Admittedly I have held an aversion to iPods and the digital DJ software of this decade. Like the unfounded resentment you hold against your high school girlfriend’s adult husband, I was certain digital DJing could not compare to my old school analog love.
The ease of acquiring 50 billion gigs of music by the swap of a few hard drives undermined the single most important quality of any kind of DJ no matter the genre: selection. Prior to proliferation of compressed digital music, selection was largely based on a DJs ability to acquire and refine the ability to organize, select and master their material collection of music to maximize their ability to entertain. Even during that interim period of vinyl and mp3s, my man’s Cap Cee’s CD/DJ operation required a precise ability to manage a 50 book collection, recalling what CD and what track he wanted.
But I have come to the conclusion after watching Cap Cee and other digi MacBook DJs rock crowds with their Serato aided ability to mix and blend, I realize that effective DJs still very much employ the crucial skill of selection. If anything, I believe we are coming full circle to another renaissance period similar to 1970s and early 80s where a DJ who hones their craft can elevate party people to other worldly experiences.
The stories of the Paradise Garage or Bronx Hip Hop or Detroit’s Music Initiative are the legends of pioneering DJs crafting great breakthrough audio experiences, fortifying a communal subculture and transforming a night of dancing into a genre. All of these movements evolved from audiences being elevated by innovative DJ selection and production that united the immediate faithful and attracted critical interest after the fact.
As this decade re-establised the DJ as a connoisseur of the infinite digital pop music galaxy, I forsee communities and movements organizing themselves around the most talented, visionary DJs who have developed their own sound and particular experience. Why? Because as I listen to Pandora pick songs based upon a logarithm tailored to our tastes, it is evident how fractured and rare communal pop experiences are these days. Between iPods, the taboo of playing music in public spaces and the decline of terrestrial radio’s influence, the possibility of a worldwide- even nationwide- “Thriller” anymore are slim to none.
DJs may combat this alienation by making it a point to create their own particular palate of sounds. This will be of especially good news to the alternative/underground band/artist that live a life of quiet desperation presently. Think, the alternative artist’s whole mystique- championing the purposeful effort fans must make to discover your music, celebrating that the world at large doesn’t even know the artists name- is no longer a badge of honor but status quo. The underground is now united in anonymity, its obfuscation more monotonous than dangerous. When a DJ finds ways to take the unacknowledged and put it into a popular context, the rising tide elevates all involved.
I have purposely avoided the dramatic rhetoric of calling DJs “high priests of the dancefloor” or other such nonsense to try to deflect the inherent self service of my thesis. Think of DJs more as musical traffic cops, performing as both educator and entertainer. The best DJs will balance populist requests with daring selections that attempt to push the envelopes of audiences tastes and expectations. Otherwise, the pop music experience will be one of listeners united only by the banality of hard drive storage space, infinite choices and the loneliness of automated shuffle.