Is the superstar DJ era over?

6 04 2009

Thanks to the rise and rise of Laptop DJs and live music, the era of the turntable-spinning superstar Dj may soon be over…or not? Read to find out.

Superstar DJ

[originally from LA Weekly] At the indie-meets-dance club Echoplex in Echo Park, DJs spin, but just as often these days a floor-friendly sound will emerge in the form of a band, a laptop act or something in between, as was the case with Love Grenades on a recent winter night.

The quartet’s three frontwomen dressed up like pinup girls, opera-length gloves and all, and cooed and sang in a correspondingly sultry haze, complemented by ’80s-inflected musicians on bass, guitar, drums and sequencer. The Grenades’ dance-punk sound has been remixed by friend-of-the-band Sam Sparro, another local artist who has skipped deejaying on the way to dance-floor stardom. Love Grenades don’t deejay, but their recent single, “Tigers in the Fire,” is being peddled on DJ culture’s No. 1 online retailer, Beatport. Clubland is being invaded by artists like these, dance-friendly acts that don’t need turntables to get their point across.

The dance world has been rocked in recent years by laptop-, sequencer- and band-based acts ranging from Justice and the Black Ghosts to Booka Shade. Daft Punk’s Kanye West–led resurrection last year highlighted the duo’s own immersive, turntable-free live act. And the local nu-electro festival HARD Haunted Mansion surpassed the 5,000-ticket mark in the fall with nary a superstar DJ in sight. All this has even some jocks asking if the spin is no longer in.

One of the hottest acts to emerge from the electronic–dance music arena in the past few years is Toronto-based producer Deadmau5, who got his start as a computer programmer before graduating to successful bedroom production. Because he came to deejaying from the tech-geek world, he faced culture shock on the club circuit. We can imagine him meeting all those douche jockeys caught up in drug-filled hazes of their own perceived stardom, egos stroked by groupies, guest lists and MySpace comments — all this stoke for, as Deadmau5 wrote on his own MySpace page, “some dude” who presses “the ‘play/stop’ button and occasionally move[s] a pitch slider.” Late last year, Deadmau5 was interviewed by Irish Daily Star and gave a money quote heard around the DJ world: “I don’t really see the technical merit in playing two songs at the same speed together, and it bores me to fucking tears. I’d like [DJs to] dis-a-fucking-pear. It’s so middleman. They’re like fucking lawyers. You need them, but they’re all fucking cunts.”

Here’s an artist whose music is required spinning for the biggest DJs, and he can’t hold his tongue (but his label can, and they declined to have him speak for this piece).

Deadmau5 admirer and former Angeleno Dave Dresden has worn many hats over the past two decades, including radio host, dance-music journalist, music scout for BBC Radio 1’s Pete Tong, and half of defunct DJ duo Gabriel & Dresden. He says Deadmau5 is right. “The day of the DJ as a guy who plays other people’s records might be done,” he says, pointing to newer acts like Morgan Page, who often play their own music live via laptop.

The superclub Avalon Hollywood has in recent years made more and more room for the post-DJ act while giving a cold shoulder to superstar DJs, especially those spinners who play straight-line hypnotic trance. While it still hosts plenty of big-name jocks — mostly of the minimal-techno variety — the venue has seen more than its share of hybrid live acts, including Booka Shade, Gui Boratto and Martin Buttrich.

“I don’t think it’s over, I think it’s evolving,” Avalon co-owner Steve Adelman says of DJ culture. “I think people are going more into electronic bands, live acts and semilive acts. We strive to have a whole production and visual experience that’s not just focused on watching a guy on two turntables.”

L.A.’s Frank Dominguez, a.k.a. down-tempo electronic act Aime, started deejaying 10 years ago but switched in recent years to incorporating nonturntable elements, such as keyboards, effects pads, a drum machine, a laptop and even an iPod. At 31, he plays for a generation of clubgoers more accustomed to the shuffle-play dynamics of an MP3 player than the ecstasy-fueled Botts’ dots of a superstar DJ. “People now would much rather see an artist performing with more than just changing records back and forth,” he says. “The kids go with what’s more stimulating.”

Adelman, who’s been in the superstar-DJ-booking business since the mid-’90s, says those most affected by the demise of the name DJ are local “midlevel” spinners, not huge trance names like Tiësto and Armin Van Buuren. URB magazine editor Joshua Glazer adds that some of the so-called midlevel DJs who had settled stateside around the DJ boom of the new millennium have gone back to Europe, replaced locally by nu-electro bands. Still, Glazer argues, the DJ isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“I think the reports of the death of the superstar DJ have been greatly exaggerated,” he says. “I was one of the first people to declare that death. But compared to five years ago, I definitely think the DJ is on the rise.”

He notes that cheap laptops and easy-to-use software, such as Serato Scratch Live and Ableton Live, have made it easier than ever to deejay — virtually — for a new generation of point-and-click jocks. “It might not be like 1999,” Glazer says, “but maybe we’re just not noticing.”

Links:

Justice – Electro Music With Punk Attitude

Ableton Live 8 – Out Now

View DJ products at Dolphin

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4 responses

14 09 2009
fakexican

First off, Deadmau5 is one of the biggest tools in the box. However, he does make a good point.

The era of the glory days of Djing is coming to a quick demise. No longer can this guy: http://www.djtechtools.com/2009/08/07/the-instant-dj-toolbox/ rule the night club scene. There is too much technology available to too many people who are set on revolutionizing how dj sets sound. While playing the club bangers is still going to be around for awhile, It’s becoming less and less about spinning the big hits and production is playing a much bigger factor in the club scene. It’s more about coming up with different sounds, and playing your own tracks (like Mr. Mau5 above mentioned does) than playing other peoples worn out radio rags we’ve all heard a million times over (thanks Power).

However, I don’t think its exactly black and white. Like Steve Adelman said “I don’t think it’s over, I think it’s evolving…I think people are going more into electronic bands, live acts and semilive acts. We strive to have a whole production and visual experience that’s not just focused on watching a guy on two turntables.” Technology like Serato, Traktor, and Ableton has allowed a one man act to essentially run a whole production seamlessly, in a way that would have required several men before. So yea, traditional turntablists will still be around for some time but they need to start stepping up their game soon or they may be in need of a day job.

23 11 2010
John

Great article. Finally, a piece that accurately depicts the ever changing landscape of not only “traditional” electronica DJs and DJing, but DJing as an art in a broader scope. I, too, became entranced with the idea of the DJ and DJing, and started with turntables and wax. I can say that I have seen the course of evolution of the DJ culture from crates of records and belt driven turntables to iPad powered performances.
I think the power of the internet is a major factor in how fast DJing technology and methods changed. The spread of information means the spread of creative methods, ideas, tastes, influences, and patterns of thinking. There has never been a way to transmit information – over such a large area across so many people – as the internet has. The transition to a digital, internet friendly format of music has allowed the proliferation of musical ideas, and music, in general, to explode and allow access on an unprecedented scale. Back in the day, getting your hands on an exclusive promo or white label was either, well, exclusive or expensive, or rare. They were almost symbols of status as well, as having the new hot track would give you a leg up on your competition. Now, finding a leak through a file sharing service isn’t all too uncommon.
Computing power is the other half. As PC power continues to grow, the POTENTIAL for more to be done becomes realized, and manifested in the form of the likes of Reason and Ableton and Logic, programs that are essentially studios in box packaging. With the preferred method of spreading music becoming digital, computing power increasing, and mobility becoming more achievable (laptops), a properly equipped computer in the hands of a talented and or hardworking individual allows one to, as quoted in the piece, “allow a one man act to essentially run a whole production”, increasing the pool of available talent worldwide, and ultimately, increasing exposure as well.
It was only a matter of time before digital DJing became the way to go. I remember when CDJs were debated as to whether they were a “legitimate form of DJing or not”. Visuals, I think, will be the next major evolutionary step when it comes to a DJ as an act goes. Gone are the days where someone is playing records, and watching a guy press buttons on his laptop gets old.
As talent and taste become homogenized, DJs – turntable or technology based – are not only going to have to step up their game but introduce a new concept to their act as well. I’m not saying that DJs should have a giant pyramid of light set up at the club. But just playing songs only separates you so much from other experiences- even if it might separate your names from each other.

19 12 2010
Halo

More and more people are taking up music production as a hobby these days and i think its going to become a lot harder to make it big in the future. The way i see it, the artists who will stand out in the future will be the ones who are willing to make political statements or create some really interesting genre mashing.

10 10 2013
Home Automation Calgary

I dont think so that superstar dj era is over, there are many rocking dj’s and without them party will never gonna rock.

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