“My friend is a DJ.” If you’d like to instantly make a group of people despise you, break out this handy little phrase. It works if you’re a man, woman, trans, or undecided. It works no matter your race, creed, religion, or background. It’s so foolproof, I have taken to using it in any situation I want to intentionally not make any friends.
“My friend is a DJ.” What can possibly come out of your mouth next that will make me want to continue this conversation? “He/She spins trap, a little electro-house, hip-hop, dance music. He/She also does some original productions too. His/Her name is DJ Whatever. You should really check him/her out.” Fascinating! Please note the heavy sarcastic tone, because I’m not actually fascinated. I’m bored, and should be.
“My friend is a DJ.” I’m glad you have friends. At some point, you had enough people skills to befriend someone. This was before you started leveraging phrases like this in social settings. I’d rather have you tell me about a three-piece samurai sword collection you bought on a 4 a.m. infomercial. At least then I would know I was talking to a moderately crazy, but nonetheless interesting person. I could take solace in knowing when the DJ apocalypse begins, you have swords that I can use to defend myself against the ever-growing mass of DJs.
As a primer, this never used to be a problem. Somewhere in between computing power growing, the proliferation of software, Soundcloud, Facebook fan pages, and “follow me on Twitter,” DJs started appearing everywhere.
The problem I have with “My friend is a DJ” is disambiguation of nomenclature, and the definition of what we’re discussing. A studio producer is not a DJ. A DJ is not a studio producer. “All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.” This isn’t meant to act as an angry volley toward DJ’s because I appreciate turntablism. Nor do I mean to disrespect studio producers, because it’s an important role in creating music. I just cannot bring myself to be OK with the onslaught of DJs.
One of my favorite musical experiences was seeing DJ AM perform at Rain in Las Vegas. DJ AM was a once in a lifetime sort of performer, where everyone in the crowd knew they were witnessing something transcendent. Adam Goldstein wasn’t even Adam Goldstein anymore, because his place on the bell curve of talent was on the eastern extreme. DJ AM and Travis Barker pounded their way into our hearts at Coachella, performing “Fix Your Face.” It was the most innovative Coachella performance ever, at the time. Barker flailed his arms with massive flourishes, and DJ AM stood between his records, scratching like it meant something to call himself a DJ.
DJs fall under the same bell curve that everyone else does. If you’re not already familiar with a bell curve, it’s a fat parabola, stating that equal parts of everything are both above and below average, with extreme ends representing exponentially smaller parts of the whole. In crude, layman’s terms: Half of all DJs are at or below average . . . and therefore suck. That means that 50 percent of the time someone says, “My friend is a DJ,” they are talking about someone who is below average at their craft. Half of all these conversations can only lead to me wanting to stab myself in the ears with a letter opener.
But that doesn’t make the other half any better, because I don’t want to listen to above average DJs. I want to listen to virtuoso-level DJs, with an ear for pitch, speed, blending, and an uncanny feeling for the groove. You know it when you hear it, because the great ones know it’s about more than just playing the songs. DJs occupying the far right extreme of the aforementioned curve know how to create a genuine emotional response
Here in Nashville, Tenn., we know who the best DJs are. Wick-It the Instigator and KDSML unquestionably rule Nashville’s DJ scene. This isn’t meant to disrespect Strooly or SOSA, two other local producers, who often perform DJ sets.
You see, my friends are DJs. I’ll just be goddamned if I lead off a conversation with it.
My friend Andrew is a DJ, who sometimes doubles as a studio producer. In the music business, he’s known as Wick-it The Instigator, but to me, he’s just Andrew. Andrew is truly gifted turntablist. One of my favorite ever studio experiences was sitting for 14 hours with Andrew and Dylan (another friend who is a DJ, you know him as ill.Gates) as they worked on their Action Bronson remix. While Dylan was putting together all the vocals, Andrew put his headphones on and started scratching up the brand new song, because he wanted an authentic hip-hop vibe.
Andrew’s entire studio is filled with records, but also guitars. I like to believe Andrew is a fantastic DJ because he’s also a pretty incredible guitar player. You can see a look dawn over his face when he’s playing guitar along to a song he’s thinking about. Something inside Andrew’s head makes him tick in ways that other DJs do not.
My friend Jesse is a DJ. I met him through my friend Blake who is not a DJ, but a promoter. When Jesse takes the stage, he turns into KDSML, and his skills as a turntablist come to life. Jesse doesn’t lead off a set with rote, tired remixes. My friend Jesse tends to lead off with The Four Tops, then scratches in with some Sneaker Pimps, and perhaps a little Third Eye Blind. After you’ve gotten comfortable, with a smile on your face, that’s when the newest Rihanna remix by Branchez comes in. Jesse is versatile, and stylistically reminds me of DJ AM. There isn’t a “drop” to be heard in a KDSML set, because great DJs don’t depend upon over-wrought buildups to keep people smiling.
My friends are the DJs who took the time to really hone their craft, and become the best at it. There is something to be said for Robert Pirsig’s “Metaphysics of Quality” as it pertains to DJ-ing. In his book “Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Pirsig describes watching a tenured motorcycle mechanic work on a motorcycle, how everything is a fluid motion, and effortless. A tenured motorcycle mechanic isn’t thinking about how tight the bolts need to be, or the tension of the chain. It’s about the process, and having a feeling in your gut for everything under your hands.
The great DJs have a feeling for the mixer, and wax at their fingertips. Great DJs are never victims of “Serato Face,” staring at their laptop, waiting for the colors and frequencies to line up. I am friends with some great DJs, and I appreciate everything they add to the art of DJing, because real DJ’ing is an artform.
Now let’s discuss your friend. Your friend is a DJ in the same sense that if an elephant was born in a tree, you’d call it a bird.
Your friend has a MacBook, a pair of Beats by Dre headphones, and a cracked copy of Ableton. Your friend has a Facebook page, and a penchant for using rote, tired hashtags. Your friend “produces” poorly made remixes over lossy MP3s, doesn’t even think about getting it mastered, before putting it on Soundcloud. Your friend over-hypes themselves on Twitter, telling you how “next level” their new music is, when in fact it is atrocious. Your friend leans heavily on laser sounds, and their remixes always have a predictable “drop” because your friend doesn’t have enough musical talent to pull people along without hitting their audience with a wall of noise.
Your friend bought a pair of Pioneer CDJs on Craigslist, a two channel mixer, and hooked everything up to a laptop. Your friend watched some YouTube videos on how to beat match. Your friend annoyed a local promoter into opening for a small show, and promptly showed everyone just what bad DJ-ing really sounds like. Your friend trainwrecked the past three songs, but they’re your friend, so you can’t hear just how atrocious this actually is.
Your friend is the embodiment of every punchline I have lobbed at laptop jockeys in the past five years, because your friend disrespects the title. Your friend is the reason I turn my head and wonder, “What sort of fucked up dubstep trainwreck remix of Drake is playing right now?”
Your friend is the reason I have been called an elitist; you know, because I have ears. My ears are connected to my brain, and my brain is connected to my mouth. Sometimes, I’ll open my mouth and say something like, “Your friend is fucking horrible.”
Your friend is the guy who wants everyone at the party to listen intently as he unplugs the music that was playing, and awkwardly shoves the cable into his iPhone’s headphone jack. “Check this out, it’s going to blow your mind.” I’ve seen the movie “Scanners.” Perhaps I don’t want my mind blown? Did you ask everyone in the room for permission to attack their ears with your poorly made remix? You know the guys from Adventure Club? That’s like saying you really enjoy eating at Applebee’s. I have to be white girl wasted to enjoy either. (I’m insulting their music, not who they are. I’ve hung out with Leighton a few times backstage, and he’s a really genuine person. So, Leighton, I love you, but I’d rather have a lightsaber-style battle with dirty A.I.D.S. needles than play your songs in my car.)
Your friend just stole four minutes of my life I’ll never get back, and to make matters worse, he heard I work in the music business. Now I’m stuck in an awkward position, as I fight my urge to say, “Get the fuck out of my face, you no-talent clown,” but instead I say something like, “I really like what you did with the drum timing.”
Your friend just called me “bro,” and tried to fist bump me. I’d rather fist bump Edward Scissorhands.
If you really want to impress someone, try these out:
“My friend is a guitar player.”
“My friend is a drummer.”
“My friend is a singer.”
“My friend is a bass player.”
“My friend is a pianist.”
I’m sort of holding out hope for your friend being a singer named Sarah Barthel, so I can say, “Isn’t Phantogram incredible? I remember the first time I heard them.” Then, I’ll actually have something to respond with that I care about. “My friend Jordan sings and plays guitar in a band called Cherub. Have you heard of them? If you’re into Phantogram, you’ll totally dig Cherub. ‘Doses and Mimosas’ is basically my go-to cocaine track. You’ve never heard of Cherub? Well, allow me then . . . “
I can’t discuss DJs, because there isn’t anything for me to talk about. I can’t wax poetic about how great they are at mashing on an APC controller, but I can tell you a tale about watching Gary Clark Jr. perform live. I can tell you how he and Eric Zapata stood side by side and blasted blues guitar along the century old brick inside Marathon Music Works.
If your friend is a DJ, you need new friends.