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Black Sky Thinking

The First Column: Superstar DJs
John Doran , June 2nd, 2008 20:29

Record decks that a brain injured giraffe could use will soon be in the shops. 'Good', says John Doran because it takes him one step closer to having Tom Cruise come in his ears

I'm old enough to remember the bloody kerfuffle that house music eventually caused in pubs and gig venues around the country when it spilled out of the fields, warehouses and nightclubs and into the nation’s consciousness via tabloid outrage. Fat men with beards and guitars everywhere went red in the face with anger and stammered: "But . . .But . . . These people are just putting on records in sequential order. There is no skill involved!" Fans of Genesis and Pink Floyd would make jokes like this: "One DJ phones another and says 'Do you want to come to the cinema?' and the other one goes 'Who's the projectionist?" The Musicians Union tried to organize protests. Why in God's name were young people getting together in fields and dancing in a state of bliss all night to a repetitive beat instead of staying at home, listening to Script For A Jester's Tear by Marillion. In the dark. Wearing headphones. While indulging in a listless bout of weepy onanism. The guitar worshippers hadn't been this angry in years and wouldn't be again until they found out that Richey Edwards from the Manic Street Preachers didn't have his guitar plugged in.

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The choice dear reader, is yours

Of course it was nothing new of course, it was the same old battle being fought out between The Authentic (rock) and The Fake (rave). Male versus female. Straight versus gay. White versus black. These wizened twats in nipple tight Uriah Heap T-shirts, lightly adorned with Timothy Taylor's Landlord stains, were really just upset that yet another broadside had been launched against what they perceived to be the unassailable position of the guitar in popular culture. The guitarist was the latter day Christ and he was about to be crucified. In hallowed, eggy-fart smelling venues like Wolverhampton Wulfrun hall and The Adelphi in Hull, audiences wallowed in mute supplication, gazing up adoringly at the messiah like figure on stage. Static and awe-dumb. The absolute opposite was true with rave culture. Does anyone really actually know what Dave Pickering or Judge Jules look like? You had the throng as the star, the democratising effect of house music had the crowd active, in control - the DJ feeding off them and fully immersed in a state of bliss. The DJ was anonymous and egoless (well, that was the theory at first). There had been a momentous shift away from a Christian mode of music appreciation to one that felt Pagan.

But the whinging King Crimson thunder cunts couldn't see it though. They had no idea how stupid they looked when they glibly denied the skill of a good DJ. They used to sound like my dad, when, apoplectic with rage would shout: "What the hell is this rubbish? I could play guitar better than this! A mad tramp could!" when I was listening to Are You Experienced. The DJ haters failed to see that the newly emergent movement of turntablism required an entirely new set of skills. Back in the day; in London and Manchester the acid house DJs had often already cut their teeth as hip hop scratchers, they would often burst into a frantic bout of fader manipulation and scratching and would often drop some stone to the bone funk or militant hip hop into the mix. Things only got tedious when the house bores and genre fascists started turning up and ruining everything. The sort of cunts who wore T-shirts that said 'Do Not Disturb! DJ At Work!' on the back of them.

Alt Text The author considers another night of toil at the coal face of DJing

Of course this wasn't universally the case in the early 90s, you could go and see a performance by someone like Coldcut who respected no genre restrictions at all. They were vilified by many because of their pop past and even Eric B and Rakim tellingly called their masterful Seven Minutes Of Madness remix of 'Paid In Full' "disco music for girls". But to those with open ears and hearts they were responsible for a state of the art address of what it was possible to do with four turntables: their Journeys By DJ mix album Seventy Minutes Of Madness, remains the best mix album ever recorded.

Coldcut and their label Ninja Tune used to run a night in the pre Nathan Barlyfied Hoxton Square at the Blue Note club. On the same weekend that Oasis were entertaining a quarter of a million at Knebworth, a few mates and I were crammed into the club's tiny basement in order to watch an as yet then unknown selector called DJ Shadow. I have had cause several times over the last 12 years to wish that this show had been captured on video tape. It would win the DJing is not a skill argument hands down. Not only this but Shadow recognized the gulf between being an axe hero and a DJ while acknowledging how similar they were beginning to become. On noticing that his booth was surrounded by geeks with note pads trying to get a glimpse of his precious vinyl he put them squarely in their place by playing a scratched copy of Queen's 'We Will Rock You', he removed the arm from the 7", dropped it on the floor and then put 'Back In Black' on. He then smashed it to pieces and flung it in the faces of the train spotters. It was a great gesture if a futile one. The era of the superstar DJ was already well under way. People went to clubs to watch the DJ at work, not to dance. What a crazy idea. The authenticity bores were winning out again.

So things inevitably moved full circle. The dullards are now the DJs. They sputtered and pouted when CD decks first came out and nearly suffered strokes when amateurs were stepping up to oche armed with Ableton Live or Traktor on a laptop. These e-damaged old bollock jugglers can't help but moan unaware that they sound like the rave version of The Four Yorkshiremen sketch: it were all vinyl in my day. Well these fuckers are in for another shock when they clap eyes on the Attigo TT Decks developed by Scott Hobbes. These handy little touch sensitive screens allow you to manipulate MP3s by whacking them leaving the DJ free to throw shapes, drink brandy and mess about with the midrange. Anyone who has used Korg's badass Kaoscilator Pad will know the sort of technology we're talking about.

But if anything I don't think they've gone far enough. I can't wait until we have completely hands-free DJ equipment which mixes music according to how you are dancing, with your arm waving controlling the BPMs, your ass jiggling keeping the tracks in sync and your state of sexual arousal influencing the bass. Then and only then will the booming half wits stop claiming music as a dark art. Imagine it. It'll be like a cross between Tom Cruise in Minority Report and Jean Michelle Jarre using his light organ. Imagine standing at a rave confronted by Tom Cruise with a French accent. Naked and 70foot tall. Painted gold with antlers and a hard on. Ejaculating frothy gouts of liquid sex music straight into your quivering ears by waving his hands round his head like a maniac. And if that isn't great musicianship I don't know what is.