27 maart 2017

WHAT MAKES A GREAT DJ? PART 3



SERGE

The Clone boss might be the shyest and most polite DJ you know, but he is also one of the most versatile and uncompromising selectors working today.
If you are a DJ and you want to educate people, you should have become a teacher. I always find that such nonsense. What makes a great DJ is to share your enthusiasm for tracks that you love, play tunes that you love, to share them with your friends… but not to educate a crowd.

“IF YOU ARE A DJ AND YOU WANT TO EDUCATE PEOPLE, YOU SHOULD HAVE BECOME A TEACHER.”

A DJ for me is someone who plays great music and who sets the atmosphere of a night, who is a slave to the location and the event and most of all to the crowd. However, it’s not a submissive role – probably the opposite. I see it as a strange conflicting role. You need to please and entertain the crowd in some way, to make them listen and dance to your music, but in your own way without losing your own style, taste and aesthetics, and do it with creativity, fantasy, a certain character that comes unique with each person.
Each DJ is different, has a different character, so I would never say, like DJ Harvey said, that a DJ must be an entertainer, because that is simply not correct. Each DJ makes his own role fit to his character, his taste and feel for aesthetics and the crowd that he or she wants to play for. And even though, often, the most extrovert and outgoing characters are the most popular DJs, I don’t think they are automatically the best DJs. That stardom and pop star thing became more important in the recent decade, however we shouldn’t mix up popularity with DJ quality or skills. And neither should we do it the other way around. You can play the coolest records all the time, but how much worth are you as a DJ if you clean out the dancefloor gig after gig? It can happen, it does happen, but I don’t see this as skills or an accomplishment, even while playing the best tunes on the planet. However, you also should have the balls to just clean the dancefloor and say fuck it… and try to prove you’re right and stick to your own aesthetics and taste, and sometimes just accept you’re at the wrong location at the wrong moment!
DJing has changed, of course. It has become a business, with business rules. More and more agents and managers know how things work and how they can launch a career. Many DJs are true social media heroes and spend more time on Facebook and Twitter than digging for tunes or recording tracks. However there is also a growing educated and smart crowd, thanks to that same internet, that is open to the new and the different, and who don’t need instant entertainment.
I think reading the room is probably the most difficult and most important thing, unless you just play the same floor fillers every set and just don’t care. But even then, you somehow need to know when to play what tune, and not to ruin certain tunes by playing them at the wrong moment when they have hardly any effectiveness. Certain tunes are so popular they always work, but maybe even more important are the goosebump tracks or the special ones that otherwise would clean out the dance floor when you play them at the wrong moment.
Sorry to sound like an old fart, but I think DJing is easier these days. I wouldn’t say the standard is higher now or back then, but you can easily become a working DJ when you know how to produce some popular tunes and let your manager sort you out with some gigs and just play tunes for one or two hours with the sync button or from your computer with Ableton. That’s something different then playing a full night by yourself – vinyl only, of course – for a mixed crowd, going from disco to pop to house to whatever, pleasing the dancefloor and the club owner.

“THE CLUB OWNER CAME UP TO ME QUITE OFTEN WHEN I PLAYED TOO MUCH HOUSE... TOO MUCH HOUSE WASN'T GOOD FOR THE BAR TURNOVER, SO HE GAVE ME THAT LOOK”

An all-nighter was a standard thing 20 to 30 years ago – there was usually no line-up announced. Back then I remember the club owner came up to me quite often when I played too much house… too much house wasn’t good for the bar turnover, so he gave me that look that I had to make sure they’d sell some beer. Actually, that stopped at some point around ’91 or ’92 when he found out he could make money by selling pills too [laughs]. From there on, it was house music all night long!
I’d say it’s easier to be considered a good DJ nowadays. Maybe my view is a bit biased, but here’s an example: I’m playing a decent set and building towards the headliner who’s on after me, so I play a last couple of tunes that slow down a bit as I don’t think it’s always nice to end with peak time bangers when the headliner is about to begin. All of a sudden, when I mix in that last tune, the crowd goes wild. I look up, all surprised. That tune wasn’t a hands-in-the-air tune, but it turned out the headliner stepped on the stage, and by just seeing him they all started cheering and shouting. Other problems come along with being famous, I guess.
I never really thought about my own approach to DJing, but I’m a music lover and record collector with a rather introvert character, so I didn’t start DJing to entertain or be in the spotlight, but just because I really loved the music and because I wanted to hear specific tunes and share that. So that’s basically what I still do.
I think I always have a certain goal I want to achieve, like playing certain tracks and making them work, but I guess that’s more or less it. It is actually very intuitive: it’s not that I try to manipulate the crowd, but I just try to make some kind of connection by playing tunes I like and hopefully the room likes them as well. I don’t know. It probably sounds a bit pretentious, but I don’t like to randomly just drop some tunes as I need some direction and something to work towards. I guess that’s also the reason why I often start slowly and feel the vibe and then slowly go towards where I want to go. Sometimes I don’t succeed and there is very little connection and I simply don’t reach my goal. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad night – sometimes the crowd leads me somewhere unexpected, and maybe that’s even nicer.

KRYSKO

The definitive, career-long resident DJ who has more skills than many superstars and consistently proves his worth at The Warehouse Project as well as many other clubs and festivals around Europe. Now also a radio jock on KMAH.
In the traditional sense, the resident has a completely different relationship with the crowd than a headliner. Once a good resident has established themselves with a crowd at a particular night, it’s like ordering a favourite dish from a takeaway: you’re happy with it, you know it’ll never let you down, you’re comfortable knowing it’s always there, but the headliner is when you try something different. Sometimes it works, sometimes you’re let down.

“AS A RESIDENT, YOU’RE THERE TO INITIALLY EASE THE CROWD IN AND TO LEAVE THE HEADLINER AT A POINT WHERE THEY CAN DO WHAT THEY WANT, WITH A CROWD THAT'S PRIMED FOR IT”

If a resident is warming up, it goes without saying that you’re there to initially ease the crowd in and to leave the headliner at a point where they can do what they want, with a crowd that’s primed for it. Then it’s up to them. That’s a more traditional view of a resident and headliner, though – nowadays many nights have residents and guests who are equally matched in terms of reputation and following, and that gives a much more dynamic feel to a night. When nobody is the ‘superstar’ there’s no differential.
For me, the smaller the room, the more reward you get from reading it and then in turn getting it right. It’s the thing of ‘looking into the whites of the eyes’: you can really lock into smaller rooms then gauge from them where you can take it. I think larger crowds are happy to be dictated to, whereas if the environment is more cosy you’re able to take in the general feeling of where they want to be led.
The guiding principles of a DJ should be that of willingness to adapt, by having a wide enough knowledge of their music to be able to do this but still remaining within the music they love. The huge spectrum of new music available within genres nowadays, alongside the back catalogues, means there’s no reason this can’t be done. I mean, how do you even know ‘what crowds want to hear’? they don’t fill in a questionnaire at the door. I think you have to be confident enough to give them credit that they will be open to what you do.
What makes a great DJ is the ability to make it look easy, and I mean truly easy. I completely understand the fact it’s not brain surgery, but in this age where countless tools are at the disposal of people who want to go out and DJ, the medium is often made a focus over the art. A truly great DJ exudes effortlessness when they play, whether that be crossing different genres, properly managing the system they are playing on, knowing its limits or generally understanding the room very quickly. The technical thing for me comes way down the list.
I couldn’t give a shit if a DJ drops a mix every now and again or hardly mixes at all. It’s about creating your own environment for the time you’re on and doing it in a way that works for that time and place.
Kristan Caryl

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