It’s been all over the internet this week that reality show producer Simon Cowell is looking to take his talent show formula to the DJ competition world. From what’s been leaked, this will appear to work in a similar fashion to Idol and X-Factor, only with DJs competing (rather than singers/performers).
Already the DJ world has blown up into its predictable bevy of hate and angst for anything “pop culture” that dares to invade its private little realm. I admit I rolled my eyes at first, but after thinking about Cowell’s other shows, I now think that “Traktor Factor” might not be a bad thing for DJ culture after all.
Cowell pushes a standard
I will come clean and say I’ve only watched one episode of X Factor and a few of American Idol. What I noticed in both shows is how much Cowell pushes actual talent over “flash”. I know for many like myself, we get tired of seeing popstars come into the spotlight who honestly can’t sing or do much more than look good on a magazine cover and/or get into the tabloids. We’ve seen videos of popstars like Britney Spears, Ke$ha, and Katy Perry where they sang live and sounded horrible. It’s been shown how the massive marketing machine will manufacture a popstar using PR wizards, focus groups, PhotoShop, and auto-tune.
When I watched those few episodes of Cowell’s shows, and even looked at the list / pictures of winners, you don’t see that. Most of the winners aren’t skinny, beautiful, model-looking people. You look at any episode, and those singers have to “bring it”. There is no auto-tune, no stage set or troupe of dancers, nothing more than that person and the mic.
You’ll constantly see the judges become big sticklers on vocal control and song selection, and getting even one of those wrong can send someone home. ??From what I’ve seen, the people who make it to the semi-finals and especially finals are honestly talented, and we’ve even seen booted contestants still land recording deals and go places. The winner is clearly someone who can sing a wide range of music, from rock to pop to R&B and more.
So let’s bring this to the DJ realm
Just for a moment, think about that 17-year-old kid who downloads some bootleg software, hits up SoundCloud and a few blogs to put together a small collection of music, then shows up at venues offering to play for $50 a night.
You see him just smashing together tunes with no style as well as relying on the sync button. If you spilled a beer on his laptop he would be finished, as he would not be able to operate a mixer, CDJ, or turntable. You see he has a smug attitude, believing all you need are girl-pleasing tunes, a fashionable look, and the right technique in fist-pumping and Jesus poses.
I’ve seen variants of this complaint on the internet for years, and I always believed the problem wasn’t technology, but the fact this kid (and others like him) never really had experiences that really teach them the culture. He grew up seeing superstar DJs rocking massive rooms with poses and thus believes it’s all about good looks, girl-pleasing music, and marketability. I can see how some would think Simon Cowell’s new show would bring more of this, but I fail to believe that based on what we actually see come out of Idol and X-Factor. Getting a Pauly D haircut and body won’t fill 26 episodes, nor will taking the Colleen Shannon route of T&A.
No, they have to fill 26 shows involving DJing and make it interesting. This tells me it’s more than just playing David Guetta tunes to a mainstream crowd. I imagine this show is going to literally go through many facets of DJ culture and test these contestants in everything.
You might see one week where a laptop DJ is told to play a set with analogue vinyl on turntables. You might see one week where a hardened rave DJ will be put into a wedding and has to somehow please that crowd. You might see bar / club / mobile DJs put into a turntablist competition (thus they’d have to know how to scratch). You might see vinyl purists forced to do a set on a laptop with a Midi controller. ??We might even see things carried into the realms of production, remixing, and live PA.
Imagine you have five finalists. They’re all handed an accapella and told to do something with it. Now they have to creatively come up with something to wow the judges and the audiences. That’s not going to be easy for the typical poseur or wannabe.
Looking at the big picture
You’re going to run into wannabes like the kid I described earlier. Guys and girls who have the wrong attitude and thus play the system to get into the booth. However, think about how in the past we set the standards we live by. I personally fell in love with DJing from seeing the likes of Jam Master Jay, Grandmaster Flash, and the movie Beat Street. I grew into house music thanks to Chicago’s Hot Mix 5 and the original B96 Mixmasters. I cultivated my own style from listening and watching the likes of Derrick Carter, Lego, Derrick May, Ferry Corsten, Fatboy Slim, etc.
How many of these kids really get to live those experiences in small towns, suburbia, and such??? Now imagine when they watch 26 episodes of “The DJ X-Factor” and are literally shown what “talent” means. To see that you have to know how to do manual beatmatching, how to operate all kinds of equipment (from turntables to Midi controls), what “read a crowd” really means and why programming / song selection is so important, and especially to see and understand the different types of DJing there is out there.
In many ways, this could be an education to the masses on what DJing really is all about, and thus might start to raise the bar and nudge the public on what they should expect out of the DJ booth. ??Even think about all the masses of non-DJs who now “get it” and thus will look differently at the poseur in the booth. They’ll now see him as the wannabe you saw him as all along.
Well, this is a big one. Would you enter? Would you watch? Can the format carry over to DJing? Does DJ culture even belong on primetime TV? Will Cowell pull this one off? Do you think the fact that this could “blow the mystique” is why some DJs are so anti the idea? Please let us hear your thoughts below…