Posts Tagged ‘ DJ ’

A DJ Journey Begins – How 9/11 Made Me a DJ

The first time I heard techno I was 16 years old. I was with a bunch of friends. It was summer in upstate New York. We were hanging out on the lawn listening to the college radio station from the car stereo. Then this music came on. It was like we heard it at the same time. We sat up and looked at each other and collectively said “What is this?” I called the radio station in my excitement.  When the DJ got on I said “Hi, my name is Cristina. What is this music?” The DJ said “Hi Cristina, this is Techno.” I asked “What’s the name?” He said, chuckling at me:

“This song is called “Only For The Headstrong”.

One thing you need to understand.  The only music I was exposed to growing up was my mother’s New Age music and my dad’s Cuban percussion. Oh and I played classical music on the piano, by ear ( couldn’t read sheet music to save my life ).

So what do you get when you mix New Age, Cuban percussion, and classical music composition?

Techno.  I was imprinted to appreciate dance music already.

Flash forward a lot of years ( and a lot of clubs and DJ sets ) and I was living and working in the city for 6 years. 6 years I had been in the city and never once had been to The World Trade Center. Not once. The company I worked for at the time wanted me to take a tour of this high tech computer lab on the 75th floor of World Trade Center 1 on – yeah you guessed it – September 11th, 2001 at 8:30am. I was going to meet my rep Todd there for breakfast and then have the tour.

Everyone gives the snooze button on their alarm a bad rap. My snooze button saved my life. I was running about 10 minutes late. I was on the first subway that stopped at Rector street and made the announcement that there had been an explosion in the WTC. I’m not going to get into the rest. I made it out, I saw the towers fall, I walked from Houston and Varick to 95th and 3rd ave – it was like Apocalypse Now, only with lots of bottled water and free pizza.

Here’s the deal. My rep Todd barely made it out alive. He saw things no human being should see. I can recount the things he told me but they are too horrific and not the point right now. He told me there were people who turned right instead of left on the staircase and they never made it out. I could have been right there with him.

I could have made that wrong and fatal turn.

People talk about having moments of clarity. A moment of clarity is when you experience something and it changes your life forever. A moment of clarity is that moment you realize who you want to be is who you really are. When I processed everything it hit me like a ton of bricks. That close call made me think about the last time in my life that I had felt a moment of clarity. It was when I was 16 years old and I heard electronic music for the first time. When I heard it, it changed my life forever.  When I realized I got a second chance, who I wanted to be was who I was all along.

On October 9th, 2001, about one month after my close call, I opened up a cardboard box and heaved out two turntables. I couldn’t believe how heavy they were. As I was carrying them to my ramshackle DJ table I knew that my life would never be the same.

Only for the headstrong, indeed.

( A DJ friend, when I shared this story with him, found ‘Only for the Headstrong’ and I can’t believe I still recognized it after all these years – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFXQfEW5SxU )

Building a Dancefloor

Photo by: Lightwerk (Ray Weitzenberg)

DJs are the architects of a dance floor. Before I got behind the decks, I was one of those crazy dancers you find in the middle of the floor with a circle around me. I would get so lost in the music that I could feel my body echoing every note, every beat. When I got behind the decks something happened. I stopped dancing. I listened to music in a different way. I began to THINK in music as opposed to MOVE in music.

I recently decided to experiment with how I listened to music and wanted to get back to a dancer’s perspective. I highly recommend for DJs to dance either in the privacy of your home or out on a dancefloor – forget that you’re a DJ for a second and just be a person who needs to move. If you do not boogie to music how can you truly understand how someone is going to hear it with their bodies.

Aside from feeling woefully out of shape, I’m learning a few things about what makes for a proper dancefloor. I recently went to a very unconventional dance class called 5Rhythms. The model of the class is that it’s not really a class. There’s a facilitator who plays music ( electronically based ) that starts off ambient and gradually builds to a crescendo of tempo and energy over the period of an hour. There are no steps being taught, it’s just do what your body is telling you to do. In the second hour, the facilitator walks you through certain movements and encourages the participants to experiment with how their bodies would express concepts like Chaos, Staccato, Lyrical, etc. When I tell you it’s the best dance floor I have experienced, I’m not kidding. Imagine 40 people just letting go, letting it all out, meditating and totally focused on the music and expanding their bodies to it. The silhouettes, the energy, the movements I saw were just mindblowing. The crazy thing is – this dancefloor was not made up of professional dancers – just regular people who have an appreciation for how therapeutic and spiritual dancing can be.

What I’ve learned from this experience is that the best dance floors have to have the following:

1) Focused participants – everyone is there for the same goal. It is understood why everyone is there and there is also a commitment on the part of the dancers to help everyone achieve the goal of dancing and having a good time. I believe successful dancefloors are a unit, an organism made of mini-systems of like minded individuals.

2) Permission – When people are given permission to be creative, to be themselves, without fear of judgement or reprisal – some amazing things happen. Feeling like you have permission to look however you want and dance however you want gives you the freedom to express your genius.

3) Safety – Getting anyone to dance is HARD. Why? Because very few people can get past their social anxiety and get up there and allow themselves to be watched. The best dancefloors offer safe space, unencumbered, to allow the person freedom of movement.

4) Progression – In order for a person to open themselves they need to go through a process of transitioning out of their day, their current situation, and into the moment and the beginning of their dance journey. People are not light switches that can just turn on at one track’s notice.

5) Zero Distractions – The construct of any venue is set up for people to spend money and therefor are set up for people to interact with each other on a number of planes. Sometimes the last consideration for interaction is the dancefloor. There’s the bar, there’s the lounge, there’s the owner’s crappy aesthetic/decor, there’s the people who are just there to be seen, there’s the people who are there just to take advantage of the drink specials. So the chances of finding a nucleus of dancers is tough and you are challenged in breaking past those distractions.

So what can DJs do to try and insure they create a proper dancefloor? It is your responsibility to be an architect so you need to lay a foundation. Remember, a real dance floor has a symbiotic relationship with the DJ. One cannot exist without the other. Here’s a few tips to get things started.

1) Moodmatch – for all that is good and holy please play music that is appropriate for the mood that is currently going on at the moment. Step out on the dancefloor and walk among your crowd and psychically reach out to get a sense of what is going on. Don’t play a raging tune if people are just getting warmed up – you will kill any chance you have of nurturing a dance floor. On the flip side if you are lucky enough to step up and you have a rager on your hands either give the dancers a break in the beat to set yourself up or keep the energy going. Do not drop the mood down, you will effectively clear your floor. (There are some advanced concepts about cleansing the floor but for the purposes of laying the foundation for your floor I won’t discuss them here). Bottomline, if you do not moodmatch you will ruin all trust the dancefloor has in you – and believe me it’s about trust- once you lose it, it is really hard to get it back.

2) Introduce yourself – I know that it’s hard to talk to people especially for us DJ nerds but you must try. Let people know who you are (besides you want to build a following right, well you need to TALK to people in order to do that). Stay away from asking what people want to hear unless you want to deal with requests all night. Just say “Hey, my name is . . . I’m the DJ, how are you feeling tonight?” Make small chit-chat and then move on. Remember you are the facilitator, if people don’t put a face to the name they won’t care about you. If you really don’t want to do that here’s an alternative – be the first person on the dancefloor. I know, I know, that’s just as tough but I swear all it takes is one brave soul to get up there and other’s will follow, trust me, I used to do this in my dancing days and it worked like a charm every time (I even had DJs thank me for doing that).

3) Take your time – let’s say you only have an hour, which is typical these days ( unfortunate in my opinion ). Try at least to introduce your set in two tracks that set the tone for what you are about to do. You need to lay the foundation of sound and tempo in people’s ears so they get acclimated – remember people are not light switches. DO NOT EXPECT TO COOK UP A DANCEFLOOR IN AN HOUR. Be happy you’re up there and do your best job with affecting people properly – you will be better served if you play good music for the moment ( see Moodmatching ).

4) Don’t posture – everything about you indicates to the dancefloor how accessible and open you are. Don’t big up your chest, don’t be glum (if you’re not happy with the situation don’t let on, be a pro about it), don’t hide yourself or ESPECIALLY your eyes behind a hat. A proper dancefloor needs permission and safety and people are looking to you to give them that. Also, don’t forget to thank people, especially if they were dancing for you – so simple and often forgotten etiquette by DJs.

If you can do things that reduce the social anxiety people feel, minimize the distractions to focus on the music, and create a connection to you the higher the chances you have of starting a dance floor. See you there!

Recap: Get in touch with your inner dancer. Study the room and the vibe. Moodmatch. Be open.

For more information on the 5Rhythms dance class go here: 5Rhythms

The Next Level

 

There’s a high level concept called The Liminality that I think is very interesting and relevant for DJs.  I will try to explain the concept and then talk about how it relates to your creative work.

The limen is actually the sliver of light that peeks through when a door has been opened.   So in essence when you open a door you are hit with a light, a break in the threshold between the door and a wall.  The concept of The Liminality is the point you reach when you have mastered established rules and then cross over, experience a liminality, and you begin to operate within a new rule set.  “During a liminal experience, you are moving from a time when you know the rules and the expectations, to a time when you must create new rules for yourself and expect the unexpected.” ( Moote, 2005, 91 )

There are times when a DJ crosses over – some of those times can be thrilling and some of those times can be frightening.  You don’t know what’s on the other side of that door yet you are excited by this new light ahead of you.

Here are some exciting liminalities:

1) You’ve had a breakthrough on a new genre

2) You’ve had a happy accident and are challenged to recreate it and run with it

3) You’ve reached another level or a new set of emotions during your “zone” moment

4) You’ve garnered a response from the dancefloor with something you put on that you never expected would resonate

Here’s what can be frightening:

1) You don’t know what to do with this new information

2) You’re afraid it might change you completely or affect all the hard work you’ve been doing in one set of rules

3) While the new set of rules have presented themselves, you have anxiety on mastering another threshold

Don’t be afraid!  This is growth! DJs wish they can get to the next level whatever it takes.  You have to embrace your liminality, you have to walk through that door.   Believe it or not you can usher in the liminality by doing some things that can help you see the light.

The first thing you need to understand is you need to be open to risk.   Following the established rules of DJing only helps you get a foundation for creating.  You  must let go at some point and explore.  “Everyone creates with the same tools, the same supplies.  There is no need for risk.  Just do it like the teacher (or DJ guide) says.  Read the product guide or pick up any number of magazines that have been created for artists.  And then you wake up one day and think, ‘I’d like to try . . .’ You create something new, just for you.  Is it safe? Will it fit in? Do you care? You are on the threshold of new territory.  If you keep exploring, you might find yourself in the middle of a liminal experience.” ( Moote, 2005, 92)

So now we have established what kind of mindset you need to have in order to embrace a liminal experience.

Here are some ideas on how to recognize and facilitate it.

1) Get Rid of Dead Weight

In my post on Why Do You DJ? ( here ) I talk about having passion for your discography and questioning what it contains.  Now,  I’m not suggesting any DJ gets rid of their music EVER  ( don’t EVER do that ), but it may be time for a little housecleaning and storage.   This is getting rid of some of your dead weight.  Other dead weight could be some of the people you hang around with, people that don’t believe in you, don’t understand or will never understand your passion.  This is not to say dump these people ( some of them may be your own family and I don’t condone dropping relationships with family and loved ones over DJing ).  What I mean is being mindful of who you share your passion with.  You want a supportive and understanding DJ circle.  Seek out those who salute you, not rebuke you.  Finally, dead weight could mean a residency or gig that is just not working for you.  I know it’s hard, but think about the time you could be spending working on you instead of a soul and creative sucking gig that gets you nowhere.

2) Set Aside the Time

You need to block out time to be creative.  That’s a fact.  Whether it’s listening to tracks, exposing yourself to other art, practicing, or going through your DJ ritual ( I talk about ritual in my paper here ) – that time must be free of distractions and not rushed.  In order to do that you need to work that time into your life somehow.  You need to close the door on the outside world if your liminal door is going to open.   Removing the intrusive nature of daily life and stress allows you to meditate more closely during your creative process.  Call it your “DJ Time” and own it!

3) Record Yourself

A lot of DJs swear by recording their practice and live sessions.  I know a lot of you don’t do that.  I know why.  You’re afraid of hearing the mistakes, of the potentiality of how awful you may be.  I’m going to tell you that in every practice/live session there is a liminal moment.  When you listen back to your session you will discover something new, something positive, something that will draw you to crossing over a threshold.   It may take the form of one mix that is perfect, or an effect you place that works – you will draw at least one thing that you can build on.  Who cares if the rest is crap – all it takes is just one moment in the whole thing that can inspire you to embrace a new rule set.

4) Reflect

Reflect on everything you do as a DJ.  That means after a gig, thinking about what you did RIGHT.  A lot of times, DJs beat themselves up about what they did WRONG.  Try and change your mindset.  While it’s important to think about what you did that contributed to the bad situations that happened during a gig ( or a practice session ) – reframe to what you did RIGHT, what worked, what zone moment you had, and try to trace back what you did to get there.  There may be times when nothing went right in your opinion.  Ok, then think about how you can learn from that experience.  This is important: reflecting inserts new thoughts and ideas into your mind.  Those thoughts and ideas get processed and recalled for later moments.  This is about constantly refreshing your mind with new thoughts so that you can recognize in the future a liminal moment.

I know it’s a lot to consider and for every DJ their thresholds and the moments they occur are different.   Recognizing that these thresholds exists, when they happen, why they happen and what you can do about them will help you greatly in your creative process.  You can’t force a liminal moment, but you can recognize it for what it is – an open door to the next level.

Recap: Liminality is a threshold.  Don’t be afraid of it.  Drop the dead weight, make the time, record and reflect.

If you found this interesting and want to share your thoughts – drop me a line!

Source: “Seeking Liminality: Making the Most of Threshold Experiences”, Cheryl Moote, Inspiring Creativity, 2005.

“It’s Not What You Create, It’s THAT You Create”

One of the things that I’m discovering is that DJs put so much pressure on themselves about a mix, that sometimes it becomes about the mix and less about having fun and enjoying the process.   I know that a lot of times, it’s hard work, but there should be enjoyment and exhilaration during that work – passion!  It’s supposed to be satisfying. hard. work. So what is really going on here?

“Miriam Webster’s defines creativity as “to bring into existence something new”.  The crucial point is that creativity is not defined as the new thing produced; it is the act of bringing it forth.” (Quinlan, 2005, 8 )

The definition focuses on the act of bringing, not the thing that is brought into the world.  How does this relate to DJ creativity?  A lot of your creating happens when you’re by yourself – you need to focus on you and that’s important.  The downside of that is you are also alone with your thoughts and anxiety, that’s part of the creative process.   However, that anxiety will put pressure on your mind and you will focus on an end game. You can’t judge who you are as an artist solely on what happens as the result of your creative process. You will have enough people judging you in your mind, don’t do that to yourself.  So if you focus on the act of creating, you will be in a better position to listen to yourself when you feel you might be going in the wrong direction, or know when you’re hitting a wall, or feel an illumination happening – if you’re so focused on the mix ( or set or the end game of whatever you’re doing ) you’re missing out on important creative cues that can lead you to very interesting paths. You need to experience your art WHILE you are making it.   Let yourself make mistakes – forgive yourself for them – it’s just you and the decks. So your mix is your creativity in a final form, it is not the only representation of your creativity.

Another aspect of this is perspective about yourself.  You are not your mix.  The mix is YOU.  You are other things as a DJ – there’s a spectrum of characteristics you embody that are outside of that sixty minute download.  Who knows MAYBE there are other things at play that are causing mistakes, a bad recording session or even a happy deviation. So what if you’re practicing and your beats are galloping over and over.  That doesn’t mean you’re not creative – that means you’re having a frustrating moment with technique and you will get it if you keep trying.  See the difference?  Don’t let yourself spiral!

It’s a DJ cultural thing, I think, that puts a lot of emphasis on the mix.  It makes sense as that’s the main way a listener can understand a DJs point of view.  I don’t think culturally the emphasis should change, but I believe you should consider reflecting on how that emphasis impacts you while you are creating.

Some of you work from themes – something overarching that you want to communicate in your mix and some of you start more from within, with one track and build out.  Understanding your approach and immersing yourself in it will help lessen the impact of what that mix will be while you’re putting it together.  It’s more about keeping things open-ended and fighting off rigidity.  What I mean is that sticking to your original plan may not be where your DJ muse wants to take you. You need to let things happen, and you need to learn from them.  Doing so allows for your essence to come into the process which ultimately makes your mix and what you put out there more individual and unique.

“It’s not what you create, it’s THAT you create” – Kathleen Quinlan

Recap:  Creativity is the act of bringing forth, not the thing.  Experience your art while you are making it. The mix is YOU.  Know your approach.

Did you find this interesting and would like to share your thoughts?  Drop me a line!

Source: Inspiring Creativity – An Anthology of Powerful Insights and Practical Ideas to Guide You to Successful Creating – by Rick Benzel