Saturday, 21 February 2009

My Identity Crisis

Some people suffer schizophrenia and I think my DJing persona is enduring a similar ailment. As you may gather from the little spiel at the side, I have a somewhat varied taste in electronic music, which also spreads into my penchant for acoustic and 'proper' music too.

Without meaning to sound all "ooo look at me and my eclectic taste" I own albums by Sufjan Stevens, Dave Clarke, The Mars Volta, Miles Davis, Shy FX, Gil Scott Heron, Test Icicles, Maximo Park, The Grateful Dead, King Tubby, The Plump DJs, Jurassic Five, a collection of classical composers and everything in between. It's no big deal, so do many other people, I'm not the only person to simply like music. If it's heartfelt and conveys some kind of emotion to me, then I'll gladly listen to it time and time again.

But when it comes to DJing this makes it particularly difficult for me to settle on one sound to play. My DJing bio is a story that goes all over the place. When I first started DJing nearly eight years ago it was house, a bit of trance and some hard house (at the tail of end when the scene was still simply tough house music, before the hoovers and BOSH!!!! took over).

Through my obsession with Ministry magazine (RIP) I was soon introduced to breakbeat, through Freq Nasty's 'Fresh', a brilliant name for a record which opened my eyes to the drum break as a rhythmic tool and kick started a love affair with breakbeat that has lasted to this day.

Not long after, through listening to Fergie's late night show on Radio 1, I fell in love with techno, particularly thanks to the likes of Agoria, Jeff Mills, Dave Clarke and Phil Kieran, not to mention, of course, Laurent Garnier. By now trance and hard house had disappeared from my record box, although house, particularly proggy and electro stuff, was still in there somewhere.

And then! Drum'n'bass rolled its way into my life. I'm not sure where this infatuation with deebee came from to be honest - I think it was a natural progression from breakbeat - and soon after drum'n'bass came some of the jazzier, broken beat sounds, courtesy of Gilles Peterson and a stonking Essential Mix from Switch.(1)

So now, my bedroom was rocking to beats and pieces from all over the electronic spectrum, beyond what I've listed above, my ferocious appetite for all sorts of music just couldn't be satiated (it still can't) and with the Fabric CD series and Radio 1's specialist shows holding my hand through the record stores I was constantly introduced to new sounds (fuck off Mighty Boosh).

It's in the record stores where it went wrong the most. My sixth former's weekly wage packet didn't really stretch much beyond about £50 a week. One 12" was a fiver at the very least but usually a bit higher and with no record store in sight that meant buying online, so adding the p&p, buying records was a bloody expensive business! And when I did have the money, what to buy? The latest tune from the Plump DJs? Or the latest Intec release? Or how about High Contrast's new white label (for a tenner, pfft).

With so many styles I wanted to play, trying to amass any kind of collection, let alone an up to date one, was nigh on impossible. I tended to focus on my breaks and Switch-style house (years before it blew over big time, get me!) but this meant my techno and drum'n'bass suffered and ultimately my DJ 'persona'.

As with any scene within the music business, if you want to make a name for yourself and get the sets you need to focus on one area and become associated with it. Many DJs successfully incorporate cuts from many different genres within their sets, such as Laurent Garnier or Gilles Peterson, but there always tends to be an overriding theme uniting the different layers.

In Gilles' case, I'd say it's 'intelligent' soul (2) and with Laurent it's a similar theme, but a lot more electronically orientated; in search of the essence of techno which is to produce emotional music from machines. There are also others like DJ Yoda who cut and paste whatever they want, a true turntablist, but the skill he employs is ridiculous and only a few DJs in the world possess such talent.

A tweet this week from @solobasssteve caught my eye, in which he said: "People don't enjoy music because of the style, but because of how it makes them feel. Style is just a search tool." Amen to that, not a truer word has been spoken on the pigeon holing of music. This is how I approach my DJing, I don't restrict myself, anybody who does is a dunce.(3) Instead I like to stick to the underlying feel to my music, a la Gilles Peterson.

At university I started getting club and party sets out in Leicester. In the first couple of years I played mainly breaks but in the third year it took on a lot more electro/fidget feel, mainly because that's what people were looking for, but all under the name 'Jitterbug'. I chose this nom de plume, or whatever the DJ equivalent is in French (I'm not gonna get philosophical about DJs writing with records or something) because I like to play music that you just can't resist dancing to, but specifically with a break in it, as opposed to a 4/4 beat, because, well a flat beat isn't very jittery is it?

But now, I don't know what to play. I'm bored of the surrounding, drugged up and 'cool' scene of the whole electro and fidget styles, despite taking great pleasure from playing them and find that many of the crowds want instant satisfaction from a DJ, in contrast to my growing desire to play more thoughtful, structured sets where I establish a groove and keep it going, rather than drop bomb after bomb.

But then sometimes this is exactly the kind of set I like to play - party style. I love the attitude of hip hop DJs and the crowds of some of the electro nights where they simply just want to get down and bloody rave. However, I do still want my 'groovy' sets ie techno or drum'n'bass and if I didn't have the time or money to pursue them before uni I certainly don't have the former now (although the finance is a bit rosier thanks to a full time job and acquisition of ScratchLive).

I've never taken my techno seriously enough, but if truth be told it's the music I most get a kick out of both playing and listening to, from the deeper Detroit stuff, to the rolling, loopy stuff or the more minimal kind. And drum'n'bass is becoming a huge factor in my life again. I gave up taking it seriously at university, but some awesome drum'n'bass sets in the past year, coupled with some great releases, have reawakened my passion for it and I really want to get back into playing good old drum funk.

Whether I will take up drum'n'bass again, perhaps to satisfy my desire for the break in the probable future absence of breakbeat and electro, I'm not sure, but techno is definitely on my to do list this year.

And as a final point there's a whole naming issue here. The Jitterbug moniker can't cover both the above 'new' bases and the breaks/electro one I don't want to leave behind, though truth be told, I probably already have. Unfortunately the name thing is a necessary headache. Realistically, in the world of @solobasssteve which I advocate, there are no different personas but in the dance world the scenes are so segregated you can't but help need a different name for your different styles, but which to apply Jitterbug to? Aaaargh! How bloody stressful, this whole self branding bollocks!

Are there any other musicians suffering from multiple personalities out there? How do you accomodate your tastes? Get in touch.

Before Dave Taylor took over the controls of Switch on his own, following the 'departure' of Trevor Loveys and when they were still jazzy and less electronic.
(2) I know this sounds snobby and a bit la di da, but there's a lot of thought behind the music; it's not at all haphazard or hastily thrown down slices of soul. In some cases he may play a track that is brilliantly simple but then ultimately it manages to work on so many different levels.
(3) I understand I say I play 'breaks/electro' or 'techno' or 'drum and bass'. Within these are so many more substyles and it's these substyles that many DJs for so long have restricted themselves to playing. Even when playing the broader styles I will often include a drum'n'bass track in a breaks set, or an electro track in a techno set. It's the way I've always played and always will but you have to take into account want the crowd wants - say at a drum'n'bass gig they probably won't be interested if you suddenly drop Depeche Mode in there!

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