The Art of DJing.

art of djing Is it better or worse to play vinyl, CD’s or another computer based mixing programme?

This is a question I have been asked many times in the past, even argued, but always discussed at length, with no real true outcome that everyone is happy with. I have therefore taken it upon myself to delve into our obsession with DJ’s, Music, Mixing and computers to finally put this argument/discussion to bed.

I start with a very short and brief history lesson…..

For many years Vinyl was the undisputed king of the DJs media formats. From the early days of the Jamaican “Selecta” right through the invention of the Technics SL1200 Turntable. With its solid build and the ability to be able to change and control the pitch or speed of a record. This then allowed the DJ to match the beats of 2 records and blend them “seamlessly together, which totally revolutionised the DJ’s job and creativity and with the birth of hip hop and scratching it was taken to a whole new level.

It was DJ’s like Mike Allen and Tim Westwood playing on London based radio stations that were leading the way with Electro and hip hop sounds coming from the states in the early-mid 80’s. The scene started to split in different directions with the introduction of Gangsta Rap, a more edgy and violent style of hip hop which some DJs followed. Some followed the path of electro which seem better suited to be played in clubs alongside the main stream dance music that was thrown out of the late 80’s including the invasion of Italian piano house.

It was at this point the bedroom DJ really began to grow. Technics turntables were still very expensive and it was only a few who were really serious that could afford the mighty SL1200’s. Not only did you have to buy the turntables and the sound system to go with them, you also had to buy the 12” records on import. These records sometimes costing as much as £15 for a single and £18 for an import double pack, these were not the sort of records that HMV stocked or could even get hold of. There was also no Beatport or file sharing, or even computers for that matter so if you wanted to get hold of the most upfront music, then Vinyl was the only way.

art of djingSo this laid the foundation for the DJ phenomena to take a hold of the youth of the day, a phenomenon that is still going almost 20 years later. The DJ turned from a geeky guy who was on the radio or doing a wedding or a disco at the local pub/social club or nightclub into a superstar who travelled all over the country, then as the music spread, all over the world. All of a sudden everybody wanted to be a DJ!

With the foundations well and truly laid and the invention of digital media and communications the chosen format of the DJ’s started to change. With the invention of the variable speed CD players and ultimately the pioneer CDJ1000 this begun to see the demise of vinyl, and the use of it. It suddenly became a very expensive medium to produce records and even sell enough records to pay for the processing of the vinyl, when a track can be made in a studio or a laptop and played in a club almost instantly. The CDJ1000’s gave the DJ’s much more scope and versatility whilst playing and with the added advantage of being much more portable that Vinyl. This was especially welcomed by the international DJ’s, who’s tour could be ruined by the loss of a record box.

As the digital age forged ahead it became possible for DJ’s to acquire programmes for their laptop’s to be able to play music direct from their computers through the mixer and onto the main sound system in a club, through various different programmes, some that even mix the records together! There for removing the task of actually having to have the ability to “MIX” 2 tracks together.

It’s at this juncture in time that I feel the need to discuss this new style of “DJing”.

Many people have come up to me whilst playing music over the last few years, since the invention of CD players for clubs and even more recent the invention of computer programmes to play and “Mix” music with a laptop. It has caused many arguments and conversations about whether this new style of mixing and playing music can even be called DJing. I have been told that playing CD’s is not the same as vinyl and it’s in some way cheating. I have been told that only real DJ’s play vinyl and would never be seen dead playing a CD, let alone a laptop! I have been told that vinyl sounds so much better than CD’s and CD’s sound even better than laptops!

It’s at this point I stop listening!

art of djingYes, DJing is an art form. It may have many different guises and may not even be seen as DJing by some. But let’s look at what a DJ actually does. He or she programmes music for other people to listen to, for their pleasure. They get paid sometimes a great deal of money, the ones who do have clearly worked very hard for that privilege. Most DJ’s or programmers want their audience to enjoy what they are doing, and therefore use whatever media tools are at their disposal to do so. So why should they be chastised by others who call it cheating or not real DJing because they use CD’s or computer programmes to aid with their DJing and set programming.

My synopsis is this. Mixing is something you can teach a monkey to do, if you can count to 4 then you’re pretty much there when it comes to the ability to mix 2 tracks together.

Therefore, the art of mixing is taken out of the equation. But the ability to mix the right 2 records together to create a set is an art. It is the art of reading a crowd and music programming, this is where the boundaries of a real DJ lie. Being able to create a set from whatever media is available to you and to entertain people is a real talent.

So to all of you that say that a certain DJ is not a real DJ any more because he or she is not playing records, I suggest that you are wrong. Feel free to discuss this matter but remember where the true talent lies.

The Oxford dictionary’s definition of the word “DJ” is – Playing recorded music. Someone who plays records or recorded music for the entertainment of others whether at a live dance or on the radio. A dinner jacket.

With the exception of that last sentence, I rest my case.

Big up my Selecta!

Alex Ellenger.

Alex is one of the long time serving resident Ibiza DJ’s. Most nights he can be found as resident at Eden. He is also co-owner Viva empire with Nathan Viva. Viva! Bar, Hotel, Coffee…for now….

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art of djing