By Cóilí Collins
Cóilí/Shampain is a resident DJ in Electric nightclub, former electronic music editor of District Magazine, contributor to District and Four Four magazines, former resident DJ of Hangar, and has written for Mixmag and worked on Rinse France.
It’s inevitable that once you start something new, people are going to be curious as to how you go about doing it, especially if it isn’t obviously comprehended by the naked eye. Of course, in my case this would be DJing, where to most it seems like a supremely complicated task including an array of buttons and knobs where there’s a whole lot going on at once.
That is most definitely the case, but after a few hours practice, it’s quite easy to have a decent knowledge of the technical aspect of DJing. As Deadmau5 put it; “Any idiot that can count to four can have a crack at mixing two tracks together.”
The actual tricky part of DJing, especially when it comes to playing underground music of the electronic kind, is reading a room and making sure that you’re balancing an expression of your style with the needs of everyone in attendance. There’s nothing worse than just playing crowd pleasers, as that’s a simple task anyone can do.
Likewise, there’s nothing worse than a bespeckled Berlin – wannabe coming in and laying down the most unearthed ambient music they found in the discount pile at a record store in Eastern Europe. The line between too easy and too intricate is very fine, and it’s right there where the best DJs shine among the rest.
Indeed, within this line is where we may not even find the world’s most renowned DJs, but more so the most musically adept and complete DJs within the realms of electronic music. They deal solely in the business of generating moods and atmospheres, rather than getting caught up in the never – ending sea of genres and sub genres that confuse even the most seasoned music heads among us.
Having a sense of mood or atmosphere within DJ sets isn’t necessarily a skill learned over time, but more so the ability to analyse similar traits across a wide range of tracks from different genres. These tracks share aspects that can allow a DJ to blend those two tracks together.
Mixmag recently penned an opinion piece that declared describing DJs using the term ‘eclectic’ was overused, and that the term was dead and had lost its meaning. This is true to a degree. The number of DJs that play multiple genres is huge, not a whole lot manage to stick within the rigid confines of minimal techno, acid house or whatever their chosen weapon of choice is.
The true sense of being an eclectic DJ however is one that has fallen by the wayside for sure. This might be because the attention has flipped so jarringly towards producers, given how easily consumable music is these days. Or maybe it is because consumers find it more difficult to wrap their head around how someone can mesh a whole lot of sounds together, that mightn’t look particularly correct on paper.
With that being said, there are still a huge amount of selectors that are definitely carving out their own moods and atmospheres on dance floors, rather than just belting out stuff from the same five artists or record labels over the course of a few hours. Take Motor City Drum Ensemble. He carries a reputation as one of the most adept DJs, mostly for his ability to take some of the rarest grooves and blend them with some of the most purpose built club tracks; something anyone at his Life Festival set would have witnessed firsthand. He managed to go from light disco to the jacking Chicago sounds of ‘Shake What Ya Mamma Gave Ya’ almost effortlessly.
Similarly, there are a slew of UK DJs that can bypass an array of different genres by generating overarching moods on the dance floor, by blending together the colourful selection of harsher music that emanates from the country. Ben UFO, Mumdance, Randomer and many more all stand out as unrivalled in their field when it comes to adhering to specific moods rather than styles. Each one is always able to take different tracks across techno, dubstep, deconstructed club music, breakbeat and even grime and melt them all together into one set that really flows.
The phenomenon of ‘moody’ DJing is definitely one that is almost unique to UK styled music; bar of the course the exceptions such as MCDE, Hunee and all the other true diggers and selectors out there. With so many styles that have been generated off the back of each other, it isn’t necessarily surprising that I myself am able to take artists from labels like Livity Sound and mix them into a Novelist track. Despite all having different production techniques, they share the same roots and that allows for a certain mood to be generated.
Learning about the origins of genres too is another thing that can help one’s ability to hone their skills as a DJ. Being able to tell where certain genres come from will open your ear up to taking different elements from different tracks, and you’ll end up generating some interesting mixes and blends.
Once you realise for example the intrinsic link between jungle and garage, you can then take the relation between grime and garage and then link it back to jungle which can then leave you mixing a Skepta track with a down tempo cut from French hardcore outfit J-Zbel, all because the music very loosely shares the same roots.
History allows different sounds to co-exist on a dance floor, not just a set of waveforms, as chin strokery as that sounds.
With all that being said, you don’t turn on a pair of CDJs and instantly know how to mix a grime track into a techno one without it sounding forced and jarring; the technical aspect most definitely takes time. However, honing your mood behind the decks is something you can literally do every spare minute of the day, just by listening to music you like, rather than genres you ‘need’ to play.
Photo: Maely Lim