Still spinning after all these years: the DJ dinosaurs who keep evolving
The likes of Jeff Mills, Todd Terry and Paul Oakenfold done well have turned the turntables into long-term careers
Summit else: Paul Oakenfold performing at base camp on Mount Everest on April 11th. Photograph: Soundtrek via Facebook
As far as I can work out, French critic and novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr had little truck with music during his time at the writing desk in the 19th century. However, Karr’s most famous line, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, comes to mind on a regular basis when you’re throwing an eye over the acts and musicians currently doing the rounds.
We know at this stage that heritage acts can still earn good money and command decent attendances on the live circuit as they keep touring decades after they first had a serious hit. But it’s not just live music where the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Over the years that I’ve compiled club listings for this paper and many other publications, I’ve seen many names become familiar fixtures. The names of the clubs and venues may have changed, and the people on the dancefloor may now be the kids of those who were around in the past, but some of the DJs seem to be evergreen in their longevity.
In the next few weeks, you’ll have DJs such as François Kevorkian and John “Jellybean” Benitez playing in Dublin. Slam, Jeff Mills, Todd Terry, Ian Pooley, Octave One, Sven Väth and other veterans all regularly feature in the listings too.
Legends of old
Of course, bookers are also going for the new school – and it’s reassuring to see that bookers are now giving gigs to female DJs, an occurrence which was the exception rather than the norm for many, many years – but it’s striking how those legends of old are still in the game. Perhaps this is down to the widespread use of USB keys and Serato, which means they’re no longer putting out their backs with those boxes of vinyl and bags of CDs, as used to be the case.
The record industry copped that dance music could shift units
Some of the old-stagers are even going well beyond the call of duty to keep us interested in their wares. Look at Paul Oakenfold, who recently became the first DJ to play at base camp on Mount Everest. He may be one of the most boring interviewees you’ll ever encounter, but you can’t knock that kind of commitment.
Few of those who started out in the late 1980s or early 1990s probably expected to make it this far and that’s not because of any sort of hedonistic lifestyle choices. Back then, clubbing and dance music were exciting, life-changing and genuinely groundbreaking, but weren’t regarded as the stuff of a long-term career.
But this began to change and dance music became a multi-layered, multimillion-euro business. Many club runners became venue owners and started to diversify into other areas. The record industry copped that dance music could shift units, and that there were was even scope to develop some decent album artists as a result.
The real game-changer was for the DJs themselves. Those who came to prominence as house and techno became sounds with both mainstream and underground appeal saw their profile and fees rise.
Yes, some did the dog and burned out, but the smarter operators turned this into a career. They got involved in different musical projects and pursuits (it must be time for the fad for DJs performing with orchestras to become a fad for DJs collaborating with jazz acts again) and kept coming back with something new to bring in a younger audience or to keep festival bookers happy. For those DJs starting out today, the name of the game is to think long-term and remember you might still be doing this into your 50s and 60s.