The art of DJing, by François K

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The return of François Kevorkian to Australia this New Years Eve is something of a momentous occasion. A true original of dance music, his boundless passion for creating dancefloor moments has carried him over three decades. It’s clear he’s as inspired now as when he first moved to New York from France at 21 with hopes of landing a job as a jazz drummer.

While the drum-kit taught him well, it was with a pair of turntables that Kevorkian grew to be a titan in his adopted city. Having made his name at seminal clubs like Paradise Garage and The Loft, at the height of the halcyon days he joined Danny Krivit and Joe Claussell as Body & Soul. As much now as then, he sees DJing as an exchange – if you trust his instincts, he’ll elevate your mind.

In recent years, François K has commanded Monday nights at Cielo in New York with his Deep Space night. Celebrating dub in its many forms, the weekly gathering sometimes boasts its host all-night-long or a guest getting deep. On any given night you could see a ‘dub poetry performance’ or Carl Craig and Dimitri From Paris exploring obscure corners of their collections.

When inthemix spoke to the DJ ahead of his tour, it stretched into 45 minutes of languid, thoughtful conversation. Clearly in a contemplative mood, he had knowledge to burn. As a result, we’ve decided to hand this feature wholly over to the musings of François K…

THE DJ’S JOB

“I think the DJ’s job is to find relevance in music, and to stick to it. Keep playing the songs that they really love. Because if they have a following – say, in my case, with Deep Space where I’m there pretty much 52 weeks a year – you try to get something going where there becomes a flavour that’s original to you. You give people time to absorb what it is you’re playing, and start making your own little hit records.

The DJ’s role is to be not only selective, but earn the trust of the crowd. So the audience knows that those things have been selected, and they’re not just the flavour of the week. I hear a great deal of other DJs playing who decide to play only unreleased stuff that you’ll only hear tonight because next week it’ll already be the next batch of unreleased stuff.

But I think there is an argument to be made for us trying to keep an island of sanity in this deluge, this tidal wave of information. The way I decided to start Deep Space, I tried to summarise it in a few words: I’m ‘performing’ records right on the mixing boards. Well, you could say that’s just marketing speak. But to me it means a lot.

Whenever I play at Deep Space, I’m trying to take any record and treat people to a new version of it. A version that I’m dubbing out right in front of them. You will find me performing a record, not just letting it play out. I can take that aesthetic to pretty much anything I’m featuring. In that sense, it’s easy to move beyond trends or fashion. Whether it’s an old Quincy Jones track or just something that came out last week, it’s about the treatment you apply to make it make sense.

More than that, the other element I feel is important to Deep Space – which by the way, has failed when I’ve tried to take it to other cities in the world – is emphasising the connection between the energy or message of records instead of linking them together with the uniformity of tempo that is beat-mixing. It’s not a beat-mixed endless tapestry of music – you know, ‘He was so experimental, his set went from 123 to 128 BPM!’

There have been times that I’ve been playing a nice dubby, techy, electronic record with thousands of people dancing. I then decide to play a reggae track and the dancefloor has emptied out in 20 seconds, if I’m being generous.

We’ve become accustomed to the concept that this is what a DJ does: playing repetitive music with about 10-percent variation. We have created this monster. We only have ourselves to blame.”

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