Thursday, August 21, 2008
Notes from a tram seat
A strange thing happened to me the other day. I was on a tram coming back from the city when I looked across at the seat opposite me. No, not a pretty lady clasping a Villalobos record, not even a person. Just a few scraps of mangy looking paper.
I reached over to look at the notes – scrawled in unbelievably bad handwriting on paper that looked like it had been scrumpled up, then flattened - and there it was, a whole bunch of...thoughts, I guess. Or maybe some things jotted down from a conversation – the tone seems to indicate that.
I have no idea where these scraps came from or whose they are, but I figured that if I didn't rescue them, they'd be lost. If they're yours, please let us know. For everyone else? Enjoy!
I don’t think any of the technological developments have altered what’s fundamental about DJing.
Digital DJing is fine, as long as the files being used aren’t mp3s. If you use WAVs at 16 or even 24 bit, then obviously the sound is going to be great, provided you have good D/A converters and you use the mixer properly.
But you’re adding in so many new factors and so much complexity, and you get a lot of inexperienced DJs not using the tools properly. And a lot of this goes on through a bad Pioneer mixer through a dodgy sound system – and then once you factor in the high possibility of digital distortion at any point in such a long signal chain, your chance of getting good sound quality, of hearing music that’s actually pleasant to listen to for a number of hours, well, it’s just about nil.
And if you’re playing to people who’ve paid to see you, then you should absolutely make sure that your sound is spot on.
The possibilities are exciting, because all the boundaries between production, DJing and musical performance are being blurred. But there’s also the possibility of a lot of fiddling, and not leaving the record alone, just letting the record play.
On top of that, the digital technology allows you to get a new record on really quickly, so you have DJs introducing a new record every thirty seconds, just because they can. Or playing records that don’t actually fit together, but the technology means that you can fit them together. So you have people playing long mixes that would otherwise be out of key, out of time and with the swing of the beats mismatched.
The technology is getting cheaper, which makes it more democratic – anyone can participate, and that’s great for giving people opportunities, but at the same time, there’s just so much bad music. Twenty years ago, it stayed in people’s bedrooms or made it on to a few cassettes. Now, it’s out there for all the world to hear.
I’d really rather people practice a bit more before letting themselves loose on the world – just ‘cos you’re contributing to the amount of rubbish that’s out there.
As a DJ, you’ve got to learn your records inside out. If you go through and slowly, thoroughly learn each piece inside out, you’ll have a really strong foundation to build on.
If you have one box, and it doesn’t do very much, you’ll learn it all inside out.
And in this way, limitation will also make you more inventive, just because you have to be decisive and ruthless. When you had a ten second sampling time, you had ten seconds to make something engaging.
But at the same time, I don’t want to be one of those moaning middle-aged men telling you it’s not as good as it used to be – nothing is (or ever was) how it used to be, and I welcome innovation.
It’s so important that people hear the music the way it was intended, otherwise it doesn’t communicate. And if you want to do anything that’s subtle on a large scale, you need a properly powerful, body-shaking and clear soundsystem.
I really want people to hear the records as they’re intended.
A lot of DJs just ‘turn it up’
Either it’s set up with so many limiters and so much protection that it doesn’t let the system breathe, just to stop some young DJ turning all the gains up and blowing the speakers.
Clubs should employ a sound engineer, or at least somebody to look after these things.
But when the system is breathing and there’s no limiters and no compression, and you’ve got everything EQd properly, the difference it makes is enormous.
I don’t mind hard music, but there’s got to be some space in there, and it’s got to move me in some way, stuff which is just too full-on, or too compressed and loud, it just does my head in – and it will make people leave the venue early.
It’s also important to feed people different kinds of textures and frequencies at different times of the night.
The psychology of clubbing, dancing and how people behave in a nightclub environment, that’s all really fascinating. That’s why I love to play for the whole night, so you can really see that.