My busy little mind threw a question over to the Facebook masses the other night as it was buzzing around my grey matter on the way to football. It was along these lines: If you played a style of music back in the 90s and that style died and you moved on to another style of music, then that original style re-emerged and you went back to it, are you going back to your roots or are you a bandwagon jumper? I got several interesting responses from my DJ pals so I thought I’d elaborate on it with a blog entry.
Straight off the bat I’d like to ask you to list out any DJs that have played just one precise style of music their whole career? You can say someone has played House music their whole career but that sound palette may have moved 3 or 4 times through that period. You could say that David Rodigan has always played reggae all his life, true, but there are a variety of different types of flavours that fall under the Reggae umbrella. I’m going to concentrate on House music centric stuff though, as other areas like D&B aren’t my strong point.
The genre that mainly popped into my canister was Garage or UKG if you must call it that. Plenty of old guard Garage DJs are making some paper again as the scene has been re-energised with artists like Disclosure playing lots of the old hits but also producing new stuff that borrows heavily from days gone by. But what were a load of those DJs doing in the interim? Were they caught in the Ratpack trap where they were just playing ‘classics’ sets? Or were they playing House music? Or maybe even R&B? Now Garage is flourishing again, is it really wrong to go back whence they came?
Have you only ever bought one type of music? Of course you haven’t. If you ignore my very young GR weekly foray to Woolworths to buy a random 7” each week with my pocket money, you’ll find that I started off buying what used to be called Hardcore. Labello Blanco stuff, 2 Bad Mice, Sonz Of A Loop Da Loop Era etc and then moved on to buying Jungle and going to Blackmarket, Unity etc every week whilst at college. That led into House which was very piano led, which went off into US Garage territory and then I’m staring the UK House & Garage scene directly in the face and I started to get gigs and radio work and for me I classify that as my roots. Not the Hardcore/Jungle days as that was just record buying for fun, I didn’t even have decks then. When UKG got too MC/Crew led I was done with that sound and had always been buying House music along with my Todd Edwards, MJ Cole type stuff. I’ve been with House Music since but how often does the trend shift in House music? If you choose to just play a certain style of house e.g. Disco House and it’s out of favour, does that not mean you are not current and playing music that isn’t en vogue? DJ Lewi a DJ that has followed quite a similar musical path to me over the years, and who has had success with releases in various genres said this “Haven’t you got to keep up with the times so that you’re not left behind?”
Isn’t variety supposed to be the spice of life? You look at DJs like Annie Mac or Jaguar Skills and they play right across the board from Deep House to D&B and no one bats an eyelid, but if you played a certain type of music and changed lane, you can get a right bashing. Skream was a high profile DJ that left Dubstep for Disco and House and he stood firm against the trolling and basically asked “Why can’t I?” Why are DJs not allowed to dabble? Does it come down to whether it’s done with integrity? Scuba left Dubstep too and settled in nicely with his Berlin living Techno tinged life. Neil Pierce hit the nail on the head with his reply “I’ve always played what I’ve loved……it’s about Passion not Fashion” the latter phrase he’d borrowed off Phil Asher apparently.
If I was a NOOB starting out DJing today, firstly I would’ve chosen a slightly sexier DJ name and probably stuck a number in it somewhere and join that bandwagon, but I wouldn’t choose one genre at all. I’ve always enjoyed doing my curveball Mysterious Vibes mixes where I cobble together stuff I can’t play out in one mix. But why can’t I play those tracks out? Because my bookings don’t have the dancefloors willing to accept them perhaps? Or that I don’t have the balls to play them? John Jones, long time collaborator with the Hed Kandi brand and boss of Yoversion records said “I think a DJ should never be afraid to play a record from any genre that fits into a set”. I wholeheartedly agree with that and think it’s a case of ‘Right place, Right time’. I finished a set in Belfast once with a bootleg of Enya vs Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’, yes, I know it sounds awful but everyone went mental. Plus no one threw anything at me!!
I’m going to leave one of the parting thoughts with good old (well oldish) Andy Ward, Vocal Booth boss man, creator of my website and a man known for talking/writing even more than me, which I know must be hard to comprehend “The scene is awash with DJs and producers who jumped ship and started making rubbish music and are now back making music they become known for because it’s in fashion again. Fair play to them but they get no kudos from me.”
Who has the right to say whether it’s OK to move around genres or go back to your roots? I think if people are true fans of what you do they will support you regardless of your creative outlets. There’s a big wide world of music out there, embrace it as you see fit, but do it wholeheartedly and not on a whim coz it’s the in thing.