There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ DJ
All they really need to do is play songs people like
Remember the last good night out you had. Now, strip away the drink, the drugs, the people, the “vibe”: leave only the music. Can you tell me what song is playing? You probably can. After all, it would be odd to end a night out without at least one tune permeating your subconscious. But now look up at the DJ. Here’s where your memory will be fuzzier, maybe even non-existent. As the song plays, what is he actually doing?
If you were asked to list your favourite DJs, you’d probably be able to think of several amazing nights out you’ve had and remember who was on the bill. Let’s face it though, the idea there aren’t hundreds of other DJs who could have made sure you had just as good a night is laughable. There’s such a deep bench of DJs and club nights for every genre you can think of that you’ll always have somewhere to go and have a good time.
Despite this, we all buy into the myths we pick up from friends about the “best” DJs: this elusive, cool group of song-players who can charge over £30 for a club night which usually costs less than a tenner. Rather than question the price and find a more under-the-radar alternative, we pay it willingly.
Nobody knows why these people are meant to be so good and some of the people who rave about them won’t even know what they look like. If the big name they were so excited about had to step out of the room, then – barring a drastic change in genre – they’d never notice someone else taking over the decks. As long as these people hear the one remix they found on Youtube that week, they’ll be happy.
Now I have no doubt there are plenty of terrible DJs out there who would ruin your night at a drop of a needle. They’re the ones who talk over every track to keep telling you your night starts here. They play the same songs every night and are so bad at reading the room they’re probably illiterate. To be clear, I’m not talking about them. This is about the indefinable gap between the good and the great, the no-name journeymen you’ll only learn about if you stumble upon them at a festival and the penthouse-playing “Top DJs of 2015” you’ll never be able to afford tickets to.
Without spending a night out standing and staring at the DJ for six straight hours, it’s difficult to assess the criteria by which a DJ should be judged. A singer can be assessed by their voice, a band on the sound they create together and a songwriter on her sheet music but there’s no easy equivalent for DJs. If it’s just how many bangers they play, surely a well-crafted Spotify playlist would suffice.
Obviously there’s value to be placed on certain technical skills but there’s no guarantee they’ll translate to a memorable night. Just look at DJ Shadow’s Boiler Room set: he possesses an enviable level of musicianship and skill but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single person dancing. So are they having a good time?
Of course, if you’re a die-hard DJ Shadow fan, the chance to see him work turntables like that up-close would be something to talk about every time you’re halfway to chewing your face off. But the vast majority of club-goers are just there to wave their arms around and woop when a song they recognise comes on. They’re not buying a ticket so they can stand and analyse the DJs technique like our generation’s equivalent of the dads who re-bought The Beatles albums in Mono.
For everyone outside the music nerd bracket, all a DJ ever really needs to be is “good enough”. A truly terrible one can make a night out unsalvageable but a brilliant one will never be the reason a night becomes the night for you and your friends. When you’ve got the right friends, the right drink, the right drugs, the right “vibe”, all you really need is a steady beat and room to dance.