Are traditional DJs a dying breed?

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A very common topic that has surfaced a lot recently – not only in my office, but also with other promoters – is who to book talent wise. I've put myself in a unique position as I'm promoting my own events with my J00F Editions concept. When I program an event, I choose talent who can actually DJ. I want a DJ who I can trust to read the crowd and change accordingly. This keeps my vision intact of how the event unfolds musically and how and when it will reach its crescendo, thus keeping the dancefloor interesting throughout the whole evening. It’s unfortunate that we have all come to the same conclusion that this list of true DJs is now becoming very, very short.

Over the past decade the scene seems to have split in two: in one camp we see ‘entertainment/producer DJs’ and in the other we find the ‘traditional DJs’. From my first-hand experience of playing alongside entertainment/producer DJs, I've had to rescue many nights as they didn't have the skill nor the tools of a DJ to read the crowd and change to the circumstances presented to them.

Producers/entertainment DJs are the equivalent of bands touring. When you go to see Muse, U2 and so on, you expect them to play all their hits you’ve heard on their albums. It’s part of the experience seeing them in the flesh playing the songs you truly love. Producers fit firmly in this camp. They have massive followings and fans go crazy seeing them play live. They replace keyboards with decks, as it’s much easier for them to tour this way, so they become DJs.

I've had to rescue many nights from entertainment DJs who didn’t have the skills to read the crowd and change with the circumstances.

They are performing mini-concerts to concert-esque crowds, to fans constantly holding cameras, singing songs. Producers will play just one style of music, mainly their own ‘hit’ productions and music from their own label groups. They are marketing machines pushing their own brand. Their own sound. The focus is on genre branding. They are there to outshine any other act around them and become man of the match. This is the exact same way bands and the pop world work, but also what makes them great entertainers on stage due to the ever increasing pressure of competition around them.

Entertainment DJs are a million miles away from the regular world of traditional DJs. I personally don't know one traditional DJ who just plays one sound; they have a record bag full of all styles of music in order to be able to deal with any situation presented to them. Our audiences are completely different too. They want to get on the dancefloor with their heads down and dance. They want to be stimulated by new music that’s cleverly programmed. Good DJs get a natural ‘feeling’ of when to make energy shifts on the dance floor ensuring that we keep the floor busy and interesting. We spend hours searching for music. These are our tools for the job of making these energy shifts.

When I play a DJ set, I'll go through all styles of music; deep, dark, hard, uplifting, classics, and so on. These are my tools to give you an emotional ride. My sets are like an audio version of a thriller movie, with twists and turns. You never quite know what the ending is, so it keeps you on the edge of your seat all through the ride. We're storytellers.

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Shall said on the 11th Jul, 2012

Firstly, I have a great amount of respect for J00F. He definitely is one of the most entertaining DJ's in the industry. His ability to read the crowd and to take the crowd on a journey is definitely a highlight and a real talent.

I agree that these days some 'producer' DJs out there are definitely not technically as strong as some 'traditional djs', but these producer djs are still able to entertain the crowd with their self-produced tracks. The tracks that people love and admire and scream "Love this track!", "Hope they play their track " "Cant wait until gets played!". That's the passionate music follower speaking and of course any producer will already know that's the reason why the crowd has paid good money to see them - the example of Dennis Shepherd below is right. Dennis Shepherd's biggest track "Fallen Angel", one of the biggest trance tracks of the year along with his catalogue of other self-produced tracks/remixes would of been one of the biggest marketing points for that artist - If he didn't play it that would mean a lot of dissatisfaction from his most passionate fans who paid the money to come see him. On the other hand, Menno De Jong didn't need to play his own tracks in the whole. Yes, he played a handful of his own self-produced tracks but he has been able to gain enough credence and respect over the years though through being able to nurture the crowd into enjoying his entertaining/yet very technical set. But this I don't think would of been originally been able to be done unless he did play out his big tracks when he was first touring. But yes to be fair, Menno's set to me was a lot more entertaining due to track diversity and set progression (and yes Menno is really a great technical DJ as well).

The push for more producers to tour more is something that has became more prevalent in the last decade or so. The masses of signed records being released it's easy for your release to be lost out in 'Beatport' world at times. Touring provides producers a chance to promote their productions and unfortunately for some of these great music producers sometimes sadly is the only sustainable source of income in the present world. I say at least give Producer DJs a chance to prove themselves by touring. If a producer seriously can't DJ, I'm sure that will get noticed quickly and simply wont be booked as often or not at all.

But maybe J00F is right, the days of the entertaining DJ, the DJ who takes the crowd on a journey, who doesn't have to rely on their own productions or just simply plays 'anthems' is disappearing.

However the best examples I love to give of DJs who no longer need to be producer DJs are John Digweed, Carl Cox and Sven Vath - but again they only were able to achieve such credence and respect as DJ's due to their longitivity and popularity of their own production releases all those many years ago. Maybe it's actually part of the "DJ Life cycle?". J00F seemed to get really popular as a DJ during 2004 for particular reasons. Discogs would be able to answer that question for you. Maybe there's just a strong correlation between success as a producer and as a long time performing DJ?

But there definitely is some really amazing, technically sound DJ performers out there as well, who also have some of the best production releases.

Also as Angy mentioned as well, there still are plenty of "traditional DJs" out there as well who don't produce and are amazing in front of crowds.... The unfortunate thing is for these guys to get noticed, they often feel that they have to produce great tracks as well.