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Traditional DJ’s, a dying breed?

I’ve put myself in a unique position as I’m promoting my own events with my JOOF Editions concept. This brings me a lot closer to other promoters as we discuss where the scene is at on various levels. It’s a precious insight to assist my job as a DJ, journalist, promoter and label boss to keep my finger on the pulse of where this industry is at.

A very common topic that has surfaced a lot recently, not only in my office, but with other promoters is who to book talent wise. When I program an event, I choose talent that can actually DJ. I want a DJ that I can trust to read the crowd and change accordingly. This keeps the continuity in tact of my vision of how the event unfolds musically and how and when it will reach its crescendo thus keeping the dance floor interesting throughout the whole evening.

Its unfortunate that we have all come to the same conclusion that this list of true DJ’s is now becoming very, very short.


Over the past decade the scene seems to have split in two, in one camp we see ‘Entertainment/producer DJ’s’ and in the other we find the ‘Traditional DJ’s’ From my first hand experience of playing alongside entertainment/producer DJ’s, I’ve had to rescue many nights as they didn’t have the skill nor the tools of a DJ  to read the crowd and change to the circumstances presented to them.


Producers/entertainment DJ’s are the equivalent of bands touring. When you go to see Muse, U2 etc, you expect them to play all their hits you’ve heard on their albums. Its part of the experience seeing them in the flesh playing the songs you truly love. Producers fit firmly in this camp. They have massive followings and fans go crazy seeing them play live. They replace keyboards with decks, as its much easier for them to tour this way, so they become DJ’s.


They are performing mini concerts to concert-esque crowds, to fans constantly holding cameras, singing songs. Producers will play just one style of music, mainly their own productions and music from their own label groups. They are marketing machines pushing their own brand. Their own sound. Focus on genre branding. They are there to outshine any other act around them and become man of the match. This is the exact same way bands and the pop world work, but also what makes them great entertainers on stage due to the ever increasing pressure of competition around them.


Entertainment DJ’s are a million miles away from the regular world of traditional DJ’s. I personally don’t know one single traditional DJ that just plays one sound, they have a record bag full of all styles of music in order to be able to deal with any situation presented to them. Our audiences are completely different too,  they want to get on the dance floor with their heads down and dance. They want to be stimulated by new music that’s cleverly programmed. Good DJ’s get a natural ‘feeling’ of when to make energy shifts on the dance floor ensuring that we keep the floor busy and interesting. We spend hours searching for music, this being our tools for the job while making these energy shifts.


When I play a DJ set I’ll go through all styles of music; deep, dark, hard, uplifting, classics etc etc. These are my tools to give you an emotional ride. My sets are like an audio version of a thriller movie, with twists and turns. You never quite know what the ending is, so it keeps you on the edge of your seat all through the ride.

We’re storytellers. I still find it ridiculous that I’ve been tagged a ‘Psy’ DJ, when I play all styles of music in my set. But that’s they way of the new world, music must have a marketed genre tag. I’ve never actually changed my style of DJing over the past 20 odd years, but the genres tags around me have. I’ve been named a Goa, Progressive, uplifting, Techno and now Psy trance DJ? The next marketed ‘fad’ will dictate what I’m tagged next, when the goal posts change once again.


I think many people are starting to miss this style of DJ. They want this intense stimulation on the dance floor. Some of the greatest club nights that made their mark in history were promoted, programmed and ran by traditional DJ’s. Shoom, Ministry of Sound, Gatecrasher, Twilo etc. Many people crave for those good days to come back. Back then it was all about the music with DJ’s supporting each other and being gentlemen as they set things up musically for the next DJ to take over. Today I feel these events are controlled by agents getting what they want.


Clubs like Passion in the UK are listening, as they always have done. Passion invited me to play a solo 5-hour set. Their words; ‘we want to showcase ONE headline artist all night long performing the true art of being a DJ and mixing records how they should be mixed’. I was instantly sold. That’s the key words right there, ‘the true art of DJing’. This is something that has been missing from clubland for a very long time being superseded by entertainment DJ’s.


From our collective research, this is what promoters/clubbers want again, and many more are thinking this way too. These solo events could be the start of something really special for Passion. I know many touring DJs don’t get to play what they really want, they get only one or two hours to play and that crowd will expect full energy. I also believe many have lost that skill of DJing, because they have fallen into the category of entertainment DJing. Their track lists show this as they play all their own stuff. They no longer dedicate all their time hunting for new exciting music. There’s no point, as they don’t get a change to play it. This could all change with concepts like Passion are offering.


We’ve hardly seen any new traditional DJ’s break through over the past decade. They haven’t got the training grounds to learn their craft, we need these weekly clubs back.

Being a traditional DJ, something seems so wrong that you have to make productions to get gigs, in my eyes these two careers are two completely different jobs.


Both Traditional DJ’s and entertainment/producers DJ’s can sit comfortably together in the same scene, but I can’t help but think we were pushed to one side….that’s until now 🙂

9 July 2012 Blog