17 January 2017

Damn the future; it’s cheaper.

Do you remember the first record you played?

“I don’t know, but I had a hell of a good time. And they paid me a lot of money, and I said ‘Wow, they paid me this much money’, and I would have paid them. I had that much fun”. (2)

pic from techtools - Keep Djing Fun article
I’m so old I remember being young back in the old glory days of the late 80’s and early 90’s when everything about the scene was shiny and new and interesting and it literally took me a few weeks of careful researching and probing about in all the record shops in Kent and London to get a set of around a couple of hour’s worth of new music together; maybe I was just fussy? When there were only 50 people in the whole country who could beat mix records properly and of those 50 only 20 played house music and of those 20 only 5 played deep house music and 4 of them were from DiY, someone must have been buying the records? They were so hard to find. Luckily in Canterbury we had the wonderful Fat Albert's Records then Mark Dettmar's little shop above Third Eye. At last we could look at Distributors' lists and attend secretive little gatherings where record shop owners got to listen to a crate of new tunes brought down from London fresh off the plane; white labels too. We could barely contain our excitement.

Finding a tune then was harder. Much harder.

These days you spend a fiver online, download a few ropey tracks, sort them out in a 'playlist' before the gig and when you’re there press ‘play’ and collect your money on the way out. Well, at least I do.

No storage issues because everything is on your laptop, no back problems carrying large, extremely heavy boxes of records because every track you have ever heard, seen, downloaded, borrowed, ripped from a CD, acquired, bought or created is on your 3TB external hard drive your 256Gb memory stick or your 2TB laptop.

Where has the actual work that used go into creating a really great and satisfying DJ set gone? I do know one thing though; all the donkey work has now vanished. That spending loads of time, and I do mean loads of time, travelling between record shops and flicking through pile after pile of unsuitable vinyl was soul destroying sometimes but the sheer joy of finding that wicked obscure B side, track 4, would shine a light on all the dark corners of my vinyl junkie life. Paying for the other 3 tracks, which were shite, was not a great prospect; unlike now when you can just buy the one track that you love.

Damn the future; it’s cheaper.

Talking with DJ Rosie tVC (the best female deep house DJ in East Kent don’t you know), when I went round to hers for some grub, to talk about chickens and gardening and to install an iffy version of Traktor Pro onto her laptop and to give her her first run through the GUI, we were laughing about the relative costs of a vinyl set up versus a laptop/Traktor set up. First, vinyl. Two decks, Technics SL1200’s, second hand £500 for a pair; two say, Ortofon Pro S cartridges at £60 a pop; a mixer, say a Pioneer DJM, £500; total around a grand. Second, Traktor; controller €199 each and you’ll need 2 if you want to work 4 decks; laptop £500; Traktor €199 if you want to pay for it; external hard drive £200; total cost around a grand. It was a quick conversation.

So, setup costs approximately the same; cost of the tunes substantially less with digital. Cost of travel substantially less with digital. One arm largely massively developed because of carrying record box around; substantially less with digital.

Damn the future; it’s cheaper.

Kit might be cheaper, tunes might be cheaper but the thing that hasn’t reduced in price over the years is the DJ’s own enthusiasm and dedication to the music. This costs a lot and demands substantial investment and must be maintained at all costs; lose it and you lose your drive for life. Despite the fact that some (well, one or two now and again) of the free parties and house parties I play these days are full of KetHeads sucking on a balloon and pissing their pants on the dance floor whilst asking you to roll a cigarette for them in a strange slow mo voice because they appear incapable of tying their own shoe laces, it does not put me off trying to get them up on the dance floor doing their funny wobbly legs, eye rolling, clinging on to nearby posts slash demolishing tables dance. Indeed, the dance floor is the only truly eclectic, egalitarian, respectful, democratic, temporary autonomous zone that we know of that tolerates any behaviour, any state of mind as long as they are moving to the music. Or trying to.

With the disappearance of MDMA from the dance scene and the massive uptake of ‘legal highs’ -  really dodgy, really iffy substitutes that really do not enhance the ego, club, party or dance one tiny iota - the music scene ploughs on through the dark days. I may even be mourning and feeling a tad nostalgic towards the highs of the cocaine fueled mid 90’s Hard House era. That lot were full on all night.

People will always want to get together regardless; get high and get dancing at the weekends no matter how shit the music and drugs are. DJ’s that continue to exude love, feeling, fervour and passion will play to anyone off their tits on anything and still get a vibe going to the best that is humanly possible.

Taking your passion and turning it into sound based youth or drug worker is just part of the job. Artistic sacrifice doesn’t come into it. For me anyway. I’ll still play the tunes that startle and prickle the hairs on the back of my neck to any dance floor at any time. If it’s later in the night the BPM’s go up; if it’s at dawn for the sunrise the BPM’s go down. Heart rate slows down as the night progresses. Same tunes different approach. I’ll always try and take the floor as low as it will go before cracking out a bullet. Oh yes.

So, the search for that elusive bullet remains a priority. Search, search, search your sorry little arse off. It is always the next tune you are going to listen too. So just listen to one more. So what if the interface of http://www.traxsource.com/ is a bit shit; persevere; they have and they relaunched the new GUI recently. So what if there is 540 new tracks released this week on http://www.juno.co.uk/; stick at it, use the filters because you know that track 539 may well be that stonker that makes your heart skip a beat and your breath catch in the throat and you just cannot wait to get it out to hear loud and see the dance floor reaction to it. Anyway, once your track becomes a massive download hit on http://www.beatport.com/ you’ll be ready to up your fee and head out to Ibiza. The place where it isn’t happening.

What happens when the passion, the commitment, the excitement turns into complacency and dread? What if the thought of another dribbling KetHead crawling into the DJ booth on their hands and knees to ask for a banging psytrance track you’ve never heard of is putting you off even contemplating going out ever again? Or a CokeHead ranting their nonstop diatribe into your ear until it hangs in shreds, bleeding, has you shivering with fear saying ‘never again’ and shaking your fist at the sky? Or some PissHead threatening to glass you unless you play some R&B track his missus likes? I’ll tell you what you do – you carry on; for God and for Harry, to fly the flag for DJ’s everywhere who have to put up with this, and more, week in week out, year in year out; who put up with it for the sake of the party, for the sake of music, for the sheer bloody joy all DJ’s have when the promoter taps you on the shoulder and goes “you’re on”, for that high is the highest of all the highs; knowing you’ve got the next couple of hours to steer in any direction you want, to take all the people in the club or field or beach on a journey of your choosing; to use all, any or just some of the new, available technology to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Francis Grasso - DJ God.

Just like Francis Grasso did in 1967 (3) when he invented slip-cueing, segueing and beat-matching. He could preview a record on one turntable while another played on the second turntable. Wow. By using headphones in combination with slip-cueing, he forever changed the art of DJing. He was “picking up on the energy of the crowd and sending that energy right back to them through the next track” (1).

Decks, CD’s, laptops, MP3’s, who gives a fuck what you use to get the message across? It’s the music and how you put it together and keep it flowing that matters and DJ’s should never, ever forget that.

Unless, of course, you hear those dreaded words and your heart sinks to new lows as your fellow sound system DJ taps you on the shoulder, just as you’re about to go on, and goes “Two’s up?” (4)

The internal scream sounds so loud the KetHead standing next to you with his hands down his trousers goes “What you screaming for?” (5)

Damn the future; it’s cheaper.

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Grasso

(2) http://www.djhistory.com/interviews/francis-grasso

(3) http://ped111251.tripod.com/francis.htm

(4) Only kidding Si ;-) Love them long marathons...

(5) I love them really. They are so soft and cuddly.