If DJ’s Aren’t Rockstars, What Are They?

I saw something the other day that really made me reconsider my perspective on musical performance. All the answers I once thought I had have suddenly become questions all over again. What makes a musician “good?” Or rather, what exactly is it that makes for a positive experience at a show? Having been brought up in a society that encourages us to pursue our dreams because “with enough practice anything is possible,” most of us would likely assume that it’s a musician’s musical talent more than anything that decides the outcome of his performance, and trust me, it is most definitely an arguable point. But now let me share with you my experience from a few nights ago.

The lineup (excluding the awful celebrity DJ’s) was A-Trak, followed by Steve Aoki. Now, I respect both of these men to infinity and beyond (I’m a nerd, I know), but let’s be honest, as DJ’s, one of them is just a little bit more talented than the other. That is, one of them won the DMC world championship in turntableism at age 15, and the other…. erm… knows how to beat match with Serato? That being the case, I fully expected A-Trak to steal the show–but I was wrong. Despite his incredible skill, and his massively superior set (which included the ridiculous Robot Rock jam he’s become so well known for), A-Trak‘s show as a whole paled in comparison. He played his entire set to a crowd that seemed to have forgotten how to do anything more than a reluctant shuffle to the beat. And even then, it seemed like the little dancing that was going on was more out of respect for him as an artist than an actual desire to dance. For some reason, the energy just wasn’t there, and I could not for the life of me figure out why. That is until Aoki took over.

Here’s the magic of it all: What did Steve do when he took control of the turntables? Did he put on some kind of miraculous display of musical prowess? Did he have a gnarly intro and a set full of never before heard tracks? Nope. He played Warp. He played Warp, and then proceeded to climb atop the DJ booth with his arms spread wide like Christ himself, whilst screaming “I just want!I just want!” at the top of his lungs, and the crowd lost it. It didn’t matter that we were all dancing to a tune we had heard a thousand times over, and it didn’t matter that the DJ wasn’t even standing behind the decks while we all went nuts. The energy was there, and that was everything.

Game over. Everything I thought I knew about music went into the trash can. If it’s not talent that makes a good show, then what is it? Am I even there for the music? Do I even like music? What is music? What is a musician? And for god’s sake, why is watching someone play records fun?

Have you ever had to explain to someone who’s new to the scene what a DJ’s roll actually is? People ask me all the time, and it never fails, after I finish my five minute breakdown on “keeping the energy high” and “reading the crowd” and all that junk us DJ’s use to justify our trade, the person I’m explaining it to says something along the lines of, “So wait, why wouldn’t you just put on an iTunes playlist?” I used to just shrug it off as ignorance, but having had this near religious experience, that question seems to carry a lot more weight than it used to. I’ve seen crowds go crazy for DJ sets that were literally worse than iTunes playlists. Does that imply that we could all have just a great of a time dancing to a computer? Probably not. But where’s the line? Why does watching a DJ play a track on turntables get us off so much more effectively than if he were to double click it in iTunes? After all, it is the same mp3 file, is it not?

Now, I’m not pretending to be the guy with answers, but one cannot be subject to such profound realization without being forced to draw a couple conclusions. So here’s my theory: All those people that take it upon themselves to convince the world that DJ’s aren’t rockstars? They’re flat out wrong. DJ’s couldn’t be any closer to rockstars. Think about it. Rock has never been about the musicians’ talent. Shit, take a look at ACDC’s frontman. There isn’t a chance in a million that a guy like that could even make it through American Idol’s tryouts, and yet he’s the pillar supporting one of the world’s most successful bands of all time. Their fame came not from harmonies perfectly complimenting melodies, but from random acts of insanity, colorful light shows, fireworks, and that strut thing that the guitarist always liked to do across the stage. That was it. They were gods, and the people who saw their shows were paying not to hear their music, but to experience what it’s like to be in the presence of a bunch of out-of-control deities who represent everything that a human being really wants in life: sex and carefree mayhem, and these are things that any musician, rockstar or DJ, can provide.

So what was it that made Steve Aoki’s party so much better than A-Traks? The same thing that keeps artists like The Bloody Beetroots and Rusko, and countless other charismatic DJ’s at the top of festival bills: they’re symbols that exist in an almost fictional world. They’re like that character in a book that everyone wants to be, and they carry with the the same weight that celebrities like Paris Hilton do. What are they famous for? It doesn’t matter. If they look right (long haired Japanese guy, italian punks with venom masks, mowhawked british bloke) and act right (front flipping into a crowd, pouring Greygoose down the tiniest little asian girls throat, wearing neon green glow glasses and shooting laser beams to the sound of the bass), worship is bound to ensue.

Anyway, that’s my little bit of existential bullshit. Take it or leave it. But even if you choose to leave it, make sure you don’t pass up this bit of UK Funky (which is in no way related to any of the above). It’s a groovy little jam, to say the least.

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Donaeo – Party Hard

Picking That Bone: Episode 1 of ∞

I know I normally write about music itself, and I promise I will get right back to it in the subsequent days, but at this particular point in time, I’m feeling extremely compelled to offer a word of advice (in my own humble opinion) in the first of a series I’m going to call Picking That Bone. Obviously, seeing as I am just one man, your angry disagreements are inevitable, and are thusly welcomed.

“Bangers”

bangers and mash

I beg of you, the fun-loving people of the world, please discontinue your use of the word “banger,” for it has grown to encompass all that is wrong in the world of disco. I suppose a little history might be required in order to explain. Let us jump back a couple years… to 2006.

You might remember this special little time in dance music history, for it is the year that two very important events took place. First, Daft Punk brought their music to the Coachella music festival, which prompted nearly half of the United States to reconsider their position on electronic music, and second, Justice broke into the now buzzing scene, and convinced everyone else (essentially the kids that used to hang out on street corners wearing combat boots and Misfits patches) that “Woah! You can distort a synthesizer!? That’s kinda like punk, so we should definitely not hate on electronic music anymore.” And thus the new wave of dance musicians and Ed Banger minions came to be.

So where did the term “banger” come from? Well that’s easy: It came from the ex-metal-heads who wanted to like dance music but could not yet bring themselves to admit that that’s what it was. And I don’t blame them. They were all fresh out of high school at the time. Their newfound freedom had not yet kicked in, and their desire to feel wild and out of control was still burning strong. They didn’t want to make “disco.” They wanted to make metal on a computer, but since a name for that hadn’t quite been coined, the word “banger” came to be. And hey, I’m fine with that. If the music is being made, it needs a name, and far be it for me to say whether a name can or can’t be used. That’s not what bugs me. This is what bugs me:

The word banger, since 2006, has essentially become a meaningless slur, and yet an onslaught of newcomers continually insist on ramming it through our heads, again and again. In running this blog, I get about 50 emails each day from artists looking to promote their tracks, and almost 50% of those emails starts out with something along the lines of “I just finished this new banger for you.” For all those people, please, heed this warning:

  1. Calling your track a banger, when really all it is is the result of a couple hours of you sitting in front of your computer trying and failing to imitate the Bloody Beetroots synth sound, is not going to get you anywhere. We know you like distortion and angry sounds, but please, be original.
  2. Calling your track a banger clues all us bloggers in to the fact that you’ve only just made the transition from your metal band into dance music, and that you are completely oblivious to the workings of the scene.
  3. Calling your track a banger gives us the impression that you’re making this music on a whim, and that there’s a good chance you only downloaded Reason yesterday. It also implies that you’re only making music with hopes that you’re going to somehow become massively famous without even trying.
  4. If you must use the word, learn to use the word right. You may not, under any circumstances, call your track a banger if it sucks. The word banger (at least back when it was a healthy word) is supposed to refer to a tune that’s filled with so much energy and excitement that it can make a crowd…well, bang. If you make music that doesn’t have any of those qualities, don’t tell people it does! It’s one thing to be an amateur producer, but it is absolutely not okay to lie about it.

So that’s my qualm with the word. If I could, I would seek to have it eradicated from the English language, but since that isn’t too feasible, let me leave you with this:

The word “banger” is dead, and if you want to be taken seriously, do not use it. Ever.

A Couple Tunes

As you likely didn’t come here just to read my pointless slobber, here’s a couple tunes that have really taken the scene by storm. The A-Trak remix is this year’s equivalent of what Pilotpriest‘s Love Lockdown remix was last year. Needless to say, it’ll have you on your knees. And if you’re the DJ, make sure you’re comfortable with being touched by strangers before you consider spinning it.

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The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – Heads Will Roll (A-Trak Remix) (Club Edit)

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The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – Soft Shock (Them Jeans Acoustic Remix)

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Fischerspooner – Supply Demand (AutoErotique Remix)

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Little Boots – Earthquake (Treasure Fingers’ Epicwave mix)

Some People Don’t Need Vacations

 

It’s hard to find someone who works harder than A-Trak, the Montreal-based DJ/producer/remixer. He has the résumé to prove it: the youngest ever DMC champion (15 years old! No Serato Scratch Live!); Kanye West’s tour DJ; co-founder of the Fool’s Gold record label (with Nick Catchdubs.) His reach into the music scene is personal, too. His older brother is one half of electronica duo Chromeo and his girlfriend is rapper Kid Sister. But despite all of the above, he has only one full-length mix to his credit (and no, I’m not counting his Nike Running Man Mix.)

atrak

It’s hard to believe it has been almost two years since A-Trak released Dirty South Dance. It’s even harder to believe that there were only 5000 copies pressed. He’s certainly been keeping busy– founding a record label, releasing a dozen or so remixes and touring extensively. But you’re probably sick of his “Beeper” and “Stronger” remixes at this point and itching for something new. Well, the wait is finally over.

Infinity+1 cover art

A-Trak’s latest album effort, Infinity+1, is scheduled for an April 14th release (courtesy of Thrive Records). Check out the tracklisting below:

  1. Intro / John Dahlbäck: “Sidewalk” 
  2. KIM: “Party Machini” 
  3. Laurent Wolf: “The Crow” 
  4. Farley Jackmaster Funk: “Love Can’t Turn Around” (Lifelike Remix) 
  5. MSTRKRFT [ft. N.O.R.E.]: “Bounce” (A-Trak Remix) 
  6. Donnis: “Party Works” 
  7. Kid Sister: “Life on TV” 
  8. Sébastien Tellier: “Kilometer” (A-Trak Remix) 
  9. The Golden Filter: “Solid Gold” 
  10. Bag Raiders: “Nil By Mouth” (Knightlife Remix) 
  11. Holy Ghost!: “Hold On” 
  12. DJ Mehdi: “Pocket Piano” (Joakim Remix) 
  13. Midnight Juggernauts: “Shadows” 
  14. Gonzales: “Working Together” (Boys Noize Dub Mix) 
  15. Soundstream: “Freakin” 
  16. Little Boots: “Stuck on Repeat” (Fake Blood Remix) 
  17. Housemeister: “What You Want” (Siriusmo Remix) 
  18. A-Trak: “Say Whoa” (DJ Spinna Remix) 
  19. Dam-Funk: “Galactic Fun” 
  20. Alexander Robotnick: “Problèmes d’Amour” 
  21. James Yuill: “This Sweet Love” (Prins Thomas Sneaky Edit)

 
Yes, A-Trak is painfully late on the “Bounce” remix. But this disc still looks promising. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait two months for the entire thing. Listen to track 8 below for a sample of what’s to come.

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Sebastian Tellier – Kilometer (A-Trak Remix)

Just for kicks, here are a couple of other remixes of that same Sebastian Tellier song along with the original version:

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Sebastian Tellier – Kilometer (Moulinex Remix) (Removed by request)

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Sebastian Tellier – Kilometer (Donovan Remix) (Removed by request)

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Sebastian Tellier – Kilometer (Removed by request)

A Bit of a Relief

There’s no doubt that nearly everyone that reads this blog is reading it for the same reason: we all end up at the same shows and parties, we all have friends that walk around wearing fedoras, Puma’s, rolled up jeans, and shirts with colorful drawings all over them that, for some reason, you just can’t seem to make sense of, and most importantly, we all can’t resist the lure of a shining, winding, grinding synth lick that’s just begging for some foot stomping. But on that note, I think it’s safe to say that there are definitely moments where the last thing anyone wants to hear is a 4-4 kick drum. I mean, yeah, a solid 90 percent of the time, it’s all good and well, but when you find yourself driving home at four o’clock in the morning after a solid six hours of turning vinyl, and not even that case of Red Bull in your trunk can sort you out, it’s always nice to treat your throbbing brain to something kind and (in comparison at least) gentle.

World Wide Renewal Program


If you’ve ever felt like the only thing that can really set your senses straight is a smooth ride through DJ Shadow‘s Entroducing or a bit of RJD2, you might be excited to know that you’ll no longer have to be limited by the fact that those two artists have only put out a combined total of about ten albums; Adult Swim has, as of last month, completed a solid project they’ve titled the “World Wide Renewal Program.” What are they renewing? Why, your musical stamina of course! The track list starts out with a bit of that smooth, media and ego free hip hop that both of the aforementioned artists have taught us to love, and then progresses into several quicker and choppier (although still very head friendly) beats that are in some ways strickingly similar to that of Germany’s Modeselektor. It’s the perfect sound track to your sunrise drive. You’ll find the entire release available completely free, compiled as an album with cover art and everything, on the World Wide Renewal Program site, so you’ll have no excuses. Go grab some goodies.
Here are a few of the dirtier sounds I found rather intriguing…

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Via Tania – On Sawyer (Agrape Dope remix)

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Push Button Objects – Breaker’s Delight

Of course, we all know that once you do make it home, you’ll hop in bed, and wake up at just about the right time to head out and start it all over again, and that being the case, you’re going to be needing a topping off in the Disco department.

Danger


I really did believe that when A-Trak released his remix of Boys Noize‘s Oh!, that there would, or rather, could never be a better remix of that lusciously vocoded dripper. I’m not one to say whether or not I should be taking that back or not, but what I will say is that Danger‘s taken a shot at it, and he’s come damn close. Sweeping side-chained synths: Epic, as usual.

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Boys Noize – Oh! (Danger NeOh!Pen remix)

Kitsune Tabloid Compilation


Also, it wouldn’t be very fair to give you something to listen to on the way home without giving you anything for the way there, would it now? No, it wouldn’t. Not only because you’d probably end up quite bored, but also because you’d be missing out on Kitsune‘s recently completed Tabloid Compilation. In short, the German revolution known as Digitalism has been called upon to create a mix that they believe “tells a story”, and the resulting album has, as of ten days ago, been released for your listening pleasure. I’ve been told the boys have infused an exceptionally summery story into their work, so expect to see more than a few sunroof-smiles on the road the next couple weeks…

You can preview the compilation on Digitalism’s Myspace, and once you fall in love, you can pick up a copy through Kitsune’s site.

I Shall Call It… Minimalectro!

It really is incredible how rapidly the music scene’s been changing these days. Think about it: About a year ago, under the reign of Ed Banger, it was nearly impossible to go ten minutes without having some sort of distorted, fuzzy, static-y, Waters of Nazareth-derived synth rammed into your eardrum, and (needless to say) most of us were loving it. If it wasn’t heavy, it wasn’t fit for the iPod (In fact I’m convinced Mr. Pedro Winter actually just made a typo on his record label’s name. I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be “Head Banger”. But actually, maybe he did it on purpose so as not to draw the metal heads into his own personal genre? I suppose that deserves some pondering…). You know, no one expects any one kind of music to last forever, but even I’m amazed at how fast that blew over. It’s like we all just all of a sudden realized that the guy who invented electro was actually some dead science fiction writer who was promising to build us a space ship. Artists like Circuit Freq and The Proxy almost never make a blog appearance anymore without the blogger commenting on how s/he “Didn’t think people were digesting this kind of music anymore.”

And it’s true; From there, the disco kids decided to get in touch with their roots, hence the massive 80’s revival. Artists like Chromeo, Danger, and Calvin Harris decided they didn’t like all that distortion on their synthesizers, so they started their own revolution, and for a while there, we were all considering buying Delorians, weren’t we? (It’s okay. You don’t have to answer out loud. You were.)

Crookers


The reason I’m commenting is because it seems as though we’ve undergone yet another musical revolution. A couple guys from Italy, working under the name Crookers, decided that they just didn’t like all that noise very much at all, and they decided to do away with it all together. Their tracks are little more than a punchy house beat with a few microsamples, a few vocals, and minimal synth usage, almost like a more progressive, electro-fused minimal, and somehow they’re simply incredible. There’s no doubt the boys have started a revolution: More than just a few producers have recently adopted nearly identical styles, and the news just keeps coming. I’m clueless as to why we’ve gone crazy for merely the skeleton of the music that was so recently such an important part of disco, but that’s not to say I’m not loving it!

Also, if you’ve already hopped on the Crookers bandwagon and are just dying to see those Italian heads bob, you might be happy to hear that they’ve finally make their way out to California. They’ll be throwing down the goods tonight at Cinespace’s Dim Mak Tuesday, as well as at tomorrow in San Francisco.

While you wait, check out their latest body-mover:

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Crookers – Mad Kidz

And you’re just dying to hear more of those delicious housy beats (which I know you are) you might want to look into Aston Shuffle. The (I almost feel ridiculous at this point even having to mention this) Australian artist has a similarly infectious beat, but with a bit of a more traditional electro touch. There’s no doubt the vocoded hook toward the middle of the track will have you clicking the repeat button.

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The Aston Shuffle – For Everyone

A-Trak


Moving in a different direction, there’s been a rather unusual release from the likes of A-Trak today. The hip-hop gone electro dj/producer has recently finished a 45 minute long original piece for Nike that’s intended to be the perfect soundtrack to your workout. According to A-Trak himself, his mix is a cross between his newer Disco style and his hip hop roots, so you can expect to hear a bit of the electro rap we’ve been encountering more and more frequently. If you’re already busting out the short shorts and the ear buds, you might want to grab the mix on iTunes before you leave. It’s under the Nike sports section.

And as a final touch, I simply must include this rather frustrating little video I stumbled across. It’s one thing to have an opinion but oh is Mr. Henry Rollins the ignorant one… If you don’t feel like spending quite a lot of time fuming over the controversial comments on the video, I suggest you don’t read them, lest steam start to leak from your ears.