Paperhouse: On DJing

During the summer, superstar EDM DJ deadmau5 caused a bit of controversy when he wrote a Tumblr post that called out fellow DJs (and himself) for the lack of skill involved in DJing. He wrote, “I think given about one hour of instruction, anyone with minimal knowledge of ableton and music tech in general could DO what im doing at a deadmau5 concert.”

As one might expect, throngs of DJs lashed out at deadmau5 for his oversimplification of their performances. While aspects like song selection are undoubtedly important when DJing, the more relevant point deadmau5 brought up is the lack of improvisation in the EDM world.

Most major EDM DJs show up to a venue not only with their DJ equipment, but also with a massive light and sometimes fireworks show — shows that are planned out, moment by moment. Although the DJ may be twisting knobs, triggering effects, running loops, and making dramatic gestures, these movements are all pre-planned.

I’m not saying lights and fireworks are a bad thing, but when it comes to the point when an artist lets his live act dictate his musical performance, I have a problem with it. Deadmau5 and most other EDM DJs are like pop stars who lip sync their shows because actually singing would interfere with their dancing.

The creative tools that modern DJs have at their disposal are endless, and part of being a DJ is reaching beyond your comfort zone. Don’t plan out your sets track by track and don’t script out your knob turning. There are scores of DJs who follow this, still have fancy flashing lights, and still lead the crowd into a dancing fury.

So go home and start DJing. You’ll be a professional within the hour — unless it really isn’t as easy as the man with a flashing mouse head makes it out to be.

(Originally published in The Tartan)