Tuesday, May 29, 2012

This EDM Thing...

When someone asks me what I do, the answer out of my mouth is always "writer". But when friends introduce me to people, most of the time I'm their "DJ friend". I have some serious aversions to that, even if it's a fair label. I do DJ in Chicago every weekend, whether it's somewhere cool and fun like Whistler, Rodan, Simone's or Burlington, or an awful Lincoln Park sports bar where it's Top 40 mashed up with 90s rap. And, I often DJ weddings, and have done a few music festivals too. So fine, I can be a DJ. I'm ok with that.

The reason I have this aversion is because of the insane hugeness of EDM right now. DJs are today's rock stars. Deadmau5, Skrillex, and Calvin Harris headline summer music festivals. These are single individuals, pressing buttons and twisting knobs. But the crowd doesn't care about whatever they're doing behind the laptop, it's all about the drop. And it makes them crazy.

What I do when I DJ is nothing close to what these individuals do. I mix songs together, in whatever order I deem fit for the occasion. I don't flail my arms around like a Pete Townsend of the decks, hell I don't even scratch. And I absolutely refuse to ever take a DJ name. For me, DJing is just a supplement to my career. I'm a writer first, the DJing is just another dimension of my "music guy" persona.

I share music with people, in one sense or another. I studied communications in college, and I want to emphasize the audio aspect in what I do. When someone comes up to the booth and asks what track I'm playing, I smile big. It means I've done my job well if I've introduced someone to something they enjoy enough to ask about. People are making great art in music right now, and I am happy to be a middle man. I'm a communicator, not an entertainer.

Now the thing about these EDM guys, they are entertainers. Nobody is supposed to ask questions, everybody is just expected to "go fucking mental." These guys put on shows. I put on one show in my life, when I played bass in a last-second hardcore band with my two high school friends at the Manhattan Irish Fest. I jumped all over the stage, missing every note, while pasty white kids screamed and moshed to the noise. I wasn't sharing anything worthwhile here. I wasn't communicating anything. It was pure entertainment.

As for the reason I'm writing this blog post now, well, I'm just freaked out by EDM's intrusion into my world of communication arts. People are writing cover stories about Skrillex. Pitchfork (Ryan Schreiber himself, even) gave an Avicii song a "Best New Track" honor. The New York Times published an article about DJs who don't know how popular the song they just played is. Vocalo interviewed a panel of turntablists who bitch about how the art of DJing has been lost in technology. EDM, and DJing, is a big stupid thing right now. And I'm a DJ. So, now what?

I guess I just want to keep the distinction clear. The turntablists remind that scratching is an art, DJing is just playing songs. I have nothing to do with the former. Guys like Skrillex and Avicii are producers, not DJs. I don't make my own beats, and have no intention to. I am a DJ. I play songs. That is all.

It was years ago when Girl Talk said that he wasn't a DJ. And this might've been the floodgate. Since around the same time, I've been honing my skills on Traktor. That is, beat matching while fiddling with EQ. If a guy who mashes up 10 tracks in a minute is NOT a DJ, then hell, I can be a DJ. And I'm not the only guy who felt this way. Thousands of kids took to their laptops, asking friends if they could "spin" at their next house party. People became interested in electronic music and, more importantly, the software and hardware that makes electronic dance music possible.

When you figure out how to set a loop, kill the bass on a vocal track and lay it over the beat, it's thrilling. But right now, it is way too easy to do. It was five years ago when Hank Hill asked, "Is everyone a DJ?" and Peggy rightly answered, "yes." All of the years of compiled interest in easy mixing is paying off now, for a few lucky individuals.

The chasm really freaks me out. Skrillex is making millions of dollars, but millions of kids like me are playing songs in bars on a weekend for 100 bucks. The 99 percent are communicating great art to a crowd still, while the 1 percent are thumping nonsense to glitzed up sorority girls for football stadium concerts. And on top of this, the small/no-name DJs in the bars are sometimes expected to play the actual tracks of the Ultra DJs. Isn't that kind of weird? Just a little bit?

I was DJing in Lincoln Park a couple weeks ago and a bro came up to me and said, "how about some house music?" I asked him what he wanted to hear. I'm thinking Frankie Knuckles, or more likely something like Felix da Housecat. But of course he answers "Some fuckin' Kaskade, yo!" I blame all of this on Daft Punk. French repetitious assholes in their pyramid.

So yeah, I am a DJ. But hopefully now you can understand why I prefer to be known as a writer. I don't make dubstep, I just tell you why to stay away from it.

(post-dubstep is still ok though)

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