1! ).

I want to take a moment as well to make a statement about the digital vs. analog debate because this is in my opinion what is tearing us apart ( and also because Angry DJ T-Shirts exploits this debate for the T-Shirt slogan “Serato Don’t Make You a DJ” ).

I’m going to say once and for all – I DON’T CARE AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU.

I’ve thought a lot about this and I’ve honed my opinion based on what the creative experts and literature state.  It’s about being comfortable, it’s about being engaged, it’s about being free to achieve your highest level.   So who cares what you do it with?  Things evolve, they regress, they go forward, they go backward but one thing is for sure, we will always be dealing with innovation and technology – our whole legacy is based on it.  It doesn’t matter if a painter uses a paintbrush or their feet to make art – it’s about the ART.  Now I know a lot of you are angry about the ease of which people can get into DJing and also execute their “skills” but I am fanatic when I tell you that it doesn’t matter – greatness comes because of process, creativity, hard work, and empathy – see my post on what it takes to be an amazing DJ and you will see that not once did I talk about gear.  Gear is just tools – music and your mind is your weapon but most importantly so is your heart and your connection to music ( see Why Do You DJ? ).  And if you think those DJs are “lazy” think about it this way – do you think they are engaged with what they are doing?  When you see a DJ use the sync button just between tracks ( and this is one of the hugest gripes I’ve seen ) do you think they are actually happy about the fact that they have not advanced enough to actually experiment with their music?  Understand that everyone knows they have creative constraints.  Everyone knows what they are NOT doing – so there is no need to get all in a huff about what they are doing.  Instead focus on yourself and bettering the situation and opportunities for those you feel do matter and are creative.   If you must know, I spin vinyl.  I had some upstart tell me “that’s old”.  I took it in stride, just because I’m “old-school” doesn’t mean my point of view and musicality is “less then”. You see I’ve spun it all, CDs, DVS, and I always go back to vinyl.  Why?  Because it’s comfortable for me, I can engage with my audience more comfortably spinning vinyl, but most importantly – because I know even after spinning for 10 years I haven’t even hit the tip of the iceberg of what I’m capable of and that’s exciting to me.  Since I started the Behind The Decks project I realized that it makes no sense for me to get all worked up over someone who uses DVS just because I use vinyl.  If that’s what works for them – so be it, and if they are destined for greatness, why aren’t you?

Let your anger go!

Recap: Stop your whining and focus on your work! Deal with the requests, think about what you can do to change perceptions.  Gear does not make the DJ, the DJ makes the DJ.

DJ Exercise: What Happened in DJ History/Music in Your Birth Year?

Here’s a very interesting exercise.  Yes I’m giving away my age – so what, I’m young at heart!

Turns out in the year I was born Technics released the first SL-1200.  Thanks Mom and Dad!  Here are some other things that happened in my birth year – Kraftwerk, helloooooooo.

“In 1974, Technics released the first SL-1200 turntable, which evolved into the SL-1200 MK2 in 1979—which, as of the early-2010s, remains the industry standard for deejaying. In 1974, German electronic music band Kraftwerk released the 22-minute song “Autobahn,” which takes up the entire first side of that LP. Years later, Kraftwerk would become a significant influence on hip-hop artists such as Afrika Bambaataa and house music pioneer Frankie Knuckles.”

( Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disc_jockey )

If you’re interested in listening to the full version of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-G28iyPtz0

I encourage all DJs to learn your history, believe it or not this has been going on since the 19th century!  What a legacy we have.  And who knows you might find artists or new inspiration for the work you are doing.

So now begs the question:  What are you doing to contribute to our new history?

If you have an interesting project or know someone who is doing innovating things – let me know!

Hot Topic: You Are Your Flyer Art

Flyer art has been a well established way of communicating and promoting a DJ or a party.  There are even sites that have libraries of flyer art – it is a truly visual creative aspect of DJ culture.   I’ve seen DJs obsess over what to put in the visual aspects of the flyer.  How do you communicate the vibe of the party, the mood of the music, your brand, the venue, all the while making sure the pertinent information is there for people to find you?  There’s a lot to consider, and with a lot of considerations, there are choices, and with choices, there are good ones and bad ones.

There has always been a segment of flyer art that uses the female form to express beauty, sensuality and transcendence.  There are exquisite examples of flyer art that profiles the female form.  Unfortunately, a downside to that is the objectification of women in flyer art.  There are some DJs who just haven’t quite caught up with the fact that women are not objects, sex toys, or exist for their amusement.

Flagrantly using women in objectified poses ( simulated fellatio or sexual positions for example ) and various states of undress on their flyer ( your basic TnA ) in my opinion and a lot of other DJ’s opinions, is a bad choice.   I’m not going to sugarcoat this, it’s catering to the lowest common denominator and in essence jeopardizing your reputation.

I’m going to lay out some reasons why DJs should rethink their approach in utilizing this tactic for promotion in the hopes that they understand how damaging their actions are to themselves, to the culture, and to the female audience.

I keep hearing DJs talk about how they want to get more women to come to their parties.  That’s understandable as women can change the nature of a party significantly in terms of creating a positive vibe and atmosphere.  So why is it that if DJs want women to come to their party they blatantly insult women with sexist flyers?  I don’t get the logic at all.  I saw a flyer for a party recently that had a woman with her bare breasts showing on the flyer.  There was also a thread on the Facebook event page where the DJs were talking about how there were titties on the flyer and how maybe they should give free drinks for titty flashes.  I checked all the “Not Attending” RSVPs and surprise surprise, at least 90% of them were women.  You see, sexist flyers only communicate one thing – that the DJ doesn’t care about women, period.   What this does is make the women they want to be at the party – the dancers, the ones who are into dance/DJ culture, the ones who wont make requests because they respect what DJs do – uncomfortable.  These are the women you want at your party – stop insulting them!  In essence, these DJs are not communicating safety, they are communicating that they are letches and that all the people at the party will be letches.  The women who don’t care about this behavior or go to these parties anyway despite knowing what they’ve seen on the flyer aren’t really taking a stand on their own feminist issues and that is a whole other bigger topic I won’t get into.

Also, it’s not just women patrons they are insulting, it’s other DJs ( and the super niche group of female DJs ).  You see there are other DJs who are actually making an effort to try and change mindsets and maintain a certain level of integrity within DJ culture.   The strongest contingent of supporters for any DJ are other DJs.   It’s difficult enough to deal with the challenges of being misunderstood by the outside world and DJs don’t particularly care for a DJ who makes everyone look like a clown.  So there’s another portion of a fan base lost by a bad choice in flyer art.

DJs who do this need to learn that if they want ANYONE to respect them as a DJ, dumbing down and selling sex on the flyer is the last way to get it.  How can they possibly be taken seriously as a DJ when their flyer has a woman on her back with her legs up in 7 inch heels and a leopard print mini-dress ( I also recently saw this flyer for a house party )? It’s like this, if the subject of the flyer is not taken seriously, by association neither will the DJ as the context bringing that subject forth.

There’s not much more I can say about this because it’s so simple to understand – you are your flyer art.  You can make the choice to use it as a vehicle to communicate who you really are as an artist.  If you choose to cop out, dumb down, and communicate the lowest common denominator you will be seen as such.  If you think that you are not doing anything wrong – count next time how many women show up to your parties.  If you’re known for your sexist attitudes, chances are, the number is zero.

I am calling out this negative aspect of our culture because I believe we are better than that.  We are better than using antiquated and demeaning notions of gender and sexuality to sell ourselves.  With so many options and creative ideas to draw from there are many unique and clever ways to present ourselves.  We do not need to do this anymore.  It’s time to evolve.

Recap: You are your flyer art.