Why Vinyl Should be the Medium of Choice for Real DJing

Real Dj’ing is  a topic that is sentimental to adorers and fans of the artfrom, particularly those that wish to genre into becoming a dj. I imagine a sensibe young lad or lassie that is inspired to become part of the rush that is the movement of Dj’ing has come to be. It can be easy to see the fame that is enjoyed by most dj’s at all levels either local, national or international; this may speak to the root level desires of basic fame, that some may harbour even as an inkling of thought buried somewhere behind other life achievements that may have a slightly higher priority. As for those that have jumped in to the quest to become a really good dj, one may come towards an impasse that may be caused by the farce that has become the argument for what dj’ing really is, and what place modern technology (if any) has on what it is to be a real dj. Many such arguments may be presesnted in the form of magazine articles, video interviews, website, and even weblog articles. Well consider this as addition to the amalgamy of opinion, fact presentation, rant articles and confessions, and call outs on what has become the news media of the modern dj industry.

DSCF3453Consider this as an attempt to break down, according to my perception and learning of the dj artform over the past couple of years, and I am really glad to have been at the point of inflection, when it comes to technology and its effect on dj skills development. DJ’ing is the sort of creative endeavour that has evolved quite rapidly over the past 30 years. If really there is a way to find out what is the yard stick we could use for determining the dj skill level, it would be to look at the beginning and see where things veer off from there into the technological riff raff of musical and tone engineering, that has blurred the  lines between dj’s and producers.

To trace back the history of dj’ing would prove to be quite an arduous task as there is quite a plethora of information available out there from various webpages that are solely dedicated to the subject.  In interest of analysis of this subject I will attempt to make a technical abstraction of dj’ing from a pretty concise summary of dj’ing as outlined on hiphop-network.com

The First Display of Skill

The development of the phonograph in the late 1800’s allowed for sounds to be recorded on a disc, which could be used to reproduce the sound at another time and perhaps location. But it would not be until the 1940’s that the use of phonograph discs to store music that we began to see the emergence of dj’ing. The first dj’s were record music collectors that used to entertain troops overseas during the second world war. It is to say that the first dj’s were armed with record discs and turntables from which they would play song after song interchanging the records between the turntables.

A significant time in the history of DJ’ing was the development of cutting by legendary reggae and dub recording artist from Jamaica ‘King Tubby’  in 1968. The  Jamaican fraternity continued to add to the experience of musical delivery the following year in 1969 dj ‘Kool Herc’ who used breaks from different records to create what is called ‘cutting breaks’, which was essentially cutting out the break beat from one record and mixing it with a break beat from a different record, and this employed the use of two turn tables, manually adjusting the pitch of the song to give it uniform tempo and sound. This may have been the first display of mastery over the limitations of equipment and recording media to essentially create a groovy sound that creates a completely new atmosphere to the audience.

As record playing technology improved, new ways of using the equipment began to develop, and it was in 1975 that the systematic back and forth movement of the record plate over a specific sound was discovered, and it was known to be ‘scratching’, which was discovered by Grand Wizard Theodore. It was from there that advances in technology greatly influenced dj’ing as equipment manufacturers began to produce more robust machinery that allowed dj’s to push the limits of their equipment even further thereby transforming, if not influencing the whole genre of dj’ing completely. It was in the early to mid 80’s that saw increased use of the cross fader to cut the sounds in the vinyl during scratching which completely transformed the way dj’ing progressed.

Roc Raida at Scratchcon 2000

In the early 90’s more and more dj’s began to experiment with different sounds and different ways of using the faders, an explosion of ways of creating and deriving sounds from the turn table changed the way it was viewed not only from being seen as a music player, but a musical instrument. It can be clear to see that to someone that was not familiar with hip hop culture, the use of turn tables in dj’ing within this manner seemed to be somewhat of a different genre of activity all together. This is what gave rise to the word ‘turn tablism’ which was the art of perfecting, and refining the aspects of dj’ing that were discovered in the 20year span from the late 60’s to the late 80’s without exluding the  90’s as the pinnacle of technolgical development in dj’ing, where equipment advanced so quickly that the traditional aspects of dj’ing as they are known almost vanished. This was becuase the new comers to the scene adopted technologies which, offer a great deal of assistance within creating a dj set that the need for operator skill is undervalued if not lost completely.

Should dj’ing of today be the break of its past?

trybe dj
an old photo I Took of dj Trybe on vinyl  decks at a house party ,as a mdium it always gave a warm feel to gatherings.

So now we see that dj’ing was born from the ability to store music and transport it, which allowed the dj to select different types of music to play over his set period. The development of robust technology allowed the dj to experiment with the music and parts of it to create seemingly new sounds or new ways of listening to the music. This allowed the dj to develop new producer like skills such as cue’ing, which is really the ability to select a certain specific point of a track with real time. This ability, along with scratching created a plethora of elements within the dj set that it was now being regarded as an art form. This was because the musicality of dj’ing was not lost. This was probably due to the limits of abstraction the equipment created at the time. The game began to change with the introduction of digital technology, where cue points could be set and accessed almost instantly which allowed the dj with his producer like skills to create abstractions of tracks to the point where they are unrecognisable as music.

As the argument goes, it seems in this development, the artform as its known to be, has been developing in a way that it separates from where it comes from. Should that be the point though? The reason I post this question is that, when history is lost, appreciation goes along with it, and this may inevitably put a limit on what it is. So by not preserving and giving appreciation of native dj skills such as, cutting, mixing, scratching, re-mixing and even editing, it may seem that the direction dj will follow will be nothing like it began to be and may even spell the death of the artform as it would have detracted completely from what it used to be.

Keeping in track with the Origins as the measure of real dj’ing

So what may a real dj be? This is the question that we may face at this juncture within our argument. Equipment may be our first point of observation, as this may tell us what the user of the equipment is actually trying to do. Anyone keeping in touch with the roots of dj’ing will then begin to understand that the use of vinyl records is a more authentic way of dealing with the expression of different types of music, and I shall explain why.

vinyl collection: image courtesy of http://famicoman.com/tag/linking/
vinyl collection: image courtesy of http://famicoman.com/tag/linking/

First of all vinyl records are expensive as compared to their easily pirateable digital counterparts. So any serious collector would take care into where they were spending their money for their piece of music. This reinforces the seriousness in the selection of music, thus creating a selective pressure on good music, I would assume the music collector would naturally develop an ear for good music within their specific genre of interest. So from that point you know a vinyl records collector is someone that is gathering good music.

Vinyl records are a more robust medium of storage, provided that good cleaning is maintained, as they dont suffer mild physical damage as easily as compact discs or external hard drives; the data integrity of  a vinyl changes very little and if anything it develops the much adored ‘vinyl hiss’ which in my opinion gives playing vinyl that magical appeal of actually seeing a mechanical device work to produce a clear, warm and rich sound. To read up more on the sound of vinyl check out a previous article : Music Storage and Integrity for clarity on this.vinyl track

Lastly I shall address something which may not be obvious when observing a vinyl dj, and which may be of importance as to why real skill may be measured through playing records only. One thing above all other mediums of dj’ing is that vinyls require the most attention.  One cannot afford to mess up a set by mishandling a needle or record plate as the music plays, so cue’ing, rewinding, and scratching require an experienced and sensitive hand to control the record plate, a skill that can never be acquired while playing on any other medium. Selection of a specific point of a track requires that the dj knows precisely where to place the needle and what pressure the needle must be pressing against the record as well as how fast the record is spinning. This level of attention is required and it takes many many hours practice and that is what separates the chaff from the grain, the men from boys as it may, so as to eliminate any fly-by-night dj’s that may want to jump on to the band wagon merely  to just get chicks or get in free into parties and clubs, without having any appreciation for the real music.


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