“I’m a professional DJ and I don’t mix”:
I once read an article about a full time gigging DJ who never mixed. EVER. We all know the type because they are pretty much everywhere, from weddings to school functions to random store openings. The guy literally shows up to an event with a carefully pre-selected iTunes playlist, and spends most of him time making sure the guests are having a good time, NOT mixing.
This particular professional DJ didn’t care for the way other “Djs” mocked him in that all he did was push play. His article wanted to set the record straight: he was just as good a DJ as any of the digital variety (with all the bells and whistles thrown into a set), if not better. Why was he better? Because he was getting referrals for future events, paying his bills, and apparently making the people dance. (All of this with iTunes auto-crossfade.)
The crux of the point was this: Djs can be overly egotistical and blind to the fact that the average club/bar hopper could care less about the DJ because their real concern is enjoying themselves. “Programming Djs” that create very deliberate playlists (i.e. iTunes DJ) and never touch a cue point or effect probably achieve this goal better than a digital DJ (“controllerist”) can with that meddling racket. Not only do programming djs have less limitations of what they play because issues like beatmatching and harmonic mixing are non-existent, but it is also much easier to play any request if you DJ in this fashion. So the truth is, it’s probably correct that for your average bar/club, a programmer who is willing to take and play request may be more suitable than those labeling themselves as “controllerists.”
A fundamental presumption underlying all this is that djing is a public sport. So if a DJ pleases a crowd in the iTunes fashion, he is in fact achieving the goal. I’ll contend that djing is not simply an occupation; it is a love-affair with music. (In today’s world, add a love of technology into that mix). All it takes to be a DJ today is your ipod and a dancefloor, therefore truly anybody can be a DJ.
Ask yourself one thing: do you want to be this kind of dj? Me neither. (I will say this right now, anyway you can support yourself financially is respectable, and I’m not trying to dog people paying the bills with this sort of gig. I actually have tremendous amount of respect for those guys, because they’re their own bosses and I’m not.)
So you may not consider yourself a DJ in this fashion, so what to call yourself? A “controllerist.” Controllerism is the art and practice of using musical software controllers, e.g. MIDI, to build upon, mix, scratch, remix, effect, modify, or otherwise create music. So anyone using Traktor fits some definition of a controllerist. (That’s probably YOU if you’re reading this.)
To simplify the definition: controllerists create music. Using other artists’ productions along with innovative gadgetry, we curate (select, blend, effect) our favorite art (tunes and sounds we love) inside of our own personal gallery (the mix). All you bedroom djs out there putting in work on sick mixes because you love it: you’re not just a jukebox, but in fact a Curator of Noise Art.
I’ve always been a massive music lover, but never played instruments. So for the majority of my life, my ability to interact with music was obviously extremely limited, so much so that I never really considered it an option. Before the recent wave of heavy electronic bass craziness, I had never even watched a DJ play a live set that wasn’t in a mundane club. And I definitely never paid money to watch someone dj.
As they say, the only constant in life is change, and in due time I found myself on the dance floor at my first rave/festival. Its nearly impossible to put the conversion experience into words, but suffice to say I’ve not looked back since. The music and the people and the way it all came together were a powerful thing to witness, surely like something I had never seen or felt before.
Once I experienced the mixed music on the dance floor, I stepped outside just listening to my own playlists of tracks I possessed, and sought out DJ mixes to hear new styles and sounds.
Since my conversion happened on Bassnectar’s dance floor, I went there first and found this:
[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/1432799" params="auto_play=false&show_artwork=true&color=e12020" width="100%" height="166" iframe="true" /]
I wanted more, and eventually came to a point where just listening to these incredibly well done controllerist mixes wasn’t going to be enough. I needed to join the fun. So, possessing that necessary hint of technocrat as we all do in this IT generation, enter Traktor; enter the S4 and those awesome Ean Golden S4 videos; enter the Midifighter; enter countless Youtube videos of people shredding controllerism routines; enter the perfect storm of easy music manipulation capability with an array of eager instructors.
After years and years of avid music consumption, the idea to curate art myself was apart of a natural progression (or evolution, as a fan of music) away from passive consumption, towards active participation- and therefore INTEGRATION WITH THE ART ITSELF.
Art is simply the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, and the works produced by such skill and imagination. So every time one of us busts our ass to create an awesome and unique mix, we are creating art.
Many of us have normal jobs in the customer service business (I bartend), and that is partly why we dj in the first place- to escape having to please others and just go about pleasing ourselves. Sure, we’d happily play out given a cool opportunity to CURATE our ART as we see it, but the last thing many of us want to do is play a set to a bunch of folks trying to hear some (insert music you don’t like here).
Truth is, many of us devoted bedroom controllerists do it simply because we love the thrill of a good knob twist. Speaking for myself, spending thousands on gear for a hobby that only I will enjoy is pretty much par for the course. (Surfing, snowboarding, golf, etc.).
To an extent, I agree with others when they say, “djing is a public sport.” But on the other hand, most of us pursue the hobbies we love without the bother of the opinions of others. Hobbyist bedroom controllerists don’t necessarily need to try to please others as much as get good at achieving the vision that they have inside their heads. All those hours of practice and learning does not mean people will pay to see it, and that’s ok because not everyone cares about that.
Does every person who goes and buys a guitar think, “I wonder when I’ll be good enough to play a wedding or maybe even a birthday party?” Nope. And just like in the world of hobby guitarists, many of us bedroom controllerists just want to rock out to our own favorite tunes, mixed in the way that is pleasing to us. Many would never dream of wanting to throw a playlist on automix at funerals and grad parties. Instead, we want to have fun creating a mix with our favorite tunes and favorite gear, on our own terms. We have to please people at our real jobs constantly, so last thing we want is to pander while playing music we barely even like!
According to the Djing is a public sport doctrine, Djs essentially play for the sake of making people dance. In many cases, this kind of DJ is our equivalent to the working man. Many tradesmen enjoy their jobs, but readily admit they are not serving up art, because the primary goal is creating a product that pleases the customer.
Controllerism is generally attempting to make some unique artifact using all the technical tools of digital djing as a creative outlet. In this case, usually the primary goal is not pleasing others on their Friday night, but some sort of creation of ART. (If this sort of controllerism is how you achieve your living, you’re likely a superstar DJ and probably don’t even need to read this!)
The point being, the modern “I’m a professional DJ but I don’t mix” scenario is just completely different to the average bedroom controllerist trying to trick out some of their favorite tracks. The term “DJ” used in the former is essentially a business title.
When you play out for money, the primary objective is pleasing the crowd. All those 9 to 5ers that have to slave away all day, but chose to come to a dark, loud place to spend their money on overpriced cocktails. The paid DJ plays to their tastes, their desires and whims. The paid DJ is just like the bartender or the waiter or the bus boy- just there to make sure the VIP’s have a good time, and want to come back.
Some people drive trucks for a living, some risk their lives for fun on motorcycles at 200 mph. Both of these activities are motor powered vehicles on wheels going from point A to point B, but the essence of these activities could not be any different. Similarly, commercial painters do projects for customers who need to serve their own agenda, whereas many paint at home as a hobby because they enjoy seeing the visions in their head manifested as splatters of paint on canvas. Both paint, but the essence of painting means two different things in this scenario. One is to sustain a livelihood; the other is to sustain the soul. This same logic applies to djing.
Considering many years of my own work experience bartending and being apart of the industry, rarely have I been inspired musically by a bar DJ. (If those djs were all I had ever heard, I would not be writing this article today.) It wasn’t until I got to a real show, with a real dj, that I knew I wanted to pursue it. What I witnessed at that moment wasn’t a Dj simply going through the motions, achieving point A to B. It was an insanely crazy mash-up of twisted sounds and awesomely intense bangers. That was experiencing the strange. That was experiencing ART. And that’s what left me shaking my head, not the club dj that killed the request box.
Ultimately, I’m speaking to the budding bedroom controllerist community out there. You know, the folks who dj as a hobby, with the ultimate goal of having FUN.
When you the bedroom controllerist practice your art, strive to be like the people who inspired you to play with music in the first place: those dope ass art curators that blended sounds and tunes in a way that surprised and stimulated you. Be that artist, in control of the gallery display, meticulously adding your own touch to the whole experience. Put your soul into it. Make it yours.
If you work hard at this, you’ll find yourself in a space where we you’re not simply just a Dj going from point A to B, but a curator of your own artistic vision. After all, if you want to touch others with your art, it’s got to touch YOU first.
Author credit: Philosurfer