Living in what Bruce Mau, the author of the book Lifestyle, calls a “Global Image Economy,” identity is stronger than ever these days. So when you decide to sell that guitar mom bought you for your 15th birthday and buy a pair of turntables, the most important decision that you make, is what to call yourself.
“What’s my DJ name?” is a question that fledgling DJs agonize over. Many will even go through a dozen, or maintain multiple names until one clicks. Others are given their name, or it sticks to them in the same clever way a bad nickname did when you were in high school, like “shitbreak” or “lip.”
When I began learning to DJ, I was a part of an underground dance music radio show in college. Back then, I was not the experienced and versed DJ I feel I am today. In fact, as much as I wanted to be a DJ, I wanted to be a musician more. This may explain my first DJ name, DJ Whore. I felt that I was just a slave to other peoples’ music; I was paid to play, so to speak. At the time I had not come to understand the importance and skill that being a DJ requires, and the energy that he generates in the moment. In fact, my skills were limited to letting one song fade before pressing play on the next turntable. The strange thing was that many people were offended by my name of choice, and clearly they didn’t get the joke. Eventually my skills improved, I cycled through a few more names including: The Weatherman, DJ By Night and The Dance Machine before realizing that the name is more than just a marketing tool, or way to feel cool. It is a projection of your style, your attitude, and your approach to the art of playing records...it is a projection of yourself.
For me, I found that the more serious minded DJs stuck with their given name. For example, those of you who are familiar with progressive dance music are familiar with the name John Digweed. Yes, that is his real name, and I am sure you can imagine what his gym class nickname must have been.
Others naming strategies include choosing a name which evokes what you do (i.e. Afrojack, New York Night Train, Kaskade, Boys Noize), choosing a name that is short, catchy and easy to remember (i.e. Sushi Steve, Diplo, Walker & Royce) is tied to your cultural background (i.e. The Swedish House Mafia, Dirty South...) or is just abstract and mysterious sounding (i.e. Skrillex, Tiësto, Maceo Plex).
For those new DJs out there, my advice to you is to not over think it. The name should feel effortless and fit, like a great pair of shoes or that little black dress that shows off your assets. Remember, if you call yourself DJ Knife but your mixes are sloppy, it won’t last long.