Prior to 2011, I had been considering a career move to full-time DJ more and more. I had a great day job that prevented me from touring, and it was a very tough decision to quit that job, but in late 2011, with some positive reinforcement from my agent, I finally said goodbye to the television industry and moved to NYC. The following year was spent on tour, and by the end of it I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to be a full time DJ. It wasn’t because I had lost the love for it. Rather, it was because I had waited too long, and DJing had become something different. Music was different, and so was partying, and for the most part, I didn’t like what they had become. I kept quiet about my decision for a while because, as far as I knew, I was the only one who felt this way. But conversations started to happen. Late night conversations with veteran DJ friends and colleagues. I began discovering that they were all feeling the same way. Lots of them were quitting, as well. And it wasn’t just on my level either. I started reading and hearing from highly successful names like DJ ZIMMIE, AYRES, THEM JEANS, LUNA-C, and even turntable legends, THE CROOKLYN CLAN. They all seemed to be in agreement that…
… THE ART OF DJING IS DEAD AND IT HAS BEEN FOR A LONG TIME.
What’s that, random new Facebook friend? Oh, you DJ? EDM, huh? You want to know if I’ll review your Soundcloud mix on my blog? Well I’m sorry to say this but I won’t be doing that, and if I’m to be perfectly honest, I don’t care that you DJ. Unless you are a recognized pioneer, or a producer, or you have some sort of outstanding new style that is showcased in your mix, there’s just no way that it’s worth my time. I know this is harsh, and polite Canadian, as I am, I’d never say this to anyone, but it’s what I’m thinking. The conflict is that it doesn’t take any effort to DJ anymore. Technology does most of the work for you, from sourcing the music, to blending it together. It’s the difference between making a quiche from scratch (pun intended), versus buying (or more likely stealing, if the analogy is going to be accurate) a frozen one from the store and popping it in the oven. If you made it completely yourself, and it’s delicious, that’s very impressive. If it came from the supermarket, it is not. It’s the difference between being an artist, and just being a consumer. Do you understand?
Okay, controller DJs. Go ahead and make your rebuttal. Wait, I already know what you’re going to say. You’re sick of being sh*t on for the technology that you use. DJing isn’t about what program you make your mix with. It’s about passion for the music. Well, you’ve got it half right. Any performance art is about passion. But that performance needs to be a demonstration of that passion, and what you’re doing doesn’t exude any passion at all. I’m gonna let FLEA field this one…
Back when I fell in love with DJing, that guy up in that booth had spent hours digging through crates to find the records he was playing, and then spent a lot of money on them (it wasn’t uncommon to drop $20 for one song). He had also spent countless hours practicing, and honing his craft, in order to deliver a flawless set. It wasn’t that mixing was hard, per say, but it was a skill that needed to be learned and practiced in order to get good at it. That DJ in that club had sacrificed his social life and his finances so that he could develop this talent, and he had done it all for the love of music. Do you get why that performance used to fall in line with what Flea is saying about watching an artist perform their craft? Do you understand why that is no longer the case?
“… technological advance brought with it the inevitable influx of countless people who previously didn’t have the music collection, motivation, intelligence, financial means or interest to pursue DJing as a career” – DJ Zimmie
A big part of the disc jockey’s allure used to be that he was playing music you didn’t know and couldn’t hear anywhere else. Now, we all have equal online access to music, and the internet is where we go to discover new tunes. Meanwhile, the role of the DJs to expose exciting new sounds has been replaced, and their current role is simply to play songs that everyone already knows.
“A lot of DJs … with great taste in music are putting out mixes of fantastic songs they can’t play out because, well, they can’t play them out. Crowds don’t want to hear new, good, exciting music. They want the radio and they want it right now. I get lots of great music every week. I just can’t play most of it for club crowds” – DJ Zimmie
Do you realize that, right now, at this very moment, technology could completely replace the human DJ? Somebody could create a program that tracks the itunes and Beatport charts, then searches the artist and song titles in Soundcloud, downloads 128bpm remixes, analyzes the wave form for appropriate mixing points, and then blends the tracks together live, for the enjoyment of the dancefloor. I’m not talking about the future. This could be done NOW. The only reason this program doesn’t exist is because club DJs have undercut their own worth so much that it’s ultimately way cheaper to just hire some kid to do the job. Young DJs know that they haven’t put any time or money into developing their skill set, so they’re generally more then happy to DJ for VIP access and free drinks. The people in the crowd know this too.
“All clubs play the same 100 songs so why pay someone extra because they do it better? Most of the crowds don’t care anyways” – The Crooklyn Clan
There used to be this great middle ground, between basic bar nights and big festivals, where DJs with a unique sound, or style, could earn a modest living touring around and performing at club nights that catered to specific underground music scenes. The crowd was made up of people who loved music and dancing and wanted a night out in a dark room where they could just sweat and get lost in the vibe. This middle ground was where most artistically minded DJs made their living, and it was where I had always wanted to be, but while there are exceptions here and there, it has, for the most part, disintegrated. When the music industry collapsed, live performances became the only viable way left to profit from music. Corporations started buying up venues all over the world. Now, most clubs and concert spaces are corporate owned, and those corporations have no interest in catering to counter culture crowds, or developing local music scenes. They also have no idea what’s actually happening in music, so they employ large promotion companies to book their talent, and if you’re not on their roster, you’re not getting booked.
DJing may be more popular then it’s ever been, but the idea of a guy who stands behind a table and presses buttons is still a difficult way to sell out a stadium, or a large concert hall. In order to earn the kind of money that pop stars make, the festival circuit was a necessary move, so that many DJs could be added to one lineup, to justify an astronomically large ticket price. The rise of music festivals was not a grass roots trend brought forth by growing public interest. It was a calculated move, by the music industry, to profitably mainstream DJ culture. Consequently, if you’re not a festival DJ, your only option is small, independently owned venues, which all struggle to stay open, and a lot of abuse inevitably comes down on the artists, meaning that you have to constantly hustle to survive. It might be all worth it if the attendees were really into what was happening, but club crowds suck now.
I remember, several years ago, hanging out in the DJ booth of a Toronto nightclub, while RYNECOLOGIST was working the decks. He started beat juggling like crazy, and all the DJs in the booth went nuts with cheers. Meanwhile, down on the dancefloor, nobody even flinched. The crowd didn’t care about his turntablist skills. They didn’t want to know who he was or what he was doing. There used to be a mysticism that surrounded DJing, but that has changed. Everybody is fairly sure they know what a DJ does, and also that they could probably do it themselves, if they cared to.
So what, then, is the modern role of the headliner DJ? Well, SETH TROXLER, one of the most respected names on the festival circuit, describes the modern DJ as an “overpaid, untalented, cake-throwing, performing monkey”. At the top of the game, the role of a DJ no longer has anything to do with music. They are expected to jump around and yell into a mic and make heart hands to the crowd, as beats pump ominously from the speakers, with lazers and video screens all working in sync. They are Bono or Mick Jagger, without the rest of the band. Their job, essentially, is a host role. Now, I don’t necessarily have any problem with this. I’ve always stressed the importance of performance as part of the DJs persona. So why not do like so many others and pursue those highly coveted festival slots? Well, the fact of the matter is that…
I DON’T CARE FOR FESTIVALS
That’s something that I was afraid to say for a long time. I was worried about an angry backlash leading to a lengthy argument that I’d rather avoid. Whataya mean you don’t care for festivals? You don’t wanna play for thousands of people? You don’t wanna make big bucks? These are the questions I was expecting until I finally started speaking up and found that plenty of other artists share my sentiments.
First of all, they’re not going to be around much longer, so even if i was to make a move in that direction, it would be too late, at this point. Jumping around on stage may be a fun way to hype up a crowd, but it doesn’t exactly take much talent or skill. In fact, it’s not anything much more then what the crowd is already doing on their own. The bubble is going to burst on the festival scene because, like RUSSELL PETERS, everyone is figuring out that they’re paying a premium to watch these DJs essentially do NOTHING.
Put DJing completely aside, and I still don’t want to be at an EDM festival. A good club night is a celebration of diversity, and personal freedom. Festivals, on the other hand, are celebrations of excess and trash. There’s no diversity. Just thousands of spoiled rich kids celebrating how spoiled and rich they are. The festival caters to them because it needs to. There’s no place in the world where you have enough hip people to fill a fair grounds. If you want a crowd in the tens of thousands, you need to appeal to the average person, but only the ones who have enough expendable income to drop hundreds of dollars (or a good thousand, once you factor in molly purchases) on a glorified day out, which pretty much factors your target audience down to wealthy suburban teenagers right there.
“We’re breeding a generation of impatient, annoying festival kids. I say impatient because the patience of the clubber is different to the patience of the festival-goer… At these festivals, you get it all on a platter up-front. Lasers! LED screens! Pyrotechnics! DROPS! CAKE IN YOUR F*CKING FACE! – wait, nah man. That’s not clubbing, that’s a concert of cunts.” – Seth Troxler
But what about the hip kids in the audience? What about the music lovers who are just there to dance? What about industry professionals who are there to discover new talent? My friend, you’re delusional if you think you’re gonna find any of those things. Here’s a great clip of THEM JEANS talking about festivals, with DJ AYRES, on his SMALL TALK podcast.[audio http://deadkidsgetlively.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Ayres_Them_Jeans_1.mp3]
Then there’s the most important factor, for me, which is THE MUSIC. While on tour, I played a lot of different events, small to large and everything in between. I came to notice that once a crowd reached about a thousand people, I really had no choice but to play EDM, or festival friendly tunes. The style of music that Ayres and Them Jeans colourfully refer to as “BIG SHITTY”. Essentially, when you have that many people in a room, you get a lot of different musical tastes, so much so that if you cater to any particulars, you’re alienating a bunch of others. Your only choice, if you want to deliver a crowd pleasing set, is to cater to the lowest common denominator, and just play heavy 4/4 beats and huge synths at 128. Ya know, Big Shitty.[audio http://deadkidsgetlively.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Ayres_Them_Jeans_2.mp3] ^ Ayres & Them Jeans on Miike Snow, Big Shitty, and saving club culture. MUST LISTEN!
No doubt there are some of you who like EDM, and you’re probably wondering what my problem is with it. Well, it partly comes down to personal taste, but more importantly, I take issue with the fact that IT’S ALL THE SAME!
“There is a formula that everyone is following, and it makes everything sound the same. And that is the worst thing of all because it is boring, and boring is doomed to fail”. – Luna-C
Sorry, TOMMIE SUNSHINE, but your “huge achievement” is about to collapse on itself. Kids aren’t going to keep dancing to the same song forever. They already don’t care. Popular music is so disposable. At this point, it only serves as the soundtrack to an experience. It’s no longer the focus. Why would it be? In order to command attention and immersion, music requires ARTISTIC INTENTION. No amount of properly separated frequencies will replace that.
“we have so many talented producers, but not so many talented artists. This is a problem, because progression requires ingenuity, and we are not progressing the quality of music, even if we are progressing the quality of how the music sounds” – Luna-C
“Have fans been cultivated to actually “LIKE” who is being booked, or is the “experience” the only thing festivals have to offer? Billionaires can afford to be one-trick ponies. A worldwide phenomenon like EDM or Global Bass relies on inclusion and diversity.” – MC Zulu
“If you think popular music is good, you probably also think McDonald’s makes good burgers.” – DJ Zimmie
Now, before I leave you be, I CAN’T STRESS ENOUGH that although you may have chosen to read it that way, my intention was NOT for this article to have a bitter tone. I’ve always been obsessed with the future, and I know all too well that nothing lasts forever. If you really thought that there would be no end to DJing and dance culture, I’m afraid you were fooling yourself.
My boss, from when I worked in television, made his living as a “music editor” back in the 80s. His job was to take all the different tracks that make up an original film score, and edit them to fit perfectly with the picture and other audio. There was a lot of demand for this job, at the time, and he was quite successful. Then a computer program, called PRO TOOLS, was invented. All of a sudden, composers could easily do their own editing. The job of music editor swiftly became extinct. Did he curse this new technology, demonize those who used it, and campaign for the preservation of the traditional discipline? No, he didn’t. He accepted that technology had moved forward, as it always does, and rendered his job obsolete. He focused his efforts on pursuing a new career in video editing, and many years later, he is now a highly acclaimed television producer.
Do you get why I’m telling you that story? Do you see how the same idea applies to DJing? All good things come to an end, and if you try to resist change, you are wasting your effort and fighting a losing battle. Instead, the best thing you can do for yourself is accept change, and move on to the next exciting chapter of your life. It’s those who are able to easily adapt that are going to be the most successful in this brave new world.
SO WHAT’S MY POINT IN WRITING ALL THIS?
Good question. I guess, there are several. First and foremost, I’ll have this article which I can send to people when they ask me why I’m no longer DJing for a living, which I get asked all the time, and up until now have always responded with, “it’s too much to get into. Let’s just say that DJing has changed”. Secondly, this was an opportunity to explain to a younger generation of disc jockeys, and dance music enthusiasts, who REALLY don’t understand, why what’s happening in the booth now just isn’t the same thing as what was happening a decade ago. And finally, my hope is that maybe, just maybe, the next kid who sees AOKI on a festival stage and decides that’s what she wants to do with her life, will read this, and instead of going for that Traktor Controller, will perhaps pick up a musical instrument, or a legal copy of ABLETON. Live performance is the FUTURE, and the music we’re gonna be paying to experience is going to be complex, progressive, and emotional. “Sure there will be people DJing but it won’t matter”.
As JOE STRUMMER said, “the future is unwritten”. I’ll leave you with another quote from SETH TROXLER who has a more hopeful outlook on what the future of dance culture holds…
“WHEN THE BUBBLE BURSTS, WE’LL HAVE A NEW GENERATION OF DANCE FANS”
“Not everyone’s a lifer in this world, but what separates the wheat from the chaff is intellect. Intellect is a true indication of taste. Some smart kids are standing in these EDM festivals, in the mud and heat and sick, and they’re thinking, “Yeah, this is fine for now, but this can’t be it forever”. There’s got to be something better – but they have to find it for themselves. That’s the next generation right there.” – Seth Troxler
COLDCUT – 70 MINUTES OF MADNESS + MORE BEATS & PIECES
Let’s celebrate the next chapter of music history with a nod to the past. In 1995, I was digging through stacks of CDs at Toronto’s flag ship HMV store, which I loved to do every time I earned myself enough funds to buy another album. The one I settled on this time was a JOURNEYS BY DJ mix compilation by sampling pioneers, COLDCUT. I didn’t know it yet, but I was listening to a mix by a duo that have probably had a greater influence on DJ culture, especially on the technological side, then any other artists in history. I also didn’t know that I had just bought one of the most influential mixes in history. In fact, UK music mag, JOCKEY SLUT, voted it “Best Compilation of All Time” in 1998. I know I’m a weird DJ, what with my complete disregard for genre. Well, this mix is largely to blame. Get ready for 70 MINUTES OF MADNESS, as the name suggests. It would be an impressive accomplishment even if they were blending on an S4 Controller, but keep in mind, this is 1995, so the entire thing was made on turntables using real vinyl. Unbelievable.
If I had to narrow Coldcuts accomplishments down to one track, as an example, it would have to be MORE BEATS AND PIECES, which was released in 1997, and became their first top 40 hit. Chart success aside, I think this amazing audio collage stands as the greatest piece of turntablism focused music ever constructed. Every DJ should have this in their collection. make sure it’s a part of yours.
GET MORE COLDCUT
Luna-C is also to blame for my mental state. Look what you’ve done, Chris!
Thank you for reading.