Who Wants to be
First published in Muzik Magazine
“There’s a myth,” says Rob Da Bank, “That so-called chill-out DJs trot around the world playing to rooms and beaches filled with monged-out layabouts.” Of course there is, we say. Being a chill-out, or downtempo or eclectic, or whatever we’re calling the kind of DJ who plays to rooms full of monged-out layabouts is clearly the world’s least demanding job. Simply because monged-out layabouts are the world’s least demanding people. But if the new sound of lazy is set to make its decknicians the next superstar DJs, then we demand to know if the reality matches up to the myth…
1. Nobody even knows what it is…
Whether it’s ambient, chill-out, downtempo or eclectic, the fact is the most prolific practitioners of sunset vibes can’t decide what to call it. “I play ambient downtempo leftfield world music for the discerning ear,” says a base-covering Pathaan of Stoned Asia renown, while Radio One’s Rob Da Bank cops out with a wussy “freestyle” and XFM’s Nick Luscombe dives for the safety zone of “eclectic”. Whatever they say, the guiding principle is that there are no rules, and your average chill-out DJ will bend over backwards to avoid being pigeonholed. “I always say Balaeric,” says Chris Coco, “because no-one’s able to pin down what it means.” Crafty, that.
2. It’s easy. Like, hey, where are all the tricksy mixes at?
“I’m not making life easy for myself,” laughs John Sa Trincha, although he’s saying it from his Ibizan home, having not long played the sunset at the island’s Salinas beach, a semi-nude stretch of sand where Sa Trincha has built a rep as something of an island legend. Point being, when he tells you he’s not making life easy for himself, it’s tough not to guffaw down the phone at him.
“I’m not,” he insists. “What I do on the beach is link and mix and try to create a story out of music. If you’re just mixing beats, then it’s easy. My mixing doesn’t just incorporate beats, but the way one record flows into another. I do beat mix and make sure things are in the right key, but the trick is to link the records together.”
Still, though. The whole point of an eclectic DJ is to reject the slavery of the BPM, and as soon as that’s the case, the whole business of playing one record after the next becomes a tad easier, surely?
“Playing a House set nowadays is easy,” says Chris Coco. “The records are made to be mixed so that’s all you have to do. With an eclectic set you have to work with more of a choice.”
“For me it’s not about beat mixing,” adds Pathaan, “but having faith in your selection. The selection is as important as the mix. When the Café Del Mar compilation first came out people weren’t buying it because it was mixed, but because it had all these surprising elements.”
3. But come on, where’s the pressure? After all, if you’re not making people dance…
“DJs might think they are artists, but nowadays they are travelling salesmen and entertainers,” says Mixmaster Morris. “If it’s not entertaining you will lose punters and your job. If you play very downtempo music, people will fall asleep and clubs don’t like people falling asleep because they don’t spend any money.”
So there. It’s not enough to roll out Brian Eno’s Music For Airports, sit back and wait for your blowjob. In fact, downtempo DJs maintain they are as in tune to their audience – probably more so – than a big-name 4/4 player.
“It’s really all about getting people interested,” says Pathaan. “Once I have their attention it’s a case of getting them to dance by playing from the heart. It’s not just chill out. If I was to do a sunset I would programme the music to fit the sunset but once the sun’s gone down it’s time to party.”
“At the larger clubs and festivals it’s much more about making people move and dance,” says Nick Luscombe. “So then I drop the Nick Drake and focus on the beats. Ultimately, It’s sort of like making a new picture from an old jigsaw puzzle trying to put combinations of music together that on paper wouldn't look right!”
4. Preparing’s for mooks. Chill-out DJs are too damned laid-back to plan ahead…
Wur-rong! Downtempo DJs instantly play traitor to their cool-as-ice caste by turning out to be as record retentive as the next spotter.
“I tend to be spontaneous and organic,” says Disastronaut in one breath, before coming clean with, “I take records from each part of the collection and work similar types/tempos in about 10 records at a time then move it on to the next.”
Chris Coco, meanwhile, at least admits to “being a bit anal. I have my vinyl bag with all my BPMs staring slow then going up to Deep House speed.” Mixmaster Morris says he does the same thing, while Sprawl’s Doug Benford (AKA Si-cut.db) adds, “I plan by throwing a dice; odd numbers are CD, evens vinyl. Randomness is my constant companion. And beer. There’s no lullling people into the cheapness of chill with me.” But then, he describes himself as a “glitch-dub-eclectic-up-down-tempo-masher-upper”, so what do you expect?
5. There’s stacks of money in it…
“Of course there's lots of money in DJing, but there isn't a well-paid niche for me yet,” says Doug Benford. “So I make music instead.” Virtually no chill-out DJs actually earn a crust from spinning, with the likes of Pathaan running the Stoned Asia label and club nights, and others hosting radio shows. Chris Coco has an album, Next Wave, due to drop. “I do lots of gigs for very little money,” he says. “But it’s all part of building up the scene, and it’s an area that’s growing and growing, so it’s worth making that investment.”
Workshy Fops, The Lot Of Them
“Putting records on easy. Keeping everyone interested for six or eight hours isn’t so easy. If no-one’s dancing,. How do you tell it’s good? Well if it sounds good, it is good. If everyone is smiling then you are doing it right. If people come up eveyr night and collect my mixtapes and say it’s the best thing they’ve ever heard, then I must be doing something right. Conversely, how can you tell it’s any good if everyone’s taken five pills and will dance to a drum machine all night. ”
“One famous London DJ says he can [scarily] see inside people's heads. I can't, unfortunately, and I gauge the reaction by the mood of the room, enquiries about the records I play [and requests] and after-show reactions. You cannot stop people from dancing: sometimes their movements prove they are listening to a different sound altogether or have forgotten to take their medication.”
“I am always looking for new music and play a lot mainly new releases on My weekly XFM show. However I think it is important to mix in older tracks and not forget about them at the expense of trying to play too much music that to most people will be totally unknown and obscure. An older track can be the way to open the door into a new track...”
si-cut.db aka Doug Benford
“It’s got to be fresh and new, unless it’s STILL unique sounding, so you will get the occassional Krautrock track when I play. I guess I want people dancing in their heads...but at the Sprawl, which I run with BitTonic, and where I play, we think people feel a little too self conscious to start throwing themselves about. I like it to sound odd and inviting all at once."