'Fake DJs': A Brief History

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Google ‘fake DJ’ and you’ll find plenty of reading material. Whether any of it leaves you enlightened is another question, but if there’s one topic that’s guaranteed to boil the blood of dance music’s keyboard warriors, it’s this one. (You might prefer to read the stories about Nathan Fake and Fake Blood that show up instead.) There’s even a scrappy Facebook page, ‘We Hate Fake DJs’, dedicated to the witch-hunt.

The cry of “fake DJ!” usually begins with a surreptitious photo or video taken in a club or festival showing an unplugged mixer or otherwise dodgy sleight of hand. The evidence will then be chewed over with varying levels of coherence in internet message-boards and on Facebook. Finally, if the dissent gets loud enough, the accused DJ writes a message explaining how everyone’s got it wrong. A few tenacious muckrakers will then attempt to pick holes in the defence, while the rest of the internet moves on. Often the “fake DJ” tag sticks anyway, ‘cause what fun is there in ambiguity?

A classic example of this cycle emerged in 2008 when a photo was taken of Justice in the booth at Manchester’s Warehouse Project. In the photo, Gaspard Augé is controlling a MIDI controller that’s not plugged in. Cue the schadenfreude. “Yeah, shit happens,” Augé coolly told URB in response to the ‘controversy’. “I didn’t notice at first, because as you can see I was looking at the computer to launch the next vocal hook and right after I realised that the blue screen went black, so there was no way possible it could work. So I plugged it back in, big deal! And the next thing you know [there] is this picture.” Way to ruin our fun, Gaspard.

Back in 2007, in my early days at ITM HQ, I wrote a story called ‘Peter Hook’s fake DJing exposed?’. The offending video (since removed by the user) showed the former New Order bassist furiously twiddling away to a pre-recorded set onstage at Exit Festival. It was not an accusation Hooky took lightly, calling me out personally on his website. “SO JACKT What you up to?,” he wrote. “I’m flattered you think I’m important enough to expose, I’m sure we’ll bump into each other sometime, so I can explain! In the meantime you’ve lost me 4 gigs.”

His response was actually refreshingly straight-up. “What a shock tho, some djs play pre-recorded music????,” he went on. “My mate did the lights for a very famous English DJ, he was doing a three-month tour of America and mimed to a 100,000 people a night! Just used a DAT tape and just pretended to put the records on. Naughty boy!” You can read his full riposte over at The Fader.

There was one comment under my story that has stuck with me. “It was pretty obvious watching him at Parklife he was faking it,” JayP wrote. “But you know what? i didnt care one bit. they were great tunes being played, his antics were funny as, and after all, it is Peter Hook.” And that’s usually what it comes down to with these ‘fake DJing’ blow-ups: if it gets you dancing, does it really matter? While Hooky got past his DJ deficiencies by slipping in a pre-mixed CD, the alternative could’ve been worse. Case in point: producer of the moment Mylo at Parklife in 2004. “He didn't know how to DJ,” said Fuzzy’s Ming Gan in our Parklife retrospective feature, and the train-wrecks on the day were indeed unmissable. Maybe sometimes a bit of fake DJing is better for everyone.

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