How to be a Ski-J
Everyone wants to be a DJ, few people are DJs and fewer people can DJ. We talked to a handful of the DJs around town to find out what it is all about.
What’s the easiest way to start mixing and what would you recommend to learn on?
Jack - DJ at Danois:
“I started on PC software ‘Virtual DJ’, which gets you used to the basics of mixing regarding the timings and ‘phrasing’. If you realise you really enjoy it, buy a basic DJ deck controller to plug into your laptop.”
Max - DJ at Bananas:
“I learnt on Traktor but I would say Pioneer is easier to learn on.”
Callum - Often seen DJing about town:
“If you want to learn to mix for your own personal pleasure in your room or to play at smaller events and have no real desire to delve into it as a long term hobby, I would suggest you buy a controller, maybe a Pioneer DDj SB3. If you wanted to get further involved I would suggest buying turntables, an old set of Technic 1210’s, or the newer Audio Technica AT-LP120’s, a mixer (Allen and Heath Xone92 or DJM350 for a cheaper option) and some records. This will mean from the beginning you will be learning to beat match properly, and mix on proper analog mixers. This means that when you find yourself in a club playing on a set of CDJs or Turntables with whatever mixer, you will feel fully comfortable.”
Nico - DJ at Next Bar and Jay - DJ at Saloon both recommend turntables.
What is the easiest music to mix?
We had a fairly unanimous answer from all our DJs to this question - House music or anything with a 4x4 beat.
Both Callum and Megan pointed out that newer, electronic music can be much easier as there are no bpm fluctuations. Megan: “Something like old disco is tricky because there can be variations between the beats which make it super hard to beat match.” Callum also recommended to “try to use tracks with not too much going on in the background so you can hear the drum beats and align them easier”.
How do you improve?
Once again, our DJs were all in agreement that there are no short cuts and relentless practicing is the only way.
Beat matching is a really big part of DJing. When mixing on a controller you can see the BPM but this is not the case on CDJs or Vinyl so you have to match the tempos by ear. Callum suggested that a good way to practise this is “if you cannot access turntables, start trying to cover up the BPM of the tracks you’re mixing, and try to beat match with your ears”.
Listening to feedback on your work is a valuable skill in anything you are trying to improve. Jack pointed out that DJing is no exception.
What do you wish you had known when you started out?
Mixing in key is essential to making your set pleasing to the ear. Nico is now better with keys than a locksmith but says that when he started out it would have really helped him if he could have recognised the key/harmony of a track.
Megan: “Don’t compare yourself to other DJs. Some have a huge music knowledge but aren’t that good technically. Some have a limited music knowledge but have amazing skills. You’ve just got to find your place on that scale and stay true to your style and taste. Oh, and you’re an entertainer. Work the crowd and share your energy or you’ll just be another name on a poster.”
Callum: “Don’t get down about your ability if you play to a room with no one there or if people leave. It can just be the night, or the fact that the crowd that night aren’t into the style of music on offer. If you put enough time into your area, whilst also respecting and listening to others, you naturally will create something that people want to stay around to listen to.”
How long were you mixing for before you started doing paid gigs?
Megan: “A few weeks. Totally blagged my first gig and looking back I’m pretty sure that my mixing was awful but it was such a fun night and every time I messed up I just made a joke out of it.”
Max, Nico, Callum and Jack were all mixing for around a year or so before their first paid gig. Jack: “I was mixing around at home for a laugh for a year before I met someone on a lake in Thailand who offered me a gig in London.”
Jay highlights a interesting point which is that it doesn’t have to be about money and crowds: “I used to play drum and bass in my garage with my pals for years. It was a passion of mine and I wasn’t pursuing gigs. It wasn’t until 8 years in when I got a break.”
What is your favourite track to play?
Megan: “Impossible to answer- depends on the moment, mood, time, crowd...”
Callum: “This is an insanely difficult question to answer, but I think if I had to pick a tune, it would definitely be ‘It’s Alright, I Feel It’ by ‘Nuyorican Soul’ the M.A.W 12” Mix. I nearly always play it as the last song, the breakdown in the middle is just unreal.”
Jack: “Insomnia by Faithless. Chills every time!”
Max: “I honestly don’t think I could pick just one song.”
Nico: “Stylust - Flexx.”
Jay: “Opus is up there for sure along with Languages by Porter Robinson. The latest track I’ve got is ‘No No’ by Martin Ikin, - belter.”
One thing not to do?
Megan: “NEVER go to another DJ who is playing and ask them if you can play a few tracks. If a singer is on stage in the middle of a song, you wouldn’t go to them and ask if you can sing a few verses. It’s the same thing.”
Callum: “Use the sync button.”
Jack: “Panic too much or take things to heart. You can’t please everyone. Also don’t go too hard too early. The idea of DJing (depending on your slot time) is to build a vibe and build the energy in the room.”
Max: “Forget the power cord.”
Nico: “Scratching if you don’t know how, or overlayed vocals.”
Jay: “Don’t copy other people’s sets!”
What is the worst thing to happen while DJing?
The answers here were nearly all about the dreaded power cut.
Jack: “Ask any DJ and they’ll tell you they’ve had dreams, or rather nightmares, about this happening!”
Oli (Joblime) who DJs at Victors, sent in this gem minutes before publishing:
“I ate a third of a platter of brownies then had to play a 3 hour set, I got very surreal with it. I asked them to turn the light off in the DJ booth so I could be alone with the music.”
He added a really valuable point - don’t take it too seriously. I am sure our other DJs would agree with this: “One big no-no for me is making DJing sound harder than it actually is. It’s a bit of fun, with well timed button pressing, you’re not Mozart so don’t act like it.”
It should be said that there are plenty more fantastic DJs about town, these are ones we were able to talk to at short notice! Go out there, respect the craft and maybe jockey some disks for yourself at some point!