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Crimes against DJing

What's the single worst sin a DJ can commit?

2016 Jan 05     
2 Bit Thugs

iDJ is delighted to welcome onboard our new frontline correspondent from the DJ booth, Harold Heath. Here, he tackles the dreaded pre-recorded mix...

Of all the many crimes and misdemeanours a DJ can commit, 'miming' to a pre-recorded mix is the one that will send you straight to DJ hell. DJs can be late, they can party a little too hard, they can occasionally mis-time an air-punch, and we will still welcome them with open arms, but to completely fake a gig is considered pretty much unforgivable.

A DJ is supposed to be at the helm of an event, providing the soundtrack for hundreds of individual adventures. They're not meant to pre-record a flawlessly mixed set that they can then mime to, simply in order to look good. Aside from the fact that to do so is unethical, it's also the antithesis, the literal opposite of what a DJ is supposed to do, making the ego of the needy dickwad on the decks the focus of the evening when it's the crowd who should be the stars.

Playing a pre-recorded set also leaves you no options if you've judged the crowd wrong and your pre-mixed set has completely cleared your dancefloor. Or worse, nearly completely cleared your dancefloor, but leaving a lone white girl doing a spiritual interpretative dance.

Technology now exists that enables you to mix tunes without even having to learn how to beatmatch, and you can edit, sample and loop on the fly. All these things that used to be incredibly difficult to perform on a pair of 1210s are now so easy that children can do them, and yet some DJs are still afraid to actually do it live. Just how easy does it have to be? Would you rather that we hired two DJs? One to select and mix the music, and you to look buff, mime mixing and do hands-in-the-air and make-some-noise stuff? Because that's the logical conclusion of this particular trend of fakery.

So why does it happen? The standard industry answer is that when producers get a hit, they land some DJ gigs - but often without really having any relevant skills apart from owning loads of drop-crotch jogging bottoms and being able to pretend the knobs on the mixer are too hot to touch. In the pre-digital age, a DJ in this situation would either have to learn to mix pretty quickly or they just wouldn't take the gigs. In 2016, a quick bit of pre-recording in Ableton, the addition of an immaculate 50s-style grease-cut and some sailor tattoos and you're good to go.

But it's not just the youngsters who are pulling this trick. I've also heard tales of old hands, respected names who rock up with a USB loaded up with a pre-recorded mix, and we've all seen plenty of footage of Electronic EDM Music superstar 'DJs' pressing play on a CDJ and then needlessly twiddling the knobs, as though they'd created a track that needed constant EQ, volume and tempo tweaks in order for it to be played.

The technology has made it simple, the easy pickings of decent DJ gigs make it hard to resist, and if you want, it does seem like you can get away with it. But you can also probably get away with stealing £20 out of your Nan's purse - it doesn't mean you should do it.

As a working DJ, you can push a monitor onto a fan and you'll be forgiven, you can make it rain at a techno festival while dancing camply to your own brand of minimal techno and ignoring the entire audience, you can even post a picture on Instagram of some decks on the beach with the hashtag #decksonthebeach or indeed #myofficefortoday - you may do all these sins and you will be forgiven, but the one thing you can't ever, ever do, is fake the funk.

Harold Heath's productions have graced the likes of Lost My Dog, 3am Recordings and Urbantorque. When he's not DJing and producing, he also writes about music and teaches music technology