“How come everybody doesn’t want to be a painter?”
Carl Craig asked his almost 90 thousand Twitter followers this question last month, and with it he included a statement (in the form of a hashtag) familiar to almost any dance music fan: #EveryoneWantsToBeADJ.
It’s probably safe to assume the Detroit luminary wasn’t celebrating this notion. People almost never do. Instead, it’s usually a thinly veiled reference to the supposed evils of so-called “laptop DJs” who never learned to mix vinyl, and the destruction of “real” DJ culture at the hands of the sync button and mainstream bandwagon poseurs.
As RA pointed out, DJing is easy now. It’s also more popular than ever, especially with the set who would’ve never been caught dead at a rave 10 years ago. And as common understanding goes, once a niche subculture gets hurled into the spotlight, becoming a mass produced facsimile of itself in the process, the artistry behind it begins to lose value.
This is said to be true of most all artistic mediums, including film, food, and DJing.
But is it?
I’ll let film, art and food critics defend their own. But I believe there’s never been a better time for DJing.
One look at the vast leaps made in DJ technology over the last 10 or 15 years gives you an idea of how much thought and energy has been spent in the pursuit of crafting equipment designed to give DJs a more creative experience. Whether or not you think digital DJing is a worthwhile endeavor is almost beside the point, because hundreds of thousands of bedroom DJs and countless top-tier jocks alike have fully embraced the digital revolution to the point that is has, overwhelmingly, become the standard medium for the mixing of songs.
The vinyl-versus-digital argument is a tired one, so I won’t go much further into it. However, it’s safe to say that without all this new gear—much of which makes entry-level DJing easier and more affordable than ever—we’d have far fewer “wannabe DJs” on our hands. And almost no glamourous celebrity spinners.
But have these celebrity-pseudo-jocks and sync button addicts negatively impacted our scene in any real way? Yes, the scene’s growing popularity has brought watered down dance music to a mass audience. But more kids and a few part-time actors trying their hand at the art of mixing has hardly been anything but a boon for our culture.
Along advances in tech, increased interest in the craft and the music only serves to spur creativity within the scene. And nothing advances the arts like increased competition—the more DJs there are, the harder it is to stand out, and the better those at the top will be. More than just keeping two loopy tech house tracks in time, digital DJs are finding ever more complex ways to utilize their advanced equipment. It may not be vinyl mixing, but the skill involved is no less impressive.
In what I see as a pushback to the dominance of digital, vinyl DJs have risen to grand new heights recently. Musically, many of these selectors are light years beyond even the most skilled ‘90s stars, who often mixed only one subset of house or techno throughout their sets. Just look at festivals like Dekmantel, where diggers like MCDE and Ben UFO have taken centre stage, mixing un-quantized disco with ‘90s classic house, Turkish jazz and everything in between. And at the Dutch festival’s Croatian offshoot, Dekmantel Selectors, diggers even have their own festival.
Talented selectors like those will no doubt serve as an inspiration to countless newcomers who may chose to bypass digital DJing completely, opting instead to pick up some vinyl and a pair of reissued Technics—something that was unlikely to happen without such a renewed interest in DJing worldwide.
And while I don’t have any official numbers, based on just how many new vinyl-only imprints I seem to stumble across in my daily searches for new music, I feel certain we’ve entered a new golden age for small-batch, specialty imprints, whose output keeps serious collectors supplied with some of the best music happening today. And far from being dead, vinyl is on track to become a billion dollar industry; figures not seen in 30 years.
The implications span far beyond DJ technology and the vinyl boom. Music production is a natural next step for many young DJs, and its popularity explosion has helped pay the salaries of software and hardware creators and engineers, who in turn continually create better tools for beginners and pros alike. Sure, there’s a lot of bland music out there. But the sheer amount of great music is, at times, almost daunting. And as always, the cream eventually rises to the top.
Better music also generates more interest in our scene. It gets people off the couch and buying tickets to festivals and clubs, which pays for DJs, lighting crews, production staff, and everyone else involved in making the parties you go to the best they can be. Next time you’re out at one of the myriad of incredible festivals happening around the world each summer, ask yourself, do you want less interest in this scene?
So while the world would probably benefit from a few more painters, novelists, cello players and poets, there’s nothing wrong with everyone wanting to be a DJ. It just might be the best thing to ever happen to dance music since they invented wax.
Chandler Shortlidge is the UK and European editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter.
MCDE Photo by Bart Heemskerk