A few days ago something in my Facebook feed caught my attention; it was a share of some video footage from the EDMBiz artist panel. It was the subject line that grabbed me, “We're not Beyonce or David Copperfield Motherfuckers, we're DJs." The quote was about what DJ Z Trip had said in the panel, and an old school DJ validating said statement on his Facebook Wall.
Why is this such a point of contention with DJs? I’m guessing that it’s because there are a lot of dudes playing the role of “DJs” who don’t know how to do it, like 3Lau. I’ll get to my opinion on that in a minute.
So I, of course, dove into the video immediately as I find this topic pretty important at this stage of EDM in America. Will the young American fan ever give a shit about proper DJing or do they just want pretty lights?
I think they will (some already do, lots actually), they just don’t know it yet or are still learning about this culture. It’s easy to criticise young fans for having shitty taste in music or not knowing what’s up, but we all started off not knowing what was up. Hell, I remember standing in front of a Drum and Bass DJ completely dumbfounded on what the hell he was doing, how was he mixing that crazy shit? I just didn’t get it and let’s not even talk about some of the cheesy shit that I liked; that’s too embarrassing.
Back to the video.
To his credit, Justin Blau does know how to play musical instruments and reads music quite well. However, when you state that you don't know how to DJ, admit that you more or less pre-program all your festival sets and state that is where all the work goes in.... Sorry, it's open season.
Blau's primary defense was that everything was dependent on the genre and that he plans out his set just like David Copperfield plans out his shows. First off, if you are comparing yourself to a magician and you are a "producer", you should probably think about that a little bit. Secondly and to Z-Trip’s point, what in the hell are you doing up on the stage beside drinking appletinis or diet Redbull Vodkas and jumping around like a fucktard.
The foundation of EDM is disintegrating right in front of our eyes, in that a famous producer can more or less state that everything is all preplanned, and he is more or less doing nothing on stage aside from some button pushing to lay down some filters.
If Depeche Mode went up on stage and just lip synced alongside backing tracks the fans would crucify them just like Milli Vanilli. That just wouldn’t cut it back in the day, why should that shit be ok now... is everyone just too wasted to care?
The heart and soul of electronic music is a lot like Jazz; it is indeed meant to be performed by a DJ, and more importantly it is supposed to be spontaneous and tailored for the audience. I will never be sold on the preprogramming of a set at any type of venue, maybe because I expect more from my DJs.
If you are doing your set live as an “artist/producer”, that’s a different debate and some artists just don’t want to be DJs… that’s fair. That means that you are up there playing only your music like a rock band would do it.
If DJs could spin on vinyl and improvise on the fly 10-15 years ago (at huge festivals, with light shows), why can't modern DJs do the same with better equipment? I for one prefer a good 12-year-old Bourbon over the peach wine coolers that today’s main stage DJs are dealing out.
If you are going to make electronic music and go out and perform it, you should probably take the time to learn the craft of DJing. Yes, 3lau was right about the fact that preparing for your set takes a lot of time but it certainly does not mean you shouldn't be able to mix it up. It's not just about stacking it all together perfectly and just standing there, or worse, jumping around like a cheerleader.
DJing and/or performing is about actively doing something and moving with your audience. Any decent DJ knows this and knows their material (aka songs) well enough to maneuver through them and create that beautiful improvisation we know as DJing. I’ve seen unknown guys in small clubs blow me away with their ability to weave in and out of tracks keeping the crowd anticipating the next move.
It’s so easy to do this now than it was even eight years ago, the CDJs will tell you what key the track is in and the goddamn BPMs. If you can make electronic music, you certainly can learn how to DJ well.
If you are going out to see a DJ/Producer simply play the hits in sequential order, then you are missing out on the magic of dance music.
Dance music is about never knowing what's coming next, not knowing all the songs and walking away with your mind blown every time you go out.
Good DJing is what you deserve for your hard earned money, not preprogrammed sets or producers that can't take the time to learn to mix properly.
Z-Trip summed it up best, "We're not David Copperfield or Beyonce Motherfuckers, we're DJs."