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Does a DJ set have to be perfect?

Everyone loves smooth transitions, but they aren't always the be-all and end-all of a good set

  • Harrison Williams
  • 29 June 2017

As we’re enjoying the sunset at a festival in the Caribbean, Ricardo Villalobos is launching into a vinyl set consisting of his signature blend of minimal house and techno. There’s only been a few transitions when suddenly the needle jumps, leaving the mix slightly askew. With vinyl this can happen, but it’s none the less unpleasant. The crowd cringes at being thrown off the groove, but almost instantaneously the artist is able to pull the mix back together to deliver a smooth blend, inciting shouts of praise that ring out from attentive revelers. Backstage, while we’re chatting to m.O.N.R.O.E, he says: “Hey, sometimes it’s not how you fuck up, it’s how you make it up.” Is this be true? Or does a DJ set have to be perfect?

Villalobos is a magician behind the decks. During this festival set, he moves so freely that you think a trainwreck could be right around the corner at any moment, yet he brilliantly pulls it all back together to deliver an astounding display of captivating and rhythm-focused dance music. Plus, much of the music he plays, we’ve never heard before. He’s going through tracks both old and new, taking the crowd on a sonic excursion. Me and some friends try to Shazam a few tunes only to be left with a blaring blue screen, and we like it better that way. We’re dancing as hard as we’ve ever danced. With this in mind, the notion of perfection becomes completely overrated. It’s about the experience as a whole that makes a DJ set great, right?

Some DJs and fans might disagree here. A crucial component to a DJ set is smooth transitions. In a recent conversation with The Black Madonna for Mixmag’s On Rotation podcast, we asked her what her thoughts were on beat-matching. She explained that if someone is getting paid to be behind the decks, they should have the necessary tools in their arsenal to pull off clean mixes.

“I believe that if you’re being paid to do this then you should excel at all aspects of it, and I don’t mean that to sound snobby,” she said. “I never had the option of choosing between selection and being technical. The idea that one can take the place of another, I do understand that intellectually, and if that’s how someone feels I don’t have any need to disagree with it. But for me personally, excellence across the board was not something that was debatable for me.”

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