With all the photos and footage of DJs playing on stages the size of buildings to crowds consisting of thousands of people, there's no argument: DJs are the new rock stars, and just about everybody want to be one. And it's not just because of the trendy nature of the scene and the insta-fame of DJ celebrity, but because most people are convinced that they can be one at the snap of a finger.
With popular people like Deadmau5 saying that the art of DJing doesn't exist, it's understandable why people would be convinced that DJing is simple. So they flock to their local Guitar Center to pick up a DJ controller, and they (more often than not) illegally download Serato, and now they think they've become a DJ. And the EDM world is letting it happen without any filtering, testing or even minor hazing. When this impression that everyone can be a DJ becomes so widespread, it makes you think, "What's the point of a DJ if anyone can be one?"
If there's anyone who knows about DJing, it's Dave Minner, who performs this weekend at Junglodium, a massive drum 'n' bass/dubstep DJ event put together by the locally based Sphere Productions. Better known by stage name AK1200, Minner is a veteran in the world of dance music. One of the founding fathers of the drum 'n' bass scene in America, he began his career in 1989. Back in those days, DJs were their own defined profession that served as representatives for music producers and the music scenes in which they were involved, and there were unwritten laws within the life of a DJ.
"You couldn't just play what you wanted to play; you had to play what you were allowed to play," says Minner. The relationship between DJs and producers back then was about trust -- producers would give their tracks to certain DJs for them to play and not give to anyone else. Favors had to be repaid with favors, and there have been times Minner has had to get producers tickets to Disney World in order to maintain fruitful relationships. But it was these working relationships between the two interdependent professions that brought mutual respect.
Another key difference: the crowd wasn't there for the DJ; the crowd was there for the music. "You belonged to drum 'n' bass and the fans; they didn't belong to you," Minner says. "If you were gonna make a living playing other people's music, you had to give the people what they came for."
While the role of a DJ back then was more rigid and much less egocentric, Minner followed the DJ code with pride and discipline akin to a samurai. And it's this idea of being an honorable and loyal agent to the music that isn't followed by DJs today. In fact, the majority of them are the opposite: they're ego-centric tools. To Minner, the new mentality of DJs today is "get paid and get laid," and, unsurprisingly, he reviles that motivation.
"It's not your position to get what you can out of the music and the scene. It's your position to be a representative of the music and the scene," he proclaims.
Stormy, the producer and head of the up-and-coming electronic project At Dawn We Rage, also on the Junglodium bill, agrees with the conventional mentality of DJs being about "me, me, me!" A producer that began during the EDM boom, he's seen many of his peers get into the music scene for reasons that aren't genuine to the music.
"There are people in this for the wrong reasons," says Stormy. "I know some DJs who just want to party. So I see frat-boy-types that are acting like they produced the songs they're playing, and just being dickheads about it."
Just like how the idea that everyone can be a DJ is perpetuated by the "ease of DJing" that's advocated, the idea that DJs are primarily showmen is perpetuated by popular examples, such as the notorious Steve Aoki, who seems to make more of an effort to throw cake in people's faces than mixing live. Calling him out on his antics, Minner has little tolerance for him.
"He's a fucking clown," Minner scorns. "You wanna call him a performer, that's fine. Don't call him a DJ, because he's not DJing. There's no room for him when it comes to integrity in the DJ culture."
With regards to the masses that continue to legitimize these insincere acts, Stormy points out that the bar has been lowered when it's come to DJing. He asks, "Does the crowd even care anymore?"
While Stormy doesn't consider himself a DJ in comparison to a classically trained veteran like Minner, he still plays live shows using Ableton, a popular program for DJing. But he's prepared to add live instruments to his EDM shows. As someone who grew up playing instruments, he wants to incorporate live guitars, drums and keyboards along with his popular productions.
"We want to mesh the two together. I think the live thing will be the savior of the EDM show, and I hope it'll weed out some of the garbage poseurs who are in it right now," says Stormy.
Minner agrees with Stormy, and commends him for his innovation. "I think it'll add longevity to the scene," he says. "There's gotta be more to it than just being good at a computer program."
As for Minner, he feels his duty as a tried-and-true DJ is to stay loyal to the DJ code he's always known, and to pass it down to the next generation in order to preserve the real definition of a DJ.
"If you're not showing people what's right, they're not gonna know any better," he says. "You have to lead by example."