Festivals are great. There is the pageantry, the production and the people. It is a time to come together, forget all of the bullshit, the potential of flying nukes, and celebrate the finest thing in life – music. That doesn’t mean they are without fault. Overpriced drinks, overcrowding and repetitive lineups can be problematic. Festivals are also symptomatic of our culture of the need for more all at once and unfortunately a byproduct is short DJ sets. There has been a trend to give DJs slightly longer sets at some festivals, but still they are generally capped at an hour or an hour and a half.
For a craft that is built of taking the listener on a journey over several hours, how much can you really expect from a DJ in the festival environment?
If you hear a guy playing the top 40 Beatport house chart, the same rap song that everyone else is playing or the same set as the guy before him, while occasionally touching the nobs, then go ahead and exit for another tent. Don’t settle for garbage. Don’t feed the mediocrity.
However, there are limits of what you can expect. In an hour and a half where people will be milling around, splitting sets, getting food and generally exploring, expecting a DJ to take you on some mind-opening trip with an hour is not really feasible. The act’s hits will be played. That is to be expected. Hits from their label, if they have one, will be played. Playing some really soft, 10-minute ambient track in the middle of a banging house set might work for a four hour DJ set and be one of the more memorable moments of the night at a club, but at a festival, the tent may clear out. Certain parts of the hard drive just can’t be touched.
It is a catch-22 where you want to hear music you like, but also want to be exposed to something new. The DJ should be able to bridge that gap, but in an hour, there isn’t much time to do that. Playing hits is a necessity of the format and also a symptom of us consumers with short attention spans.
Going into a DJ set with the expectation that it will be transcendent probably isn’t right. Expect it to be a lot of fun, but to have an incredibly cerebral experience is not in the cards. Mix that in with all of the drugs, alcohol and chaos of the festival. Make sure your festival DJs are not phoning it in, but also be mindful of the atmosphere. Have fun.