Peter Kirn just wrote an article about laptops in clubs for CDM. While he brought up reasonable points about practicality of laptops in clubs i think there’s a much more fundamental problem: we, as a culture, are about to or have already forgotten what a DJ is. Can one blame technology for that? I don’t think so.

How and why did i become a DJ?

It started for me when i was given the first Techno mixtape with 60 minutes of music i never heard before in ’91 when i was 15. What a blast – “This is my fix – i have to do this, too!”. So i got myself two crappy belt-driven turntables from the garbage collection and the possibly cheapest mixer i could find. As well as a job – cause i needed money for vinyls. Which meant a 90 minutes subway trip from my home to Container Records in Hamburg. I did it almost every day – either after school or my stupid job. And it took me years to record a mixtape that really satisfied me for the first time. Most importantly: i had no idea or concept of becoming a DJ. It eventually happened.

It’s about love for music

My story aligns with everything i heard from anyone i talked to over the years. There were no superstar DJs travelling around the globe for wages you could buy a new car from. Being a DJ until the mid 90s didn’t make sense from a financial point of view. Simply because you would take the money from last nights gig and invest the full monty in new vinyls. Which often meant to drive fucking hours to the next record store. I’ve had friends who frequently travelled from Hamburg to Amsterdam and London just to be the first ones with certain new releases.

Laurent Garnier recently talked about his beginnings at the Red Bull Music Academy. And he made some utterly important points.

“It became very clear to me that dancefloor music, so it was disco or reggae and stuff like that, was appealing to me and it became clear that music was my way to talk to people. To be someone. So I was doing tapes all time.”

Laurent Garnier during his RBMA lecture

And it strongly resonates with me – especially the being someone part. Because I defined myself through music for a long time. Maybe even hidden behind it. But that’s a different story. Anyway, great lecture. Thank you for sharing, Laurent! Anyway…

Great artists becoming shitty DJs

Imho it started during the 90s. As you might imagine building an own taste in music and honing the necessary skills to spin records takes years. While the underground scene emerged and the venues started attracting thousands on a regular base more and more producers also started with DJing. I frankly can’t say much about some of their intentions but some of the worst DJ sets i ever heard were played by producers i admired. It was obvious that they took the opportunity to play DJ gigs over live sets. And i can’t blame them. Carrying around the gear for a live gig, risking damage for considerably little money – why would you do that if you were offered an alternative? However, most of them never became good DJs in my book. Ever so often i had the impression that somebody just stood there for the “wrong” intentions.

The downside to the medal: the more half-hearted DJs got booked, the less who had a “true” intention of making people dance played out. That’s when club owners and bookers started to get things wrong – opting for money over quality behind the decks. Add a decade to the equation and a majority of clubbers maybe never danced to a damn good DJ. And it didn’t need laptops to happen. The issue is older than digital DJing technology: It’s money driven lack of awareness. No need to tell you about the multi-billion dollar business DJing has become. The question is:

How do you spot a passionate DJ?

You know, someone who doesn’t do it for the fame, money or just looking cool? Imho they

– pick you up where you are and take you on a trip – exactly like a good book
– love every track he or she plays and you can see it
– have an own sound and way of spinning you will be able to tell blindfoldedly
– can make you scream your heart out or just cry

It’s a love thing, passion for music. It’s about communicating. That’s how i try to explain to somebody who never left a club completely crushed what great DJs are capable of doing. And there have been many occasions in which i’ve been getting weird looks at first. Eventually after a while they return with a smile. “Ok, i know what you mean now.”