I have been a DJ for about 15 years… I started out playing Splack Pack and Stevie Wonder on vinyl. It was a time when Technics were the firm industry standard in all night clubs, and if you didn’t know how to use a Rane MP 24 you were out of luck. It was a simpler time with much less distraction than today’s digital DJ setup, and recently it occured to me what that has done to the creative process of the DJ.
About a month ago I decided to grab some vinyl that I had purchased this past record store day and play it at one of my gigs around town. You see, for the past 5 years or so I have been strictly using Serato or Traktor DJ software with my Technics turntables and I forgot just how different playing a single track on a vinyl record can be.
l immediately noticed the intense focus that is put on each song when playing vinyl. Every song seems to be a bit more important, because you have to commit to it. With digital DJing you can have so much music at your disposal that it really minimizes the art of track selection. You can play every hot track, and every classic track imaginable without having to carry one crate or record bag. It’s not a bad thing, but in my opinion, it does de-value a specific track’s existence in your library. There is also something to be said about the way we shop for music digitally versus with vinyl. Nowadays you can just search the top 100 tracks in a given genre and download them. With vinyl you have to dig long for it, and really love every track that you spend your hard earned money on.
When you play an all vinyl set it is almost like you are on an island with each track. Floating in the sonic vibration of that song, and relying on its energy to exist withing the ocean that is your set. In my opinion a set takes on a certain importance when only vinyl is played. You can only bring so many records, you can only look at so many tracks in between songs, and you can’t hit the loop button… EVER. You have to commit, you have to focus, you have to trust, and you have to execute. If you drop a mix in the middle, you can’t just start over.
This experience playing vinyl after a long hiatus was truly beautiful and sort of a revelation. I caught a glimpse of what is was like to DJ 20 years ago, and I felt a little nostalgia for that time when electronic music was emerging. I also realized how the digital age has influenced and drastically changed the experience of playing music for a crowd. Having a computer in front of you really does pull you away from the experience and distracts the focus. I believe even if you are spinning digitally it is best to keep the computer out of the way.
I will never forget again what it means to play vinyl, and I won’t forget to appreciate where the art of DJing came from. The analog sound will never be re-created with computers, and the analog feel will never be surpassed by digital software. I know there are plenty of benefits to the modern world, but this article isn’t about that. It’s about old school, about true love for music, and about that warm vinyl sound. Here’s to the analog!