Adapt or die: Playing the DJ game

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Ahead of Stereosonic, Major Lazer’s lead players Diplo, Jillionaire and Walshy Fire write for inthemix about their evolution as selectors, the “DJs playing the same sets every night” debate, and how DJing culture has changed. After reading, you can get on-board with the Major Lazer sound in this ITM-FM exclusive mix.


First off, in this day and age, the Major Lazer crew would be considered veterans. Not that we have been doing Major Lazer forever, but because we all started long ago playing vinyl on belt-driven turntables. We bought records when one song cost as much as 10 dollars and when you played it too much or dropped it, you would have to go and find it again.

But we are also in the game now. Somehow we are still relevant and constantly inspired by what’s happening now just as we were when we started. We see all these other acts around us, ones who helped to break through in this EDM scene and ones who just jump in because it’s an easy game. We see a majority of kids with no history of DJ culture and also no background in hip hop – this is much different from where all three of us have come from.

As a DJ learning, coming up, it was all about selection. Let me tell you this: there was never a pot of gold when you decided to become the DJ. The DJs had always been the under-appreciated aspect of the music. We were the distributors who worked to promote the artist and the labels. If we were lucky we could carve a small party locally. Yes, we did probably grab the best girl at the end of the night, but that was sort of the only reward besides loving the music.

Whenever I discuss being a DJ or get into the politics I also seem like an asshole or worse, an ‘over the hill disgruntled DJ’. That’s not how I want to come off, because I’m only doing this now because I’m still inspired and excited by what the young producers and older ones are doing right now.

I just want to give some background where the Major Lazer crew – Chris, Walshy, and myself – have all come from. Some things just stick out these days that just wouldn’t fly five to 10 to 15 years ago. For instance, if you played the same set twice that was just ridiculous. I mean from one side, it was just a bit cheesy and lazy. But on a professional side, as a DJ I loved to be the trailblazer. I loved to play new music, to make people go, “Wow! Damn! WTF was that?”

I was proud to break the new sounds. I had pride in having records other people didn’t. That doesn’t exist now. You can find everything everywhere. At the time I started, I was fascinated with the original hip hop/house/ techno DJs who created their style and fan-base through originality, not through being homogenous.

I remember I used to spend almost all my budget on records – sometimes like 60 or 70 records a month. That could be over $2000 I spent on vinyl just to fill the annoying giant crates and practice mixing these records for hours. Sometimes it was just The Killah Kuts, the white label vinyl that was getting pressed up somewhere in Nashville or NYC. The mixtape tracks printed to vinyl, the acapellas – the pre MP3 mailout shit! That and the B-more singles, ‘cause that’s the shit other people wouldn’t have. Back then the DJ scene was very cut-throat; no one was gonna look out for another DJ. If you had a good paying job, you held onto it, tooth and nail.

Anyway, back to DJs playing the same sets every night. That’s not so rare any more – and it’s a good and bad thing. Mostly DJs like Major Lazer are playing majority of their own original records. Nowadays, DJs are travelling and playing in every market: the U.S. Europe, Australia, and so on. When we grew up, you pretty much just bounced between two or three neighbourhoods almost all the time.

It’s not unusual to play the same set every night nowadays, because it’s a set that’s working and you’re reaching a new audience every night. It’s different from seven years ago in Philly, when I played three or four nights a week, to lots of the same clientele. It might’ve been a bottle service crowd, or a hip hop night, or a rock club, so I had to learn to be versatile right off the bat just to make money to pay my bills.

Comments arrow left

JackT said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Yeah, interesting stuff I thought too


CircusMidget said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Quite intelligent article compared to the recycled deadmou5 and skrillx ones we are used to around here. . You should do this thing more often.


JackT said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Glad you enjoyed CircusMidget! Bit of trivia: hasn't been an article with Skrillex in the title all October. There ya go.


CircusMidget said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Sometimes the aftertaste lingers a bit. Cheers Jack


Citizen said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Great insights - will there be more of this sort of article on here?


thesuntoucher said on the 31st Oct, 2012

Great article, though I kind of disagree with what Walshy Fire says is the loss of the culture of the find. Yes it is way easier to look for new music because of blogs and the internet (even for vinyls), but with that comes the avalanche of shit that has to be waded through before you find those gems. Even if you find a dozen blogs that feature the kind of music you like, you still have to listen to so much shit before you find something you might want to buy. The culture of the find is as prevalent as it was back when these guys were finding music, just the way you find has changed. Doesn't necessarily make it any easier.


Digitalgrub said on the 1st Nov, 2012

Interesting, but there's a bit I don't agree with - Sure, the crate digging isn't there as much, but when you head to a new city, you encounter news sounds and artists that might be huge in that city, which you might have overlooked on a blog. Also, the comments about there not being any money in it - this is still the case (unless you're Major Lazer I guess).


ravelikespastic said on the 1st Nov, 2012

I loved reading that, thanks :)


walkdogz said on the 1st Nov, 2012

Mixing vinyl again has reignited my passion for DJing... I've taken down the CDJs and am probably gonna sell them and use vinyl and an ipad/laptop for tracks I can't get on vinyl. Vinyl really is the most enjoyable way to DJ, classic and simple and creates a greater focus on the mix which I think digital loses as it makes the whole process a lot more disposable. Digging is still there, the environment's just changed i.e. going through a website instead of being in the store. The mission and intent are the same. And I'll add if you're someone that purchases digital music legally then you might as well spend just a few extra dollars and get the vinyl cos that's all the difference in price is. So my point really is that DJs should have vinyl decks as well as a digital set up.


lawlietskyy said on the 1st Nov, 2012

^^^^^ Learn to condense your bullshit into a an easy to digest form #constructivecriticism


walkdogz said on the 2nd Nov, 2012

yeah cos what I said had nothing to do with the topic. Sorry it doesn't fit into your hipster twitter hashtag using word limit #dickhead


ArmySniperDan said on the 3rd Nov, 2012

Diplo, the first moron to bring Justin Biebers awful pop music to the Dance Music World

Miss Mish

Miss Mish said on the 3rd Nov, 2012

not into hearing a repeat of a set - get an instrument and add something unique or I'll just buy the CD! or better yet go and see a live/mixing performance


grapsta said on the 7th Nov, 2012

meh - there's always been big djs getting paid loads - and theres always been the man in the street djing for $50-$100 a set.


El3ktr0k1d said on the 10th Nov, 2012

@ walkdogz

u have to be the biggest hipster/sheep around here, didnt u jump on the vinyl bandwagon 10 minutes ago cause its hip to play records at the moment, and didnt u jump on the boring as batshit deep house bandwagon few years ago from a trance background, and what about ur shitty sup podcast, get over yourself you tosser, if anyones a sheep/hipster its you u asswipe