About a month ago, Canadian EDM star Deadmau5 took to Tumblr with some strong words attempting to explain what exactly DJ’s are doing onstage behind the turntables and lights. By breaking down his stage setup for the average reader, he proved that he does very little, and then angrily accused the rest of the dance music world of deceiving their fans, throwing the term “button-pusher” around to sum up their live performance. The post was a condescending generalization of what it means to be a DJ, and Deadmau5 got it all wrong.
A-Trak, for one, is still actually spinning. Today, the 5-time DMC champ and all-around nice guy penned an editorial over at the Huffington Post in response to Deamau5′ “button-pusher” accusations to express his views on the situation. He touched on many of the same issues as Deadmau5 addressed, but from a much more accepting point of view and with the convincing knowledge of an expert turntablist. Read the piece HERE or catch the excerpts below.
On His Background
I am a DJ myself. I won five world DJ championships (yes, there is such a thing) at a young age, and this has been my career for 15 years, so I feel a certain responsibility to weigh in on the subject… I come from the most technical tradition of hip hop DJing, known as turntablism. I practiced daily for years with monastic discipline, learning and creating intricate patterns of scratching, beat juggling and trick mixing. To me there is a certain romance to this arcane craft. To me this is DJing, an art that fascinates because it’s a subversive way of playing music.
What Makes A Good Set?
DJing is equal parts technique and selection. A good set is like a convincing speech: the message is as important as the delivery. The magic happens when the tracks are assembled in front of (and in reaction to) a given crowd. When a DJ mixes, his creative effort takes place on the spot. In contrast, for a performer like deadmau5, the creative tour de force takes place ahead of time, in the conceptual stages of his show, and he is then able to execute it like a theatre play. Good theatre is entertaining, it is moving and certainly has value. This is a classic dispute of apples and oranges, and deadmau5’s only mistake in his tumblr post is trying to compare the two. I happen to know him; he’s a smart guy and he can take a joke. I also think he doesn’t fully understand — or care for — what DJing is at the core, but that doesn’t take away from his talent.
What’s Happening To EDM?
Festivals started spending millions equipping their stages with the biggest LED panels and brightest lights, competing with rivals all in the name of this “experience.” Now we are in the middle of an arms race where every DJ tries to out-do the next one with shock and awe. As the performance aspect becomes predominant, a paradigm shift is underway. Crowds used to come see DJs for a musical journey. Now they expect to hear specific songs and furthermore, they want to see a show. I can attest to this myself: the craziest crowd response that I get in my sets is when I play my own tracks, and I built a huge, illuminated A-shaped structure that I bring to my biggest gigs.
What He’s Afraid Of
One has to wonder, when so much emphasis is put on hit records and mise-en-scène: is there still room for DJ skills?… This scene is turning into a caricature. Explosions, private jets, standing on tables (I plead guilty to the latter), and now carbon copy playlists… The hair metal soap opera of EDM risks devaluing a culture that has waited for its big break for 30 years.
A-Trak’s Advice To Newcomers To The Scene
To all the new fans just discovering this genre, come to the shows with an open mind. Don’t just wait to hear the songs you already know. There’s a reason you’re not watching a band. DJing is still at the cutting edge of new music. Let yourself be surprised.