There are more DJs than ever in 2007—181,185 and counting if you believe The DJ List. Only 75 of these people, however, got the nod from RA contributors this year. So how did the number get whittled down? I quite like the approach of the Beat DJ blog whose author assesses DJs on the basis of five criteria: track selection, technical skills, showmanship, set flow and consistency. Sounds like a foolproof method, until you see his number one is a washed up progressive jock.
The first of these criteria, track selection, has a lot to do with it. Good taste is something which can't be bought—it is acquired through years of obsessive record digging and listening. My theory is that there are two kinds of DJs in the world: I call them “wall DJs” and “bin DJs.” Wall DJs spin a selection of new arrivals displayed on the wall behind the counter, effectively letting the record store clerks choose their set for them. Bin DJs are those folk scouring through the sales bins on the floor. And they know what they are looking for.
The second criteria, technical skill, has become less important in 2007. Beatmatching two records isn't even a prerequisite anymore—that’s what warp markers are for. Showmanship, i.e, the art of a DJ appearing to have more fun than the audience—matters even less.
Set flow, however, is important. Great DJs bring a sense of story to the night. They are astute judges of the mood of the crowd and know when to drop the right track to bring a floor out of its funk (or into it). Great DJs can tease out non-obvious connections between records, or genres, or moods, making the club night not just about dancing and cutting loose, but also about learning about music. To my mind, the very best DJs also have a unique skill: by presenting a track in a certain it context, they can make you realise you like it. In that sense, DJs are educators.
Consistency matters too. Unlike playing pop music, DJing house and techno is something you can grow old with. After all, a middle-aged father of three is just as capable of playing blinding records as a tight-trousered teenager from the ‘Ditch. In fact, they have the upper hand: 20000-record strong vinyl collections. Old hands like Carl Craig, Andrew Weatherall, Carl Cox, Optimo, Kerri Chandler and Sasha might not have cracked the top 10 this year, but they all rightly got the nod from contributors in our poll.
Okay, enough theorising. Here's the ten we danced our asses off to in 2007.
- Fabric, London, May 26: “Finally, 5 a.m. came and it was time for the main attraction: Ricardo Villalobos spinning for five hours. In the first half, he played groovy and efficient techno tunes, as well as deeper cuts, and in the second half more experimental Latin flavoured percussive tracks similar to ‘Fizheuer Zieheuer’. It was impressive stuff. But the most notable thing about Ricardo is his mixing style, which is truly unique: while most DJs deliver linear sets and are quite happy with simple transitions from A to B, Ricardo’s sets are like meandering Andean roads: full of unexpected turns and bumps. More than ever, he uses tracks as tools, such as Samuel L. Session’s grand ‘Can You Relate’, which he played around with for ten minutes, bringing the beat in and out before dropping it at last. It’s an originality that is particularly refreshing.” - Edouard Isar
Contributers: Chris Arden, Jeremy Armitage, David Berkley, Philipp Cerfontaine, Peter Chambers, Richard Chinn, Paul Clement, Angus Dawson, Tami Fenwick, Ronan Fitzgerald, Stephane Girard, Mohson Iqbal, Janet Leyton-Grant, Alex Macpherson, Chris Mann, Joshua Meggitt, Patrick Munoz, Steve Mizek, Siana Petro, Carl Ritger, Nick Sabine, Bjorn Schaeffner, Colin Shields, Lee Smith, Christopher Thomarios, Nik Torrens, Enrique Vanegas, Rick Warner, Jacob Wright, Sean-Michael Yoder.