What is a genre-fluid DJ? Should you be one? Maybe you’re already one and don’t even know it? And if you want to be one, how should you go about it?
In this article, I’ll answer all of those questions and more. Read this if you love the idea of maintaining artistry in your DJing, but don’t want to pigeonhole yourself (or be pigeonholed) into rigid genre boundaries.
What is a genre-fluid DJ?
A genre-fluid DJ is someone who, either intentionally or naturally, doesn’t see or pay much attention to genre boundaries in their DJing. Rather than saying “I’m a deep house DJ”, or “I only play hip hop”, a genre-fluid DJ is more interested in playing a mix of styles in any given DJ set.
Now, you may say “but isn’t that what an ‘open format’ DJ is?”, and to an extent that is true: An “open format” DJ does indeed play DJ sets that are multi-genred.
But the subtle difference here is that with an open-format DJ there is a sense of playing whatever genre it takes to do the job, whereas a genre-fluid DJ may still have a very particular style, or set of genres they play – but within those boundaries, their sets are much more fluid.
To put it another way, a mobile/event/wedding DJ is most definitely open format, maybe conducting line dances, playing oldies, happily spinning pop, singalong rock classics, whatever it takes to get three generations dancing at their events!
But with a genre-fluid DJ, there is more of a sense of trying to construct a coherent DJ set, that will probably be carefully mixed, something that makes an artistic statement and that is “greater than the sum of its parts”… just not constrained by any particular genre, or expectation of such.
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In years gone by, such DJs may have been called “eclectic”, but what’s definitely changed in recent years is that the idea of different musical “tribes” has somewhat broken down. Today, as a music fan you can be into indie and dance. You can like techno and singer/songwriters. You can like hip hop and trance. And what’s more, increasingly, music lovers don’t even think of themselves in those terms any more. A bit of this, a bit of that. Whatever takes your fancy, Genre fluidity.
Why, then? It’s partly because Spotify and other streaming services have got people into the idea of listening to the full spectrum of new (and old) music. It’s partly because varied, multi-artist playlists have replaced artist or genre-specific compilation albums as the main way people consume music nowadays. To hear this in the wild, Pollen, Lorem, and Oyster are three solid examples of “genre-less” playlists available on Spotify.
And of course, in today’s world where rapid change is forcing people to reconsider their boundaries and identities in ways they haven’t chosen (or had) to do in the past, it’s partly because that’s just the way the world seems to be going.
One DJ on our teaching team who I think fits perfectly in this category is DJ ANGELO. Angelo resists the term “open format” to describe what he does, because he doesn’t and won’t play just anything. But within his highly technical, quick-mixing, crowd-pleasing style, he draws from myriad genres. Never too underground, never too commercial, happy to blend old and new, and thinking about music more in terms of energy levels, hooks and textures, Angelo’s style is, to me, quintessentially “genre fluid”.
Play creative performance DJ sets that amaze audiences: DJ Angelo’s Tricks & Transitions
Why would you want to be a genre-fluid DJ?
Of course, you may be perfectly happy playing minimal techno, or underground hip hop, or trap, or Latin, or whatever your style is. That is perfectly fine. But there are definitely advantages to genre experimentation in your DJing. Things like:
- The ability to play to a wider choice of crowds – If you can figure out how to keep everyone happy, and use your DJing skills to introduce them to sounds they may not otherwise experience, you are more likely to get gigs
- Becoming more skilled as a DJ – Frankly, playing a single genre nowadays is relatively easy. As soon as you experiment with genre fluidity, you introduce more challenges to your DJing, which will help you grow
- Finding your own sound – DJ ANGELO, as our example, has a definite sound and style. Being genre-fluid doesn’t mean being a jukebox, or just playing “anything”. Instead, it means not seeing genre boundaries when you’re figuring out the right next track or perfect transition in your sets. It frees you up to make those choices based on a different criteria, which are therefore more likely to be unique to you
Ultimately, as producers and artists across genres experiment and collaborate more, and as musicians as a whole cease to see genre constraints as something they’re necessarily that interested in, this seems to be the way we’re going – so it can pay to think about your DJing in terms of genre fluidity.
How to become a genre-fluid DJ
Here are some ideas if you want to experiment more in your DJ sets along these lines:
Buy a wider choice of music
Stop listening and thinking in genres. Use a streaming service, and “like” anything that interests you. Listen again to everything you’ve liked, and if you can even in the slightest imagine including those tracks in your sets, buy them and experiment with them.
Start adding an “energy level” rating to your tracks
This is one of the biggest tools for playing creative genre-fluid sets, because arguably a track with an “energy” rating of one out of five has more in common with a similarly rated track in a different genre than it does with a five out of five track in its own genre. By sorting your tracks by energy rating and looking for likely transitions, you can maintain a vibe while not respecting genre boundaries.
Tag your tracks by mood
Is a track “chilled”, or “driving”, or “dark”, or “uplifting”, or “quirky”? Add a tag to it that says so. Now you can quickly identify tracks across all your genres that fit a certain mood or style.
Tag your tracks by song elements or instrumentation
Does a song have heavy guitars? Saxophone? Female vocals? Bongos? Whistling? Tag as such. Now, you can match up tracks across genres that are united by these elements.
Tag your tracks by venue
Do you play sundowner sets in a cool beach bar, and also driving sets in an underground after-hours club? Then tag tracks that way. Or, tag then “warm-up”, “peak time” and so on. Thinking about tracks within a certain context is just as valid a way of slicing and dicing them as using genre divisions.
Find remixes of tracks you like in different styles
It’s a good idea to “collect” remixes of tracks that cross the genres that interest you. That way, you have easy ways of switching styles in a set, or playing a track in a different genre that may appeal to your crowd because they nonetheless recognise it.
Don’t think about tracks as a whole, rather as a set of elements
Does a track have a great vocal? Try and find the acapella, and use that in your DJing. Does it have a huge drop, or a great drum pattern, or an instantly recognisable intro? Try looping that element and using that in your DJing, rather than the whole song. In other words, get creative with the parts you choose to use from songs.
Make mixtapes regularly
To become a successful genre-fluid DJ, you need to develop artistry with your multi-genre sets, and to do that, you need to set goals. A great goal is a mixtape, because it forces you to produce a coherent piece of work. So commit to making one monthly, quarterly, whatever. Our mixtape course will help.
Want to give this a go?
There is more than one “flavour” of genre fluidity. There is a huge difference between the laidback, beach bar vibe of my sets and the energetic style of my example DJ here, DJ ANGELO – but we both mix and match our genres. Genre fluidity isn’t about throwing out rules, rather about setting your own, and the freedom this gives you.
If you feel you’re stuck in a genre trap, follow the tips in this article, and just get started! The trick to success as a genre-fluid DJ is to up your technical skills in order to be able to accommodate the more difficult transitions necessary for these styles of DJing, so take a look at our DJ courses that specifically deal with DJing across genres and BPMs:
- Mixing Power Skills – The original, game-changing course that shows you how to move beyond beatmixing and start to incorporate different genres and styles in your sets
- Mixing Mastery – A whole cookbook of new multi-genre ideas that builds on what we teach in Mixing Power Skills
- DJ Angelo’s Tricks & Transitions – All the secrets to playing cohesive DJ sets spinning hip hop, house, R&B, Latin, pop, funk, rock and more
Good luck – and to borrow the words of Karl Marx, “DJs of the world, you have nothing to lose but your chains!”