There’s an interesting debate going on in the digital DJ world at the moment, about whether new technology is actually helping us to sound better or not as DJs, and whether it even matters that we care what other people think of our DJing styles. On the one hand, traditionalists and turntablists, people like Gizmo over at Skratchworx, are saying that unless you can DJ really well on two decks, there might be no need at all to get four decks and a load of bells and whistles into your DJing set-up, suggesting that the art of performing is really about something else other than ever-more-complicated equipment set-ups.
On the other hand, aficionados of avant-garde controllerism, such as Ean Golden over at DJ Tech Tools, are saying that what you do with your DJing should be all about personal satisfaction and self expression, and that as most DJs are doing it as a hobby anyway, they should be able to do what they want with their music, regardless of whether it would ever actually work in front of an audience.
I think that Gizmo has a point, in that 80% of what DJing is all about can be done on just 20% of the equipment, and you really don’t need much at all to perform an awesome DJ set. Gizmo realises that it’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts. But I also think that Ean is valid in believing that DJing is art, and art is all about self-expression, and therefore you shouldn’t worry what other people think of what you’re doing, as long as it makes sense to you. Plus, not everything new is understood immediately by everyone – that doesn’t necessarily make it worthless.
Performance needs an audience
Ultimately, though, DJing is performance, and so can’t be done in private in any meaningful way. So once you accept playing in public as a prerequisite, there’s a sweet spot where your artistic integrity and the enjoyment of your audience overlap: Go too far, and you’re a jukebox; get too self-indulgent, and you’re like a guitarist who doesn’t know when to stop playing a screaming solo.
Learning to please an audience and please yourself at the same time, to me, is the DJ’s holy grail. If you can do that with two decks and a mixer, great (although that set-up ultimately bored me personally). Or if you feel you want to experiment with every new technology and technique under the sun, equally good.
Whichever you choose though, you surely miss a large part of what DJing is about if you’re not capable of bringing your audience along with you for the ride.
What do you think? If something makes you feel good, should it matter if anyone else gets it? Or is a DJ who is happy playing in his bedroom on all the latest gear missing the point? Is the audience always right? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.