“Mate, you were being such an asshole in the booth last night and the vibe was complete shit,” a fellow local DJ told me the morning after we played a b2b set at a slammed party. In my mind the energy on the dancefloor was infectious and our chemistry was immaculate. The dimly lit room was bouncing about as the crowd swayed and grooved in time with the music. House, funk, soul and disco ignited everyone’s spirits, or so I thought. Was I remembering the night correctly? Not entirely…
I began to recall specific moments when there was a clear disconnect between us behind the decks and the effect that had on the overall atmosphere. The way our quarrels about track selection and mixing took all the fun out of the experience. How I was hogging the mixer, cutting out his tracks early and making nasty remarks when a tune was played that I didn’t like. The control freak inside me was let loose that night and it wasn’t pretty. That was the moment I realized there’s a tactful approach to sharing a DJ booth and I’ll never forget it.
Now, years after that initial incident and countless sessions shared with other DJs, b2b etiquette has become more clear. The guidelines are actually fairly simple and focus more on respect and trust. Here we’ll get down to the basics in hopes that the delicate art of a b2b set is clearly revealed.
Don’t tell the other DJ how to play
First off, unless you’re in the booth with a beginner or a complete knob, don’t tell your fellow selector how to DJ. Hopefully you’re going b2b with a mate or a respected peer, but even if you’re at a casual afters or it’s open decks, it’s important to know that the other DJ is usually there for a reason. Don’t assume they’ve never touched a set of decks before. Everyone has their own style.
Know the appropriate time to mix in
The other DJ has just handed you the headphones after dropping their latest tune and in your mind you’ve already got another heater lined up. You’re itching to play it. That said, mixing out of the previous track before it’s even had a chance to breathe on the dancefloor shows that you’re not even thinking about playing with someone else. You’re just concerned with your own tunes and your own ego. Let the track play, the other DJ played it so people could enjoy it, not just to get a tease before you take over. One of the best aspects of playing with another artist is getting to share new music (we'll get more into that later), so pay attention to what’s being dropped and indulge in the experience of discovery.
Feed off the other DJ
While you may have prepared a playlist folder or record bag with a stack of tunes you plan to play in that session, know that once your b2b partner plays their tunes it’s important to focus on adapting rather than forcing your music into the set. Communicating about where you want to take the sound profile is also key so as to keep the overall ride of the set smooth and gripping.
It’s also a great chance to play a variety of music and create a diverse set, like Jackmaster said, “I do a lot of back to backs and actually a lot of the time I enjoy playing back to back more than playing alone. I'm into such a diverse range of dance music, so it means that I can exercise all the different genres that I like.”
Do your selections really sound good?
At some point during the session make sure you try and get out of your own head for a moment in order to reflect on how the set is progressing. Just like the story that began this discussion, one might think the night is smooth as butter when in reality it’s in total disarray. This can happen easier than one might think. A two hour set can fly by if you’re having fun and even faster if you’re having a bit too much fun. Slow down and process what’s taking place and be mindful of how to build the set.
Read the crowd as well as each other
Being on the same page is key during a back to back set. Knowing how to read the crowd is DJ 101, it’s the core of what a DJ does. Set the vibe for the party to flourish. That said, reading your DJ partner can be more difficult. Like as previously stated, while one artist may want to take the set in one direction, the other DJ might have different plans. A crowd can feel this type of push and pull if it continues throughout the night. Compromise and build off your counterpart rather than resisting in order to force your own agenda, whether you verbally chat about the direction of the set or not.
Never touch another DJ's vinyl when it's on the platter
Mixing vinyl is no simple task and it’s even more difficult when someone else is fiddling with the turntable while you're trying to get a mix sorted. Even the best vinyl DJs need some concentration when locking in that perfect mix, don’t be the one to throw them off. And that’s just with regards to records being mixed in, when a record finishes, it’s best to let the owner of said record take it off the platter and put it back in its respective sleeve. I can recall a time I was DJing with a friend and they went to handle one of my records. They proceeded to drop the vinyl sharply on the ground which chipped an inch off the edge… Absolutely tragic.
Don't hog the mixer
You’ve just played a couple tunes and you’ve got the crowd completely engaged. It’s time to pass off the headphones and let the other DJ build on the momentum, but instead you linger at the mixer. Why? Back the fuck off! Hogging the mixer can lead to delays and confusion. Too much random EQing and overdoing the effects can kill a vibe if not done at the right moments.
Don't EQ another DJ's track
Similar to the issue of touching another DJ’s vinyl on the platter, there’s little reason to touch the EQ when another DJ is getting set to mix in. If you’re messing about with the mixer you could be causing confusion while the other DJ is locking in the bpm and aiming for the perfect spot to drop the next tune.
This is the basis of every point made so far: trust in the other DJ. You both have great tunes, you both have experience DJing and know how to build a consistent vibe. Have faith in your partner and the set will be seamless.
Does a DJ set have to be perfect? Find out here.
For more on b2b sets, here are the unexpected sets we're delighted happened.
Harrison is Mixmag's East Coast Editor. Follow him on Twitter here