There’s no denying it, at least from a technical point of view, the world of mobile DJing has completely changed over the past 30 years. Digital music, laptops and controllers have replaced vinyl and twin deck consoles. Starcloth booths and LiteConsoles have replaced light screens and spot boxes. And moving heads, lasers and LED lighting have replaced pinspots, fuzz lights and oil projectors. Today’s equipment is more flexible, lighter and easier to transport but, for many DJs who remember how it used to be, today’s modern equipment has taken away some of the magic of being a mobile DJ. That is the reason for the recent rise of the retro roadshow!
An increasing number of mobile DJs are now offering their clients the option of an authentic retro roadshow as an alternative to a modern mobile setup. This gives the DJ a legitimate reason to buy (or restore) a traditional DJ setup and gives party organisers the choice of a retro rig that is ideal for themed parties for older guests who also enjoy experiencing the kind of ‘mobile disco’ they remember from their youth.
One of the pioneers of this concept is Chris Burford, who has been successfully offering a retro setup to his clients for a number of years and was primarily attracted to the idea by a sense of nostalgia. “I had often thought about going back to playing vinyl,” Chris told me, “but it wasn’t until a chance conversation with my good friend, Andy George, back in 2014 that it all came to fruition. Andy is a collector of old PA and DJ equipment. We got talking and he showed me his store room, floor to ceiling full of old gear, and I was like a kid in a candy store! I bought a Citronic Avon console along with a pair of H|H speakers and a couple of light screens and I was up and running.”
Another early adopter of this trend was Wales-based mobile DJ Justin Banwell, whose retro journey was initially prompted by a request from a client. “Around five years ago one of my regular hotel venues asked if I would provide an ‘80s disco for a Christmas party night,” explained Justin. “So I thought ‘why not do it with original ‘80s equipment?’. This led to me travelling hundreds of miles to Ipswich to buy a set of Citronic record decks, then adding equipment and vinyl from fellow DJs. In total it took about six months to put together my initial retro show before I did my first ‘80s Christmas party which was a huge success.”
If you have been DJing since the days of vinyl – and held on to your decks, records and light screens – setting up a retro show may be simply a case of digging out and refurbishing your old gear. However for younger jocks – or those who didn’t have the space to store their vintage gear – the prospect of putting together a retro lightshow, music system AND vinyl collection may seem daunting. One option, at least as a starting point, could be to stick with modern playback equipment but paired with a retro lightshow.
This is the route taken by Wayne Braybrook who runs Imagine Disco in Ely, Cambridgeshire. For ‘80s nights he plays music from his regular digital setup but with a retro-style lightshow. This combines authentic light screens with modern LED PARs and a custom-built Rubik Cube box fitted with LED strip lights to create a retro-inspired show that combines both modern and vintage technology.
“I started to put the show back together about five years ago,” Wayne explained, “after having a lot of enquiries for ‘80s nights and wanting to provide something ‘different’ to everyone else. It initially took around a year to collect the light screens from various auctions etc. and refurbish them. However my show is always evolving, I’m still collecting!”
At the other side of the spectrum, some DJs are embracing the resurgence in popularity that vinyl is currently experiencing and playing records for all kinds of parties – not just retro-themed events – alongside a modern lightshow. Si Beisly and Dave Taylor, who run the Ace of Clubs Roadshow in Dursley, Gloucestershire are proud to offer the area’s only vinyl AND digital mobile disco. For large corporate events they play from a collection of 20,000+ records primarily, but also have a laptop and controller to hand for more recent requests.
When I asked Si why he likes to play from vinyl he told me, “The reason is very simple, I enjoy the whole performance of it: opening the sleeve, checking the correct side to play (instrumentals go on if you’re not observant and in a rush with a punter in your ear!), giving it a quick brush, putting the tone arm on the record, cueing up and of course the unique tone offered by vinyl.”
The DJs who run fully retro shows also enjoy the experience of playing records. “There’s really nothing like playing vinyl all night, cueing in the records and searching through my cases pulling up the next song,” enthused Justin. “I love the opportunity to play my vinyl collection and seeing the look on people’s faces when they realise that I’m a ‘real DJ’ playing records,” added Chris.
“It’s like going back to a better time in my DJ career,” said Wayne. “The guests at these types of parties really WANT to party and have fun and there’s less expectation for things like ‘play my song now or else’. It’s a completely different way of working. Oh, and the music’s a lot better too!”
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 91, Pages 24-30.