Technically speaking, almost anything these days can be labeled ‘art’. However, what type of art does DJ-ing constitute as? Does a “disc jockey” only spin records around and mash songs together? The definition is a little more complex than that—DJ-ing is when artists and musicians manipulate or mix songs to create a whole new sound. Many DJs seek to create a new sound and style of their own, instead of playing other remixed versions of popular hits.
Evolution of Music-mixing
At first, DJ-ing was only considered a hobby or a form of entertainment. Jimmy Savile held the first dance party that introduced the concept by playing jazz records on repeat. However, the manipulation and mixing aspect of DJ-ing did not emerge until the 1960’s, when the era of disco was born. Hip-hop songs were blended with electronic songs; records were mixed to create a suitable atmosphere. DJ-ing was no longer just seen as picking a song and playing it to a crowd—it became a specialty for DJs to know the type of songs that would get the crowd pumping. By the 1980’s, a whole new genre of music had been created. Creators of electronic and disco music were inspired, and house music revolutionized the music industry. Evolving from this genre, Techno is now a popular genre that serves as a baseline for most dance party music we hear today. With repetitive beats and trance-like sounds, the recent proliferation of music-mixing technology also contributes to the accessibility of this new art form, thereby making DJ-ing all the more popular. New programs and software allows amateur DJ-ers to create their own original mixes, or manipulate various sounds.
An artist paints, an actor performs, a musician plays, but what does a DJ do? He or she mixes. From the solid heavy baseline to the excessive use of drum machines and samplers, DJs from major cities around the world such as Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Montreal, Paris and London were influenced by the idea of mixing records around 1985. By the 1990’s, music-related technology progressed to cater the demand of DJs to create more complex mixes. Several high-tech digital sound mixers, including Pioneer SVM-1000 Audio and Video Mixer, gave rise to a whole new culture of disco DJ integration. Today, DJs all over the world are using these digital sound mixers such as Trance DJ Ferry Corsten. Other music artists such as Daft Punk and Skrillex use similar electronic machines with heavy baselines as well. By mixing and blending songs together, DJs can create a new sound.
Arguably, the most exciting part about being a DJ is the discovery of a new sound, the excitement of the discovery, and most importantly, the showcase of that new discovery. Relying on experience and knowledge of different songs, DJs can create something new from something old. In this easily accessible method of creation, can DJ-ing still be considered a fine art? An article in Mixmag states that the new motivation for DJs today is the crowd – “no sound means no crowd.” In this sense, DJs can be regarded as selfless artists who create less for their personal means of self-expression, and more to please the people. DJs try to create tracks to evoke an atmosphere that would suit the audience.
Nevertheless, DJs should still be considered artists as artists are generally regarded by their creativity and ability to come up with different ideas, sounds, and pictures. Moreover, DJs constantly strive to create something new, such as music tracks that can appeal to a group of people. In art, there exists no right or wrong; therefore, it all comes down to the DJ and what kind of music he or she wants to make. As this article has demonstrated, DJ-ing is something that is learned over time, not, as many people believe, by simply just plugging in a digital mixer and playing a song.
This article originally appeared in the March, 2014 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Rebecca Teleni, student at the Beijing World Youth Academy.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.
Photo courtesy of audiodj.com