Are DJs ruining the live-music scene?
I hear this from professional musicians all the time: that DJs are "ruining" the live music scene by "stealing" gigs from "real" musicians. If you look back over the history of live music, you'll see this sentiment repeated over and over.
Is there a reason for this? Sure there is is... Ignorance. Jealousy. Maybe both.
I'm a guitarist. I don't grok DJs. On the other hand I recognize that there's a vast range of sounds, instrumentation and techniques that qualify as music. Look back through the history of music for a clue:
- Gregorian chants
- Indian ragas
- Apalachian folk
- Country blues
- Romantic-era classical
- John Cage
- 80s Casio-pop
- San Francisco psychedelia
- Western swing
- Math rock
The list could go on for damned near forever.
Do you want to argue about instrumentation? OK. How about Gregorian Chants vs. 80s Casio-pop? Are the chants "more pure" because they don't use any instruments? Is the Casio-pop "more advanced" because it used electronic instruments?
For my fellow guitarists out there, how about a reckoning of our own technological "purity"? I'm sure you know that Andres Segovia regarded the electric guitar and its players as inferior. Let's take that a bit further. Compare classic rock (let's say early Led Zeppelin) to black metal. Hugely different technologies. (If you don't believe that, ask those guys to swap rigs...) Ignoring personal preferences, is one inherently "better" or more "musical"?
For those of you guitarists in the "sampling and scratching isn't music" camp, how about John Cage's use of tape manipulation? Or to put the shoe on the other foot, what about heavy use of effects on guitar to the point where the relationship between what's played on the guitar and what goes into the amp depends entirely upon how the pedals are set? Is that "playing the guitar" or "playing pedals"? And if you can acknowledge the difference, is one better or more respectable than the other?
Honestly, I don't grok DJs. But I can appreciate that the craft isn't significantly different from what I do as a guitarist or from what any other artist does with their chosen medium.
For those of you who really believe that DJs have killed the live music scene, I have one thing to say: get over yourselves. The consumer votes with his/her wallet. DJs wouldn't have any work at all if no one wanted them. It's not a conspiracy.
In a closing note of self-deprecating irony, here's a lyric that was cutting-edge in 1970 when I was a teenager (I'm now 54 years old). The song is Mau Mau, written by Paul Kantner for the original Jefferson Starship album. The relevant section is:
"Whatever you think of us is totally irrelevant
Both to us now and to you
We are the present
We are the future
You are the past
Pay your dues and get outta the way
'Cause we're not the way you used to be
When you were very young
We're something new"
It's true. Rock 'n roll is the past. You can hang onto it and keep it alive within some small circle of fellow admirers for as long as you live, but that's not going to bring it back as the dominant art form. Enjoy your memories. Don't piss on the new culture because it doesn't agree with you (or vice versa).