18 January 2017

Hmmm, reflections of the aging DJ.



Hmmm, reflections of the ageing DJ. Does one just sit fading away to invisible non entity as one has been on-going since birth or does one embrace the bull by the mixed metaphoric throat and throttle till one’s eyes pop and lips turn blue. I just want you to know it helps me forget the past. By constantly and enthusiastically craving the future present one’s moves forward lives and changes in adaptation and remains relevant.

So, anyway, the meatballs have been fried off till they were brown and are now cooking in the tomato sauce. A sauce enhanced with a lick of red wine and other secret ingredients others would be repulsed to hear goes into such a wonderful concoction. But a chefs secrets are like a DJ’s secrets and must remain a part of that individuals armoury and not divulged under pain of any wanton duress. Spaghetti is on anyway and the Red Dragon mustard and ale cheese grated ready for the purpose so designated. A decent bottle of red is already open and the first glass swigged by yours truly as if the elixir contained therein would offer some addition superpower yet unseen in sober circles. Embers blown in existence by a lifelong loathing of the red stuff and various vain attempts to cultivate a differing viewpoint towards the devils juice recently nurtured further by an unhealthy obsession with the Vivino app that fuel compulsive photos of wine labels and bell endy and meaningless comments received with nary a “hmm, three point five stars…” This engenders hours of perusal in the local wine shop as I photograph wine bottles in ever increasingly desperate attempts to find a bloody good bottle of wine that everyone has missed. Alas to no avail so far. Since I discovered my inner wine bore I now snatch menus out of friends hands and photograph and upload the wine list to get the highest rated bottle on it then quiz my hapless friends and the wine waiter on their findings much to their bored and disillusioned chagrin.

A knock at the door brings me out of my self satisfied wine reverie and indicates the start of the "session two" radio recording evening. These evening are designated a Wednesday slot and myself, Simon Bounds and Jon Priddy assemble for the fatuous purpose of recording another Ramsgate Music Hall Radio show. Main purpose; “the bants”.

By the time we’re all assembled at, ahem, 6.30pm and have cooked, served, eaten some food, drunk a couple of bottles of wine / cocktails / beers (delete as applicable) and had a bit of a chat (I use that phrase loosely as geeing everyone up into the studio may take upwards of 20 addition minutes of persuasion) the land grab begins. There are only two “proper” chairs or chairs with wheels that can spin around. The third is a directors camping chair designated to the one who is not the engineer or the DJ preparing and delivering links. It is a way away from the microphone and any bantery contributions tend to sound like they were delivered just before the deliverer left the room. This is usually Simon. For the first hour anyway (wink).

The first ever effort the week before didn’t come off too well, sorry, badly. I’d arrived at Jon’s place. Everything was set up and ready to go. I thought great. “Nice chicken curry ready in the pot” says J through a cold so heavy I thought he was taking the piss by putting on a really stuffy nose accent. “Dice dicken durry ready in da pot” it sounded like. 

Phone rings. It’s Si. Calling in sick. “Terrible cold mate”, he says. Or "derrible dold made". Luckily I’d prepared an hour set and had an hour mix already in the bag. By the time we’d eaten etc. etc. time was cracking on. Heavy work duties that day and a fabulous prospect of work again in the morning helped the urgency of the recording session crack along at a nice rate. Unfortunately Jon's daughter had a improv visit to the off license around 10 so we managed to get alcoholed up pretty, pretty late in the evening for us. Hey, we're 50. It was 10pm. It was bed time. 

The show was produced by recording the voice overs then editing them on top the recorded music. This seemed to work OKish but as expected the bants free nature of the interaction with each other (Jon cold, Simon absent) proved too much to bear and it ended up sounding like a work weary Geordie ploughing through something that he had to endure rather than endear.

A few weeks after the third one was recorded the first show has still not been “mastered” and broadcast yet so we now have a few in the pipe. Like a puppy pissing on the carpet I have 6 or so sets already recorded and researched and am just waiting to get back in the studio with the boys to finish it all off. More on this soon.


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.

16 January 2017

Vinyl affinity



Observing the current nostalgia wave in the media about the love and joys of vinyl records and the golden age of vinyl it was interesting observing the various accounts of relationships people have with vinyl and how it links into deep memories concerning key moments in their development. Except that Danny Baker programme; he was annoying.

But in all of this no one really gave the jobbing DJ’s point of view? You may perceive this as yet another rant against vinyl but that is far from the reason this is going down on paper. Vinyl was such a close part of my life for such a long time. From 1977 to 2011 it was the primary media used to get the dance floors moving. These are my old humble routines repeated over the decades and my new routine repeated over the past few years.

Vinyl

  • Get up on Saturday morning, get ready to go out and drive to the record shop (in my case 7 miles away to Canterbury – a fucker of a city for parking). (1)
  • Plough through all the records the record shop owner had decided were the ones that would probably sell the most that week; you don’t even get to listen to ALL the releases that week. (2)
  • Lifting them up and carrying them to the record player.
  • Finding the correct end to open.
  • Removing from sleeve and inner sleeve.
  • Placing on turntable.
  • Lifting needle and placing on the first track (needles usually fucked anyway in record shops).
  • Listening. Ah, the good bit.
  • Skipping record forward through the tracks being careful not to scratch or damage it any more than it already was.
  • Turning over and repeating for the other side.
  • Removing the arm from the record on the deck and placing the record back in inner sleeve then back in cover then back in the pile.
  • Taking pile back to record seller and repeating till budgetary requirements met. (3)
  • Get annoyed at how many times you have to take records out of covers, out of sleeves, put on decks and lift arms over and then put back in sleeves then covers. (4)
  • Take home. (5)
  • Repeat record shop process as you listen to every track more  fully and roughly sort them into some coherent set that is linked together and progresses in some cycle upwards to a peak them back down (optional) thus having a new half hour or so for your gig this Saturday. (6)
  • Put these in box with around 50 others all listened to, sorted and ready to play.
  • Carry all 20kg of records to gig. (7)
  • Put on floor near decks. (8)
  • Kneel down pick first tune, stand up, remove from cover, remove from sleeve, place on deck, lift and place needle on record, cue up, cue in, cue out, remove needle, remove record from deck, kneel down, return record to inner sleeve, return record to outer sleeve, return record to box, choose next tune…
  • Repeat above step 25 – 50 (depending on length of set) each time these movements are performed the DJ gets so used to doing that he speeds up and barely notices the whole process. All he’s eventually thinking about is the sequencing of tunes relating to seen and perceived future dance floor reaction. The fact that they are records and you have go through this process; don’t notice.
  • Wonder why your back is fucked after 35 years of doing this this.


Digital

  • Get up any day you are free and spark up the computer.
  • Stay at home. Stay in your underpants. Scratch your balls. Put the coffee on.
  • Listen to ALL the new releases that week. In my case; deep house, house, tech house, chill out. I listen to the top 100 of each category till I've got my £50’s worth. The rest I can’t afford I just keep in my basket till more money appears.
  • Download and play. Sort into set/sets.
  • Carry computer to gig.
  • Play set but this time with more time to develop your set properly and to play with overlays, loops, samples, mixer setting, whatever.
  • Wonder why your back does not hurt any more.

See also - Damn the future; it's cheaper too!



(1)    Having perused the media, chiefly Black Echoes (now Echoes) and Mixmag. Black Echoes in them early days was a weekly paper with the nascent dance music scenes releases reviewed over two full pages by legendary ex Zigzag editor (1977) Kris Needs. I’d been reading it since the punk days as their reggae review section was essential reading for any reggae DJ at the time but his recommendations helped me negotiate and discover the fledgling techno and house scene. Needless to say a list of the hottest tunes was always in my hand to give to the record shop owner to try and get his hands on any of them at all.

(2)    Having worked later in a record shop myself chasing distribution company reps around the county and London, sitting on their living rooms with other shop workers listening to a box full of fresh tunes was fun and actually getting hold of imported records and their shrink wrapped delight, ‘still warm’ and fresh of the plane, was an achievement few could beat. Who could resist falling in love as you ran the sealed end of the record across your thigh to melt the sealed plastic to get into the goodies inside? The flasher DJ’s would of course open them in the club in front of everyone for maximum jealousy generating effect from the other DJ’s.

(3)    £50 could buy you 7 imports. Back in the early days British releases with 4 tracks were much sought after. Best value for money at £1.25 per track and snapped up at a fiver a pop. 10 of them for £50 and you had the makings of a decent set of brand new tunes for that.

(4)    Often not even noticed as the love of the music tended to overwhelm any of the repetitive logistics.

(5)    Glee and anticipation to the forefront of the emotions here. Barely noticed the drive back or the addition costs of fuel and parking.

(6)    Sometime done with other DJ’s in the same crew the Saturday ritual became something of a bonding session for the house devotees. We’d all get together and list to each other’s purchases commenting and jostling for deck time.

(7)    One box was usually the minimum but it was not unusual for DJ’s to carry 2 or 3 boxes especially if we were putting on an all-nighter or a weekend party.

(8)    Only if you cannot put it on a table near the decks.

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