For the uninitiated, the world of DJing may conjure up a certain image: the Instagram influencer pressing play on a pre-made Spotify selection, as a madcap festival crowd goes wild. This picture is certainly part of today's electronic music scene, but there’s much, much more.
From Tokyo’s listening bars to Catalan rooftops and Tbilisi warehouses - there are local scenes everywhere you look, each with their own distinct vibe and definitive DJs.
The art of the DJ covers many skill sets: improvisation, reading a room, linking disparate ideas, finding a personal style, serving an audience, going the distance - to name just a few. You can use quick cuts, long mixes, or crazy effects - the possibilities are endless. And no DJ set is the same - even with the exact same records the output will be different each and every time.
Here at Wavetable we believe that the future of learning and education looks a lot like DJing.
And as with that image of the superstar DJ, while our minds may go to the big name keynote speaker or internet celebrity, there’s a whole other world under the surface.
I spent 15 years in and around electronic music: working at a record store at 15; promoting forest raves as I turned 18; then spending my twenties running bigger (legal) events, DJing in Europe, and building a talent agency. I'm still streaming sets and curating tracks today.
But as a sometime DJ, I never really aspired to play the peak-time slots, to be the headliner. There was a lack of confidence and focus on the craft. But I was also chasing something different.
After a while I realized the backroom was my place. Away from the main space, it offered opportunity to experiment: longer sets, less unspoken rules, and a curious crowd. Industry bigwigs rubbed shoulders with deep-cut aficionados and confused tourists.
The very best DJs, though? They're able to perform in any environment.
Michael Mayer is a world-renowned DJ, producer, remixer, and owner of the Kompakt record label. As a DJ, he’s renowned for incredible programming and selection skills. Warm up, peak time, festival? Mixtape, radio, back2back? No problem.
One of the best examples of is his Immer mix compilation.
In the wonderful Why is this interesting? newsletter, Colin Nagy interviewed Mayer on the story of Immer.
This quote jumped out:
I attempted to capture the spirit of these nights, especially the most important part of them: When the warm up fades into prime time. Some of the transitions on the mix were actually tried and tested on some of these Friday nights. All of the tracks have been staples in my sets for a while... they already had a certain patina, if you know what I mean.
Thinking about this through the lens of learning, there are two ideas that mean I can't help but borrow Colin's riff: Why is this interesting?
When you’re making anything with a timeline or arc - a DJ set, a movie, a course, a game - the fade will appear. Often it creeps up gradually. Sometimes it spills over quickly, other times it takes 2 hours or more. You need to understand the fade from warm up to prime time, or better still, feel it. Each element needs careful placement - whether a certain track, a critical scene, a piece of dialog, a crucial concept. Crank up the energy too early and you’ve done everyone a disservice. Go too slow, and prime time may be lost forever.
If you’re doing your thing live, the fade from warm up to prime time could appear at different points each gig. It shifts depending on the venue, the crowd, the day of the week, what’s happening before and after. But the fade is always there.
In a world where everyone is chasing what’s new, patina is much underrated. The term is used primarily about leather - the worn-in baseball mitt feels better than the brand new one - but works wonderfully in other contexts.
The things we embrace most tend to combine both the fresh and the familiar: New Wine and Old Oak.
It could be a DJ transitioning between two grooves; a riff you've heard before with a slightly different spin; or connecting one new idea with another from a bygone age.
My days in the backroom were the perfect environment to explore that space when warm up fades into prime time. It's hard to pin down: after the start, before the end, yet not quite at the middle. And it doesn’t feel like the most important part of the experience… but it is.
Just ask the DJ.
If you want to go deeper into the space between, Mayer’s full quote - and the mix - are below.
It's somehow strange that out of the ten thousands of sets I've played it's this one that still haunts me (in the best of ways).
I've recorded Immer 1 with two turntables and a Pioneer DJM 900 at the empty Studio 672, the place where Tobias Thomas and I held our weekly Total Confusion club night from 1998 to 2007. This party can easily be seen as a petri dish for Kompakt's releases during its first decade.
With Immer 1, I attempted to capture the spirit of these nights, especially the most important part of them: When the warm up fades into prime time. Some of the transitions on the mix were actually tried and tested on some of these Friday nights. All of the tracks have been staples in my sets for a while... they already had a certain patina, if you know what I mean.
The general concept of Immer (translates to eternal or always) was to use only tracks that had this timeless feel to them. Come to think of it, it's rather presumptuous to call a DJ mix of more or less current tracks Immer. But well, gladly it didn't fall back on my feet : )
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