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(Credits: Far Out / Francesca Grima / Maximalfocus / Sam)

Music | Opinion

In defence of artistic expression: Why the rise of DJs remains a great thing for music culture


“Do you live in the part of Brooklyn where everyone is a DJ, or the part of Brooklyn where all of your friends have a podcast?” This question has been asked of me in joke format, and by way of memes trickling across my Instagram home page. I’m sure you can tell by the title of this article that I live in the former. Bushwick, the centre of the DJ hellscape stretching from Williamsburg to Ridgewood.

It seems that no matter where you go – Brooklyn or otherwise – half the people you meet in any given hipster community will tell you about their DJ skillset. You may find yourself invited to set after set, bombarded with screenshots of flyers for strobe light-filled clubs and warehouses on, wait, what? A Tuesday? Jesus Christ.

In all seriousness, it seems that everyone is a DJ nowadays, and this observation is supported by the available evidence. It is now, of course, easier than it ever has been before to become a DJ, with the tech available and the accessible resources to learn the basic skills. Ultimately, this means that people will gravitate towards this realm of musical expression in larger droves.

This isn’t a new thing by any means. If anything, this phenomenon kicked up in the early 2000s, died down for a little while, and spiked again in recent memory. It’s especially popular in major cities, where the nightlife culture is at once important to the broader population and embodies a sort of DIY attitude. 

Herein lies the hot take, folks: I’ve seen lots of people get annoyed, upset, and irritated at the fact that everyone fancies themselves as a DJ in some shape or form. From DJs themselves complaining of the oversaturation to pedestrians who find it to be a tired craze. However, I resist the idea that the widespread accessibility of DJing denotes a dilution of the necessary skills or a loss of meaning within the craft. We have more DJs not because it’ has become “too easy”, but instead because the necessary tools have become more available, and we, therefore, have built a more skilled population. 

I think the fact that anyone can try their hand at a new art form is a good thing for music culture and DIY culture. Nightlife is an industry for which there is always demand — despite the ongoing fight for music venues that valiantly attempt to fend off extreme rent increases. The fact that we have ample manpower and skill to fill that demand from a place of grassroots effort is, from my understanding, a success. 

There is a commonly held opinion, often echoed in the 2010s, perfectly mirrored in the Magnetic Mag op-ed titled ‘What Does It Even Mean to Be a DJ Anymore?’. The article states: “In today’s post-rave world of electronic dance music, there is a notion that it’s ok for a DJ to play the same set over and over (often already mixed). This practice has begun to kill the spirit of dance music, to some degree creating lazy and uninspired DJs who have forgotten their craft (or never knew it). The famous ‘DJs’ who do this are now just iPods who want drink tickets and come with a light show… and that takes all of the humanness out of it, doesn’t it?”

Of course, there is a degree of truth to this sentiment. However, one could argue that this is a reaction to the growing competition afoot. More and more, I’ve seen DJs and listeners alike describe fresher, younger, and perhaps less technically skilled DJs as “just iPods” without much ground to stand on. Someone still learning their craft does not an iPod make.

To boot, it’s especially easy to see that now, there are plenty of people interested in getting into the technical side of DJing. It’s not about the clout—in fact, it almost can’t be, considering that so many people do it. It’s about the craft, just like it always has been. The fact that “everybody is a DJ now” means that we live in a world where people desire to (and have the power to) participate in the music they enjoy. To involve themselves in the scene and understand it from the inside out. 

The same op-ed I cited earlier in this piece had a moment of acknowledgement: “There is a human factor involved in a DJs performance, and that is reading the crowd. A great DJ knows exactly how to move in the right direction if he/she starts to lose the floor. There is almost a gut instinct a DJ learns after enough time in front of the decks, they become one with their audience to a certain degree.”

DJing is, on a certain level, a very human and connective activity. And there’s something exciting about living in a time where people want to get involved. I, for one, see the beauty in that. 

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