Fame Vs. Underground

It’s an interesting debate and a subject that many DJ’s find difficult to navigate.  Just as there is a fine line between genius and insanity, a similar line can be found separating DJ’s between Fame and Underground.

I am sure many of you out there have different reasons for why you want to become, or have become a DJ.  I would say however, that the 3 most prominent reasons are Music, Money or recognition.  I feel it a shame that the latter 2 even be contenders, but unfortunately in this day and age, greed and narcissism are very real diseases.

Greed monster

Most of us I would assume are in this industry because we love the music.  The love of music brings people together and over time certain DJ’s garner a following.  The music they play combined with their personalities, attract attention and people slowly turn into fans. The fan base grows and grows until a certain breaking point is reached.  This breaking point is represented by a fork in the road, the choice at this point can be the biggest decision a DJ has to make and will continue to pop up through his or her career.  So which path do you take; Fame or Underground?

Underground DJ’s still acquire a certain level of fame, but their recognition never makes the mainstream.  Jamie Jones for instance has been a big hitter in the underground dance scene for some time now, but in recent months he presented the essential selection for Radio One.

Due to the nature of Jamie’s record selection and his attitude towards music, he has certainly acquired a great deal of fame, but he somehow manages to contain this and keep out of the limelight and mainstream media.  This type of self management requires a great deal of skill and Jamie seems to be pulling it off very nicely.
So what is it that enables DJ’s to make this distinction and to steer a straight path away from the the limelight?  I have asked this very question of the Crosstown Rebels and Jamie Jones.  Their response has not been received at the time of publication.


Fame and Money – In a recent article by Forbes magazine they placed DJ Tiesto at the top of the pile with his yearly earnings at $14 million.  Now we all like to be rewarded for our skills and efforts, but does anyone else find this a little excessive?  I am sure Tiesto doesn’t mind having all that money, but has his love of the music been tarnished by the necessity of focusing on the next marketing strategy or the bottom line?  With money, comes pressures and also a loss of control.  Record labels and agencies take control of your creativity, turning your act into a product.  There is even a magic formula for chord progressions in modern day pop music, a formula that creates hits.  Just go ahead and search the internet for some information.  Here is one interesting article I found – Hooktheory.

So instead of becoming somebodies ticket to money, a strong will is required to avoid the pop culture and ‘sellout’ status in order to remain underground.

What do you think, is it ‘selling out’ or just setting your sights high?
Let us know in the comments below…….

photo credit: origami_potato via photopin cc
photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc


7 thoughts on “Fame Vs. Underground

  1. P.S. To respond to something specific in your reply.

    “True underground began when clubs didn’t exist and raves had not become subject to various laws.”
    1. Clubs always existed and without them raves would not have existed. ei: The Warehouse, Paradise Garage, The Loft etc. etc.

    2. Since I came into involvement with dance music (1988) people have been saying the same thing as we are talking about. The commercialization on something that was once more pure. It has always been like that. There have been mainstream elements, hype, greed, super-stars, cheesy promoters, all that stuff, since the beginning, well before I got there certainly. The underground vs. mainstream question is something that surpasses any one era or subculture.

    Today it is Tiesto or Guetta, in the 90s it was Eurobeat, in the 70s it was ABBA and Saturday Night Fever… all the same shit.

    Perhaps to younger people, it is your perspective of personally where you were at when you entered the “scene”. It seems like a purer time, because for you it was. For me, the late 80s Chicago House movement, and the early 90s beginnings of rave were so pure and real. But to folks who had already been in it since the 80s or even 70s, there was plenty of things to complain about, similar to what we are talking about. I often heard people back then talk about the good ol’ days! same as now. The more things change, the more they stay the same IMO. Underground, mainstream in dance music and club culture… nothing new.

    Cheers. RF

    1. I appreciate and understand your points of view here, and you are right. Each person has their sweet spot in the ‘scene’, I guess similarly to how a small town becomes a city; it’ll never be how it used to be. Same as the scene in human traffic “do you remember when this used be……(insert favorite venue).”

      Maybe the choice if Jamie Jones was a poor one for the purpose of this article? The two worlds may not be as far apart as I initially believed. Perhaps it’s all just a matter of taste!? Once it used to be cool to wear Burberry, then it was the worst thing ever cos everyone was wearin it.

      The point of this article was more aimed at questioning the DJ’s purpose. Are they in it for the money and fame or for the love of music. Either way, the love of music could lead to fame, be it wanted or not! A great subject for a philosophers cafe style discussion.

      I really appreciate your involvement and comments and encourage more writing from you. Thanks.

      1. Is it not cool to wear Burberry anymore? Jeez, I’m rather fond of that classic plaid. 😉

        No probs, enjoyed the chat! Thanks for hearing me out. It’s rare on the internet I think to have an opposing viewpoint met with reason and contemplation, I respect that!

        Cheers, all the best with the Traktor Tips, I’ll be frequenting the site no doubt.


      2. Haha. Likewise! I’d be happy to see a shot of you in full Burberry track suit and cap. (I think maybe England is the place it’s lost it’s cool) too many Eastenders wearing it. (In the interests of fairness – I mean no one harm with these comments)

  2. Even in this article the “underground” is represented by a super famous artist, Jamie Jones, a great artist, but who is popular with all the right hipsters in the clubbing world and supported heavily by music media, promoters, clubs and agencies. The real underground is made of artists that can’t get weekly gigs in Ibiza, who are not mainstage at Movement or WMC but still keep making incredible music that you have to dig deeper than Beatport’s top 10 “Tech-House” chart to find. You haven’t heard of the artists who are truly underground, unless you are truly underground. There is very little difference in my opinion to how “mainstream” music works and today’s so called “underground” club industry. Hype, popularity, money etc. rule, and decide who plays and who doesn’t and it’s why you know who Jamie Jones is but not other equally as amazing artists and why so called “underground” promoters want to book him, and not them. When people throw around the word “underground” now it is generally in the most superficial and pretentious way. This article is a good representation of what I am talking about, no offence. Peace. -RF

    1. Thanks for your words, this certainly throws a little more light on it. It now seems that we could split underground into two categories: “True Underground” and “Mainstream Underground”.

      I guess the question still remains however, how does one remain in the mainstream underground or even the true underground as a DJ? If as a DJ you are playing small underground venues, does that not get tiresome and the thirst for a bigger stage begins to call. True underground began when clubs didn’t exist and raves had not become subject to various laws. It was a gathering of like minded people with a love for music and dancing. Now it appears to have been monetized and capitalized on.

      If one is on the cutting edge if music and seeks out those little gems of a track or even down and dirty venues, isn’t it true that those tracks become popular, as do the venues? Then what? When it becomes popular and you start making a name for yourself, do you quit, move on, tell everyone their tastes suck (even though it was you that made it what it is).
      It seems as though there is a fine line and a tough to manage scene that is governed by becoming too good or too popular.

      How does a DJ “make it” in the “True Underground” scene!!?

      1. Well, apart from pointing out what I already have, I am not going to try to present myself as some kind of authority on what is and isn’t “True Underground’. I think a lot of that is subjective and different perspectives can see such a topic in vastly different ways, many of them legitimate. Personally, I think “making it” isn’t part of the original, or “true’ underground spirit, I mean totally at it’s essence. It was (and still is for many) about creating art and experiencing art with like-minded folks etc. So “making it” might just be creating a really great track. “making it” might be dancing with your friends in a dark room to an anonymous acid house track… whatever. Who knows? It is what it is. One thing I do know is that just calling something “underground” because it’s not trance or top 40 is the usual these days, and that is what I was pointing out. I am not saying what Jamie Jones, or any other artist is doing is legit or not… I would love to be playing more gigs, lots of artists would. I would love to sell more records, lots of artists would. Does that make what I do “underground” or not.. who knows. And in the end, who cares? It’s just stuff to think about. What I was pointing out in my post was simply that the artist you used to exemplify “underground” was in fact, quite famous, and that there is tons and tons of artists you haven’t heard of that represent, against their will or not, the “underground” of dance music more definitively and the reason people haven’t heard of them is the same reason you chose Jamie for your example… like I said, stuff to think about. As for how to “make it”. I have no idea.. I’ve released tons of tracks, some quite well known, and still don’t get booked in Ibiza.. so better ask someone else, maybe Jamie, but if you find out the answer, let me know. Peace. RF

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