What’s Old Is New Again

November 6, 2015 by Stu Chisholm

Basic RGBBLENDING ERAS AND GENRES TO MOVE DIVERSE CROWDS

It started last March when I arrived at the Mobile Beat show in Las Vegas. That night, the Riviera’s notorious bar, Wicked Vicky’s, was the scene of the “DJ Takeover,” a mix-fest by DJs showing off their skills to friends, colleagues and a lot of stunned-looking tourists and regulars. The mixing, of course, was top-notch. What struck me as a bit odd, though, was the music they chose. These days, most of the DJs – perhaps all of them – are much younger than I, yet I couldn’t help but notice that they were playing music that I knew!

Oh, sure, the tunes had been remixed, with fresh new rhythm tracks and sometimes a new bass line, or they might even be mashed-up with another, more current tune, but the majority of the tracks I was hearing focused on the classics. Several DJs performed that night, and aside from one who had crafted some original music, I couldn’t help but notice a distinct trend. Something was up. Something I’d missed.

I quickly forgot about it later, as the excitement for the show began to build and I got involved in meeting people, reigniting cross-country friendships and seeing the sights of Vegas and the MBLV show. It wasn’t until I got to the main ballroom for the show’s official kick-off that I was once again led to the conclusion that something was up; DJ Jason Jani, in a stunning display of his musical virtuosity, also repeatedly mixed-in freshly reinterpreted versions of classic tunes. I’m talking 20 and 30-year-old tunes. I honestly became distracted away from the booksellers and other things going on, because all I wanted to do was rush the stage and ask him, “did you buy that or are you creating a remix on the spot? And what equipment are you using”? Lucky for both of us, the seminars began, so I was forced to restrain myself. But that wouldn’t be the end of it. Oh, no…

My colleagues at Mobile Beat always go the extra mile to make the show both fun and memorable as well as educational, and this time was no exception. It was, however, exceptional! Headlining the roster of VIPs set to entertain this year were none other than DJ Jazzy Jeff and Sir Mix-A-Lot, who blew the lid off the “Legends” show at the Tropicana Hotel. Jason Jani pulled double duty, spinning tunes before and between their sets. (The man seems immune to pressure or intimidation.)

As I entered the room, I was impressed by the wide diversity of people. Naturally there were the DJs from the show, but there were also the young club-hoppers of the strip with a smattering of tourists who were in Vegas for other events. Ages ran from 21 on up to us old codgers in our 50s and beyond. When Jazzy Jeff took the stage, nobody stood still! Everyone was up dancing. Then came the moment; looking around, seeing my Canadian buddy, Jack, and behind him was a charming young female DJ I’d met earlier that day from Texas who was in her twenties. I realized that here were all these people dancing as if it was the hippest party on the strip, and the tune playing was “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” by Hall & Oates. Yes, THAT one—from the ‘80s. Only with a slightly different rhythm track…and perhaps a bass line.

Jeff deftly mixed into other tunes, some new, but mostly older, all with a freshly re-imagined sound. It became obvious: not only was this a trend, but it was everywhere! As someone who stays current and in-touch with what’s going on, this was a bit of a shock. Seems like this one slipped by me! I just had to get to the bottom of this. Those questions wouldn’t stop nagging at me: were these tracks being created as I watched? Or were they prepared ahead of time, and how? Or were they simply cool remixes that anyone could buy simply being expertly mixed?

FORUM-AL INQUIRY

When I got home, I did what most of us might do when we’ve got questions: I hit the online forums. As I should have expected, many DJs were reluctant to talk about their mixes, what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, but I did manage to dislodge a few nuggets of wisdom, useful tips and insights into this trend. The most repeated comment I heard was, “I want to keep my audience guessing. I don’t want to sound like everyone else”. Most of the DJs were like me in the sense that they don’t like to spin the work of other DJs in their mixes, but occasionally that work is so outstanding that they will make an exception. The name that kept jumping out at me was “Voicedude.”

Voicedude is a mashup artist from California named Joel Stevens. Along with his great mashups, he produces a podcast. He distributes his mashups via Hearthis, SoundCloud and MixCloud, and you can learn more about his work at his website: http://voicedude.podomatic.com/

Several other names were dropped, my personal favorites being DJ Earworm and John Liechty, who simply goes by “DJ John”. Earworm (http://djearworm.com/) is best known for his annual “United State of Pop” mashups, and DJ John first caught my ear with a stunning treatment of the Andrews Sisters in his mashup, “Rockin’ Down the House with Rum & Coca-Cola”. You can hear that and many of his other tracks at http://www.last.fm/music/DJ+John+Liechty/+tracks. Sadly, his own web page, DJJohn.com, seems to be MIA as of this writing.

TO THE SOURCE: CHITOWN SHANI

Finding the forums frustrating, many of the DJs there reluctant to talk, I thought I’d go right to the source of my questions. The DJ I was most impressed with at the DJ Takeover also happened to be the host/emcee and the only female DJ in the bunch: “Chitown” Shani Barnett. As her moniker implies, she’s a Chicago gal who puts that style that only a Chicagoan can bring into her mix, and her mix is like nobody else’s, the only connecting thread being this infusion of older, classic/retro style music. She was kind enough to give me a large part of a particularly busy Monday to answer my questions.

Shani doesn’t see it as anything unusual or trendy. “It depends on what area you cater to.” Yet for your average wedding or top-40 club, it just seems logical. “Younger people are into what their parents are listening to,” she says. This makes sense, as younger people are also living at home with their parents a lot longer than they used to. Plus, as every working mobile DJ knows, we use a lot of tunes some refer to as “evergreens”.

As for her own style, she reiterates, “I don’t play the normal radio versions. I’m not really ‘producing’ on-the –fly; it’s all mixing. Sometimes I’ll do an a cappella over something else… but it’s always mixing.” She goes on to explain that she is into several different music pools/services, so she gets regular updates and many different remixes of all the newest music. “I get everything! A lot [of my tracks] are out-of-the-box remixes, but I kinda switch it up for people. I love playing the mashups”.

I asked Shani about her gear and production. “I’m a Serato DJ. I’m not really into production; I don’t play around with Ableton. My mixes are all done live.” She concludes with some words that I think are wise beyond her years: “But it’s not about playing music. It’s more about taking people on a musical journey”. Talking about the complainers on the forums, she muses, If you’re not happy [being a DJ], then you’re in the wrong profession.”

THE MAN AT CENTER-STAGE: JASON JANI

It also seemed obvious that I had to talk to “the man” at the center stage of MBLV, the aforementioned Jason Jani. He was also kind enough to indulge me with his own comments on the topic. “There are lots of ways [I mix these tracks],” he begins. “Playing pre-produced edits… producing live… I know a lot of DJs who produce tracks live.” Like Shani, Jason says of his style: “I like to be unpredictable,” adding, “I also like to go with what’s happening, like when Carr Hagerman talked about the Ramones when he introduced Penn {Jillette]. I had a Ramones track playing when he walked out”. Indeed! Like everyone who was there, I thought that had been rehearsed.

Getting back to the music, Jani muses that “Most DJs are playing mashups and remixes. Some is done live, but I did a lot of my own mashups. That whole intro segment [at MBLV] was something I produced”. This naturally made me ask what he’s using. “I use Serato and a Rane 62 mixing board. At the show I was using [Pioneer] CDJ 900s, but I generally prefer the 2000s. For the super complex stuff, I produce tracks ahead of time. I use Ableton… I used to use Acid… and I work on my craft every day”.

So IS something up? “I don’t think it’s a trend as much as a nightlife influence. People like a combination of everything, like [at the] Jazzy Jeff [performance]”.

INCONCLUSIVE CONCLUSION

As with any topic, there are about as many opinions on this trend as there are DJs! So is this a trend? Yes and no. I am led to believe that, while it may depend on the nature of the venue and audience, it has undeniably caught fire among the more creative, high-profile DJs and the general public is eating it up! How are they doing it? Some spin remixes they buy. Some spin tracks they produce. Some cobble together special mixes on-the-fly. And the most adventurous do all of it. The good news is that even the best DJs might only fit into one or two of these slots! You don’t have to be an Ableton wizard to creatively rock your party, and even those wizards aren’t adverse to downloading a particularly great remix or mashup for their own sets.

To me, this trend harkens back to the ‘90s when Swing music enjoyed a brief resurgence. Grandfathers tossed around their granddaughters at weddings to Brian Setzer or the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and young couples took lessons to learn the Lindy Hop. Unlike Swing, this trend looks like it has legs; it shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, the remixes are only getting more and more audacious and creative — and inspiring! I’m now reinventing my production computer, which will be equipped with Ableton software, to unlock those remixes and mashups that, for now, live only in my head.

On a sidenote, Jason Jani will once again be at MBLV at the Tropicana next March, not only to perform, but serving as the Entertainment Director! It promises to be THE not-to-be-missed show of 2016, and who knows what new trends will turn up there? Until next time, safe spinnin’!

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Stu Chisholm Stu Chisholm (45 Posts)

Stu Chisholm had been collecting music since he was about eight years old and began his DJ career in 1979. After much hard work, trial-and-error, and a stint at the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, he studied the DJ arts with famous Michigan broadcaster, Bill Henning, at a local college. Stu interned at Detroit’s rock powerhouse, WRIF. To his radio and mobile work Stu later added club gigs at Detroit’s best venues, and voiceover work. He has shared his extensive DJ experience through his Mobile Beat columns, as a seminar speaker and through his book, “The Complete Disc Jockey: A Comprehensive Manual for the Professional DJ,” released in 2008.


Filed Under: Issue #166, Music