I recently played at Coachella and eighty percent of DJs were just playing songs, not playing with the songs. Or they were just playing pre-mixes of songs, which is totally counter to the culture I grew up with and respect and admire. Not to knock them, they were cool, the crowd was cool, everyone was cool with it, but it’s just not what gets me inspired.
It’s getting harder to see DJs up there mixing it live in front of you. I miss that. I used to get inspired when I saw DJs play. I still do, but it’s becoming less and less. A lot more DJs are pre-planning their sets or doing premade mixes. It’s becoming more about the production of the show and the spectacle rather than the skills of the DJ. You can do both, but a lot of people choose not to.
I equate it to you like this. You wouldn’t see The Black Keys playing a live concert and midway through their set they start crowd-surfing but their music is still playing. Then when they come back on-stage the next song is on. It doesn’t happen that way. You wouldn’t see that and, if you did, they would lose all their fans. In electronic music there is a grey area.
People like Deadmau5 say, “I just pushed some buttons” or “It’s super easy to DJ, I can do it in a few hours with a laptop”. I understand where he is coming from and don’t want to knock him. He has his hustle going on, but I clearly come from a different world and I have to rep where I come from.
I am inspired by innovators like Grandmaster Flash and Jazzy Jeff. They would perform and they were clearly doing the work. You could see and hear it in real time and recognise there was the ability to fuck up. When you are on a highwire fifty storeys up and there’s no net, it changes the stakes: if you fall, you die. If there’s a net and you fall, you get to try again. That’s what’s going on today. People are performing with a net.
For me, the bigger the risk, the bigger the game. I can’t help but have more respect and admiration for people who do that. Today, people like Craze and A-Trak and Jazzy Jeff (still to this day), I am blown away by.
To take it a step further, people can be not DJing in the classical sense, but still be up there doing work. Guys like Bassnectar and Skrillex are not what I consider to be traditional DJing, but they are still performing and putting it together. Meanwhile, other people go up and hit play, bring people on stage and throw out beach balls. I don’t knock that hustle, but I can’t really back it. In a way, it’s taking away from what everyone built before me, as well as the work that I put in and my contemporaries are still trying to build.
The technology debate boils down to the user. Technology is not at fault – it’s on the user. If you have the chance, utilise it. Use the equipment – we all have access to it, but do you want to take a shortcut in your performance? Just playing songs you made in the studio doesn’t do anything for me. If you are going to push buttons, push a thousand buttons, not four.
It’s also a little bit on the crowd. The crowd needs to get educated on what’s going on. Not to fault them – they just want to have a good time – but it would be great if there was a connection or education in the process. If you’re 19 and you’re at your first show and the artist is playing on a laptop and you’re not paying attention, you might think, “This guy is cool, the music is cool, the lights are cool, I’m drinking my first beer.” There are flames and lights and girls. There’s also less chance you’re going to be like, “Holy shit, he was making that beat up there.”
It’s a bit of smoke and mirrors, Wizard of Oz stuff. I would like to see more skills and taking away of the veil, so the audience understands the performance element. Then that 19-year-old might be like, “Wow, the person onstage can actually do it live.”