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Watch the throne

The lost art of the warm-up DJ is just as important as that of the peak-time headliner

  • Ian McQuaid
  • 20 November 2015
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But even in the respectable world of underground clubbing, the peak-time set is when it's fine for DJs to draw for the big hits, the 2am slammers, the much-loved sing-alongs, the classics, the tracks that come bristling with so much energy the dancefloor has no choice but to rage 'til everyone is sweating like the PM at a pig farm. But before that can take place, the warm-up DJ needs to have fulfilled the job specified in their title. Warm the damn place up! This is a far trickier prospect than playing peak time; conversely, it's also got more potential for satisfaction. A good warm-up DJ needs to read the crowd, and adjust the tempo and energy level according to the amount of people in the club. They need to see people still struggling out of their coats and lure them onto the dancefloor. Sure, you can do this by pulling out the obvious big guns – but then where next? If you go in at full throttle, there's no dynamic at all, just a battery of CHOONS!! But this isn't what made the UK such a great clubbing nation – let's leave all that instant gratification business to the noobs who think raving started back when Avicii invented the drum machine.

It's worth noting that most DJs were cool with what MistaJam was pointing out. In fact, the main attacks seemed to come from the drum 'n' bass scene, and perhaps illustrate something that's characterised d'n'b for years. Since the mid-90s, many promoters decided that the best way to run a rave was to stick more names on the flyer than you'd see in the credits of a Kanye album. At one point, One Nation was handing out slots that were at best an hour long, at worst 45 minutes. This created a situation where DJs were encouraged to chuck pacing out the window. Before long, a culture developed in which DJs felt the only way they could get noticed was by smashing out their biggest hits in quick succession, and balls to the overall vibe of the night. Anyone who's been at a large d'n'b rave will be familiar with hearing the one massive tune of the moment rinsed around 10 times in a night. If you're cool with that, all good, but the question remains: why bother staying for the length of a night if the set you hear at 11pm is going to be pretty much the same as the set you hear at 4am?

So maybe we should recognise Jam's comments for what they are: a plea to treasure the art of the good warm-up DJ. Let's respect the idea that a night can have a beginning, a middle, and an end, with different energies and vibes to suit. And promoters, stop sticking names on flyers like you're chucking mud at a wall – three or four DJs with a bit of space to breathe are always going to deliver a far better night than 10 DJs stitching up the next one on. Rant over.

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