The Deejay's In The Details

You know I honestly never even considered...?

I've recently spent a couple of enjoyable hours parsing through Vanity of the Vanities' excellent set of articles and music samples dealing with the fascinating local Carolinian "beach music" genre, an interesting parallel to northern soul and the missing link between The Swinging Medallions and The Chairmen of the Board. Loads of meaty info, relevant interviews and interesting analyses.

But what really fascinated me was the portrayal of the scene's DJs, especially in the two follow-up articles. Because they, and by extension the entire craft of DJing, were portrayed as highly suspect and possibly even evil.
It's a very peculiar thought to me but it actually makes surprising amounts of sense from some perspectives. I've been brought up on enough positive accounts of the DJing profession to have a highly romanticised view of it, and I'm fascinated by how a good DJ works. DJs manipulate their audience in interesting ways, shape narratives of music, cleverly subvert the intentions of the original artists, link together diverse records and create fascinatingly complete new sounds and genres.

But all those skills can just as well be used for, well, bad things. Malevolent manipulation. Insinuating narratives and connections, cruelly warped artistic intentions, preserving old genres by moulding new records into their limited vocabularies. The authors of the article bring up the example of how beach DJs regularly bowdlerise R&B records of all their rapping so as not to offend the audiences with the "degenerate" content they contain.

I think it's a fascinating twist of perspective, and I'm surprised it comes so natural to the writers. Because rejecting DJ craftiness, like David Mancuso famously did in the late seventies, seems so strongly connected with conservatism and 19th-century ideas of "genius" and "the work". I guess that ought to teach me to try to see the opposite perspective as well.


Anonymous said...

Intressant! Speciellt eftersom jag håller på och läser en bok om just DJs. Den boken målar, så vitt jag vet, upp en väldigt positiv bild av DJande. Ska definitivt se till att läsa artiklarna.

Anonymous said...

Hm, säg till om du föredrar kommentarer på engelska.

Birdseed said...

Nej då, det är lungt för min skull. Har rätt mycket läsare från utlandet så om du vill kommunicera med flera kanske det underlättar.

Jag har nog också mycket av min positiva DJ-bild från just den boken.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful remarks and for spreading awareness of this amazing project. If you're ever in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I'm sure Brendan and Mike, the authors of this mix and essays, would take you around the beach scene. Respect from New York, William (Vanity of the Vanities)

Anonymous said...

Johan, thanks for your insightful comments on our project. I am absolutely with you in terms of reticence in lambasting DJs, but the fascinating--and ugly--reality of beach music is that race lurks around every critical corner. Tired notions of DJ v. recording artist, audience vs. performer, and ultimately, originality and authenticity--like the constant requests for "B&D," or songs by "black & dead" performers"--are inextricable from black vs. white cultural blocks. So I think Mike and I were responding primarily to those problematics, rather than the DJ in toto (in fact, we're both sometime DJs ourselves.) But we're pleased to be on here--your blog and writing are both great. Cheers from North Carolina -- Brendan

Birdseed said...

Thanks guys - I don't know how you found your way here but I loved your project. I've been trying to research Beach music over the net for years with no success, and your articles were great in that respect, besides sparking off this blog post.

It's actually interesting how widespread the "black and dead" concept is, at least black and creatively dead. In the UK, at least, there's a history going back to the thirties and beyond of adopting the previous generation of African-American music: "Trad" jazz in the 30s-50s, Swing in the forties, R&B in the 60s, "Northern" soul in the 70s, "jazz-"funk in the eighties, "backpacker" hip-hop in the nineties.

It seems to be something basic in the psychology of the white middle-class that creates this sort of thing. I've laid forth two potential theories as to why here and here but I'm not sure I've really reached into the heart of in either case.