The Effects of DJ’ing on Enjoying DJ’s

As I’ve progressed in my dj’ing I’ve noticed, often, that I hear the sets of other dj’s differently than I used to.  Even when I was only three months in, on a cheapy controller with VDJ and the sync key locked down, I was hearing sets differently.  And I’m discovering with each step forward I take as an artist, my experience as a fan is altered.

At VERY first, I liked pretty much every other dj set more than I had previously, because I was finally able to hear the WHOLE mix, rather than the most obvious melody blended moments, so I appreciated them more.  Instead of too-fast-to-enjoy-tunes Bad Boy Bill became a role model of dj’ing to me, for example.

But I’ve moved far, far ahead from there.  I was a pretty ok controller dj, not great but I’d much rather listen to the kind of sets I was putting out back then over what is being churned out rapid fire by the young-blood controllerists climbing the ladder as I type, so ok, not terrible.  I think it would be fair, now, to call myself a “nearly proficient and talented” vinyl dj.. meaning I’m ALMOST mixing well but have the potential for much better things with work.  And it is as THIS DJ, this nearly proficient vinylist that I write today.

Since I’ve been playing on vinyl I find I actually like the sets of many djs I’d previously enjoyed (or at least didn’t dislike) less than I used to.  And it’s not because I can hear the errors more easily; I like a little error on the rare occasion, it adds the excitement of “anything can happen live”.  It’s not because I’m so obsessed with my own music that I can’t appreciate another style when it’s played well.  And it’s not that I’m butt-hurt by dj’s using “easier” (please note quotation marks) mediums and technologies getting gigs while I go back to work in the bedroom for another year or more… well I *AM* actually butthurt by that, but that’s on me and my ego, and doesn’t effect how I hear those sets at all.

What’s happening, I notice, is that I can hear more of what the dj is doing.  I recognize which filter or effect I’m hearing in the song.  I can hear all but the slickest, trickiest cutting.  I can pinpoint nearly the first beat of the incoming mix and the last beat going out, getting a far richer (or sometimes more sour) mix-listening experience than I used to.  I hear the eq’s, I hear the gains when they are off, and sometimes I don’t actually know that WHAT I’m hearing but I know if a song is being altered (in which case I’m running to the mixer to see what there is to learn today).

And I’m finding I’m ABLE to hear these things but very often I’m simply NOT hearing them.  I’m hearing what I call “Human Centipede” mixes, songs mixed end to end, or ass-to-face if you will, with very little done to color the sound.  And I don’t mean subtle mixer work, I mean I’m hearing almost no mixer work a LOT of the time.  So even if I love a dj’s tunes, my ears are trained to pick out more and are bored when they are left with not much to pick on.

It’s kind of a shame, actually, that I take less pleasure from music because I’m learning to play it, but that’s just how it is for me, until something else changes anyway.

BUT.

BUT.

BUT….

There are those times when my ears feel like they’ve been starving for weeks and are suddenly walking into a giant Indian Buffet with three plates to fill from twenty dishes.  What that over-extended simile means is that SOME DJ’s are just working their mixer like the instrument it actually is and subtly or obviously making changes to one or both playing songs that not only make it different but in some way more exciting and, to my mind, just better.  These artists are using effects not to hide flaws but to add richness or movement, using filters the better to bring the audience forward to the drop or sometimes even acting as if it’s were a fourth eq for a more seamless blend.  And they are doing things I can’t describe, even if I was watching it right now, because my ears aren’t trained well enough to define the change, just recognize that something GOOD is going on, and my eyes see hands on the mixer doing a pattern of motions that confuse me as to their purpose and technique.

THOSE DJ’s, man oh man, when I hear those dj’s I love their sets FAR, far more than I’ve ever enjoyed DJ sets since I started listening to techno in 1995.  I’m hearing not only the songs and the mixes, but the actual ART part of being an ARTIST and recognize, appreciate, and sometimes salivate over what a real master can do.  When those dj’s come along I usually give up at least half my dancing time to their set to “go the fuck to school” and just watch and listen… identify what’s new, what works when and why, what works for this track but maybe not one of mine.

Those DJ’s, those true artists, fill me with so much happiness, so much joy and actual musical satisfaction and satiation, that hearing 1 or 2 of them out of every 30 or 40 live sets I listen to is ALMOST enough… I enjoy them that much now.  So I dislike more dj’s than ever before but the ones I love I love so passionately that overall the love wins out and my affair with music becomes more deeply rooted.

So be prepared, new dj’s, be prepared to question your own taste often as it changes, to stop being a fan of dj’s you used to enjoy, but starting to worship and study the masters when they come around.

And, in case you’re wondering… the MASTER AND MAESTRO I heard this weekend that inspired me to write this entry was Charles Feelgood.  I was always a fan but not unitl this last set, the first I’ve heard him since moving to vinyl, did I at ALL appreciate what he does and how well he does it.  He’s a goddamn genius and D4 manipulator.  THANKS FOR ALL THE GOOSEBUMPS CHARLES!

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5 comments

    • you know, I’ve never WATCHED scott since I learned how to mix. We need you ONE LAST TIME SCOTT HENRY!!! Pretty please with sugar on top! I’ll make it easy for you by bring MY records for YOU to play (the dream!)

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  1. Can totally relate. I think its natural for Dj’s listen to other dj’s analytically (unless they are just having fun and lost in the vibe of the party). One thing I would say though is, for me technical proficiency and perfect seamless mixing is not what is moat important. To me it is about Track selection, knowledge, versatility and originality. Remember… the guys who invented modern djing were mixing records made with live bands and human drummers! Try mixing disco and you will realize the other things a DJ must bring to the table when he/she can’t be technically perfect just by beat matching and eqing.

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    • Like I said to you before, I’d actually rather hear a bunch of tracks in a genre I’m not as fond of mixed uniquely, creatively, artistically, with the technicals being at least proficient, than hear great music slaughtered in by the hands of a skilless loop-ape. I get reallllllly heated when what I consider “MY TUNES” get injured with mistreatment and bad mixing, consider it disrespectful to fine art, while a so-so genre that is being pushed and pulled through it’s paces in a way no other dj would do with the same tracks… I might not dance, but I enjoy the set more.

      PS I understand the irony, I was the dj disrespecting the fine art for a long time.

      PPS I love house music so much that I now hate the majority of house music lol

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  2. Cool article Jocelyn. it’s funny, reading this as part of your “journey” as a DJ is bringing me back a ways to when I was beginning to play out. What i am happy to see, is the lack of bravado and ego. I never personally had it…no bragging, no jockeying for my spot at the table, if you know what I mean? But, unfortunately, i’ve seen friends move from club kid, or raver to DJ or producer and their journey brought them straight to dick town! They spend way too much time focusing on what is wrong with the DJ then just enjoying it.

    I am not gonna lie, i’ve shared a few “eek” faces when a DJ messes up bad….and plenty of DJ’s i’m sure have EEK faced me (like at strictly underground recently, when i played those awful late 80’s Chicago house tracks…which i just bought that afternoon while sitting at work. Talk about an EEK moment)
    For me, personally I find i enjoy the great moments from a DJ more now than ever before. Whether it’s from some of my personal local friends, who happen to also be some of my favorite DJs ever, or when seeing a headliner show me why they are where they are. And those quirky moments when it’s not perfectly technical but there’s that track that just shouldn’t fit, but it did and it means something more now than it did back before i played records.

    If your article was “the effects of djing on dancing” Then i would say, it basically made me stop dancing. That’s a whole other topic. 🙂

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