About fifteen years ago a culture was born. In Europe a new type of music was being created. Something new, something fresh. A music fueled by throbbing beats over rattling bass. This is electronic music. The mastermind behind this whole up and coming culture was and is the DJ. In the past five years have become more and more popular everyday. Some people who are not aware of this music or this culture might argue that being a DJ is not a serious profession for various reasons. Throughout this paper I will prove these notions false. As support I will provide the history of the DJ, what exactly it is, insight from various DJ’s and much more.
It all began about fifteen years ago. In towns in Europe people started throwing secret parties, small parties more of a social event to party and have fun. At these parties there would DJ’s spinning early electronic sounds and dancing. Not too long after that word started to spread and more and more people wanted to “party”. So the people throwing these parties sought out bigger places to have these parties that could accommodate more people. It grew so fast that secret information phone lines were created to prevent problems with the authorities. Over the next few years more and more people grew to love these parties for the music and the overall atmosphere. Also more and more electronic artists started to surface. As popular as these events were the truth is without the DJ none of it would have been possible. In the early nineties this growing underground movement started to form slowly in the United States and other countries. These parties soon took on the name of “raves”. In Europe these raves grew constantly. Soon there were raves being thrown with five to ten thousand people in attendance. Soon thereafter we started to see not only the growth of a music and culture but also a new industry. There started to be more and more electronic artists surfacing everyday. The technology increased very fast every year more new equipment allowed new creative boundaries to be broken. Soon the DJ slowly started to become more of the focal point of these “raves”. DJ’s started to be the attractions of these raves instead of just a place to have fun. The DJ’s started to make names for themselves along with this came different styles of DJing. One of the first styles of electronic music created was house music. This music quickly moved into nightclubs and raves. Soon thereafter many different styles of electronic music were born. Such as, break beat, drum and bass, hard house, trance, progressive trance, big beat, and happy hardcore(www.clubdance.com). DJ’s started to specialize in certain types of electronic music. Some started to consider themselves not just as DJ’s but also artists. The music became more about expression and unity. In a recent documentary drum and bass artist Roni Size says(Better Living Through Circuitry) “ When I step behind the tables at a party it’s more than just playing tracks for a group of people. It’s like my goal to take these people to a place they have not been before. To create a mix that is so unique and intense that takes the audience and puts them all into a new place together. It’s an art form!” As you can see by this statement these DJ’s take their jobs seriously. Soon DJ’s started to not only put out many mix cd’s but also they started producing their own tracks. I think that this was a great breakthrough in this type of music. Over the past few years some of the best electronic albums put out have been by DJ’s. DJ’s soon started to go on their own tours, playing venues that rock bands play at. They were not only playing at these venues but also selling them out at the same time. Perfect evidence of this comes from a book The Ambient Century, “ Dance music exploded into a phenomenon that seemed to have no end. As the music mutated, new forms were thrown up by the year. Ambient House and Ambient Techno were mind balming responses to the intensity of the club culture. Trip-hop and Drum and Bass were UK black variations of what was originally an innovation by black Americans. Rock music absorbed House and Techno, and DJ’s and electronicists began to tour and act like rock stars. As one century tipped into another, dance music was still a primary source of interest and creativity as Trance, a futuristic blend of technology and House and Techno, became a chart-topping, globe girdling sensation”( Prendergast pg 367). Another great more specific example of this is Paul Oakenfold as written in Last night a DJ saved my life, “ When Paul Oakenfold plays records in a club, every person on the dance floor will be facing him. Just like they’d face a rock band on a stage. There’s not much to see: a baseball cap maybe, a studious face leaning into a pair of headphones, some minimal arm movements as he slides in another flawless mix. Occasionally he might throw his hands up in excitement, smile out in response to a particularly grand track, or share a wink with some energetic fan, and when he does, there’ll be a sea of hands aloft, a breakout of waving and grinning, an ocean of smiling dancers mirroring his every gesture. For he is a superstar”( Brewster pg 384). Along with these tours came annual festivals. Huge festivals every year with sometimes over a hundred thousand people in attendance. Some of these are Love Parade and Gatecrasher( www.loveparade.com)&( www.gatecrasher.com). Just like any music industry this one soon started having conventions. The biggest one is the Winter Music Conference( www.wmcon.com). This usually includes anybody and everybody in electronic music. A three day long festival including a showcase of the new gear and equipment and the best talent in the music performing. In Europe now DJ’s are becoming bigger than rock stars. They walk down the street and people flock. DJ’s like this are Fatboy Slim, Paul Oakenfold, Carl Cox and John Digweed( www.yahoo.com). So now that you have a brief background on the history of DJ’s you might wonder what different types of jobs are available out there for DJ’s.
Well first of all there is the kind of DJing I have been mainly focusing on that is the rave DJ. There are also many opportunities for work these days in night clubs all over the world. The night club industry now is becoming a very large industry. Some are saying even more so that the days of Studio Fifty-Four. Also there are a lot of jobs as mobile DJ’s. These DJ’s usually work for a company. These companies do parties, weddings, and all sorts of special events. On a cruise I went on last summer I met a mobile DJ that works out of Houston. He said, “Even though I have a degree in Communications I cant beat the amount of available work and the money of being a DJ. I can pull in 60,000 to 70,000 a year if I work hard.” This alone shows how in need the world is of DJ’s.
So now that you have a good idea of the history of DJ’s and what jobs are available you might be wondering what it takes to be a good DJ. Well this question all depends on whom you ask. So I have collaborated different idea of what a good DJ is. First of all a good DJ has to know the music he is spinning. Not only does he have to know it like the back of his hand but also they have to have a love for the music. Without the love and passion for this job then it changes from an art form to just playing music. A good DJ has to have knowledge of the crowd and how to work them into frenzy. Many different little skills are all combined together to make a great DJ. DJ Tony Humphries who has worked professionally since 1977 and has been a major influence on his peers in New York City, speaks from an underground perspective on a good DJ: “ DJ’s have to understand the concept of programming. How to break a record. How to play with records, repeat intros, lengthen breaks, endings……There is an art to programming your set…….The DJ who plays all his hottest records in a row is not doing his job right. You can’t play all your best material all at once because you want to save some of it for later in the evening. The DJ does not into that power record the same way the crowd does. You are supposed to be separate from the crowd. You’re supposed to be into exposing them to new material. So, what you do is play a track, followed by something new and then you back it up with something they know and like. It’s like a train ride. The crowd becomes trustworthy that you will come back with something they like. It’s the fifteen-minute game. About every third song, you give them a well known song. After one hour, the crowd has been exposed to ten new records. That way, you please yourself and the crowd. Larry Levan was great at this. The most important thing to remember is that musical content, how you program, is more important than actual mixing skills sometimes”( Fikentscher p38). As you can see there are many different things that a DJ has to know. Another view of a good DJ was taken from a book called Last night a DJ saved my life, “ At its most basic DJing is the act of presenting a series of records for an audience’s enjoyment. So at the simplest level a DJ is a presenter. This is what radio DJ’s do, they introduce music. However the club DJ has largely abandoned this role for something more musically creative. To become a good DJ you have to develop the hunger. You have to search for new records with the insane zeal of a gold rush prospector digging in a blizzard. The essence of the DJ’s craft is selecting which records to play and in what order. A great DJ should be able to move a crowd on the most primitive equipment. More than anything else, it’s how sensitively a DJ can interact with a crowd. A good DJ isn’t just stringing records together, he’s controlling the relationship between some music and hundreds of people. A good DJ is always looking at the crowd, seeing what they like, seeing whether it’s working or not; communicating with them, smiling at them. And a bad DJ is always looking down at the decks and just doing whatever they practiced in their bedroom”( Brewster pg 9). As you can see it’s not as easy as it might first appear a lot of time and dedication to gain the knowledge. To get a more personal insight on the topic of what a good DJ is and many other things I interviewed a well known DJ of New Mexico and Texas DJ Tim House.
When I went to Tim’s house of course before we started the interview we took turns DJing for about 2 hours. Once we sat down I got a great insight on the DJ world through his eyes. First he stated that the term “DJ” he thinks is a very broad term he said there are DJ’s that are just up there playing records and then there are DJ’s like myself who like to think of ourselves as entertainers and musicians. “ You have to communicate with everybody through your music instead of with words”. When asked what his definition of a good DJ was he smiled and replied, “ When a DJ can entertain any audience given to them. When they can take a group of people that is totally different and unite all of them with music….It is a very beautiful thing”. One of the most important questions that I asked Tim was if he himself considered being a DJ as a serious profession. He replied, “ Oh, most definitely! Of course it depends what he is doing with it and how hard he works but ya it pays my bills”. And one last question I asked was why do you think that some people might not think of a DJ as a serious profession. He replied, “ They don’t see the electronic culture at least not yet, everybody will eventually. People have and always will want to dance!”. As you can see people in this profession and people in this culture take the job of a DJ very serious. Now that you have al this knowledge do you want to know my personal opinion?
Well first of all I started DJing when I was 15. Something about it for me just fascinated me. It became more and more interesting to me everyday as I would lean more about the culture and the history. I would come home from school and go straight up to my room to mix for the rest of the day sometimes. It is my only passion that I have ever had. I love playing for people whether it’s in my room , at a party, or in a club. I love it. Already I have made money doing this. I mean New Years eve I made two hundred dollars for one hours work. What job is better than this?
Well the answer is there is no better profession than a DJ. You get to entertain people, be a musician, and do what you love. Throughout this paper I have filled you’re heard with knowledge of the DJ and it’s culture so you can better understand how great of a profession this really is. How many people if you asked them would say they love to go to work and their job is their passion. Not that many! If you asked me or any other DJ they could say yes.
Fikentscher, Kai. “You Better Work!” Underground Dance Music In New York City:
House, Tim. DJ, Midwest Area. Personal Interview. 15 Mar 2001.
Prendergast, Mark. The Ambient Century: New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000
Reiss, Jon, dir. Better Living Through Circuitry. DVD A Cleopatra Picture 2000.