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Lords of the Dance

By Ma Fazia, who is an international DJ, artist and producer, and is shamelessly passionate about electronic music, its culture and lifestyle.

Rolling Stone IN Apr 20, 2009

It never ceases to amaze me how interested people get when I mention to them that I’m a DJ. Who would have guessed that in the last twenty-five years, the role of the DJ would change dramatically from near obscurity, to becoming one of the most desired and enviable jobs not only in the music business, but also in the world?

When I was growing up in London in the early 1980s, the only time I could remember hearing the term DJ (or in those days disc jockey), was on my favorite radio stations. DJs back then were presenters who introduced music and interspersed it with chat on the radio. As club culture took to the runway in the 1990s, DJs began seeking to be more musically creative, as they were no longer satisfied with being merely the host for a revue of other people’s recordings. Suddenly DJing went from introducing tracks to actually “performing” them, and a new industry within the electronic dance music scene was created where these pioneering DJs evolved into superstars with juicy, fat paychecks, and an envious jet-set lifestyle.

Today’s DJs are picking-and-mixing from the great supermarket of sound, using the tracks as building blocks, combining them together in different ways to make something new by dramatically emphasising the connections between tracks and seamlessly overlaying them. For some, deejaying comes instinctively, for others it’s a matter of experience and the ability gained from years of watching people dance. Thanks to the power of music, many DJs have experienced a meteoric climb, more often than not becoming bigger than the artists who actually make the music they play. A perfect example of this is Tiesto, not only has been voted the world’s number one DJ more than once, but also has played to one of the biggest audiences in the world by performing live at the opening of the Olympic Games in 2004. Besides remixes, he plays many of his own tracks to thousands of adoring fans. He also commands one of the highest DJ fees starting from 1,50,000 euros a pop. No wonder so many young people today secretly wish to be a DJ ”“ it seems like easy big money!

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More than any other music genre, electronic dance music has been feeding the DJ sub-culture right from the outset. The DJ explosion hit India about five years ago, as EDM crept into our lives ”“ not just in clubs in our busy metros, but also in our homes, our cars and our lifestyles. As a DJ who plays internationally but have a home in India, I’ve experienced a great shift over the last few years, and I now spend most of my time DJing here, as the demand for good DJs increases with the plethora of EDM-based events happening in the big cities. I personally have the numbers of close to two hundred Indian DJs just on my mobile phone, and I’m sure there are hundreds more out there who play at the countless weddings and corporate events that happen weekly around the country.

Of course, in the real world the job of a DJ can seem quite bizarre and a bit of an enigma. My father, a lawyer, often asks me what it is that I do all day. I seem to fly from city to city, sometimes four nights in a row in four different cities, occasionally even different countries, set up my rather small “tool-bag” and simply stand behind some equipment and play super loud pumping music for a couple of hours to a group of fans, who want to hug me, thank me, and even get photographed with me. Pre-gig interviews in newspapers, post-coverage on television, articles in magazines, even dare say it hot sexy women throwing themselves or even their underwear at me (Ok, the underwear thing hasn’t actually happened yet).

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The DJ has now become the closest thing to the preacher of the old-style church, or the rock star of the old music industry. They have become modern shamans who draw people to an event because of their skill at getting the music right ”“ being the vibrant pulse of the party, moving with it and being moved by it.

As DJing becomes more and more accessible, the desire to be felt, seen and heard is growing. There are some who believe that the rise of the bedroom DJ reduces our finely-honed skills to a mere commodity, thus eradicating its mystique and allure ”“ but for creatively inspired youngsters, it’s like a gift from heaven. Advances in technology have helped shape and drive this current golden DJ age, along with the evolution of dance culture in clubs, and with the increasing popularity of electronic dance music the redefinition of the DJ as artist and superstar could well have been inevitable.

My own explanation for the DJ phenomenon is quite simplistic. As dance and music are intrinsic elements of the human experience, the audience still needs a person to relate and identify the music with. The incredible, emotions invoked demands that we attribute the love, passion and near-godly experience in ourselves to the person we see representing the music before us, leading us into the dance. Maybe it’s also because in not only discovering this music, but also bringing it to the audience, the DJ has finally become an artist and a true performer in their own right.

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