The Evolution of Djing
Though DJs- from the wannabes in onesies in Ibiza open nights to hardcore artists working out of their basement-might seem like a specifically modern phenomenon, disc jockeys have actually been around since before the Second World War. The term was first coined in 1935 by Walter Winchell (one of the world’s first gossip columnist who was in the habit of trying to destroy his enemies with sarcasm), in a time where it was inconceivable for radio stations to play pre-recorded music (most had a house band or orchestra. How they fit them in that tiny recording booth is the real mystery).
But it wasn’t until 1943, thanks to the now-disgraced-and-dead Jimmy Saville that we first met with DJing in a way that we’d recognise it today-playing pre-recorded music at a live event. His jazz records might have been a bit more wedding reception than Skrillex, but they nonetheless paved the way for the spinning of future discs.
Less than twenty years later, the sixties saw a boom in the innovation of key Djing equipment. Britain’s first audio mixing console manufacturer, Allen & Heath, came into existence, becoming the first people to mount pots and switches and premiere producers of the first mini-mixers, while elsewhere Rudy Bozak pioneered the modern design of DJ mixers that defined the product for decades to come.
The fantastically-named DJ Kool Herc was a huge propagator in defining the modern DJ; bucking against the trend of cloying seventies disco in favour of nascent hip-hop. He was the first recorded performer to cut between two separate records on stage, defining, in 1973, the style of break beating we see and hear today. Later in the decade, Grand Wizard Theordore accidentally created the now-iconic scratching technique after his mother played with his records while lecturing him on playing them too loudly. While Djing was still an extremely underground phenomenon through the sixties and seventies, it grew in popularity and became a very real part of popular culture in 1979 thanks to Sugar Hill Gang’s use of sampling in the famed Rapper’s Delight.
As live music started its decline in favour of CDs and other recordings, so the rise of disc jockeys became more important. The rise of electronica played a big part in the way we see DJs today; for the first time, it was possible for artists to create music that was entirely built around synthetic sounds formed in the studio-from drum machines to synthed-out basslines. And people seemed to like it.
The nineties really spelt out the first time DJs became legitimate celebrities in their own right. Acid house and club nights were on the up, and no live music venue worth its weight in salt would dare omit a DJ from its payroll. It was around this time, too, that advances in personal computer technology meant DJs could create or test-run tracks at home, instead of being confined with coming up with them on the fly.
Then, of course, the last decade or so has left us with scores of stay-at-home DJs churning out their take on the latest hits, with products like Virtual DJ, Deckadance and various kind of Vinyl replication software available straight to your laptop. Pioneer DJ, one of the first companies to specialise in equipment for DJs, was born in 2001, focused on creating affordable equipment that opened DJ-ing to the masses. With online music sharing platforms abound, you can pitch your songs to almost anyone with an email address, and getting hold of tracks to play with in the first place isn’t an issue. From armchair enthusiasts playing with the ever-improving personal technology available to sell-out arena tours from number-one hit machines, DJ-ing is here to stay.
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