By Gamal Hennessy
Music defines a scene and a venue more than any other aspect of nightlife culture. A good DJ is often the difference between a good party and just another club. In the past few years, digital technology, celebrity DJs and the economics of nightlife have transformed this urban art form into a mass market business. There are some people with nothing more than two iPods and a gimmick claiming to be a DJ. But if you want to tell the artists from the pretenders, consider three things the next time you go out…
Selection and Style: A DJ is often under a lot of restrictions when they play out. The venue has its format, the promoter is trying to satisfy his niche market and the random drunken requests all night impose limits on what they can spin. The challenge for a DJ is to transcend those constraints to express their own style. You can tell a lot about a DJ based on the songs they select and how much of themselves they reveal in the booth. A bad DJ plays the wrong songs for the event and the crowd. A decent DJ can stay in their lane and play the hits. A good DJ can take you back to great times in your past or expose you to gems that you’ve never heard before. A great DJ has a signature sound that builds a following and redefines a genre.
Transition: The artistry of a DJ isn’t really in the creation of new music. It is in the combination of music that already exists. One of the main technical skills that a DJ has is moving from one song to another in a way that is interesting and pleasant to the ear. Whether it is the seamless mixing of house, the scratching and beat drops of hip hop or the genre bending of mashups, the DJ flows from one song to the next. A bad DJ sounds like iTunes on shuffle. A decent DJ brings together similar songs. A good DJ can manipulate and maintain the flow in a room for hours. A great DJ combines songs that you like into a completely new song that you love.
Connection to the Crowd: Several DJs have told me that spinning at a party is an exercise in group psychology. As they play, they try to get more and more of the crowd to react to the music. As more people respond and the energy moves through the room the DJ can influence patrons to talk or drink, relax or go crazy, nod their heads or dance, stay or go home. A bad DJ ignores the crowd. A decent DJ is ignored by the crowd like background music. A good DJ can maintain a crowd for a couple hours. A great DJ can keep the crowd going all night so no one ever wants to go home.
Music Matters: There is one thing that I have learned from the DJs that I’ve known, listened to and played with; You can determine a good DJ from their set. It’s not about the technology they use, the genres they spin, the number of people at their parties or how many celebrities they know. It’s about the music. If you’re out somewhere and the boy or girl behind the turntables makes you feel better about being in the venue, that’s what matters.
When you find a good DJ, step up to the booth and let them know . They are often surprised that someone is listening to what they do and a compliment is always better than a drunken request…
…just don’t interrupt their transitions when you are saying hello.