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Dj: From Jukebox To Artist

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Many people will argue that DJing is not an art, that all DJs do is string together other artists' work and claim it as their own. They argue that anyone with some sense of rhythm and a few technical skills can easily be a DJ. Is it really that easy? No way! A DJ is more than a human jukebox. In this essay, we will explore the transformation of the DJ from a human jukebox, in its earliest beginnings, to a true artist.

What is a DJ exactly? There are two types actually, the radio DJ and the club DJ. Radio DJs are the announcers you hear on the radio in between songs. They introduce songs and chat conversationally to entertain the listeners. Club DJs are the people who play vinyl records or CDs live in dance nightclubs. When I say live, I mean that they are choosing the songs as they go, as opposed to playing a recorded set of music. In this discussion, we will be taking a closer look at revolution of the club DJ.

Many people are attracted to the DJ profession because of glamour, popularity and wealth. Because of this, many DJs in the business do not have a love and appreciation for the music. In Southern California alone, hundreds of club DJs exist, but there are only a handful of good ones. So what makes a good DJ? I believe DJs are a special breed. Good DJs do not hear music like ordinary people. Instead, they hear music in terms of energy and the effect it has on the crowd. Every song has its own energy. A DJ's job is to manipulate this energy to affect the mood of the crowd. A good DJ knows how to control the crowd by reading the emotion of the room and directing that energy by choosing the right songs to play. "By dramatically emphasizing the connections between songs, by juxtaposing them or by seamlessly overlaying them, the modern club DJ is not so much presenting discrete records as combining them to make something new. And thanks to the power of music, this kind on patchwork performance, when done well, can be very much greater than the sum of its parts" (Brewster/Broughton). These parts are the lifeblood of a DJ, because a good job cannot be done without the right tools. The tools are the records and a DJ is nothing without them. It takes years to develop a full arsenal of club-worthy songs. Many DJs have thousands of records. On average night, a DJ will play approximately 30 songs per hour, but they are constantly adding to their collection by updating with the hottest, new songs or classic, rare finds.

The modern day DJ has come a long way from its roots as a human jukebox. When people think of clubbing, they generally picture Los Angeles, New York, London, but the first example of the club DJ actually originated in the small town of Otley, West Yorkshire (Brewster/Broughton). In 1943, a young man named Jimmy Savile wanted to play his collection of records for the public. Armed with only a gramophone and his collection of 78rpm records, Savile charged just 1 shilling as a cover charge and attracted a crowd of 210 (Brewster/Broughton). The night was a success. So much in fact, that he was asked to perform at dancehalls throughout the UK. After some time, Savile realized that he could cut down on the long silences between records by using 2 turntables instead of one, and blending the songs with one another. This is the fundamental principle that club DJing is based on today.

Although club DJing has also gone through many stages such as the Sock Hop era and the New York Jazz clubs, one of the most definitive turning points in club DJ history is the Disco era. This is the time when DJs were seen as more than just people who play music. They were seen as people who manipulate it, create it. Francis Grasso was the first to present a true creative performance. "Before him the DJ might have known that certain records had the power to affect the mood and energy of the crowd; only after him did the DJ's skillful manipulation of the dancers, in the way he sequenced or programmed the records, and only to a far lesser degree in the records themselves" (Brewster/Broughton). Before Grasso, DJs before him merely put records on, but DJ Francis played the music. Back then, DJs did not have the advantage of speeding up or slowing down the record. Turntables did not have this timing device on them until much later. Touching the record was not an option either, since you could not touch the turntables. So Grasso had to have perfect timing. Once the song ended, he had to be right there, ready to throw in the next one. But Grasso soon learned to incorporate radio tricks into his routine. He learned that by putting a felt mat between the turntable platter and the record, he could hold the record in place while the platter kept turning underneath it. This way, he could maneuver the record to his needs. By holding the record while the platter was still spinning, he was able to start the new record at that exact moment, on whatever beat he needed. And since he could now touch the record while in motion, he could speed it up or slow it down at will. Grasso's incorporated techniques are invaluable to today's DJs. These techniques are the most basic concepts of DJing that are used by all DJs today.

Another important time that changed DJing forever was the early eighties. When Grandmaster Flash came on the scene, the art of DJing started off in a whole new direction. Flash often DJed for breakdancers. He noticed that they would do most of their footwork during the breaks of the music (the part of the song which only contained the beats but no vocals). Flash wanted to extend that part of the song. At the time, DJs were just playing the break beats of different songs one after the other to have a continuous flow of break beats. The problem with this is that not all songs are the same speed, so when switching songs, the timing would be off and timing is a very important factor to breakdancers. He worked hard to figure out a way to continuously play the same break beat over and over again. He knew that he could do this by using to copies of the same song each copy of the song on each of his two turntables. This way, he could bounce



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