Exploring the differences between mainstream dance music and electronica

I like to feel special. Sometimes, at the end of a long, hard, stressful day, my self-confidence can be kind of cashed. These are the times that I turn to my music as a release. As I uplift myself, I think back upon the many times that I have done the same for others. Then, I begin to realize that I’m not just that bald black guy that’s rarely speaks up in my journalism classes. I realize that I’m somebody…I think. Right? Yes, I’m a DJ…yeah, yeah! And some people have told me I’m kind of good, so I’m going to try to believe them.

I was at work one day, and a female co-worker started talking to me about her recent night out on the town. She talked about a local club, Sky, who’s DJ was playing what she considered to be good music. She said the thing that got her was that he played a remix of an old, popular song she liked. Actually, her words were, “He was remixing this old song I really like and bringing in other stuff too.” I could already see that she was making a typical mistake that many casual dance music listeners are guilty of.

You see, there are a lot of people that have NO IDEA what a DJ does to keep the music going. When my co-worker heard her song in all it’s new electronic glory, she was under the impression that the DJ was remixing that track in the booth right then by mixing the old vinyl record with a beat from a new record (she mentioned he had a CD player also). Sadly (not really), I had to let her know that, not only was he not remixing live, but there’s a chance the song was part of a “megamix”, a long-playing record (or CD) that mimics the transitions of a DJ, while quickly changing from old track to even older track (think Planet Rock being mixed with Planet Soul).

At this point my co-worker had me on a rant. I needed to explain to her the differences between what I do as a DJ and what she may have seen or experienced in the past in what I tend to call “mainstream clubs.” This was my likelihood - my self-confidence - that we were talking about here. I sat down and jotted down a few things I saw as fundamental differences between a mainstream club DJ and an electronic music DJ.

At a mainstream club, there are going to be a wide-variety of people wanting anything from 70’s funk to 90’s grunge rock. These clubs are usually stocked with all the current Top 40 dance tracks to go along with every Stevie B or 2 Live Crew track you can painfully struggle to think of. The DJ, who usually communicates closely with the club owner or manager, has to be prepared to entertain the crowd and cater to their often sex-driven needs. Let’s face it - going out and listening to booty (Miami bass, mainstream hip-hop) and other similar forms of dance music brings out the horn-dogs that many of us truly are. Low-class/high-interest competitions - like the hot legs and wet T-shirt contests - add fuel to the fire in a scary testosterone-driven setting.

I tried to explain the electronic music scene to my co-worker without putting glaring attention on its infamous reputation as a haven for drug use. Unlike the mainstream DJ, the electronica DJ (who specializes in playing a certain genre) has no set playlists to which he must conform. He is thought to be expressing himself through his music. If we say the same about the booty, oops, I mean mainstream DJ, what is it saying when he plays “Back Dat Ass Up?” I suppose he will impress the silly club hoochies. You know the ones - yep, the nearly naked girls dancing atop the speakers.

Besides the differences in their purposes, oftentimes there are physical differences between the mainstream and electronica DJs’ equipment as well. Mainstream clubs almost always have CD players in their booths. And with all those convenient double-CD-and-mixer packages that are out now, that has to be the way to go in the mainstream world.

I told my co-worker that mainstream club DJ booths must have a microphone. This mike, I explained, was used for the DJ to interrupt everyone’s groove so he can throw in the occasional, “How y’all feelin’ out there tonight!!?? Aw yeah, I’m DJ _____, throwin’ down fo’ y’all! Yo, don’t forget to tip your hard-workin’ bartenders and waitresses!” And then there’s my favorite: “Yo, John _____ please come to the DJ booth, we’ve found your wallet.” You’ll NEVER hear that nonsense over a DJ’s set at an electronic music event, that’s for sure. In that scene, microphones are strictly for DJ/performer introductions (and to let everyone know that the party just got shut down). Homeboy’s wallet would simply be lost.

Of course, the biggest difference between the mainstream club DJ and the electronica DJ lies in the actual content of their sets. The electronic music performer attempts to take his passengers on a journey. He manipulates their bodies and emotions with rare and unique beats that were, more than likely, produced within the last few months. The crowd has a trust that the DJ will provide them with the quality they are expecting. The mainstream DJ’s goals are a little different. He simply wants to keep the dancers’ groins attached to each other while shuffling through large stacks of records (or CDs), in search of the fifteen, played-out tracks written on the “requests” clipboard that night. The crowd rarely notices the DJ unless he plays their favorite song or he screws up. Just keep it nice and booty and throw in a few slow jams every so often so everyone can get hooked up for the night.

Maybe I’m only seeing things from my perspective - I’m not sure. I do know that I feel prouder and I have more self-confidence when I think of myself as an electronica DJ. And I know another thing: There’s no way that I could get as satisfying a feeling spinning old, cheesy anthems and booty breaks to an apathetic crowd as I can get from playing cutting-edge, well-produced dance music to exuberant, knowledgeable audiences - oftentimes filled with other DJs, producers and promoters.

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