As part of my lucky job (editor of a digital DJ website), I get to visit DJ shows all over the place – and I’ve noticed something definitely changing in the last few years.
In the past, DJs saved up to buy two Technics turntables and a mixer, then ferociously practised for a year or two before tentatively venturing out to play gigs – on two Technics and a mixer.
They ruminated over musical choices, lived or died by what was in their record boxes, and all the time fought to maintain good beatmixing with fluffy needles and ever-more-inebriated heads (and hands!) as their DJ sets wore into the night. Then, they rinsed and repeated – hopefully slowly learning the art as they went along.
Nowadays, with digital DJing equipment lowering the barriers to entry still more every season, it’s all changed. People buy DJ controllers like they buy mobile phones – depending upon what new features are contained therein, and with half an eye on their exit strategy so that this time next year, they can upgrade
Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (although rampant consumerism entering DJing is a little bit sad for long-in-the-tooth purists such as me), except that sometimes DJs – and especially new DJs – confuse technology with skill. That is to say, they look for the next flash of inspiration not to come from the tunes, or a great night out, or watching another DJ, or, heaven forbid, just pure old-fashioned inspiration, but from the tech they just bought.
And this is the bit I find a little sad. Because in losing that year or two of practising, DJs are losing the patience needed to perfect the art.
I love the possibilities of technology, and I definitely don’t want the cat to go back in the bag, but I do thing there’s a real need for today’s DJs to buy some gear, then stop and learn to use that gear rather than worry about the “next big thing” 24/7.
Of course, this is something that’s been rampant in the music production world for a long time… but its arrival in DJing is something relatively new.
Hopefully the pendulum will swing back and we’ll get a better balance between the technology and the art side of things – because all the technology in the world can’t spot a clever mix, or know which tune to put on next.
• Phil Morse is editor of Digital DJ Tips, a site for people who want to learn to DJ with digital DJ gear.