What Made The Early 2000’s So Great For Dance Music (Part 2)

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In the first part of my blog series ‘What Made The Early 2000’s So Great For Dance Music’ I discussed how the role of DJ’s and vinyl made that era so great. In this blog I’ll touch on how the focus of crowds on the music above the adoration of ‘stars’, as well as the crowds ability to concentrate for longer periods of time, made the early 2000’s such a great time for dance music.

One of the things that made the early 2000’s so great for dance music was that crowds were there primarily for the music and the vibe it created. Sure, some people had their favourite DJ’s and some DJ’s were more popular than others (and yes we were also witnessing the birth of ‘super clubs’ and ‘superstar DJ’s’), but the music itself, and the desire to be part of a ‘shared experience’, was still the primary focus of crowds in the early naughties.

Why is this? One of the main reasons is that the early 2000’s still valued the communal experience of dance music above the adulation of DJ’s (or at least equal to it). This was an idea inherited from the 90’s rave culture that preceded it. In many ways the revolution of early rave culture was that it rejected the ‘pop star’ framework of Western pop music and replaced it instead with the egalitarian idea of a ’shared experience’ (what Susan Luckman in her essay Party People: Mapping Contemporary Dance Music Cultures In Australia’ calls ‘the mooted breaking down of the “star” system of Western musical economies’). Although a little idealistic in some ways – and whilst there were always exceptions to this rule – it’s an idea that still beats at the very heart of ‘old world’ (non EDM) electronic music culture today, especially in Europe. Simian Mobile Disco in a 2012 interview with inthemix stated:

‘The thing that scares me is that it (EDM) pushes just one way of appreciating dance music, and that’s as you would at a rock concert. But for me that’s missing a lot of the point. The way a lot of European clubs and festivals operate, where the DJ isn’t necessarily the focus – he / she could be off in the corner somewhere – it’s more about the music and the communal experience…’

The early 2000’s, caught in a transition between the underground rave culture of the early 90’s and the mainstream EDM culture of the present day, was still strongly linked to this idealistic outlook on dance music. And that’s why I loved it. Fast forward 17 odd years and electronic dance music – especially at the more commercial end of the spectrum – has evolved into becoming just another form of pop music, dominating the radio and top 40 charts and creating mega events across the globe.

Whilst this shift from underground to overground has been great for artists on so many levels – increased fees, worldwide tours, mainstream music awards and so on – the knock on effect is that the revolution created by early rave culture (placing vibe above stars) has been reversed. In fact without a ‘star’ or ‘big name DJ’ many kids probably won’t bother going to a regular club night or event. It’s clear that DJ’s are no longer ‘off in the corner somewhere’, they are smack bang in the middle of a very big stage. As a consequence people now expect to be ‘entertained’ by these stars – be it by DJ’s wearing silly masks, throwing cakes at peoples faces, or standing on top of the decks pumping their fists. The the idea that dance music is about closing your eyes and letting the music take you on a ‘journey’ probably seems foreign to a whole new generation of kids who have come to know dance music as just another form of mainstream music delivered by stars on a stage.

In a nutshell, the utopian ideals of rave culture – the belief in community and shared experience above the adulation of DJ’s and artists – have been pushed to the wayside. And that’s sad to me. The ‘vibe’ of early 90’s raves is why I got into dance music in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for artists ‘making it’ (hell I was one of Australia’s first so called ’superstar DJ’s’) but in making the artists and stars more important than the shared experience of electronic music we have lost to me, what made dance music so great in the early 2000’s.

Another thing I loved about dance music in the early 2000’s was that people had longer attention spans! Yep, remember those? Because of this I could do things like take crowds on a two hour ’journey’ and they wouldn’t lose interest. My sets were always constructed in that way in fact, and still are. Everything was intended to lead from one thing to the next and each set was intended to be appreciated in its entirety. I’d often start slower and funkier, build to some peak time tunes, and then end with something a little bit deeper and more abstract. The great thing about the crowds of the early 2000’s was that they stayed with you on that journey, from beginning to end. That’s how DJ’s performances were intended to be experienced and to me, that was what DJing was all about. It wasn’t about hit after hit, but rather the experience of the set as a whole. And that required crowds being able to pay attention for the whole two hours.

Yep, things moved a lot slower in the early 2000’s. Even the tracks themselves were longer, with most tracks being between five and seven minutes long! These days tracks can be as short as two and a half minutes! Seriously, thats as long as I’d mix for back in the day! Ha ha. I’ll be honest, listening back to some of my mixes from the early 2000’s I’ve often wondered how I managed to hold peoples attention. But that’s just it. Back then attention spans were completely different, which is one of the reasons you could take people on a journey without them getting bored so easily.

Why is that? In all honesty I blame the internet! Ha ha. Yep, the internet! But seriously, as brilliant and essential as it is, the internet has also contributed to a form of cultural ADD. To me the link is too uncanny to ignore. ’Surfing the net’, for example, has taught us to go from one entertaining thing to the next without having to spend too much time on any one thing in particular and without any of these things having to be in any real kind of order. It’s the antithesis of having to have a long attention span. The same thing could be said of scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. It’s all about getting a series of short entertaining fixes.

By contrast I grew up in the 80’s, without the internet. I grew up reading books from beginning to end, I enjoyed listening to albums the whole way through, I didn’t mind playing an album over and over again for weeks at a time, I loved going out every week to watch my favourite DJ’s perform from start to finish, and I was accustomed to club tracks being four times the length they are today. Having an attention span was the norm. In fact it was a perquisite. But this, it seems, is the complete opposite of how the internet is teaching us to digest information and experience entertainment these days. Everything is speeding up and everything is on demand.

Take my daughter watching cartoons for example. As a kid I only had five television channels to choose from and cartoons were only on TV for one or two hours a day. By contrast my daughter can choose whatever cartoon she wants to watch via Netflix, Youtube, or Apple TV. In turn she can watch them whenever she wants to, as many times as she wants to, and – thanks to the invention of smartphones and tablets – wherever she wants to. What she has come to expect from being entertained is completely different from what I expected as a kid. In many ways she’s never had to practice patience the way I did. One could even argue that she doesn’t value cartoons in the same way I did as I had a more restricted and less flexible access to them. Either way this kind of ‘easy access’ has taught her that instant gratification is part and parcel of being entertained. People have gotten so used to getting what they want, when they want it, that if they don’t get it then they may just switch off. I’ve found the same thing on the dancefloor.

More often than not these days if kids aren’t getting what they want quickly enough (i.e. big tune after big tune), then they too are most likely to switch off. Getting what they want, when they want it, is how their brains have been trained. And no doubt this is where some of the tension between the early 2000’s and the present day lies. On the one hand you have old school DJ’s like myself, wanting to take kids on a long drawn out ’journey’ (building to the ‘big tunes’) and on the other you have kids who have become accustomed to instant gratification getting bored and restless because the DJ’s aren’t playing their favourite tunes right now. 

Yep, this ’shift’ in thinking has made it harder to play a set that takes crowds on a ‘journey’ like I would of in the early 2000’s.  In fact despite ultimately still constructing all my sets as a journey I can’t recall the last time I played a proper set in that way. Most of the time it’s about feeding that ADD beast, trying to meet the crowds constant demand for instant gratification, cutting my tracks down as short as possible so they aren’t ‘too long’ and ‘too boring’, and mixing out as quickly as possible so the crowd doesn’t click off my set and onto something more interesting like a cigarette, the bar, or a selfie.

Needless to say such an environment makes it extremely hard to practice the old art of making crowds look within and go on a journey that builds and builds to the peak but doesn’t give it to you all straight way. It’s just one of many shifts in thinking in the last 20 years that have really changed for me, what made dance music so great in the early 2000’s. Like I said, some of these have been great for artists, but some may require another cultural revolution of some form to really break us away from the clutches of a shrinking attention span and the constant need for external stimulation. Thankfully the growth of bush doofs and inner city warehouse parties suggest that dance music may well go back underground again. All I can say is that hopefully these events take place somewhere without reception, in a dark room, so we can all remember – or perhaps even learn for the first time – to get lost in the music again.

What Made the Early 2000’s so Great for Dance Music (Part 1)

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In a recent interview with the Daily Telegraph in the lead up to Ministry of Sound’s two sold out ’Reunion’ parties (covering the era 2001 – 2004) in Sydney, the interviewer asked us if we thought that era could make a comeback? Other than the aforementioned ‘reunion’ parties the answer was clear to me: no. Why? Because it was a convergence of so many factors that could never be reacreated no matter how much we tried. For me these were: they way music was distributed (especially to DJ’s), the place held by dance music as it emerged from the ‘underground’ into the mainstream, the pretty much non-existence of the internet, and lockout laws. In the first part of ‘What Made the Early 2000’s so Great for Dance Music’ I’ll touch on how the role of DJ’s and vinyl made that era so great…

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s the only way most people could hear dance music was in a club, played by a DJ. There were of course compilations put out by labels like Ministry of Sound and community radio stations that played it but the main source was clubs and DJ’s. As most dance music was pressed on vinyl (especially the more underground styles) there was no other way for people to hear dance music other than to actually see a DJ play it. This intrinsically made DJ’s important and club nights special as both were gatekeepers to a sound that didn’t exist anywhere else. Of course anyone could buy vinyl, but buying vinyl in and of itself was an art form. It was something you had to be dedicated to. It wasn’t a matter of clicking ‘buy’ on a website, it was about physically taking yourself to a record store on the right days (shipment days), getting to know the staff, listening to a million records in store, and then spending some decent cash on the tunes themselves ($15 – $20 a 12 inch which could mean just one track!). Yep, I would often starve in order to have new music ha ha. That’s what DJ’s did and that’s why people followed them and in turn why people went to clubs. DJ’s were dedicated, and worked hard to bring that music to the people. Not everyone could do it. In short, this made DJ’s ‘special’ and in turn helped make club nights special. It made the whole thing special.

In 2016 there seems to be less division between what is accessible to DJ’s and what is accessible to the general public. In fact DJ’s and the general public often have access to the same music at the same time. Many record labels release music publicly around the same time DJ’s receive it on promo which means the whole concept of DJ’s being the ‘gateway’ to ‘special’ and ‘unheard’ music that couldn’t be accessed ‘anywhere else’ has pretty much gone out the window. I recall having promos for months before anyone else got them. Imagine that? I was the ONLY person in all of Australia with a tune that tonnes of people loved and wanted to hear and lost their shit to when they heard it! Of course I would cain those tunes and as a consequence built a good part of my career and profile on having tunes other people didn’t. That kind of culture doesn’t exist as much these days for non-artist DJ’s.

With everyone now having access to the same music at the same time I think a lot of people now think the only difference between the people on the dancefloor and the DJ is that the DJ just happens to be the person in control of the music at that point in time, but really anyone could do it couldn’t they? It’s the reason why I’ve often been asked if people can plug their phones into the decks so they could hear their favourite tune – that would of been unheard of 15 years ago (both because phones didn’t play music and because people would never cross that line with a DJ unless they had a dub plate ha ha). In this sense the cultural importance of the DJ has shifted, and perhaps lessoned in some ways (and by this I mean a DJ-DJ, not an artist-DJ which I will get to at a later blog).

In essence the concept of what clubs are and what DJ’s mean has shifted dramatically. Without doubt clubs and local DJ’s were far more ’special’ in many ways in the early 2000’s then they are now because they were pretty much the only way you could hear dance music. But that’s what made those days great. You could just imagine, not having access to certain tunes all week and then finally getting to go out on the weekend to hear those songs played by your favourite DJ. No wonder there was such an electric energy in so many clubs and why so many local DJ’s could build strong local followings. Now that we all have the same music, I’m not sure we will ever see that level of excitement return to local clubs with local DJ’s who are just playing dope tunes. It was a time and a place, altered forever by the rise of the internet and a new era of ‘artist-DJ’s’. More on that next time!

KK x

 

20 Years a Kid. The Mixtapes. Vol. 1

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I played my first ever gig on the 29th May 1996. It remains to this day one of the best experiences of my entire life. I remember being on one of the biggest natural highs I’d ever been on after that gig. I couldn’t believe people were actually dancing to MY music. And I got paid – $30! It was enough for a cab ride home! But that actually felt weird. I almost felt getting paid for the gig ‘dirtied’ the experience in a way. I didn’t do this to get ‘paid’, the gig itself was enough! That’s how I honestly felt!

Yep, in those early days it was all simply done for the love of music. Don’t get me wrong, love and passion is still what drives me today, but back then it was love and nothing else, no profile to worry about, no gig fee to negotiate, no kids to feed, and no new internet hype to navigate (things moved a lot slower back then). Back then myself, Tom, and another good mate of ours Lefroy Verghese (aka DJ Ritual) would set up decks at any given opportunity. We’d set them up in lounge rooms, at BBQ’s, and even at Lefroy’s parents place where we’d hook up six decks and get drunk and see what kind of crazy mess or moments of genius would ensue.

In 1996 a mate of ours by the name of Will Cate (aka Goodwill) along with Mitesh Solanki thought it would be a good idea to let us play in front of ‘real’ people. ‘Green & Jazzy’ was born. And much to our surprise it became a massive success (being uni students the $3 entry fee probably helped a bit too ha ha).

This first mix in my classic mixtape series mix captures some of the tracks I was playing back then: hip hop, big beat, and early breaks. ‘Breaks’ wasn’t actually an established genre in Australia yet and you had to dig pretty hard (at your local record store) to find a good breakbeat sounding record. But that’s what made it so exciting, the ‘discovery’. Having said that Green & Jazzy wasn’t just about early breaks (though it no doubt helped sew the seeds of the early Sydney breakbeat scene) it was simply about a bunch of mates getting together to play all the tunes they currently loved as well as all the tunes that had inspired them along the way. It was a break (no pun intended) from the dominance of house music and raves in the mid 90’s, and championed a new direction in what was possible to play in clubs.

But beyond music this first mix also captures a certain time in my own life, a time of great learning, openness, and naivety. It was where everything started for me. This is where I learnt valuable lessons about DJing and having a career in music that I still employ to this day. For example, by constantly mixing up genres in our sets I learnt that the next track you dropped didn’t have to be ‘better’ than the last one you played, but if it was the right change at the right time, a crowd would lose their shit. On a slightly more philosophical level it also taught me that learning to ‘be yourself’ was going to be an essential part of having a successful career in the music industry. For example at Green & Jazzy we didn’t try to be like anyone else. We just played the music we loved. And that was its success. It’s something we did without knowing at first – a positive consequence of our naivety – but a key lesson in success I’ve forgotten, and had to relearn, over and over again during my 20 years of DJing. Every time I’ve forgotten that my music has sucked and I’ve generally regretted it. Every time I came from my heart – no mater how much I worried that people wouldn’t ‘get it’ – it has connected and resonated with my audience. It’s a daily practice to this day. Each time I work on a new track or mix I have to ask myself ‘is this really me?’ or am I motivated by simply trying to ‘fit in’ and get ‘more gigs’? Of course there is often a balance that one needs to strike, but as I’ve gotten older I must say the desire to stay true to myself has become stronger than ever!

But, back to the mix! I’m sure there’s a tonne of tunes I’ve forgotten on here (and there were some I left off as they didn’t quite work in the mix) but the essence of what I did back then is here, including the last track ‘Papua New Guinea’ which I’d drop last EVERY time I DJ’d.

Anyway, I hope you dig the mix! Big love and welcome to my 20 year flashback!

KK x