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JesseMiner
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#31 Post by JesseMiner » Tue Feb 24, 2004 5:56 pm

I've got a lot to say on the subject of flow, but Kevin Poulson from Chicago says it so well that I figured I would just reprint his WindyHop.org post from this thread:
so i just noticed this thread...

thanks for the "nods" from drew, kevin c, and any others...a few years back, ray and myself gave every friday night to java jive for a couple years...it wasn't always easy, but it was always fun.

now seeing some of the discussion here, i thought i might add a little something for all of the aspiring swing djs out there to think about...

as some of you already know (and for those of you who don't) in the last couple years, i've really gotten into DJing...but not swing. i've gotten into DJing electronic music... vinyl... turntables... mixer.... i think all the work i did at java jive helped me have a kind of 'head start' when i started learning about this style of DJing, but i'm still learning everyday. let me see if i can explain a key concept that i think is missing from most swing places when i go out (i know that's rare)...

at its most basic, DJing electronic music uses two distinct but overlapping skills: technical mixing, and song selection. since the electronic DJ usually is keeping the party pumping and keeping the music flowing...ever evolving one song into the next..there is usually not a gap between the songs. that's where the technical mixing comes in.

when i mix two songs together, i have to match the tempo and the beats and even the pitch and harmonics and then blend the two together by overlapping them creating a kind of impromptu "third" song while they are overlapping.

this is closely tied to song selection. in theory, i can take any 2 songs and mix them together...but sometimes it just doesn't sound right. that is song selection. depending on the song playing now and the mood of the room and what i'm trying to accomplish as the dj taking these people somewhere...maintaing the current vibe...or steering the vibe of the room into a whole new direction...this is song selection.

now, the 'technical mixing' i talked about is not really done in swing DJing. :)

but that leaves us with what i think is the most important thing for all of you aspiring DJs to think about: your song selection

now let me explain that... having good song selection doesn't necessarily mean having something that nobody else has ever played. it also doesn't mean only and always playing the "top ten of swing" so to speak. it means playing songs that make sense together.

i've been at clubs where i've seen djs just utterly controlling a room. the energy and mood of everyone in there is completely dictated by what the dj is doing...this is a truly amazing thing to witness...i mean it is awe-inspiring (ask kitty sometime about Sander at Redno5)...and then when i'm totally caught up in this moment, the dj will put on THE ABSOLUTE PERFECT TRACK, and i'll think to myself 'man...there is no other song that he could have played right at that second that would have sounded better.' sure, he could have played a million other songs, but they just would not be the right song.

do you see where i'm going here?

each song is in and of itself a beautiful thing...we all have our favorite songs. for some people it is a very popular song like carmen mcrae's "exactly like you"...for others it may be a more obscure song such as duke ellington's "suburban beauty"...what you need to do as a dj is find these songs and play them in the right order.

sounds simple, huh? it isn't. not by a longshot.

it takes constant listening and learning the music you have, in addition to finding more and more over time. but in my opinion, what seperates the "ok" dj from the "amazing" dj is the ability to not picture the songs that he or she plays as "songs"...but rather as smaller parts of a larger whole. a song takes only a few minutes of the time that you're DJing...your SET fills the entire time that you're up there DJing.

in my opinion, not a lot of swing djs think about building a SET. now i'm not saying all, but in my opinion, most are guilty of this. it seemed to be the trend for a while for each dj to try to 'one up' the other djs by having something more obscure than anyone else. i think drew said above 'if its obscure its obscure for a reason'. those are pretty wise words. not to say you'll never find some song that people don't really know, but maybe don't make that the crux of your DJing.

DJing is about taking songs and making something larger and greater than each of the songs could ever be on their own. a song has logical movements and progressions...think about a song like 'flying home'...there's a little intro, the melody, solo, maybe another solo (depends on the version) and eventually by the end, it picks up in intensity and you have the big climactic ending.

think about it. shouldn't your set have the same kind of logical movements and progressions?

you're dancers. you've all learned about connection. you've all learned about tension...tension...think about it... compress, relax. compress, relax. compress, relax. in every beginning class on up through the advance classes you learn not to lead or follow 'herky-jerky'...if you're going to lead something, begin it gently then increase the tension til the follow moves the way you want. picture a simple rock-step. it's not a "shove-yank". its a smooth transition from no motion to the rock...when you reach the tension point, the rock ends and the step gently begins until you hit the compression point...you know what i'm saying???

now take this concept into your DJing. compress, relax. build tension, release tension. peaks and valleys, my friends. it's a gradual thing. examine the songs you have in your collection. now examine the mood of the room and think what you want to accomplish when you dj. create your own 'style'...using your songs, how can you move the room from where it is right now, to where you want it to be when you're done? imagine it... picture it...

now step back and look at your songs as part of your larger SET. if you get to play 10 songs, how can you get from your starting song to your climactic knock-their-shoes-off finishing song? in order to be memorable, your set is going to have to MAKE SENSE.

when i would get requests at java jive (and even now w/ the electronic stuff) i used to always say "i'll play it if i can fit it in". i didn't mean time-wise...i meant that if that song fits in the mood of the set, then i'll play it. if it MAKES SENSE. in a way, the dj really doesn't pick the songs...they present themselves to him. one song plays and another song just is the right song to play after that. so you play it. they this other song just simply NEEDS to be played after that one. and now the only song that would make sense after this one, is that one..and so on.

sometimes no matter how cool the song is, you just can't play it...or at least you shouldn't. i hope you know what i mean. it just wouldn't make sense to play 'happy go lucky local' and then play 'bugle call rag' and then play 'my baby just cares for me'. you have to 'ride the tide' as i used to say. gradual transitions make your set flow. go from 120bpm to 130bpm to 145bpm to 190bpm to 175bpm to 210bpm to 195bpm to 215bpm to 240bpm to 200bpm to 190bpm to 180bpm to 195bpm to 170 bpm....up and up and up and down and up and down and up and up and down and so on....

picture the tempo of your songs like a wave:

----------------X---------------X
----------X---X---X---X-----------X
----X---X---X-------X---X-----X
--X---X-------------------X-X
X

ride the tide, boys and girls. ride the tide.

my friend ray, for those of you who remember him, coined the term "the musical bends" while we were DJing at java jive one time...he was playing some faster stuff and someone asked him if he could play a really slow song next. he said he'd play it, but he'd have to 'get around to it in a while'. the requestor asked why he couldn't just play it next. ray said "you can't just go from 300bpm to 80bpm....you'll get the musical bends, man!"

words of wisdom from ray.

so i guess i've talked long enough...maybe even too long. but i hope that some of what i'm trying to get across in this inane babbling will make sense enough to seem almost obvious to you aspiring djs. "of course!!" they all say...

it's not about having the world's biggest collection.
it's not about having the most obscure songs.
it's not about playing 'all the hits all the time.'

it's about taking what you have...some hidden gems, some staples...and making them yours.

everybody else has most of the same songs that you do...but nobody else will probably ever think to arrange them in the way that you will. nobody else will create the kind of mood that you will going from 'in a mellow tone' to 'sassys blues' then picking up the pace a bit and going out of small combos to faster big band power...now you have 'celery stalks at midnight' rocking out...now 'jeep jockey jump'...now what? well, you're not going to play 'my baby just cares for me'...that wouldn't make a lick of sense...how about a fast stompin 'flying home'? oh yeah, that works! now maybe back off slightly...but still keep the floor moving...now over the next 2 or 3 songs, you'll get back down to something like yoko's version of 'cherry' or something like that...laid back, but not slow blues...

take the songs and make them yours.

the songs are just parts of a greater whole.

mold these songs into your own set.

think about what the room feels like now, and where you want to take it.

think about your music and how you can over time get from here to there.

you have the tools...now you just need to do it.

-k
I did get Kevin's permission to post this, and he wanted me to include a link to his latest DJ set. It's not swing, but it is great stuff, so check it out! Here's the setlist:
1. Simon & Levin - 'Gone'
2. DJ Chus & David Penn featuring Caterina - 'Baila' (Dennis Ferrer
Bergentine Drums)
3. Tigerhook Corp (Deep C & Randall Jones) - 'The Show'
4. N.S.D. Project - 'Funk the D' (Floorfillerz dub)
5. Paul Rogers - 'Krafty'
6. Sapphirecut - 'Action Reaction' (Physical mix)
7. PQM - 'You Are Sleeping' (PQM Meets Luke Chable vocal pass)
8. Junkie XL & Sasha - 'Breezer'
9. Electric Company featuring Steve Edwards - 'Stone Killer' (Kid
Georgeous Saved My Life mix)
10. Seroya - 'Only Your Love' (Holmes Ives vocal)
11. Sultan - 'Isabella'
Jesse

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#32 Post by julius » Tue Feb 24, 2004 6:16 pm

That post takes it for granted that there is a starting point, and that there is a big climactic finish. In between, you are supposed to flow.

Is the assumption that you should have a destination in mind a good one? Do bands do this? In reality, don't bands sometimes throw in a ballad to give the brass a bit of a breather?

I think the post is a good one (and I've read it before, but forgotten it existed), but I think it also makes some assumptions about what makes a good evening of music to dance to that have never been questioned. Do they need to be questioned?

I also think that the issue of flow arises only because DJs choose to present a wider variety of music for dancing than bands choose to play. By this I don't mean tempo, but stylistic variety. A band generally has its own style. If you played nothing but 1935-1940 Basie for a set, it would automatically match stylistically. Tempowise, I don't think it'd matter. Fans of that music would dance their asses off no matter how you arranged the song selection.

Most swing DJs, in comparison, choose to play a wider variety of music than that. Even if you stuck to straight swing music (and a lot of DJs don't, in my opinion) you could wind up playing 1935 Basie with 1957 Basie, and stylistically that would be weird. So that's one reason why flow exists.

I also think that most DJs flow too slowly, at least for my tastes. One memorable moment that worked for me was Mel from San Diego going from some slow, groovy number to (Alberta Hunter?) Darktown Strutter's Ball (the one that opens slowly and goes to double-time that I hear a lot at lindygroove) to a classic swing song.

Obviously flow is different for different people. But I would love it if DJs would keep in mind two things: 1) bands don't care about flowing tempo and 2) switch styles up more often than every half hour or hour. That's just my preference.

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#33 Post by JesseMiner » Tue Feb 24, 2004 6:36 pm

julius wrote:Obviously flow is different for different people. But I would love it if DJs would keep in mind two things: 1) bands don't care about flowing tempo and 2) switch styles up more often than every half hour or hour. That's just my preference.
1. We're not bands, we're DJs. Thus we play by different rules. I'm not trying to emulate a band when I DJ, and I very much do care about flowing tempo as well as stylistic variety.

2. Agreed.

Jesse

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#34 Post by julius » Tue Feb 24, 2004 6:43 pm

See, that's the part that confuses me. I know it's insulting for me to say this, but I think the job of the DJ really is to substitute for a band. I don't mean it to be insulting, but that's my mindset.

Now, I also realize that because you aren't a band, you have the ability and almost the mandate of the crowd, these days, to play by different rules. That's OK. But I wonder about the rules sometimes. Why are things the way they are? Can things be done differently and achieve the same, or better effect? Mind you, I don't really have an agenda or point in asking all these questions. I just think some status quo needs to be looked at every so often.
Last edited by julius on Tue Feb 24, 2004 6:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#35 Post by KevinSchaper » Tue Feb 24, 2004 6:44 pm

'if its obscure its obscure for a reason'.
with so many small labels recording great jazz musicians, and so much good music going in and out of print, that really doesn't apply to our music.
julius wrote:2) switch styles up more often than every half hour or hour.
Amen. I think it's harder to move quickly between styles without the songs clashing, but I think it really pays off. That's where I think "woodshedding" can come into DJing - taking the time to sit at home (or in the car) to experiment with how far you can push it before you sound like you're just on random..

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#36 Post by Nate Dogg » Tue Feb 24, 2004 8:01 pm

JesseMiner wrote:I've got a lot to say on the subject of flow, but Kevin Poulson from Chicago says it so well that I figured I would just reprint his WindyHop.org post from this thread:

...

Jesse
I agree with a lot from the post referenced above. However, I believe there are exceptions.

I would say that sometime when it comes to flow, the DJ should be flexible to his or her situation. There have been times when the music is not right for the crowd. In may be a beginner crowd is not into the music, the music is too slow for the crowd, too fast, etc... Sometimes, it makes sense to break the flow.

But, in general, trying to flow is usually a better choice most of the time. I just would not put flowing as the end all or be all of everything. If things are not right, you might not want to wait several songs to get out of it. It may be better to make annoucement about something (to stop the music) and then move on to a new style.

Nathan

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#37 Post by mousethief » Wed Feb 25, 2004 8:16 am

KevinSchaper wrote:
'if its obscure its obscure for a reason'.
with so many small labels recording great jazz musicians, and so much good music going in and out of print, that really doesn't apply to our music.
Yes and no. There's new music being record every day in all genres and, as DJs, we need to be mindful that the newest gem in our collections is not necessarily the best song to play. I think many of us - myself especially - are guilt of rushing new songs "to market" because it's new/groovy/classic/fun, when we have tried-and-true selections that can win the crowd.

Like Jump, Jive 'n' Wail.

Kalman

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#38 Post by kitkat » Wed Feb 25, 2004 9:05 am

mousethief wrote:we need to be mindful that the newest gem in our collections is not necessarily the best song to play.
Haha. That reminds me of throwing in Mary's Idea, my newest, at swing club the other night. I was too busy giving tricks & tips to DJ. For some reason no one objected and it ran a time and a half through the album before anyone asked to change to Ben Folds Five or Eva Cassidy or Justin Timberlake.

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Are we not DJs?

#39 Post by Dj G » Fri Feb 27, 2004 11:53 am

JesseMiner wrote:1. We're not bands, we're DJs. Thus we play by different rules. I'm not trying to emulate a band when I DJ, and I very much do care about flowing tempo as well as stylistic variety.
Flow is super important if you are trying to get the patrons to the bar from the floor and back again. (which would help us all keep venues).

That was a great article, thanks for the share.

Djs are not a replacement for a band; we (the ones who approach it as a learned art) have so many flavors we can to add into a musical meal like a great chef. Wonderful things can be made with a mixture.

Argentine tango Djs do tandas (sets) usually 4 songs per tanda of one orquestra and one style period. They will play a curtain (30-40 seconds of non-dance music) between orquestra changes. A tanda is customarily danced with the same partner throughout. I have found this approach to be an emulation of bands long dead presented by historian DJs.

Are we historian DJs?
Or do we each have a style?
Yeah, that's Dj G over there; under the CD Bins, digging contently in the 45 rpm box :)

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#40 Post by KevinSchaper » Fri Feb 27, 2004 12:47 pm

I think it's a little bit of a false dichotomy - I've heard argentine tango djs with vastly different styles.

A DJ isn't a replacement for a band because they can create art, and all we can do it "hang it on the walls", so to speak.

Your comment seems to me to show a common misconception that I used to run into when I did radio, that because we're playing music from dead people, it's somehow in limited supply compared to modern pop music.. but how many pop vocalists do you have to add together before you equal the recorded output of ellington? 300 people? 400?

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#41 Post by Dj G » Fri Feb 27, 2004 1:06 pm

KevinSchaper wrote:I think it's a little bit of a false dichotomy - I've heard argentine tango djs with vastly different styles.

A DJ isn't a replacement for a band because they can create art, and all we can do it "hang it on the walls", so to speak.

Your comment seems to me to show a common misconception that I used to run into when I did radio, that because we're playing music from dead people, it's somehow in limited supply compared to modern pop music.. but how many pop vocalists do you have to add together before you equal the recorded output of ellington? 300 people? 400?
wow. false divisions?
I'll be looking for the tickets to the: 1932 Ellington only event featuring outakes and previously unreleased recordings from January 3rd-6th as opposed to hearing an evening of Kevin's selections for swing dancing.

Sasha and Digweed might disagree with the wall.

Check your seems. not even close to subject.
Yeah, that's Dj G over there; under the CD Bins, digging contently in the 45 rpm box :)

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#42 Post by KevinSchaper » Fri Feb 27, 2004 1:26 pm

huh?

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#43 Post by julius » Fri Feb 27, 2004 1:27 pm

Bringing Sasha and Digweed into the discussion is somewhat irrelevant to a discussion about swing DJing, in my opinion. Mixing, scratching, and even producing tracks are not, as far as I know, something swing DJs do. The former manipulate sound in a more hands-on way and thus can lay more claim to being artists (not saying if they're right or not). But even then there is a hierarchy: the DJ who simply scratches every so often and beatmatches songs is lower on the ladder than a battle DJ who throws on a new record every six seconds and creates a sonic onslaught.

(There is an old topic about art vs. craft as applied to DJing somewhere around here.)

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#44 Post by KevinSchaper » Fri Feb 27, 2004 1:36 pm

oh, right, yeah, I figured it wasn't necessary to point out that we aren't scratch djs.

Yeah, more craft than art.

It's the "historian dj" term that I find offensive... phasing a question "are we creative, or just historians" would be throwing just as much a bomb as if I asked, "Are top 40 wedding djs, or do we dig a little deeper for quality music?"

---edit

Ellington was obviously an over the top example, but even if you take somebody like Lunceford, the guy died in '45 and probably still has more recorded output than every Top 40 boy-band of the past 10 years combined.

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#45 Post by julius » Fri Feb 27, 2004 2:09 pm

Yeah, but if you go to the past 20 years ... I mean, dude! New Kids! Menudo! GWAR!

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