How to B2B: Six DJs share wisdom on the art of sharing the decks - Features - Mixmag
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How to B2B: Six DJs share wisdom on the art of sharing the decks

Is it all about one-track-on, one-track-off? researching your partner beforehand? Our b2b insiders explain all

  • Words: Megan Townsend | Special Request photos: Steve Gullick
  • 23 November 2021

Thrilling for the crowd, nerve-wracking for the DJs - the b2b has become an art form unto itself in clubland. For those watching from in front of the decks, it's a chance to see a mash-up of styles between two of your favourite performers. Is it a different story from behind?

For some, the b2b is a high-risk/high-reward scenario that sees DJs - many of whom are usually in complete control of their setlist - expected to react spontaneously to the selections of someone else. For others, it is as natural as playing records - an opportunity to relish in giving up musical autonomy for a couple of hours and be taken back to the days of learning how to DJ with friends and have a bit of fun. Regardless of your persuasion, most DJs have a b2b style, different etiquette rules and overall musical styles.

Read this next: B2B etiquette: A guide to the subtle art of sharing a booth

Ahead of The Hydra’s two mammoth b2b shows at The Drumsheds in London, we caught up with six artists (or three b2b pairs) who will be getting behind the decks together to find out what it takes to make a successful b2b. Some have played together before and are familiar with each other's styles and techniques - for others this will be their first time.

Check out how Special Request, Modeselektor, Tailor Jae, Yung Singh, Jennifer Cardini and Danillo Plessow (Motor City Drum Ensemble) are preparing for their upcoming b2bs below.

Special Request b2b Modeselektor

What are your plans for your b2b set - are you going to wing it? or have you got something up your sleeves?

Special Request: We know what we’re doing, I’m excited to get stuck into this different formation.

Modeselektor: We are not planing anything and will adapt to the vibe, we like to keep our sets flexible and spontaneous.

How do you think your styles compare?

Special Request: Vastly different in some aspects, but also all three of us hold techno as a motivating force in various ways, so it’s the glue that binds — but there’s plenty scope to go beyond!

Modeselektor: We expect that we will get along with Paul very well. We love his style and it will be crucial to keep the pace of the music in mind.

Will this be your first time playing together? or have you played together before?

Special Request: First time

Modeselektor: This will be a premiere and our first time playing together.

Are you excited to play together? what are you excited about the most about playing with this person(s)?

Special Request: Yeah, I’m hyped. I first caught Gernot and Sebastian at a huge techno event in Madrid many years ago. I was playing another stage with Carl Craig’s Planet E label, and afterwards I ended up watching Modeselektor absolutely level it. They have this high energy thing that I really connect with. I then caught them at Space in Ibiza and some other less glitzy spots and they always delivered a high-impact performance. It was a no-brainer when The Hydra asked me if I was interested in doing this.

Modeselektor: We are super excited. We have been big Special Request fans from day one and are super happy that this is happening. We are most excited about the fact that there won’t be any musical rules or guidelines to follow.

Read this next: The Hydra reveal two mammoth line-ups at The Drumsheds

What is your b2b style, are you one-track-on one-track-off? do you like alternate based on mood? or do you prefer just seeing how it's going?

Special Request: Depends on a few factors like how much time we have, who it’s with, what the style is. I’d say for this probably two-on-two and see how it unfolds

Modeselektor: For us it’s most enjoyable if everyone plays one track only… that’s the most fun for us. But we are always open and spontaneous and see how it goes.

What is the most important rule of b2b etiquette do you think?

Special Request: I always try and enable whoever I play with wherever possible and this is actually tricky without a lot of prior thought and preparation, but there’s a way to do it where you create multiple options for your partner to build on. The thing with any b2b is that it’s not only for the DJs, there has to be a delivery of the moments that people are gonna remember, so basically keeping those two things in mind has never steered me wrong. I’m not one to lay down rules and conditions, I trust that if somebody is up to it, then I’m fully open to them expressing themselves completely.

Modeselektor: The most important thing is to give each other space, to not push someone in a specific direction.

What can the crowds at Drumsheds expect from your b2b?

Special Request: Every shade of rack racket under the sun and some from behind it

Modeselektor: Just one big party!

Tailor Jae b2b Yung Singh

What are your plans for your b2b set - are you going to wing it? or have you got something up your sleeves?

Tailor Jae: We haven't actually discussed the set yet to be honest haha, so at this moment in time, I guess we're going to have to chat about it. More than likely we will keep it authentic and wing it.

Yung Singh: We haven’t spoken about it yet! Maybe we’ll have a quick call a few days before the set and just go over different ideas so can fling some tunes into our crates accordingly and then play it by ear... or maybe we wont and just turn up on the day and wing – who knows?!

I pride myself on being able to draw tunes from so many different genres/styles/sounds that I'm confident I can play something that’s appropriate for any and every context. I know Tailor Jae is the same so I have no doubts we’d be able to pull off something good.

How do you think your styles compare?

Tailor Jae: From what I’ve heard from Yung Singh so far, we're both similar in terms of our love of underground sounds, very similar musical palette, so I think we will mesh quite well.

Yung Singh: Pretty well – we’re both very genre-fluid but very much rooted in the UK bass/soundsystem spectrum. We deffo have different styles of mixing but finding that middle ground is always fun and where the magic happens.

Will this be your first time playing together? or have you played together before?

Tailor Jae: Yeah this will be our first time playing together. For me personally I haven't done many live b2b sets, so it’s still new territory for me — I’m excited to throw myself in the deep end and see how our styles combine. Yung Singh is great at moulding his heritage into his sets so that will be great to witness.

Yung Singh: First time! I cant wait! TJ is a wizard on the decks so I'm a little bit nervous in case one of her technical tricks bamboozles my brain but I'm looking forward to the challenge. I'm very honoured to be going b2b with her.

Read this next: B2B: Five unexpected sets we're delighted happened

What is your b2b style, are you one-track-on one-track-off? do you like alternate based on mood? or do you prefer just seeing how it's going?

Tailor Jae: Again not familiar territory for me but, normally when I listen to music I can sometimes hear when something might combine well, so maybe we will work like that, try two-for-two and if someone wants to mix a few more because they have something that might work well; then i’m sure we will be happy to do that too.

Yung Singh: A bit of both I'd say – I'm quite open to any approach. I guess the b2b style really depends on the other DJ too. Sometimes it changes once you start to build a bit more trust and understanding also – for example, when I went b2b with Ahadadream a few weeks ago we started off going two-for-two. About 30/40 mins in he suggested we go one-for-one, which was a lot of fun. We weren’t strict about it so sometimes we played another tune or had one ready to go across the four decks. Sometimes we bought each other more time by looping the tune that was about to run out and so on. Our b2b style changed as we built up a rhythm and understanding with each other. To sum all that up – I guess my b2b style is whatever feels natural for everyone involved.

What is the most important rule of b2b etiquette do you think?

Tailor Jae: I don’t think there are any rules, just play, have fun and make sure it sounds good [laughs].

Yung Singh: Let the other DJ's track breathe. There is nothing worse than someone cutting the tune you played so they can slam one of theirs in. Also, making sure not to take forever when you're mixing/playing all the bangers with no regard paid to the flow of the set/environment and so on. Basically, being selfish and hogging the decks/attention. It's a team effort and far more enjoyable when an effort is made.

What can the crowds at Drumsheds expect from your b2b?

Tailor Jae: Lots of bangers, lots of bass, lots of high energy. There are a lot of different worlds musically combining that would not necessarily happen in the same night or venue, so I guess from us I’m hoping authenticity to who we are, the sounds we grew up with and tracks that mean something to us.

Yung Singh: Whether or not we plan something or wing it and play it by ear on the day, we’ll both probably lean into the more experimental side of the UK bass/soundsystem genres given the big techno leaning line-up and venue. Honestly there are so many possibilities I’m incredibly excited just thinking about it. Other than that – lots of bangers!

Jennifer Cardini b2b Danilo Plesso

What are your plans for your b2b set - are you going to wing it? or have you got something up your sleeves?

Jennifer Cardini: Danilo and I are good friends, we have known each other for a while. We will probably meet or jump on a call prior to The Hydra and exchange ideas and music. We also haven't met in a while, I'm sure the joy of being reunited will bring something special to our back-to-back.

Danilo Plessow: I imagine you can expect me to play a bit “darker“ than usual, packing some stuff I haven’t touched in a while!

How do you think your styles compare?

Jennifer Cardini: Firstly, I have to say that I play more "house" than people think and I love disco! Both Danilo and I have been DJing for such a long time that we've navigated through all genres, we have a lot of connecting points, more than people would expect. We both love Robert Hood, Mike Ink, Drexciya, Dopplereffekt, Aphex Twin, Italo disco, 80s EBM stuff.

Danilo Plessow: Jennifer and myself go way back, we met in Cologne when I lived there in 2008-9. I have fond memories of nerding out with her over obscure new-wave, post-punk and electro records; she’d swing by the studio or if she had the time she would cook for us, something I miss to this day. There's definitely a lot of common ground, and I'm always up to step out of my comfort zone too, I like challenges.

Will this be your first time playing together? or have you played together before?

Jennifer Cardini: We only did it once, a long time ago.

Danilo Plessow: We have played together at least once before, possibly twice. The one time I remember was in Paris for her Rex Club residency, which was a lot of fun! Jenny has a serious and well-deserved following there, and it was one of my first gigs [in Paris], so naturally, I felt that like this I’m being in the right hands. I remember towards the end we went quite fast, dropping Drexciya’s 'Black Sea' was a particular moment of bliss!

Read this next: Manchester DJs smash the world record for largest B2B relay

What is your favourite memory of playing together?

Jennifer Cardini: Almost 10 years ago at Rex Club. It was a great night. I remember he played 'Actium' from Aphex Twin and I played 'I Can't Kick That Feeling When It Hits' from Moodymann. I'm thrilled to hear what he will choose for this back-to-back. Pretty sure I will discover a lot of cool stuff and unreleased edits.

What is your b2b style, are you one-track-on one-track-off? do you like alternate based on mood? or do you prefer just seeing how it's going?

Jennifer Cardini: Usually one record each but this can always change spontaneously if it makes sense, and works with the flow.

Danilo Plessow: I don't do that many b2b, but sometimes it's a great opportunity to try something different. I played quite a bit with friends with a similar style, like Jeremy Underground, Antal or Mr. Scruff, but also did some with more adventurous combinations, like Laurent Garnier, Omar S etc. It totally depends on the mood and setting on that particular day, if it's a three-or-four records each, or a real one-each kind of thing.

What is the most important rule of b2b etiquette do you think?

Jennifer Cardini: To be open and generous.

Danilo Plessow: I really had to learn the etiquette over the years. Nowadays I don’t rush into the other person's record but rely on constant communication - when is it OK, where do you want to go etc. A b2b is definitely not the place to be egotistic and show off your records, you need to try to build something together.

What can the crowds at Drumsheds expect from your b2b?

Danilo Plessow: I'll be really happy to see Jennifer, It's been way too long, so i guess I'll be all smiles and hopefully transport that energy into our selections.

Tickets are on sale for The Hydra: Not To Be at The Drumsheds, for more info head here

Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Digital Editor, follow her on Twitter

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