Your Questions: Is It Feasible To Play Truly Eclectic DJ Sets?

Andy Weatherall is a good example of an 'eclectic' DJ, and this style of 'anything goes' DJing can be very appealing to the more adventurous among us. Pic from: erolalkan.uk

Andy Weatherall is a good example of an 'eclectic' DJ, and this style of 'anything goes' DJing can be very appealing to the more adventurous among us. Pic from: erolalkan.uk

Digital DJ Tips reader Mark writes: "I'm currently learning to DJ, but I've been a music obsessive for years. I'm mainly learning with deep house, house, chart mixes, Calvin Harris, that kind of thing. I wondered what your thoughts are on truly eclectic DJ sets. This is presuming that you can get a place that would let you play a set like that. I recently heard Andy Weatherall talking about his early sets and the range of music he'd play in an evening, so, I guess it's possible."

"In my mind, as long as its a great tune, it's a great tune, irrespective of genre What advice could you give on trying to get a set that goes from Fourtet's Suit and Tie Remix to The Stooges I Wanna Be Your Dog, via Sly Stone? I'm learning by using your How To Digital DJ Fast by the way, and it's honestly invaluable."

Digital DJ Tips says:

I think this is a fantastic idea, and I think as DJs get more experienced, they yearn to play this type of set! Music is a language, and knowing as many "words" as possible can only help you. You need to understand the importance of looking for links between tracks (vocal, instrumentation, "energy", tempo, key, groove etc), and start to think in "blocks" of mood rather than just play completely all over the place. Creative mixing becomes important here, too.

Think about an overriding "theme". For instance, I play in a beach bar. I can play rock, reggae, funk, dub, chill out, house, ska, indie etc etc but it all has to have that "beach" feel. My organic theme that has developed over time involves records with lazy vocals, whistling, bongos, mentions of "sun" etc etc. I can play all kinds of genres, but each tune has to "fit".

Finding a place to let you play is another part of the battle. You need to have vision here: Know your city well and see a "gap". Approach the venues where that "gap" might be filled. Choose a venue that at least half understands what you're trying to do, and give it a go. The beauty about bars, lounges, pre-club venues etc is that you don't need to get people dancing, they can just enjoy the tunes. Later, if your concept takes off, you could pitch the idea to a small club, and be the resident DJ… and the beauty is, you've tested the blueprint, and you've honed the formula. Because there definitely has to be a "formula" - eclectic doesn't mean random.

Do you class yourself as an "eclectic" DJ? Where do you play and how did you get your slot? What are the challenges and triumphs of being this type of DJ? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. To Mark;

    I am a dj who doesn’t focus on the dancefloor approach. While many of my colleagues in DC can mix electro, dubstep, trap, prog house, moombah and more traditional hip-hop during a 3 hour set and have the floor moving the whole time, I approach djing differently.

    I mix spoken word poetry, classical music, and gabber/hardstyle techno into my sets. I seek to create an artistic experience rather than providing ambience noise for dancing (don’t misinterpret that as me hating on most djs, not meant like that at all) and I’ve yet to hear any negative feedback.

    I actually prefer the lounge scene (or even djing in art galleries would be phenomenal) to the club scene; identify exactly what you want to do as a dj. If you’re going for moving the club floor, just make sure the bpms transition smoothly, you gradually build-up/release (this comes down to style) and that beats are similar when transitioning. Also, consider using remixes or collaborations between artists of different genres; using Avicii/Afrojack remixes can easily get you from a softer Swedish House Mafia sound to floor-tearing Sidney Samson or Nicky Romero, then onto some Tiesto. Lil’ Jon is also doing a lot of electronic music these days; you could start with an older song where he provides vocals, then transition into one of the newer tracks he’s on. Also, considering incorporating some acapellas into your set, have the original track playing, beatmatch the new genre song you wish to drop, and make sure the vocal tracks line up. Hope some of these suggestions helped.

    -NietZsky

  2. I’ve had an on going series of mixes I call “Music for the Eccentric Mind” where I play pretty much anything including some very eclectic dance music genres, most notable psychedelic trance. I’ve been doing this for awhile now and while you the DJ may think those tracks are great, you have to think of the crowd. And Phil makes a great point in this response, where you can’t just shove a crazy track in an already beautifully flowing set and expect people to digest it just because you like it, imho, there has to be some sort of ‘ease’ into it.

    Phil also makes a great point by having to find the right venue to play at. I’ve been mixing for more than five years now, but I’ve only played live twice (third coming up this Sunday). Now there’s a lot of factors that go into that, but the main thing to take away from it, is that the more eclectic you seem, the less likely you’ll actually get to play.

    Good luck!
    -Ben

  3. DJ Bios says:

    I have done this kind of all night long sets for 15 years, week in week out, with music ranging from house/techno to old-school hip-hop, R&B, funk, and even (lots of) rock.

    The key here is knowing your audience and rely on regular followers. Another important thing is to always watch the dancefloor and say whether you start sensing some kind of boredom. This might be the signal you need to move on to another genre.

    When switching genres, the important thing is not to break the mood nor the energy. These transitions are utterly important if you do not want to empty the floor. You first track of any given “genre sequence” needs to keep people on the dancefloor, so play it safe and don’t rush to the most underground sounds just yet.

  4. Every time i go to a club or event i try to perform this way. The lounge/bar scene is allot more receptive to this idea but i have made it work in the clubs that i frequent. I believe that is mainly due to the “regulars” know that it just another trick in the bag. I would love to DJ This way all the time but i have noticed the majority of club goers have a really hard time hearing their favorite songs played in a different way. Unless your transitions are seamless between various genres, i wouldn’t recommend getting to eclectic off the start?

  5. Great thread! This is us. Our club nights musically go all over the place from said Stooges to Daft Punk to Horace Andy to AC/DC. Tips above are all no brainers if you want to genre hop.

    Prep is key. Auditioning tunes and making them flow/work together is vital. Otherwise it can fall down badly. Do we get bookings? Yep but our nights are where we drop all sorts and have the most fun.

    Keep spinning…

  6. Just realize that you’re not the only one drawn to the “eclectic” tag; there are MANY MANY MANY DJs out there who feel that this is them (and perhaps rightly so, who knows?).

    I’d refrain from using the term as a tag when uploading mixes or promoting yourself, the word has less heft than it used to. Phil is spot on about an overarching theme/vibe, as well as being able to see a niche in your location for that type of mixing.

    Just let your skill speak for you and refrain from trying to push “I’m an eclectic DJ” into too many peoples faces be it online and off; it’s a damn fun way to DJ.

  7. The “eclectic” label certainly fits the monthly worldbeat dance gig that I’ve co-produced since 2004. We play African, Latin, Indian, Balkan, Caribbean, and Arabian music — some fused with electronica, others straight up.

    We got our start by approaching a bar/pub that had a cool room. It turned out to not really be the right fit, but it was a great way for us to hone our sound and the concept for a few years.

    For the past six years, we’ve been playing at a 200-capacity bar/lounge that morphs into a dance club for the night. This venue has made all the difference, as its management is open to a wide variety of ideas for live band and DJ events (as long as the patrons buy drinks, of course…), and it’s in a part of town with a lot of walk-by traffic. We got a foot in the door thanks to a friend who was producing a monthly Francophone DJ gig there.

    Our crowds were small for the first two or three years (in the previous venues). Then we found the right place, and the night really took off. We were packing the venue, and we still do.

    I really agree with Phil about themes (in our case, tropical and travel) and looking for links between tracks (James Brown can flow into Afrobeat; Balkan beats can link to Arabian or Indian music, and so on).

    We know the event will never go mainstream, and we’re fine with that. We both have day jobs we enjoy, and the DJing is a passion, yet it brings in very decent money. And I think our crowd has always been looking for something different. Somehow it works.

  8. as a hip-hop dj we’ve been working with acapellas for YEARS. as a precursor to the modern “mashup” that hip-hop djs called “Blends” one of the first djs to put r&b acapellas to hip-hop beats was dj ron g(google him) once he made it popular then others followed like s&s and of course kid capri. for me its more about the beat than the acapella. sometimes they work and sometimes they dont.its about finding the right combination. heres some of my best and wors blends as an example https://soundcloud.com/dj-iceman-4

  9. I would say that this kind of eclectic/balearic style is most typically suited to bars, lounges and club backrooms. Some of the most well known and popular DJs in the world could be given this tag. Those such as, 2manydjs, fatboy slim, and mark farina in terms of the range of music they play and types of settings they will perform. Heck, even avicii plays country in his sets now!

    There are no rules about what you play, or where you play it. You just have to go with your instincts to develop your own sound.
    good luck

  10. Eclectic for me isn’t only playing a broad range of music but digging extra deep into your collection for those rare gems most people may not know. My favorite eclectic sets usually come from DJs who have been at it for a really long time. Because it takes time in a music collector’s journey to get to the places where those rare songs are dwelling. Often it takes searching outside the standard tune hunting channels of the masses to find them also. Years ago this was always really noticeable in DJs who traveled a lot because they were exposed to new sounds by visiting far off lands. The internet age has changed this quite a bit, but it still takes that extra effort to find new sounds and music movements.

    Like others have said, having a regular gig at a place like a beach bar or lounge where you have to play really long sets not specifically for dancing is huge for building this type of collection. How else are you going to fill all those hours of music! The idea of playing long extended sets that slowly build from a lazy afternoon to sweaty dance floor hours and hours later is actually my idea of DJ heaven.

    • How else are you going to fill all those hours of music! The idea of playing long extended sets that slowly build from a lazy afternoon to sweaty dance floor hours and hours later is actually my idea of DJ heaven.

      yeah i’m with u – playing lots of sets like these in between 2 hour warmup & peaktime sets. love long sets – these rule.
      nothing better than building it up and keeping the tension for a bit then taking it down again to give them a bit of a break and breath just to push them close to the edge again one more time surprising them with tracks they wont expect it that given situation – just love that.

      for some flavour tune in @

      http://jennyrobledo.moonfruit.com/

      regards Jen

  11. Here’s the thing – it’s not difficult to play songs people don’t know, it’s not difficult to go open format, but it IS difficult to do both of those things and keep interest. I suggest finding some sort of balance the same way a band that does originals and covers does. You could also just hit the streets and clubs hard and try and build a following, being super super different isn’t always easy if you’re not producing your own tunes.

  12. links between tracks is about the most important part for me , it cannot or should not be just about showing my collection off.

  13. futureglueq says:

    This is a great article/thread.

    I love playing/hearing this type of set. All the top DJs who are not doing the 2 hour peak format do this. I remember seeing Theo Parish open with the Police “Bring on the Night” with the bass EQed up. That really turned me on to the possibilities of doing a mixed set.

    The long set is key to this. Start early when people are not drunk enough to throw themselves with abandon on the dance floor. I love early sets cause you can chance it and put on the more experimental dub tune or obscure 70s afro-jazz etc.

    To break the monotony of 125bpm during the peak, I might throw in a Howlin’ Wolf number or Erykha. Also playing around with the bpm all night long helps.

    A last tip is to have ‘energy levels’ in the comments of your songs. I have a system d0=no beat, d1=slow beat, d2/d2.5=chill d3=dancing d4=higher d5=peak. Then I build dynamic playlists by energy level or theme as opposed to genres (“d2&d3, beach” “d4 chick music” “d5, classics”, etc.)

    Any music, played all night long becomes blah. Think of your set as a journey but make sure the crowd is willing to follow.

  14. I think there is a lot of room in the world for more eclectic sets. This is especially true as the DJ field gets more saturated with DJs playing the top songs from beatport.

    While my club/party sets almost always stay with in the genres of house and techno, I love listening to eclectic mixes on my own time.

    I have to plug Damian Lazarus’s podcast “lazpod” as my favorite eclectic mixes: http://lazpod.com/

  15. Funk Gears says:

    Currently Im doing warm ups in a bar from 8-12pm after which people can go into the night to continue the party. The owner lets me play whatever I want to. Really. Which is good to test the music if it catches attention. You know, small signs showing that they like what they hear. Switching genre can be very popular if tracks are chosen with care.

  16. After doing this kind of mixing, I realize one thing. Phil hit on it. The venue has to support you. If some drunk idiot starts asking for music you had no intention playing, the venue has to back you on it when you refuse. If not, that shows you how lame the place is.

    • Yeah you’re spot on. where I play, they don’t want 1. Traditional Spanish-style music. 2. Pop music (in my town here in Spain, EVERY SINGLE OTHER venue plays one or other of these). So that gives me the “permission” to build my own vibe.

  17. unrelated question.. i started DJing with a really cheap controller (ion Discover DJ) on Djay then progressed to Traktor.

    I added to my setup with Maschine that i mainly use as a controller for effects, cues, loops etc. I feel that i have all of the basic djing skills under my belt (*proper* beatmatching/mixing etc) but now want to buy a controller that suits my abilities, something that pretty comprehensively provides full control of traktor (and would replace maschine in my setup).

    S4’s are the obvious choice, but this is too expensive for me, what options below 500 pounds are there that could provide me what i need?

    Thanks in advance for any replies!

  18. chuckbrow says:

    I play sets like this all the time, even playing on bills with bands and catering opening sets to their sound. I would recommend looking into live music venues on nights where they usually don’t have bands. I find the crowds in these locations to be a little more open to sets like this. Since it’s a place where people are used to hearing different sounding acts it’s not such a shock to hear someone spinning a set that might not be classified as dance music.

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