Friday, June 03, 2005

Are DJ's Taking a Back Seat?



Throughout the late 80's and most of the 90's, there was nothing more ubiquitous in dance music than the DJ. Taking seemingly unknown music, and pumping it at 150 decibals for a room full of sweaty, phrenetic and often high clubgoers, DJ's ascended to a god-like status.DJ's like Paul Oakenfold, Carl Cox and John Digweed came up through the European Dance Scene, Starting in clubs in Ibiza, then proliferating their upbeat dance tunes to London, Paris, Amsterdam and then throughout Europe. From there, U.S. began recognizing and praising its own grass roots House, Garage and Jungle DJ's coming out of Chicago, New York and California (respectively). The world was taking note of these power figures who were being paid tens of thousands oof dollars for one nights work.

With relative economic success in Europe and the U.S. for much of the 80's and mid-90's, coupled with an unbelievable proliferation of club drugs, like Ecstasy, and GHB, DJ's were untouchable. By the 1995, youth aspiring for stardom put down the electric guitars and bought turntables. By 1997, celebrities like Tommy Hilfigger were throwing exclusive parties at posh locations where they would play 'private dance sets.' By the Millenium, Paul Oakenfold was getting $40-50,000 paychecks for single nights of work. Labels like Ministry of Sound, Global Underground, and Bedrock were flourishing under the releases of their DJ-Mixed albums. Partnerships with large American, British and European media conglomerates created larger records, larger venues, and more exposure to the music.Cut to 2005. The pulses of the electronic music and dance world like Urb, XLR8R, BPM spend more and more time lauding the electronic music artists, bands and producers, and less and less time praising the world-hopping DJ's.

It seems that the artists producing electronic music no longer needed the DJ's for exposure. For years, artists would come into the limelight when their track was featured on a popular DJ's mix. A famous example is BT (Brian Transeau): When tracks by BT were featured on Sasha's Global Underground: Ibiza, BT was launched into the scene and heralded as a production genius. A whole crop of electronic music artists were launched as a direct result of Paul Oakenfold's Tranceport series-which for many represent an early opus for trance music.



But with the success of musicians like Basement Jaxx (1999 debut Album "Remedy" scene above) the artists creating the music began taking a front seat. This process came about unmistakably at the advent of the Internet music generation. It would seem artists no longer needed DJ's to thrust them into the mainstream of Dance music-they had the Internet to do it.Legal and Illegal digital music downloads allowed hundreds of artists to find ears all around the world through the Internet. Fan sites, and eventual blogs further touted musicians who were otherwise unknowns. The proliferation of free and pirated electronic music software and cheap laptops set of a grassroots revolution, spawning such well-known and well-respected artists like Four Tet, and Notwist.

Artists gained more and more exposure music mag covers and even in festivals like the ubiquitous Winter Music Conference (WMC) in Miami Beach, and its tandem rave, UltraFest.

Though, that as popular as individual artists become, DJ's still hold a sacred and almost nostalgic place in the hearts of electronic music and dance fans. Without the club experience to compliment the music, Dance music seldom meets its maximum potential. That is why clubs across the world -like Velfarre in Tokyo, and Exit in New York- pack in 2-4000 sweaty dance music fans every weekend. DJ's like Oakenfold, Sasha & Digweed, Tiesto, Steve lawley, Carl Cox, Junior Vasquez and others still hold residencies in three or more clubs around the world, and recieve oversized paychecks all the way around the globe.

It seems that if dance music is a religion, the place of worship will always be the club, and the DJ will always be god.

-Barko

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