A couple of days ago, I saw a stream of the usual DJ negativity directed at the Boiler Room for daring to host iPhone DJ — quite literally a DJ surrounded by punters in true Boiler Room style, using just an iPhone running Algoriddim’s djay app.
Oh the horror and consternation. How could our hallowed art be reduced to this — it’s not real DJing etc etc. You can imagine how the assorted social threads read, because I’m sure a number of you probably commented, and are furiously typing knee-jerk responses to this post based entirely on the headline alone.
But stop — disengage caps lock, and push away from the keyboard. Now watch the video again.
As DJs, we can agree that the spectacle of a DJ using just a phone jars our sensibilities a little. Checking email? Instagramming? I get it. Two hands gripping a rectangle for an hour doesn’t make for the most engaging of on stage under the spotlight performances.
As DJs, we can equally agree that the set wasn’t up to normal Boiler Room standards. It’s not that iOS DJ software doesn’t have the tools to pull off technical sets — it really does, and is a heap of fun too. The skills however are down to the DJ. You can’t download those.
As DJs, we’re by far the worst people to judge other DJs. We’re more focussed on their gear and their skills than their end results. We’ll always find a reason to fault the DJ we’re watching, especially if they don’t quite align with what we do.
But as DJs, I cannot help but feel that the bigger picture is being missed in this video, or most likely wilfully ignored because hate is an easy emotion to express, and often bypasses critical thought. If you stop focussing your disdain for iPhone DJ for a moment, I hope that you’ll see what I’m talking about.
HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
If you look away from iPhone DJ and his allegedly not-at-all-real-DJing iPhone for a second, and glance around at the rest of the room, you should notice something. Do you see?
For those that are missing the obvious — there’s a room full of people dancing. And everyone there knows what gear is being used — his name is literally iPhone DJ, standing on a stage under spotlights holding an iPhone. There’s nowhere to hide. And yet the floor is full. Must be fake or CGI right?
You see, in our DJ bubble where our music, our gear, and our technique is all that matters, it’s easy to forget why we do this. You may focus on gear, but if you haven’t got a crowd of people dancing in front of you, then you’re rather missing the point of DJing. And no amount of vinyl, terabytes of music, or piles of expensive technology is going to change the fact that you are there to make the crowd dance.
It also strikes me that had the Boiler Room existed back when CDJ-1000s were invented, the first DJ to use them in a set would have got just as much hate as iPhone DJ is now, as would each successive user of new tech too.
The uncomfortable truth that many need to face is this — using an iPhone utilises EXACTLY the same skills necessary to fill a floor as any other technology. You watch your crowd, see what music is working, pick the right tracks, mix them at the right point for the right length of time, with the right EQ and effects, and a liberal sprinkling of loops and sample thrown in for good measure — and repeat to keep the floor full. This is DJing 101 — the gear is interchangeable in this equation.
These are the skills that will transcend all iterations, evolutions, and revolutions of tech. The human element is and will always be key, and is more important than any mass-produced box of future landfill when becoming a successful DJ.
So if you think the crowd is dancing because you’ve using a particular lump of hardware, or keeping it real with vinyl only, then this video will give you insight into how flawed that assumption can be. An empty dance floor is just as achievable no matter what setup is in front of you.
To me, this video shows two things:
The dance floor doesn’t always care about technically nailed sets.
The same dance floor cares less about the gear you’re using than you care to think they do.
My takeaway — real DJs make people dance by any means necessary. You don’t have to like the way that they do it, but this decades-deep melting pot of digital DJ gear that fills floors all over the world every day of the week is proof that anything goes and can work. It’s also proof that the bar for entry is much lower than it ever was too.
With a DJ setup in your pocket, and the biggest library of music in the world being just one Spotify account away, DJs are going to have to accept that times have changed to the point where every single person on that dance floor has the opportunity to have exactly the same setup in their pocket as iPhone DJ. Our role as curator of music and breaker of the hottest tunes has changed thanks to the digital age too, and the dance floor may well have all that music that you’re playing to them anyway. DJs must adapt to this change, because hammering “it’s not real DJing” into a comments box isn’t going to change a damned thing.
Ultimately use what works for you and your crowd, but always keep the floor full, because that’s what DJing is all about. Using vinyl doesn’t make you a DJ, nor does having a full CDJ setup or the latest Serato DJ Pro controller either. Rocking the latest, greatest, and most expensive setup doesn’t matter at all if you can’t get people on the floor.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you still choose to judge a DJ, don’t do it by the gear they use — judge them solely on their ability to make people dance, because that is the fundamental function and measure of being a DJ.