'Real Talk' is a new series of artist-penned essays that will be appearing on XLR8R from time to time. For the first installment, we've enlisted veteran DJ/producer DVS1, who wished to speak on what he sees as the changing atmosphere inside the club.
The reality is that things will never be what they once were. The past is the past, and the present is something we all have to accept. Everything in life tells us that we shouldn't cling to how things were or what might have been better back in the day. In the classic way our parents would describe the hardships of walking to school five miles each way, up and down hills and through snow, when we have the luxury of a bus, or a car, or a bike, etc… aren't we supposed to embrace the change and the reality of our surroundings today? Those that lived before generally come to accept what the next generation wants or believes to be the right way, the new way. But does this natural progression always apply? Do we really have to conform and/or buy into what everyone says is okay? Or popular? Or current?
I remember how many times in my 20s I would laugh at or make fun of an older generation for being stuck in their ways and how they couldn't accept that things had changed in music, life, relationships, communication, etc. Now, in my late 30s (closer to 40), I find myself yelling at the young kids to get off my lawn for these exact same things. My reality is that I have reached a middle-ground existence, one where I'm not quite older, but I'm definitely not young anymore. So I try and see the truth of what those before me have shared, but I still try to understand and connect with the reality of life today for a younger generation. I can see how someone in their 20s who has been raised with cell phones (with cameras), tablets, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. sees the world from a completely different perspective than I do. On some things, I am sure we will agree, but on many others, we are just coming from two totally different worlds.
In speaking about this topic specifically from a music perspective, it might help to describe my own personal experience of being a dancer/listener and going to house/techno events in the early '90s. I remember that discovering this scene was something special; it was not yet mass produced or mass consumed, and to be a part of this community was like being invited into a family. You were welcomed in to be a part of shared experiences with all those who were on the dancefloor with you. The DJ was an alien that landed from some unknown outer world, and when the time was theirs, they played this music that was so powerful and body moving that you had no choice but to dance… for hours, you lost yourself and joined in this communal vibe and energy. You didn't even necessarily face the DJ, as the soundsystems were so physically large that you more often than not danced in the direction of the sound and the speakers; the DJ was just off somewhere in the corner. I remember the feeling being so powerful that many of us changed our entire lives to be a part of this movement and to embrace all the possibilities that came with it. Social media, cameras, and phones weren't even a consideration yet. Clubs and parties just existed for the music and the moment.
My memory and experience might come across in a very sentimental way, but this is truly how I feel about this music. I cherish it, I nurture it, and I try and give it the same respect that I would give anything in my life that has given me so much. Because of this, maybe I take it too personally, or maybe I even see things from a perspective that is biased, but there are things happening around me within this community that I feel should be addressed if we are going to keep the integrity, atmosphere, and experience we have fought for all of these years. To clarify even further, because I'm from the US dance scene, when I say that I "fought" for this, it's a literal statement. Over here, we have always fought against popular culture for the acceptance of this music as something legitimate; now, as it's coming out of the underground and becoming popular, it's slowly being formulated and sold back to audiences that might not give it the respect it deserves or even understand that this music has a real history.
The concern here though is not just about a changing audience, as many artists have also crossed over into new social territory, one that's obsessed with promotion and self-gratification. As leaders of this community, their every move is looked at as an example of what is acceptable and what is normal. This brings up the issue of artist vs. entertainer. Years ago, I would have easily said that many of us were fighting for the same thing, we were all brothers and sisters in arms, but as time has gone on, especially with the current wave of success we are seeing in the house/techno community, there is in many ways a growing divide amongst the family. The popularity and over-hype of this music has inevitably pushed things into extremes of ART vs. ENTERTAINMENT.
Going to see a DJ/live act in the context of ART was always an adventure. I was going to see what someone would present or what vibe they were bringing. I wanted to know how they would adapt to the location, the people, the time they played, the soundsystem they played on, etc. It was live art in its purest form, and the crowd was there to witness a performance. I would never think of criticizing or degrading an artist with comments and/or suggestions about what they could have done better or differently—I was just happy to have had the chance to experience them up close. If I didn't like what they were playing, I was more than happy to take a break from the dancefloor and go socialize or just go check out the second room at the party and wait patiently for the next DJ to take over. Of course, art is meant to be discussed, and even more so, it's meant to be liked by some and not by others, but these days, there is a level of respect that is missing in terms of the crowd and how they react to and interact with the artist. To me, this is an obvious example of how our art has turned into entertainment.
Of course, we DJs are entertainers to some degree; people pay money to come see us perform, we get up on a stage, we play music to a crowd, etc. But the line of respect between art and entertainment is what I'm speaking about. I see comments not only my own Facebook page, but on other artist pages where fans/followers feel they are also critics who have the right and even the responsibility to basically rip apart an artist's performance directly to that artist. I'm not saying you shouldn't have your own opinion, but to tear apart someone, just because you can, feels a bit disjointed and inappropriate. We would always discuss between friends what we thought of each DJ we heard the night before, but I would never think about going up to any of them and saying some of the things that I have read even on my own fan page. I would absolutely never think about yelling anything negative at an artist while they were performing or even requesting something different. Let's take an extreme example: if an artist shows up too drunk or high to perform and is a complete mess, then you should honestly feel free to yell what you want and demand your money back. But if you just don't like the music or the vibe of that artist, then you should just leave the room, it's as simple as that. I can say from personal experience that the crowd pretty much never knows what we are going through on any given night, whether it's bad monitors, broken equipment, or a barrage of flashes and cameras in our faces from the moment we take the booth. In this age of technology, most people expect perfection from the get-go, and leave no room for the human element. Unfortunately, more and more people think that we are just machines that will play what they want, but this art form is based on us being artists and having the opportunity to present our vision and our vibe. We are not human jukeboxes that take requests. If that's what you are looking for, then there are plenty of options out there, but you shouldn't expect a positive response when you come at a real artist with that attitude.
Nowadays, things have changed drastically. Most of you have probably heard recently about Jeff Mills having bottles and drinks thrown at him or other artists being yelled at to play "harder" or "different." I recently read about Peter Van Hoesen's Sendai project being almost violently attacked over the choice of music they were presenting while playing in France. Sendai is a live experimental project that is both well regarded and known to not necessarily play any dance music. Some will say it's the promoter's fault, or the location, or any other reason than actually blaming the current state of affairs. If people who were listening viewed this music as art and not entertainment, and respected it as such, they might have realized it was simply time to leave the room and wait for the next act. Instead, just like in the incident with Jeff Mills, the crowd felt it had the right to yell, scream, and throw things. This behavior cannot be tolerated and will continue if people don't re-evaluate what this is all about.
This brings me to the topic of general etiquette and overuse of photography on the dancefloor. Over the years, two major differences have developed that pop into my mind right away. The first is that during the '90s, pictures or video from parties was something you didn't see very often, as cameras still used film and video was still on tape. To see images from a party was something exotic and usually out of most promoters' reach as an extra cost or extravagance or just something that wasn't important at the time. At that time, images that provided a glimpse into the night before had real weight and substance in terms of their impact, as they provided a window into an experience, community, and scene that was largely secret and out of the mainstream eye.
Today, it is completely the opposite. Everyone has a camera on their phone, most parties or clubs have in-house photographers, and usually, they are all fighting for the same imagery: proof that their party was amazing, the DJ was a god, the crowd was wild, and you should want to party at their next event. The reality is that we all know what a DJ looks like, we all know what a packed room looks like, and we've all seen lasers and big visuals. At times, I think that people have forgotten that the experience, the REAL experience of people telling others about this amazing night they had is what will spread. I understand that it must be extremely hard for a new promoter or even an established one to compete with all of this, but I truly believe that QUALITY music presented in a real atmosphere where sound and vibe are the two most important things will always trump hype.
On the dancefloor, it must be even more frustrating. Think about how often you get distracted, either by your own desire to take a picture or someone near you taking one? Think about how often you get sidetracked from just losing yourself to the music. Not to be cliché, but look at one of the most successful and respected house/techno destinations in the world, Berghain/Panorama Bar, and what is the number-one rule? NO PHOTOS! It's not because the club is hiding something, and it's not because its managers don't want you to see something; it's because they firmly believe in and see the power of allowing people to be themselves without subconsciously worrying about being captured on camera. They believe that hedonism and the general feeling of living in the here-and-now is absolutely essential to creating a real energy and vibe.
Another example is Amsterdam's infamous Trouw club and the decision it made in the final year of its current existence (Trouw is closing at the beginning of 2015). Instead of worrying about documenting every night and showing everyone how amazing or legendary the venue was, the club's organizers have decided to ban photography and just encourage everyone to enjoy the final nights and final vibes of this amazing venue. Even the club photographer, who basically lost his job over this decision, went on Trouw's website proclaiming that he fully supported this move and believed it would make the final year that much better.
Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. As a performer, as much as I try not to care about cameras or people filming me, I have to say that it's really difficult at times to continue to be expressive when you're unconsciously worried about how you look or what is being filmed, especially when you're trying to focus on what track you're playing or even what you are doing at that very moment. I can't speak for all artists, but I can confidently say that I try and take myself somewhere else when I'm playing, to my own world where I attempt to completely expose myself emotionally through the music. To be pulled out of that moment by someone holding a phone with the flash shining bright at me, it's like being shaken out of a deep sleep while dreaming, only to realize that I can't quite go that deep into my dream again, because now I'm up. In speaking to my peers and colleagues, I also believe that many of us are feeling the same way. Of course we understand that we are performers and artists, but many of us don't want to become entertainers.
Many will argue that we have to accept this as just part of our job, or that people pay us to perform or that they have the right to do this, but my point of view is different. While dance music has definitely blown up on a mainstream level (i.e. festivals and huge clubs), the majority of this is still a niche crowd playing and listening to niche music. I don't think it's inappropriate to set rules and boundaries and ask for this respect. We are trying to keep something sacred and provide people with an experience that will inspire them and stay with them for more than just a single night. More often than not, the photo you took or the video you filmed trying to capture the moment only distracted you from fully being present and being a part of the experience.
If you think this is just the underground whining and not taking its growing pains with ease, then read up on popular mainstream music artists who are also speaking out about this and even going as far as requesting that their concert goers try and enjoy the moment without technology strapped to their hand.
The only way I see this changing is if we as a community attempt to police ourselves, and if clubs and venues take a stand and change the rules regarding these issues. Over the last year, I have been playing a handful of all-night sets in select clubs and have requested that they inform the security, staff, and attendees with posters requesting no cameras, no cell phones, and no video while on the dancefloor. I've run into a few places that told me there would be no way they could enforce it… but they would try. In the end, I would always get a surprised and excited look from the staff at how the crowd reacted, at how much better the vibe was that night, and a few places have actually decided to make this rule permanent. Recently I shared the poster I'm referring to on my fan page.
When I posted this on my page, I got a lot of supportive feedback, but a few people (usually younger, when I checked their profiles) boldly commented that if someone told them or even asked them to put away their phone, they would literally consider getting physical with that person. When I read sentiments like this, it makes me realize how drastically different some of us see things. But it also reminds me that what I do is not for everyone and I don't need to, nor do I want to, please everyone. It reminds me that where I come from and where I want to be is in a respectable place of freedom. Artistically as a performer, as well as when I'm on the dancefloor, I want to feel free and comfortable to just let go. I can't put a clear line in the sand for a whole group or an entire scene, but I can only hope that if you're reading this, you can differentiate for yourself where you stand on this issue and what vibe and behavior is appropriate for your experience.
Maybe I'm just being nostalgic and maybe things can never be the same. I accept this reality. In today's world, music and culture gets bottled up and marketed into oblivion and people lose sight of what was special about these movements to begin with. Dance music as a whole will shift and change with the times, but we as a community have the power to keep parts of it sacred. Understand that this is not a one-man war against people wanting to take pictures or a call to arms for people to be stopped; this is just one perspective coming from someone with experience and passion for this community… and I don't think I'm the only one who feels this way. We have the ability to continue traditions and maintain authenticity in our way of being. If you nurture something with true intent, then it will survive all the hype, all the tourists, and all the users. I have treated my time in this community with respect, and I feel I owe the music I love the same gratitude it has shown me; that's why I do my part to keep up the integrity and longevity I believe it deserves.