Friday, September 27, 2013

When is a DJ, no longer a DJ? (Why I don't call myself a DJ anymore).

There's a certain mislead persona that comes with calling yourself a DJ, almost a baggage. While playing music and moving dancefloors is something we all do, everybody's idea of what you as an individual is very clouded by everyone's misconception of what you are. It can range from "please DJ my wedding," to, "you don't have the new 2Chainz song. You call yourself a DJ?" Rather than explaining my individual specific production and performance, I think it's more logical to just say, "no, I don't call myself a DJ". It also means I don't have to conform to the expectations of other DJ's of their definition of what a "real DJ" is suppose to do or use because I am simply not them. Maybe I used to be, maybe what I do is related, but if there is a messy definition of rules, regulations, and expectations, that are clearly off from what you do, maybe the best thing to do is define yourself and market yourself in a manner than separates you from what the status quo thinks you are. Don't get me wrong, if I am simply playing pre-recorded music, and perhaps even rocking a dancefloor with it, maybe I can only limit what I do to what is called DJing. But if there's a few extras thrown in there, and someone who doesn't know me, hear's the word "DJ", whatever their idea of a DJ is, is marked, before they hear me and potentially book me.

There's even the whole pride DJ's take in being "open format". DJ's who play everything. Is playing everything really all it's about? A little bit of this and a little bit of that so you have a little something for everyone in the room. While you want to keep everyone happy, isn't there an old principle that says, "when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one"? An idea I got from Jon Taffer the bar consultant is, "don't have something that is everything to everyone. Have something that is everything to someone." With that idea applied to "DJing" you can "cater" to a room, which will "get the job done". Or you can take the ideas of open format, and extend it to taking them where you want to go. Some DJ's can scratch and juggle multiple genres of tracks, which is awesome if that's where your passion lies. But what if there is music you want them to taste? In fact what if there's a place you know they don't know that they want to go? I mean don't get me wrong, DJ's all the time have done this; giving the crowd what they want, to gain their trust so they will follow where you want to go. And not all crowds wanna go "there" so reading them is important. But the point is, there is a clear line between simply giving a "service" of a good time, and leaving the crowd with "impact". Impact can be riskier because in actuality, you run the higher risk of turning off some people. Don't get me wrong, if a venue owner or promoter hires you for a specific job, then you should definitely do that job and have it as your prime directive. But in certain events, places, maybe even short moments within a night, there are always those chances to deviate from what is simply expected of you.

There's also the extras you add in. DJ Enferno is one of the best examples of someone who took playing music and added all sorts of musical elements into his performance. Using an NI Maschine along with some keyboards, and advanced turntablism. If you know what he does, could you really just call him a DJ?  My friend DJ Mastamonk is another example of this. And I'm not trying to toot my own horn saying I'm "beyond" DJing. But there's so many expectations and misconceptions about what a "DJ" does that I feel misleads people to simplifying how they perceive you. Don't get me wrong, the innovations, artistry, and influence of what DJ's started, is the backbone to any form of performance of recorded music. But if you do things that are no longer common within that category, are you only a DJ anymore?

And a lot of my most respected influences and close friends are DJ's, and I am not discouraging anyone from taking interest in DJing. However, the DJ world has grown so much to the point that in some communities, and maybe as a world as a whole, the older DJ's that are discouraged from not gaining the same success as these superstars, share that bitterness and start imposing their personal opinions upon the younger generation. "Real DJ's only use vinyl; real DJ's only use Technics; real DJ's don't use auto-sync" all that nonsense. And the whole "the controller guy took my job". As a guy who played vinyl at the clubs 11 years ago, saw the CDJ movement, saw the Serato/Traktor movement, embracing the creative benefits of all this technology, I just don't want to be part of that small thinking that some, not all, DJ's have. It's like the whole DJ community became the bucket of crabs scenario. They didn't succeed, and they will pull down anybody who might try something new. Where's the creativity and innovation if DJing is nothing more than a set of rules? Do you want to be a the violin player of the orchestra, or the composer conducting it?

With all that said, I just want to move forward and not look to the past. I would love not just for me, but for the guys around me and the kids who listen to me, if I could just open a positive door where no one has to feel they have to be a certain way in order to make it. The whole artistry of DJing was "created" by someone thinking outside the box breaking musical rules. Now the innovations of yesterday have become today's rules. Take Grand Master Flash, founder of Hip Hop music, embraced Traktor and using a computer. The founders of Techno, Juan Atkins Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May, they all embraced new technologies to both make and perform music. They weren't thinking, "how to be a real DJ"....all they were doing was making an impact by doing something different. I am no Enferno, I am no Craze, I am no Mastamonk, but I just wish for the truly passionate individuals to have an environment where they are encouraged to create rather than discouraged to keep it real. While I have great admiration for the DJ's who have influenced the world and have moved crowds and touched people, I think there has to be a line drawn between the overall persona of what is a DJ, and what is a "mix artist".

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