Sekond Skin – Music, Life, and the Art of Change

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It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.
– Miles Davis

Last week I launched a new side project titled ‘Sekond Skin’. As the name suggests, this project is about evolving and changing as an artist and as a person (with the theme of the butterfly being a big part of the debut EP ‘New Beginnings’ as well as the launch event ‘Soulsteps 001: New Beginnings’). It’s also about ‘coming home’ in a way, a return to a part of me that has always been there but that I’m only now making time for. With that in mind I thought it might be a good idea to write a blog about this new project and some of the themes behind it as I feel some of the themes we can all relate to on some level. The first one is ‘change’.

If there is one thing I have learnt about life is that everything changes all the time. I’ve always had an interesting relationship with change. It hasn’t always come naturally to me and it’s something I’ve had to consciously work on at times. I’m not sure why that is, perhaps it’s because I moved around a lot as a kid, perhaps because I’m a sentimental kind of person, or perhaps because no matter how you look at it change is hard. Unfortunately as an artist you are forced to deal with change constantly whether you like it or not. Art and music personify change, with music styles and music scenes constantly changing and evolving. And as an artist, in order to stay relevant, you have to keep on evolving also. ‘Adapt or die’ as the saying goes.

I was pretty lucky as a kid that despite my longing for security and familiarity I also had a father who, as a musician, was constantly into music that was new and fresh (and despite being in his 60’s, still is). He instilled this love of what was ‘cutting edge’ in me from a young age. The end result was that whilst a part of me was constantly seeking security and familiarity, there was also another part of me infatuated with the ‘latest’ sounds. In many ways this balance has kept me going and kept me relevant both as a DJ and a producer, 20 odd years later.

But beyond trends in music my new Sekond Skin project also represents a different kind of change. It also represents a change within me as an individual and a search for something ‘deeper’ than what I’ve done before. That’s not so say that I don’t still love clubs and club music, but rather that there is another part of me that was needing to be expressed also. Club music serves an amazing purpose, uplifting people and bringing people together like nothing else. But as I became a Dad I realised there was so much more complexity to life. As a father and family man I became exposed to the very real experiences of joy, pain, and an incredible selfless love combined with a terrifying fear of loss you feel as a parent. As a man of 40 I had also came to realise that life wasn’t one continuous happy ride but also one filled with pains, losses, and failures. I wanted to write music that reflected those experiences, perhaps not literally, but at the very least emotionally.

Quite ironically despite being an apparent ‘change’, I have always been into deeper music. When I very first started buying records as a 19 year old I would always buy one or two records for the dance floor and one or two for the ‘after-hour’ ‘post-gig’ comedowns. It carried on through my Ministry of Sound discs too, with one of them always being a ‘chilled’ mix, and then later on with my ’Soulsteps’ mixtape series. In some ways you could say it’s an evolution and in some ways you could say it’s a return to something that has always been there. As T.S. Eliot once wrote: ‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’.

At the end of the day I have no idea how this project will pan out, how long it will last, if it will find a home, if people will get it, if I’ll lose interest, if it will take me around the world, or if I’ll even be able to buy a burger with the proceedes from it, but what I do know is that it has certainly helped me find an inner peace. Accepting the changes that have gone on inside me – and finding a way to express that through my music – has helped me see that at the end of the day there is no right or wrong in music, there is simply what you feel. And now that I’ve found a peace with this part of me I have also become more accepting of other artists expressing themselves in a similar way, even if I don’t understand their music at first. It’s also re-kindled my love of club music as I no longer look at it as a vehicle for all my inner needs, but accept it simply, for what it is. Change is hard, but without it we can become bitter and unhappy and lose our ability to find an inner peace. As Henry Rollins once said: ‘change is hard, but change is good’.

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What Made the Early 2000’s so Great for Dance Music (Part 3) [2]

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In the first two parts of my blog series titled ‘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 for dance music as well as how the focus of crowds on the music – coupled with an ability to concentrate for longer periods of time – helped make the early 2000’s such a great time for club culture. The third part of the blog series was quite long so I have broke it up into two halves. The first part dealt with how DJing was still a respected art form and this, the second part, deals with how a lack of social media helped make the early 2000’s such a great time for dance music.

Yes indeed, one of great things about dance music in the early 2000’s was that social media didn’t exist. Even though social media sites like Myspace was founded in 2003 and Facebook in 2004 they were still few years off from catching on in most places around the world. I probably sound crazy for even suggesting that dance music was better without social media (and trust me it plays a vital role in both my professional and personal lives), but there are a lot of reasons why the experience of dance music was better off without the likes of (no pun intend) Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.

The most obvious reason why a lack of social media was a good thing for dance music in the early 2000’s was that there was less immediate distraction. This is due of course to the fact that smart phones – which enable us to take social media with us everywhere we go – didn’t exist. Back in the early 2000’s mobile phones at best took crappy photos, while internet surfing was still a bit of a novelty. Thus there were no selfies to take, no ‘Insta stories’ to make, no ‘Facebook Live’ sessions to stream, and no Twitter updates to Tweet. In fact there was pretty much nothing to do on your phone in the early 2000’s other than make a call or send the occasional text, and nothing to do in a club other than, well, dance!

Unlike the early 2000’s it’s pretty common these days to look up and see people engaged in their phones while on the dancefloor. Call me old fashioned but seriously, why are you in this club right now? This addiction, coupled with the shrinking attention span of people in general, means its harder than ever these days to keep crowds focused on the music and that unified vibe which was once so integral to clubs and dance music.

Beyond simple distraction however social media has also changed the way we interact with our environments and people at large. These days it seems that if it didn’t happen on social media, it really didn’t happen at all. In many ways we’ve become a society as focused on ‘documenting’ our experiences as we are about actually having them, and as concerned with presenting our lives to others as we are in actually living them ourselves. The problem is that constantly worrying about how other people perceive us whilst going out and having ‘fun’ not only makes us more self conscious and image focused, it actually contradicts what dance music taught us to believe in the fist place: that clubbing was about letting go and ‘letting the music take control’. If you are constantly ‘documenting’ your experiences, how are you ever supposed to get lost in them? Isn’t that what dance music is all about? Getting lost in the music? Needless to say the celebrity focused nature of dance music in 2017 has only reinforced this idea, with many kids now spending as much time on filming the famous DJ on stage as they do on dancing themselves.

Perhaps crowds in the early 2000’s were lucky that they couldn’t ‘document’ their experiences the way people can these days. It certainly allowed them to be free and escape into the music far more easily, both via less distraction and via less concern about how others might see them. Sure there was the odd photographer here and there, but crowds in the early 2000’s didn’t always have to look their ‘best’ anyway. Yep gurning was still acceptable and sweating was the sign of a good night, not a bad image. I sometimes wonder if kids these days lost interest in taking ecstasy the moment they realised pulling faces didn’t make for good selfies.

Another reason why the lack of social media helped make dance music great in the early 2000’s was that it was a lot easier to tell what was ‘real’ and authentic when it came to talent and popularity. Oh yes I know the terms ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ are always debatable, but the fact is these days ‘popularity’ is open to manipulation. All, unfortunately, is not as it seems. Facebook likes can be acquired via ‘click farms’, Instagram followers can be boosted inauthentically via mobile apps, and Soundcloud plays and favourites can be bought for a few bucks in Russia.

The problem of using social media numbers as a way of creating value for artists is two fold. On the one hand, it can be a misleading representation of an artists true ability and popularity. On the other (and perhaps worse still) is that boosting social media numbers has actually become an accepted norm both in terms of what an artist ‘has to do’ these days in order to ‘get gigs’, as well as ‘what promoters look at in order to book artists’ in the first place.

I for one found it extremely hard to make the transition from a value system based primarily on talent to one that used social media ‘numbers’ as a way to determine an artists worth. I’ll never forget the time I was told by a former agent of mine that I had to get my Facebook likes ‘up’ to ensure I kept getting gigs. Really? Has it come to this I thought? Having spent my whole career trying to be ‘good’ at what I did the notion that I was now being judged by my social media tally – not my actual ability – was a little confronting to say the least.

One of the main problems with this though, as mentioned above, is that it works. Yep, people actually get gigs because they can create the right hype, not necessarily because they are good at what they do. Social media strategies can help break artists both talented and talentless.

Having said all this I’m not saying all popular artists are fakes, nor am I saying that true talent doesn’t shine through. What I will say is this: today’s system is open to a certain type of manipulation that simply didn’t exist in the early 2000’s. And for me this type of ‘faking it’ has taken some of the heart out of dance music, and in many ways lead to a general sense of disillusionment about what is ‘real’ anymore. And if so much of it is no longer real anymore, how are kids supposed to believe in dance music the way I did in the early 2000’s?

Yes, in the early 2000’s I ‘believed’ in dance music. To me it represented what was ‘real’. To me dance music was a retreat into what was authentic. It wasn’t about image, it wasn’t about statistics, it was about the music, true talent, and having a good time. People went to clubs because they wanted to be part of a vibe, and DJ’s were popular because they were actually good at what they did and not what they looked like (lucky because most of them needed to get out into the sun a little bit more). These simple facts were impossible to buy, and impossible to manufacture, and that’s why I chose dance music – and not pop music – as my art.

What Made the Early 2000’s so Great for Dance Music (Part 3) [1]

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In the first two parts of my blog series titled ‘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 for dance music as well as how the focus of crowds on the music – coupled with an ability to concentrate for longer periods of time – helped make the early 2000’s such a great time for club culture. In this third part I’ll discuss how dance music was made great by the fact that DJing was still a ‘respected’ art form. All in all the blog was quite long so I have broken it up into two halves. The first part deals with DJing still being a respected art form and the second deals with how a lack of social media helped make the early 2000’s such a great time for dance music.

As mentioned above, one of the things that helped make dance music great in the early 2000’s was that DJing was still a respected art form in and of itself. It wasn’t simply a tool used by EDM producers to get gigs and nor, as a DJ, did you have to do anything else like release music in order to get gigs. Being a good DJ was enough. This simple fact had immense benefits for dance culture and one of the things that helped make dance music great in the early 2000’s.

One of the main benefits of having a dance culture that still respected the art of DJing was that DJ’s became successful because of their talent. Not ‘everyone’ could do it. Imagine that? In the early 2000’s DJ’s were still revered for their skill set. They were admired for their ability to find fresh tunes, for knowing those tunes inside out, for their ability to read a crowd, for knowing how to build a set so that it had peaks and troughs, for their ability to mix tracks together seamlessly in order to take the crowd on a ‘journey’, and for knowing how to straddle that fine line between education and entertainment through what they played. That’s what DJing meant to me. It wasn’t ‘in addition to’ anything, it was the point. And that was the culture that dance music was built on in the early 2000’s.

Naturally, having a ‘DJ focused’ culture like we did in the early 2000’s meant that the chances of hearing a good DJ set were usually pretty high. Whilst a lot of visiting internationals were both DJ’s and producers in the early 2000’s, in Australia being a good DJ was pretty much the only way to get gigs so by default you actually had to be good at what you did. This meant that most DJ’s preforming in clubs were usually the most talented. It was impossible to fake it and if you did, you probably wouldn’t last.

In 2017 you don’t need to be a good DJ to get gigs. If you can write a big tune or get radio play from the music you write you will probably get booked to DJ at a clubs and festivals whether you can DJ well or not. In a similar vein having a gimmick – such as being a model or some kind of minor celebrity – can also help you get your foot in the door. And the consequence? Well, if I had a dollar for every time I’d heard a ‘good producer’ or ‘famous person’ was a ‘disappointing DJ’ I’d probably have retired to small island by now. But that’s the culture we now live in.

Why is this? Part of the reason for this is that DJing is a lot easier than it used to be. For one thing DJing on vinyl (like most of us did in the early 2000’s) is hard, it’s a lot more raw, with no sync buttons or emergency loops to save you if you stuffed up. If you messed up, everyone would know. This, coupled with the fact that dance music is far easier to acquire these days (thanks to the internet) means that DJing has probably been classified in most peoples minds as something that ‘anyone can do’ (even socialites like Paris Hilton have toured as DJ’s). But as I’ve said many times before, just because you can drive a car doesn’t automatically make you a Formula 1 driver.

But it’s more than that. This shift is also due to the changing perception of what a DJ is and what draws people to see DJ’s perform in the first place. In the early 2000’s people went out to see a DJ perform because they played a good DJ set. These days kids are drawn to DJ’s for different reasons. Some are drawn to DJ’s because of their gimmicks (e.g. their masks, their cake throwing abilities, their celebrity, or how hot they look on Instagram), some are drawn to DJ’s because of their production abilities, and some to a combination of the two. By and large however it’s the music released by a DJ these days that draws crowds to see them play. Yep, electronic dance music has become less and less about the art of DJing and more and more about the art of production. We now live in the producer age, not the DJ age. DJing is no longer the point and is, I’m afraid to say, an endangered species.

So how and why did this shift occur? One of the main reasons for this was the broadening of electronic music out of clubs (driven by DJ’s) and into the mainstream. The culmination of this movement, as we all know, was the EDM explosion that occurred in the United States around 2010. This, along with the cheapening of the software used to produce music (e.g. Logic cost me over 2000 AUSD in the early 2000’s whereas today it retails for around 300 AUSD) meant that more and more people were starting to write electronic music, especially in the States. And when they wanted to perform their music ’live’? Well, they turned to DJing of course.

On a very pragmatic level DJing is far less expensive and hassle free than touring as a live band (as many traditional electronic music producers once did). It’s one of the many reasons why bands like Pendulum morphed into a two man producer DJ outfit called Knife Party. The unfortunate thing is that a lot of these producers didn’t set out to be ‘good DJ’s, they were simply looking for a way to get gigs and perform ‘live’. They were already big via their music anyway (or were going to be big) so what did it matter how they mixed? It wasn’t going to make or break them like it would of a DJ who ‘only DJ’d’ in the early 2000’s.

A perfect example of this is the incredibly talented Australian producer known as Shazam (and by this I mean no offence in any way, shape, or form). Even though Shazam had been producing since the age of 11 he was still relatively new to DJing when he rose to fame. In an interview with beat.com.au in 2012 he reinforced the idea that despite being a talented producer – and despite getting booked to play at major festivals like Future Music – DJing simply wasn’t his forte: “(My DJing is) a cut-and-paste jukebox environment. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t… if it’s done incorrectly though, it can kill the energy of a set… it can get pretty messy pretty quickly!”.

On a more indirect level it’s interesting to note that a lot of the producers who rose to fame during the EDM explosion in America in 2010 first started out in bands. Skrillex, Kill The Noise, Ghasty, and Steve Aoki are good examples of contemporary American producers who started out in bands before turning to EDM. Whilst this kind of influence has been a good thing for electronic music on a number of levels – especially as far as helping broaden the scope of electronic music goes – it has also brought a whole different mentality to the art of DJing. DJ’s and bands are fundamentally different. Bands like to ‘perform’, whilst the traditional (dance music) DJ was meant to be off in a corner somewhere and, in theory, no more important than the shared vibe he or she created. A band plays their songs one after the other, while a DJ seamlessly blends songs together in order to take the crowd on a ‘journey’. It’s hard to imagine that the background some of these new producers were bringing to the table didn’t have an effect on the traditional art of DJing and how a DJ ‘performed’.

But it’s not all about the producer-come-DJ changing the face of dance music culture. The reverse of this has also had an effect. That is, the compulsion of DJ’s to become producers in order to get gigs. Why? The simple reality is that these days most DJ’s can only get gigs if they release music, and most touring DJ’s can only build tours if they have a release to promote.

There are two downsides to this. The first is that it has forced everyone into becoming a producer and thus created a glut of very average music. But further to this, it has also given rise to the culture of ‘ghost production’, where DJ’s who don’t know how to produce themselves hire professional producers to create a track for them. These artists then release the songs as their own, with no credit given to the original producer. Unfortunately most ‘fans’ don’t realise that these tracks are actually written by ghost producers, and not the ‘artists’ themselves. Nevertheless the tunes go on to be used as important marketing tools to help ‘build profile’ and generate more gigs for the artist. Thus for many dance ‘artists’ these days the music they release is no longer a symbol of their true ability or talent, but simply a tool used to promote themselves and get gigs. Call me old school but doesn’t this actually defeat the purpose of being an artist? Isn’t being an artist about learning a craft and becoming good at it?

For me this is a good example of the extent to which dance culture at large has begun to adopt an element of ‘fake it to make it’ mentality and a general sense of inauthenticity that didn’t exist in the early 2000’s. What I find most strange  about it though is why this only seems to exist in dance music? I mean, I couldn’t imagine a painter making a career out of being the front person for another painter? Obviously this is not the case for all artists, but it’s certainly something that didn’t exist in the early 2000’s.

Another downside to this is that if you’re writing music to get gigs the most obvious thing to do is to try and write a ‘hit’, and the most obvious way to do that is to copy popular tunes. Needless to say this has lead to an unfortunate amount of unoriginal music that all sounds the same. But it makes sense. Who wants to take a risk if you’re trying to be popular and get gigs? Because of this a lot of original sounding music tends get lost in amongst a sea of cookie cutter dance tracks, and the notion of pushing boundaries has become secondary to fitting into EDM’s status quo and the subsequent lure of fame and money. The long term affect of this is that kids are being taught to conform in order to be successful, to adopt formulas instead of formulate, and to play it safe instead of taking risks in order to find their own unique voice. The great irony is that ‘expressing yourself’ is actually what it means to be ‘an artist’.

To be continued…

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