The Secret DJ: Resist the urge to become a copycat DJ - Features - Mixmag

The Secret DJ: Resist the urge to become a copycat DJ

The Secret DJ on avoiding the dodging to sameness

  • Words: The Secret DJ | Illustration: William Davey
  • 23 August 2019

I arrived at the festival as an observer for once, rather than a performer. The line-up was strong; all the big names were there. Despite the disparity in ages, every DJ wore techno black. Head to toe. I stood at the side of the stage. Over approximately 12 hours of music two things struck me. The music sounded the same, all the time, and no-one was mixing. Big names. Credible names. I’m a little lost without my glasses, so the black outfits also made them look alike. I was heartened that at one point one had the good grace to stand out a bit and don some headphones as a novelty hat for the duration of his set.

We live in the era of homogenisation. There can be no question that today’s world is a much smaller place. The same brands in the same shops in similar malls that all sell identical products, wherever on the planet you are. People have the same fashions and haircuts thousands of miles apart. Films and TV shows are frequently remakes, books only sell if a celebrity is involved, no radio show is complete unless there’s a familiar, famous host. Festival and club line-ups are, often, an identical stream of the same names that everyone – promoters and audience alike – have decided are ‘ticket sellers’.

Fans of globalisation are generally those who will profit most from it. There’s a famous (and possibly apocryphal) story that no two countries with a McDonald’s have ever gone to war, the argument being that this mark of ‘civilisation’ is proof of an economic co-existence that transcends aggression. But when tested in reality, the presence of hundreds of burger joints in Russia did not stop them from annexing the Crimea, which is also blessed with an abundance of clown butties. No, sorry, but the answer to the problem of ‘too much, everywhere’ is not ‘loads more of everything’. I don’t think we even need to mention climate change and the obvious analogies there.

Some would argue that the very purpose of DJing is to make things that shouldn’t happen happen

Youth culture is a microcosm of the world at large. Our industry is dominated by a very few, very very large brands at the top of the pyramid, held up by thousands of tiny boutique labels, producers and DJs, built on a foundation of millions of unpaid hobbyists. And automation has encroached on all aspects of what we do. An algorithm tells us what music we might like, another sells it to us. A computer downloads a virtual version. And then, all too often, it is synced into a set. Because sync is part of this: it not only automates mixing, it also fails spectacularly when asked to do anything difficult, such as cram two records together that are too different. Some would argue that the very purpose of DJing is to make things that shouldn’t happen happen. And sync cannot turn a hyper Belgian new beat monster into a chuggy cosmic dubtacular workout by playing it at 33 instead of 45. I’m not here to judge, nor condemn. But I will argue that it is removing risk, variety and colour from the dancefloor. All of that nudges us towards sameness, as the tiny amounts of individual, human choice are crushed by the demand that the tune you put on now needs to be almost exactly the same as the previous one, like the nauseatingly comforting expectation of a set of Golden Arches on the next block. No wonder line-ups barely differ from one event to the next. At times it might seem that there is no more magic. The magician is dead, his glamorous assistant killed him and is now pacing around the stage gesticulating madly at nothing.

All, however, is not lost. A vast sea of sameness is distinctly advantageous to the right frame of mind. Homogenisation is an opportunity, rather than an apocalypse. People have always craved novelty. A grey expanse of unoriginality is a highly fertile field for our creative minds. It has literally never been easier to make an impression or generate an impact. Sure, it’s not easy keeping people’s interest once you have it, but that’s all part of the challenge.

Take heart. Now is your time. The antique age of safety is behind us, and the age of glittering innovation beckons. Thank the imaginary beardy white Lord that the new faces are diverse faces, not in the least in His image. Sing hosanna that you can smash a venue to bits if you just take a risk and believe in your difference. Be most upstanding and gladulous that the sheep all follow the same path while you do not. The nature of modern capitalism is to avoid risk and supply demand while simultaneously trying to deny that the demand is almost entirely for something new. It may appear that no-one cares about your innovations because the latest fads are all just slight tweaks on the previous fad. And this is true. But be comforted: this is merely evidence that you are on track. The dance music industry, in its raw, reptile form, does not innovate. It exploits. Leave it to do its job while you do yours. When the time comes for your experiments to be taken global, then everyone will be in tune and fulfilling their purpose. As soon as you start to think that all you want is success and that you will do whatever anyone else is doing to get there, you’ve already lost. Only the unique survive long-term. Flash-in-the-pan band-wagoneers and plastic copyists have zero shelf-life. The real stars shine brightest against a – techno black – night sky.

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