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Can some explain DJs to me?

Old 07-09-13, 10:16 AM
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Can some explain DJs to me?

I'm not talking about guys that spin ELP records on classic rock stations, I'm talking about DJs that people pay to see (?) play electronic dance music.

AXS TV had the "Wavefront Festival" on over the weekend and this DJ, Bad Boy Bill, was on the stage. What exactly do DJs do? Is all the music prerecorded and he just stands up there and acts like he's doing stuff? There are no actual records or anything, just knobs.

When people go to see these DJs perform (do they?) , what are the fans looking at? The light show? The DJ doesn't actually play anything or sing anything. I'm assuming the people just drop X and watch the light show? Does the DJ actually add anything to the equation?

I often see tweets from bands like "Jimmy will be DJing with so and so tomorrow night at So and So..." What does that mean? Does that mean they go to a club and spin records or does that mean they go to a club and do stuff like Bad Boy Bill?

For reference:



Forgive my ignorance on this issue.
Old 07-09-13, 10:22 AM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Jazzy Jeff's kids wish more people knew the answer to this question.
Old 07-09-13, 10:42 AM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

DJ Jazzy Jeff actually had turntables and I think basically played a song on one and scratched with the other? And faded between them using controls? This guy has no vinyl - just a big board with what appears to be pre-recorded digital music.
Old 07-09-13, 10:44 AM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Learning to Appreciate the Art of the DJ
By Dick Sullivan | December 11th, 2012 9:19am



Backed into a corner at the Beauty Bar, barricaded by a sea of undulating humanity, DJ Sober is busy at work. Unless you have watched a DJ intently, you don’t realize just how busy that work is. Sober monkeys with the turntable, checks the countdown clock on his laptop, and gauges the speed of his next track. He is air traffic control, guiding a dozen beats into the airspace above the crowd. When he does this well, it is seamless and – dare I admit – entertaining.

For a long time, I have not held this level of respect for the decades-old art of DJ-ing. Frankly, I found it difficult to accept the idea of leaving the house to watch someone play a record. I know this opinion sounds outdated, ignorant, or stubbornly conservative. DJ-ing has long been too prevalent and too respected and too important to hip hop to ignore. Still, I sought out DJ Sober, recently crowned “Dallas’ Best DJ” by the Dallas Observer Music Awards and DJ for Dallas rap group A.Dd+, to give me his version of a DJ manifesto.

DJ Sober, born Will Rhoten, grew up in Fort Worth immersing himself in the culture of skateboarding, hip hop, and graffiti. DJ-ing captivated him from the time he first saw someone spinning records on the early nineties Hip Hop television program “Pump It Up.” Not long after, Rhoten, still in junior high, cornered a house party DJ after his set and grilled him with questions.

“I was that kid. I probably asked him if I could help carry equipment,” Rhoten remembers. The DJ gave Will some pointers on mixing. “I learned how to mix on dance music instead of hip hop. A lot of House DJs pride themselves on really smooth blends and transitions, so I think I took that over into hip hop.”

After calling up bowling alleys and skating rinks, trying to scrounge up his own equipment, Will finally got his own set of turntables around 1993. You have to appreciate the eccentric beauty of that scene. While a healthy percentage of kids his age were still clutching copies of Nevermind and strapping on Stratocasters, Will Rhoten was beaming over his new DJ rig. “They were beat,” Rhoten says of the turntables, which he bought from a defunct club. “They still worked, but they looked like they fell off a truck.”

Rhoten roots a lot of his criteria for excellent DJ-ing in history, particularly the early nineties, when he was learning the craft.

“Back then, a majority of DJs were taste-makers,” says Rhoten. “You had to buy records, and each record is its own animal.”

DJs like Rhoten, who have actually mixed records, learning and working with vinyl’s physical quirks, feel a little like doctors before the days of EKGs and ultrasounds when they could diagnose a heart condition simply by listening through a stethoscope. DJ Sober rattles off a score of other esoteric habits that go into proper DJ-ing: matching beats per minute, hooks, intros of four bars versus eight, scrambling to find the next track during a 14 second sample. Rhoten embraces new technology, but he says those who have a natural ear for music are ahead of the game, regardless of their equipment.

“I think a lot of people, today, buy Serato [a DJ software] from Guitar Center and go straight to a local bar and try to get a weekly,” he says. “You can have all the buttons and effects in the world, but it doesn’t make you a good DJ. There’s an infinite amount of music, so you can never know too much.”

The music is what keeps people like DJ Sober, who owns around 3,000 records, motivated. There are endless tracks out there with which to create a soundtrack for the night. For the best of DJs, that passion for music can be heard in their mixes. In fact, Rhoten has such a deep respect for what he calls “the craft” of DJ-ing that he was initially reluctant to assume the title “DJ.” When he played his first party and organizers asked for name to put on the show fliers, Rhoten simply said “Sober.” It was a graffiti tag name, but it also happened to be true. Despite the reputation of profession, DJ Sober doesn’t drink, which brings with it its own benefits.

“All those shows I went to I left with vinyl, while [my friends] left with a bar tab,” he says.

Rhoten’s break-out in the local scene came after he joined The Party, a DJ collective, in 2006 with DJs Nature and Select. The Party mixed multiple genres and promoted themselves in any way that set them apart from local DJs. Their work ethic and vision paid off, evinced by the lines snaking around the exterior of Zubar, where they held their monthly gig.

“That’s when my DJ skills really took off,” says Rhoten.

The trio of DJs remained active through 2009, when Nature went to Puerto Rico and DJ Select headed off to New York. DJ Sober chose to stay in Dallas, where he had already built a base among fans of The Party.

“It’s like anything,” Rhoten says of fans who began to prefer his style at The Party gigs. “Like He-Man or G.I. Joe or Snake Eyes, you have your guy.”

DJ Sober now DJs as a full-time vocation. And while he has been steeped in the DJ-ing world for over twenty years, he understands someone, like me, who struggles to understand the art. The problem, he thinks, may be that certain people have not heard a DJ that “speaks to them.” To Rhoten, a good DJ is musically astute, willing to bring bold material into the set and able to sonically unite sounds in a way that surprises and excites the crowd. Perhaps most importantly, though, the best DJs are generous, sensitive to what their audience wants.

“There’s maybe a misconception that DJ-ing is all oons-oons or wiki-wiki,” Rhoten says. “[DJ-ing] is creating that good time for other people. You want to seamlessly blend the night from the first hour to the last song.”
http://frontrow.dmagazine.com/2012/1...art-of-the-dj/
Old 07-09-13, 10:52 AM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

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Old 07-09-13, 10:54 AM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Paul Van Dyk
Daft Punk
Old 07-09-13, 11:12 AM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

I highly dislike most of the music that almost all "DJs" play, but when I was at Bonnaroo earlier in June I sat through a DJ set from some guy I had never heard of (Clockwork) to get a front spot for Death Grips. I think most of the appeal is just being there and experiencing the music in a loud environment and dancing (and doing drugs, if you are in to that). Also I can't say for sure but I get the impression that often times DJs will kind of change up the songs they play for the live setting. For example, if I'm a DJ and I have a song that is made up of a beat and a vocal track, maybe I will switch it up by adding a different beat over the already existing beat, or changing the vocal track, or something along those lines. I don't know how often that actually happens, though, but I could see there being a big appeal there if they actually do that kind of stuff.
Old 07-09-13, 12:33 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Originally Posted by TheDuke View Post
I don't know how often that actually happens, though, but I could see there being a big appeal there if they actually do that kind of stuff.
Good DJs absolutely do.

I think it is pretty clearly from OP's post that there isn't an appreciation to the amount of work that DJs do. I wouldn't go as far as calling them musicians (not all of them at least), but there is a number of ways to consider their prowess: selecting the sound to keep crowds entertained at parties, mixing/blending songs into each other, on top of each other, etc.

Then you've got world-famous powerhouse DJs that get access to white labels and remixes of songs you will only ever hear live. One example of this would be Wyclef being invited to a soundclash in Jamaica in the very late 90's (arguably at the height of his fame and influence) and bringing a dub plate of Michael Jackson to the battle.

And for hip-hop DJs, seek out the documentary Scratch.
Old 07-09-13, 01:03 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Here is one person's opinion:

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Old 07-09-13, 01:13 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

I think it is pretty clearly from OP's post that there isn't an appreciation to the amount of work that DJs do.
Why do you say that? I asked many question and professed my ignorance of the subject.

But the actual question I'd like to know the answer to is what do they actually do? I get that they match beats and blend songs and keep the party going (DJs at clubs have always done that) but what are they doing if they don;t have turntables? And couldn't the creation just be created at home and played at the club? Do they do that and just dance around? For instance, that Bad Boy Bill never once put those headphones on when I was watching. Never grabbed a record or ever appeared to be searching for a track.
Old 07-09-13, 01:20 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Originally Posted by CRM114 View Post
Why do you say that? I asked many question and professed my ignorance of the subject.

But the actual question I'd like to know the answer to is what do they actually do? I get that they match beats and blend songs and keep the party going (DJs at clubs have always done that) but what are they doing if they don;t have turntables? And couldn't the creation just be created at home and played at the club? Do they do that and just dance around? For instance, that Bad Boy Bill never once put those headphones on when I was watching. Never grabbed a record or ever appeared to be searching for a track.
It depends on the DJ. The good DJs will be reading the crowd and changing the music according to what's getting a reaction. Most do it digitally now and the tools at their disposal in doing so are significant enough that they cannot be dismissed. I still enjoy a good turntablist.
Old 07-09-13, 01:25 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

I think a lot of modern DJs (say, the ones who use laptops, not turntables) do the majority of their work before the performance, setting things up. But, doing it live, they have to go with the flow. If a certain mix isn't keeping the audience interested, the DJ has to change things around to get the energy back. That's much easier said than done. The "performance" is more than making the music in that sense. It's working the crowd so they don't stop until the night is over.
I admit that seeing guys like DeadMau5 in a live performance would do nothing for me, but there are albums in the "DJ" genre that are pretty good. I also lean toward turntablists myself, but I'm also a fan of glitchy mathy noise sometimes too.
Old 07-09-13, 01:31 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

I like the music, for sure. Especially if I had a good dose of whatever.
Old 07-09-13, 01:32 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Most bands or singers have a set list but some like to interact with the crowd -- they might throw in a different song or perform something impromptu given the live experience. I saw a local band a few months ago and during a song they experienced some difficulties with their sound so the drummer started a solo of sorts with a few band members joining in while the others worked out the issue. It flowed nicely and never felt like they were just killing time. Eventually they worked out the issue and all of the band members finished the extended version of the song.

That's the benefit of seeing a good band, singer, DJ, etc.
Old 07-09-13, 01:54 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Originally Posted by wishbone View Post
Most bands or singers have a set list but some like to interact with the crowd -- they might throw in a different song or perform something impromptu given the live experience. I saw a local band a few months ago and during a song they experienced some difficulties with their sound so the drummer started a solo of sorts with a few band members joining in while the others worked out the issue. It flowed nicely and never felt like they were just killing time. Eventually they worked out the issue and all of the band members finished the extended version of the song.

That's the benefit of seeing a good band, singer, DJ, etc.
This happened at a Beck concert and the drummer played while everyone else did calisthenics until the music came back.
Old 07-09-13, 01:55 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Originally Posted by Dan View Post
I think a lot of modern DJs (say, the ones who use laptops, not turntables) do the majority of their work before the performance, setting things up. But, doing it live, they have to go with the flow. If a certain mix isn't keeping the audience interested, the DJ has to change things around to get the energy back. That's much easier said than done. The "performance" is more than making the music in that sense. It's working the crowd so they don't stop until the night is over.
I admit that seeing guys like DeadMau5 in a live performance would do nothing for me, but there are albums in the "DJ" genre that are pretty good. I also lean toward turntablists myself, but I'm also a fan of glitchy mathy noise sometimes too.
DeadMau5 gigs though are pretty much all light and smoke (okay maybe not so much of the latter) but still - he'll merge his songs with other popular songs to canvass a broad selection of styles and beats.

so far the best turntable mixing I've seen is from DJ Shadow - just watching him switching from one vinyl album to the next - including 45's is a visual and aural treat.
Old 07-09-13, 01:55 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

I really don't like or understand EDM, so I couldn't see paying for that type of DJ. But there is some very interesting stuff that can be heard from actual beat jugglers in DJ competitions, using more traditional types of breakbeats.
Old 07-09-13, 02:04 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

^ the problem is that the majority of music that is passed off to the masses (Sirius/XM's BPM, Electric Area)- is generic utter garbage.

there's a lot of new underground house, techno, electro songs being released that is superior to the syrupy cheesetastic dreck 'trance' tracks that is becoming more and more prevalent - and don't get me started on the dub 'bro' step genre -
Old 07-09-13, 02:11 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Originally Posted by Giles View Post
and don't get me started on the dub 'bro' step genre -


I saw Big Gigantic live recently and would absolutely see them again.
Old 07-09-13, 02:16 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Originally Posted by CRM114 View Post
But the actual question I'd like to know the answer to is what do they actually do?
They wear elaborate masks now. So, there's that.
Old 07-09-13, 03:20 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Originally Posted by CRM114 View Post
But the actual question I'd like to know the answer to is what do they actually do?
I watched the same show and came away with the same feeling
pretty much seems like technology has advanced so far most of the hard work is done pre set

more importantly what do the cameramen for AXS do? and why do they keep shooting the same stupid crowd members (for whom I had nicknames for each based on their stupid actions everytime the camera lens was put on them)
Old 07-09-13, 03:37 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Originally Posted by musick View Post
I watched the same show and came away with the same feeling
pretty much seems like technology has advanced so far most of the hard work is done pre set

more importantly what do the cameramen for AXS do? and why do they keep shooting the same stupid crowd members (for whom I had nicknames for each based on their stupid actions everytime the camera lens was put on them)
correct, when a DJ is using a laptop computer and/or usb harddrives - it isn't rocket science any longer.
Old 07-09-13, 03:56 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Originally Posted by Giles View Post
correct, when a DJ is using a laptop computer and/or usb harddrives - it isn't rocket science any longer.
even funnier that BBB was trying to look so busy/involved that he required a second person on stage with a mic to do all the "put your hands in the air" call outs for him
Old 07-09-13, 04:05 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Who plays the laptop in the London Symphony Orchestra?
Old 07-09-13, 04:35 PM
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Re: Can some explain DJs to me?

Very simple: electronic musicians need to play live to make money. Therefore, electronic musicians appear on stage twiddling knobs while prerecorded tracks play in the background. People pay for this because the live "remix" versions they play live can often be very good (see Daft Punk Live '07), the stage show has pretty lights and it's fun (apparently) to be surrounded by a stadium full of teenagers on E wearing cookie monster backpacks. Everyone wins!

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