The Real Reason Many DJs Stare At Their Laptops

Last updated 29 January, 2015

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Paul Van Dyk takes a glance at his laptop. While nobody could accuse him of shying away from performing, when DJs stare excessively at their screens maybe there’s something more than just a symptom of digital DJing going on here. Pic: Todd Owyoung

So we’ve all heard the phrase: “Serato face” (not sure why Serato got the monopoly on that one, could equally be “Traktor face” or “Ableton face”). It refers to DJs staring at their laptops excessively, giving off that boring “checking Facebook!” vibe when DJing. But is it really the fault of the software or the way we DJ today? Or is it something else?

In my view, a lot of DJs end up staring at their laptop screens not because they’re doing something amazing with their software, but rather because of insecurity, wanting to act busy (don’t want the crowd thinking you are just up there dancing with them, right?) and/or shyness (it takes some doing to look at a crowd of people from your elated position and realise that everyone can see you, and actually might be watching you!).

The laptop is actually a good excuse not to be watching the dancefloor or engaging with your crowd, not a genuine reason for it.

Are on-board screens really the answer, then?

The reason I raise this is that maybe, just maybe, all these DJ controllers (such as the Numark NV and Traktor Kontrol S8) with built-in screens and so on are solving a problem nobody has.

Maybe “Serato face” or whatever you want to call is is simply the digital equivalent of certain DJs of old, back in the vinyl days, who’d spend too long hunched, partially out of site, over a record box on the floor, apparently flicking for the perfect next song, when really they were just hiding from putting in a performance…

What do you think? Are screen-gazing DJs really like that because of modern digital DJing technology, or because of performance nerves? Do built-in screens on DJ gear solve a problem, or just shift the nervous DJ’s gaze somewhere else? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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