Preface: I DJ for a living, and have probably been guilty at one time or another of most of the things I will talk about in this ongoing series. Whether that gives me more or less right to bitch about them is not something I really give a shit about.
Stuff I Hate About DJs: Episode 1 “Musical Blue Balls”
Most of us have experienced it – you’re on the dance-floor getting down to a song you love, and right when it’s getting to the good part the DJ inexplicably mixes into a new song. You’re left standing there, the next words to the song you were dancing to a moment ago stillborn in your throat and that awesome dance move you were ready to make discarded like a two week old Top 40 hip-hop song. It’s as though the DJ gave you a bit of an old-fashioned, and right when you were ready to climax pulled his hand away because he just HAD to change the record. Fucking lame. You’re left there crouched over, clutching your musical blue balls, wishing the DJ hadn’t bothered if it was just going to be a tease.
“WHY???” you ask yourself, trying at the same time to get into whatever the new song is while knowing that as soon as the first chorus has passed it’s just going to be changed again anyway. “Why?” you ask yourself, “I was enjoying that song. I was in the middle of dancing & remembering when I used to blast this on the car stereo on my way to class in the morning.” It’s like the DJ is some asshole friend who’s intruded on your memory – sitting next to you in the car, changing the radio station every 15 seconds, leaving their fast food wrappers on the floor & never giving you gas money.
Why do DJs do this? What is it with this ADHD style of DJ’ing that has taken over so many clubs’ dance-floors & DJ sets? Why do DJs feel the need to change the song as often as possible & then post shit on facebook about how they “played 150 songs in 30 minutes”?
Now don’t get me wrong, when a great turntablist – someone like Chris Karns (the DMC World Champion winning artist formerly known as DJ Vajra) – creatively & aggressively mixes a set of songs in rapid succession, the mix itself is an art. People who go to see Karns & others like him are there to see someone who deftly handles the turntables, telling a story by intercutting melodies & lyrics like they were words in a story. There is purpose in Karns’ mixing the way he does, and that purpose is to show his immense skill in scratching, his well-thought out song choices & how they are mixed, his ability to make those records his bitch. This is not the kind of DJ I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the DJ who plays at your local club/concert/house-party/whatever who worries more about how many songs he can play than about whether it’s actually good for the set. The DJ who thinks that anyone is impressed when he plays a shit-ton of songs in 30 minutes. The DJ who thinks the more songs fragments they can cram into their time-slot the better DJ they are. I call bull-shit on that.
There’s nothing impressive to me about a DJ who can get two 128BPM tracks to almost match up, slam them together for 5 seconds, drop the volume on the first song before anyone realizes how shitty the mix actually was, and repeat ad nauseum until their set is mercifully over, leaving a dance-floor full of people who couldn’t really tell you more than a song or two that was played because all they got was 150 clips.
Why isn’t this impressive to me? Well, I believe in most cases it tells me a couple of things about that DJ.
Musically, it tells me they don’t really think about the songs they play. It tells me they’re either playing songs that aren’t worth playing in full – in which case why play it at all – or that they’re not giving great songs the time they deserve. David Bowie/MGMT/The Rolling Stones/Cut Copy, etc. wrote X # of verses in that song. Dear DJ, who the fuck are you to decide which verses are worth playing? And let’s be honest, you’re not really deciding, you’re just slamming in a verse & chorus that you know the crowd will recognize with no concern for whether the story of that song, the meaning of that song, that song’s purpose for being written is in any way being appreciated or met. That house/techno/nu-disco track you’re dropping 30 seconds of – if it was written well – is supposed to create a groove, a carefully constructed vibe, not have its hook cut off like a set of antlers while its carcass is left to rot. It’s a disservice to the music itself to treat it like it’s a soundbite in a political ad, meant to excite emotion without the depth of context.
It also tells me they’re not that concerned about what the audience really wants. They’re far more concerned with proving how bad-ass they are at hitting Traktor‘s sync button or making sure the soundwaves on their Serato look like they’re almost lined up when they slam their next song in. There’s no time when mixing like this to pay true attention to the crowd; to look out there, read where the energy is, and try to take the crowd on a journey that leaves them with a real feeling at the end of the night instead of post-roller coaster exhaustion. It tells me they’re more concerned with impressing people with their “mad” DJ skills no one but them & their friends care about than they are about pleasing their crowd – which is supposed to be the whole reason they’re behind the decks in the first place.
I’d rather listen to someone’s iPod with a great selection of music than listen to a DJ who can’t let their songs live & breathe. I’d rather hear a DJ who train-crashes 15 seconds of every mix but who is clearly thinking about their song choices than one who is adept at mixing 30 seconds of one song into 30 seconds of another song with no real concern about why or about what people really want to hear. I’d rather listen to a DJ who loves songs as much as I do, rather than one who loves soundbites & their own speed-mixing.
I dunno, I guess I’m a guy who’d rather read the book than the Cliff Notes, eat a home-cooked meal rather than a Hot Pocket, drink a well-made cocktail rather than a PBR, and hear the whole fucking song the way the artist wrote it.
It’s time to stop giving people blue balls. They’ll never call you for a second date.