I recently re-read my copy of Frank Broughton & Bill Brewster’s excellent book, ‘Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: A History of the Disc Jockey’. I would say this is useful reading for anyone who’s been DJing for a while. But, perhaps more importantly - seeing as the entire world and their dad’s dog is now a DJ, it should be mandatory reading for anyone just starting out on the adventure that is DJing.
In the age of super-convenient, on-demand music downloads as well as endless compilation releases, it seems slightly sad that, in some ways, we have lost a bit of the romance of the true origins of the DJ as the source and selector of new, exciting and unheard of music. Back in the days before digital DJing, and even CDs, DJs spent days digging through mountains of vinyl records, or traveling to far flung places, to unearth new and undiscovered audio gems.
I can remember very fondly trips to various record stores around the UK ‘back in the day’, even down to the smell of those stores (often a blend of slightly damp basement and ‘heavily thumbed’ cardboard record sleeve). I grew up spending, literally, hours and hours listening to promotional White Labels and unknown releases in a bid to find something that I could proudly add to my record box and use to shape a unique sound that was all mine.
These days online platforms, subscription services and record pools such as Mastermix, CD Pool, Promo Only, Beatport and Traxsource offer such an abundance of music that not only would it probably blow the mind of those original pioneering DJs, but it is now almost a full-time job to sort through all the newest releases on a weekly basis in order to keep abreast of who is putting out what. Most crucially of all, with powerful record labels throwing the corporate kitchen sink at even the most dubious of releases, this time is no less vital to filter out the nonsense in any given genre.
With more and more comments appearing in online forums from DJs themselves bemoaning the state of modern music, perhaps the time has come to re-visit the practice of ‘crate digging’ for those lesser known musical gems and paying additional attention to the b-sides and reworks / remixes of the latest releases to adopt a different angle to that which everyone else is pushing.
It’s great to see that events like this year’s Record Store Day 2017 are still championing the cause of selective record buying on the merits of the track in question as opposed to the convenience of just having the top 40 delivered to your door, or inbox, each week. Obviously, the elephant in the room which should get a mention at this stage is that of ‘format’. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that everyone (re-)becomes vinyl fanatics and starts carting around a pair of SL1210s from gig to gig, but when did you last visit your local independent record store, or even just spend some time revisiting the older tracks in your collection to see how they have aged?
If you play out using CDs, or use a digital controller, then going to your local record store might not be something you’ve considered doing for some time. However, it’s never been easier to transfer tracks from vinyl to an electronic medium ready for import into whichever DJ software you’re using. Perhaps this is how modern-day crate digging could work?
Following on from Mark Walsh’s excellent article in the last issue of Pro Mobile [Attack Of The Clones, Issue 84], perhaps now is the time to let a bit of personality shine through? Mark advocated the use of personality to allow individuals to stand out from the crowd of ‘cookie cutter’ wedding/party DJs. I whole-heartedly agree, but would also like to suggest that perhaps spending the time filling your record box with tracks that nobody else has in their record box is also due a bit of a comeback?
We all know the tried and tested classics from each genre that will fill a dancefloor, but those are likely the same tracks used by the last DJ a particular guest saw perform. By making slightly less obvious choices, it’s possible to still pack the dancefloor, but also to stand out as uniquely different. By ‘digging deeper’ into your collection, you’ll not only stand out from the crowd of other DJs but also help to remind dancers of music they may have forgotten they loved!
I once worked with a DJ who was so protective of the records in his box that he would physically keep it locked at all times. The even more extreme thing was that when the record box was open, many of his most prized vinyls had their labels covered up or inked in, so you couldn’t even train spot his tracks when he was playing!
Extreme no doubt, and definitely a slightly eccentric throw-back to the early days of the Hip-Hop / Disco DJs as described by Frank & Bill in their book mentioned at the beginning of this piece. However, his quest was indeed a noble one, to remain utterly different and offer an individual performance to his audience that couldn’t be replicated by others. If nothing else, it made playing back-to-back with him a challenge that kept me on my toes!
However you choose to approach your track selection, maybe we could all devote a bit more time to unearthing and listening to slightly more unknown music when next out record shopping, either literally, or online. I know I still get the same thrill I always have just before the needle gently touches down on the vinyl of any record with a white label, or before pressing play on a release by an unknown artist or label. And, whilst holding my breath, I remind myself that in all likelihood the track will be nothing and I’ll quickly move onto the next, but at the same time it’s possible that it could be everything and it’ll be added to my record box in pride of place.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 85, Pages 36-37.