The layers of a real DJ

layers of a DJ

Hip Hop culture is made up of pillars – DJing/Rapping/Breakdancing/Beatboxing/Graffitti/Fashion. Well I consider real DJs to be multi-layered. For this article I am referring to the club DJ, the person paid (or too often these days, not paid) to entertain the crowd.

In my opinion, the true art of club DJing has been lost and technology has been designed and produced to allow pretty much anyone to become a DJ overnight. Great for the manufacturers, not so great for the purists. The other contributory factor is the ‘following’ culture we now live in. I believe you could drop a complete novice into Ministry’s main room with Carl Cox’s USB stick, chuck a mask on him and watch him rock the place. A couple of decades ago this absolutely was not the case! Most of the mainstream clubs play either tech or deep house. DJs have instant access to all the same tunes as the next DJ and all the sets feel very samey. Admitedly, more creativety is required when using hybrid DAW type setup ups with usb connected outboard drum machines, midi triggered events etc., but does the crowd 1. really care and 2. understand what is actually going on? Probably not I suggest.

Sorry for the negativity but I consider a real DJ one that has learned the art of moving crowds in difficult circumstances, maybe played several different genres, played to near empty rooms but still have given the patrons a great time. One who understands their role based on the time slot they are playing. Is able to read a crowds energy level and know how to pull the right trigger at the right time. Makes last minute changes of track to keep the vibe going. Looks attentively and interacts with the crowd and not buried in their mobile phone between every mix.

It is no wonder that clubs do not pay most DJs anymore, (in fact quite the opposite, most are asked to sell tickets) as the skill levels required to DJ these days a monkey possesses. Β The owner could simply throw on a mix CD and go back to counting his money! In fact on a night out at The Egg Club London, they did exactly that. One of the side rooms which held a couple of hundred people were dancing and raving away oblivious to the fact there was no DJ in the room! Unbelievable!

So with all that almost out of my system back to the whole layers thing. I know dozens of DJs personally and in my opinion the best ones tend to have very similar musical journeys. Along the lines of – growing up in a house of great musical interest where the Dad would expose him/her to many different genres of music. They have DJed at many weddings and birthday parties as a mobile DJ (this really teaches the art of moving and holding a crowd) and progressed into clubs. It was quite an organic process and a strong depth and knowledge of music and varying crowds has been earned over time.

The perfect DJ is someone who:

  1. Has a great depth and knowledge of many genres of music.
  2. Can mix beautifully and with variety.
  3. Knows their music inside out.
  4. Understands when to change the energy.
  5. Interacts with the crowd.
  6. Understands his role depending on the time of the evening their set is.
  7. Sets up the next DJ to continue the journey.
  8. Takes risks.
  9. Cares about taking people on a journey and giving the crowd a memorable evening.

This is a massively controversial subject and I welcome respectful discussion, so get involved.


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