- Published Jul 1, 2013 in On Stage
Jami McGraw talks with DJ JasonK and Innerfuze on the state of DJ music, equipment and performance style.
In line out in front of the club, I can hear the sub bass shaking the rafters, nearly paralleling my heart beat as I anxiously wait to get in. As I walk into the dark smoky venue, I catch my bearings and b-line straight to the bar as if it was my raft in a sea of sweaty pulsing bodies. Amazingly, this mass of people all seem to be moving together; separate, yet somehow in unison. I motion to the bartender to gain her attention, when I zero in on a small lit area just above the dance floor. There was the DJ, the puppet master, controlling this sea of people that was slowly engulfing me, and yet I couldn't help but feel hypnotized into diving in. This was miles away from the "Hey Mr. DJ" days, and what seems like light years from "Putting another dime in the jukebox" It dawned on me at that moment just how important the performance of this DJ was to their arena. The night depended on it… 500 people out to have fun, to express themselves, to sweat out the trials and tribulations of the week passed, and it all seemed to fall into one person's hands…
Through my research, I have come to find there are two basic DJ's, and to simplify I will describe them as a traveling DJ and a resident DJ.
Setting the scene
To set the scene for each, I will briefly describe a typical situation for each DJ. A resident DJ is a DJ that plays at a single location as the ‘House" DJ. That's not to say that they don't play anywhere else, but for all intents and purposes, their home venue is their main ‘gig'. A resident DJ knows his/her venue well, and can "settle in' with their gear more so, providing the advantage of being acquainted with the sound system they will ultimately be tieing in to. Because they don't have to travel with their gear, a resident DJ has less need for portable setup, and really has little limit to the amount of overhead they can create. Often, tied into the house "sound system" will be a high-end desktop or rack mount computer, which really gives the advantage of near limitless power under the "hood". Some of the ‘cons' of a situation like this is that you are in fact playing the same venue night after night, often to a similar crowd. This puts a lot more pressure to change up the set, and bring new "tricks" to light so they don't play themselves out.
Traveling DJ's either tour or plays a number of venues similar to that of a band or artist that gets booked at a number of venues. A traveling DJ has the advantage of different scenery on a nightly basis, but the physical overhead of having to travel puts more of a stress on the ‘mobile' factor, as their studio needs ot be portable. A traveling DJ can have similar sets that they can alter somewhat, but don't have the concern of playing themselves out as much, because they are seeing fresh faces regularly. One of the disadvantages is that there is little time to settle in to a location. While said DJ's mis-en-place will remain consistent, often they are at the grace of the house system, which may or may not be such a great setup, or worse, they must bring their own sound system, which anyone who has setup a PA system or sound system before a gig knows, sucks…
With all things considered, our two DJ's have their share of pro's and con's, but ultimately have the same job, to play puppeteer to a crowd that does not forgive "missing a beat" Let us discuss, in a "Tale of Two DJ's.
Q&A with DJ JasonK
I first set out to interview DJ JasonK from Upstate NY. Jason is a resident DJ at a large venue that regularly sees 300-600 people on a Saturday night. Jason runs his setup using a desktop computer utilizing a program that also does video output to a large projection screen. We asked Jason a number of questions, and here is what he had to say.
Q: Jason, in a market that seems to be flooded with new DJ's how do you stay on topof your game to play night after night to a hyped up crowd?
A: "It seems that no matter what set I have in mind, people will come up to me throughout the night and ask for requests, some are songs I haven't even heard yet. I often download songs on the spot to make sure that I deliver. The thing is, if I play songs that people want to hear, they are going to come back. Although, a lot of times, I can anticipate what the mood of the floor is gonna be. I don't think it's about having the latest gear, or newest songs, but about each night one at a time. I let the crowd dictate the night, and I take them on a rollercoaster ride, ya know… play with them. This way it never gets old, every night is its own beast."
Q: While for years, the DJ has remained the unsung hero of the nightclub dance floor, and house, trance, club etc. music was "underground" , it appears now that this style is becoming more ‘mainstream'. Guys like Deadmau5 and Armen Van Buren (to name a few) are taking DJ'ing to a whole new level. What's your take on this, and how do you think it will affect the industry.
A: "What I think is happening is that the "mainstream' audience is no longer satisfied with ‘mainstream' music. People are tired of the same old sounds and loops being shoved down their throats, so they are looking to that underground sound. Fortunately, it's no longer underground though. Finding something new and fresh is really just a click away. What I think is happening is initially you have every kid with a turntable or software on their laptop claiming to be a DJ, but eventually they weed themselves out, and you are left with a ton of different styles and feels. Suddenly there is this melting pot of sounds and styles that really make anything possible."
Q: We saw this happen to rock music, where Rock n' Roll became rock, metal, pop rock, alternative, blues rock, thrash, grindcore, emo, hardcore etc… ad-nauseum. There seems to be an infinite amount of sub genre's clogging the music industry that seems more like high school cliques then ways of describing a type of music. Now with DJ's, where once there was the guy in the back of the video with headphones and turntables, you now have rap dj's, scratch, house, club, wedding, karaoke etc. etc. What do you make of all this? Do you find you gravitate towards any particular style?
A: "Yea, I'm not sure I buy into all that. I've been at this a long time. My father ran a karaoke gig for years, and I would go with him since I was little. Regardless of the genre or label, it's always been about keeping people entertained. A DJ by today's standards does so much more than just put up a playlist on their IPOD; they need to also be the MC, the musician, the artist, the producer. I just keep doing my thing, and let everyone else worry about the label."
Q&A with Eric Hodge (AKA Innerfuze)
Next, I made my way up to Boston, Mass to meet with Eric Hodge, better known as ‘Innerfuze' from Vermin Street Records, and experimental Electronica label. Eric travels throughout the East Coast playing large clubs and venues. Eric is also a producer and artist as well, crafting his own beats and samples in much of his original work.
Q: I see a lot of DJ's performing now, well beyond just playing songs or loops/beats, some even playing live instruments while they DJ. What's your take on this ‘evolution'?
A: "I think it's great to see. It used to be that DJ's played their turntables like an instrument, where everything was analog, and you worked off vinyl. As technology advanced, we started seeing software that did all of that for you with the push of a button. Being a DJ became synonymous with knowing a piece of software really well. To me, that kind of detracted from what many of us worked so hard at. We would spend hours working with a chain of outboard gear, like 15 units deep; just to get that filter sound, or mod noise that made the kids jump around. A few years later, there is a plugin that replicates that with a single knob, which to me was frustrating. But at the same time, it has definitely come full circle. Outboard analog gear is still in my lineup. DJ's are playing instruments to show their versatility. Rather than using some generic loop off of a piece of software, I'm going out with a field recorder and finding sounds in everyday life that I use as samples with my midi trigger. Going that extra step can be risky, especially when you're live, and there is no failsafe. It's like, if I screw this up, I'm %^&ed, but by the same token, if I pull this off, it will be sick. I think all and all, in anything you have to work hard to be great. Especially when it's becoming easier and easier to be good, the bar keeps raising, so you HAVE to go that extra step."
Q: Even as recent as 10 years ago, without a label, it was nearly impossible to get worldwide attention on your own. Now, in a moment you can have the ear of anyone, anywhere. How do you think this has affected the DJ world?
A: "The ability to utilize social media and the internet has served as invaluable to music as a whole. There are so many ways to hear new music, to be exposed to new things. This is why smaller labels are thriving, and big labels are having so much trouble. I can put up a song, put a link out on Twitter, and 10 minutes later get feedback from someone across the world. Most clubs don't have a built in crowd anymore, so it really is up to the artist to have a following. Using social media like Facebook, Twitter and web promotion is how I let my fans keep track of what I'm up to. I think we are going to see this sort of thing evolve even more, especially since this type of interaction has been engrained on the younger generation so early."
Q: In a technology driven world, how important is technology to today's DJ?
A: I used to think I had to have the fastest, newest technology out there in order to make music. That having more would make my music better. First and foremost I have always been a producer more than a DJ. I learned very quickly that it was not about ‘more'. It was about consistency and stability. As long as I didn't have to concern myself with technical problems, I have never hit a wall where I said, 'this song would be great if I only had more RAM'. One of the reasons I use Rain is because I had so many problems technically that it inhibited my creative flow. Now I focus on stretching out and making music. Don't get me wrong; I have failsafe's built in when I go live. I never want to be left without a backup in front of a crowd; where failure is NOT an option. There is no amount of technology that is going to make someone a better musician, performer, DJ etc. You have it or you don't, the technology is just a medium."
The beat goes on
As I was driving home to New York, I found myself amidst one of those moments we all have when driving a long distance; no radio or music on, absolute silence, and yet I had this beat in my head that I could not stop tapping on the steering wheel. I was still absorbing all that I had learned from talking to both Jason and Eric, and still immersed in the sub frequencies that I had been swimming in the night before. It amazed me how two very different people had so many similar ideas about what it was to be a DJ, yet had such totally different sounds and atmospheres. As I passed the miles, i pondered what it must be like to have so many people in the "palm" of your dance floor, and found myself reaching for the radio, hoping the DJ would be playing my favorite song.