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.
- 10.John Digweed
Next: Fri, 19 Sep 2014
Saza’e, Osaka, Oct 23: “Late in the evening, Digweed dropped (in my opinion) tune of the night, Martin Buttrich’s 'Hunter', which absolutely brought the house down. His set finished with some surprisingly heavy stuff, including some Depeche Mode remix that I couldn’t place, but the crowd still wasn’t satisfied. The club lights came on but the crowd didn’t move. Chants of 'Encore!' began, and despite the comfort of darkness being lost, Digweed obliged with the classic 'Age of Love' and some other big-time stuff from years past. Fast forward four more encores, it was only when the Saza’e staff got on the mic and pleaded with the crowd to go home that they finally gave in.” – Rick Warner
- 9.Danny Howells
The End, London, Aug 11: “Danny Howells has an ability to weave together genres seamlessly—one minute you’re dancing to deep house and then your night slowly turns into a disco party or a techno bash. For this reason, a Howells All Nighter is a far richer experience than his shorter offerings, delivering old school “journey” values which don’t just take you from A to B but all the way through the alphabet. Tonight Howells’ set was a perfect example of this—every step forward was met with a sustained chorus of cheers from dancers, as the set moved towards its destination of driving techno. It’s a genre that often lacks appeal to these ears, but at the end of this particular voyage it was right where I needed to be, making perfect sense. Respect.” – Nick Sabine
Next: Fri, 26 Sep 2014
Voyage presents Cassy
Club Der Visionaere, Berlin, Aug 19: “Late Sunday afternoon at Club Der Visionaere, the canal-side boatshed in Berlin that somehow manages to convince DJs of the caliber of Villalobos, Zip and Richie Hawtin to spin to a dancefloor approximately the size of a queen-size bed. Entry price? Three euro. Out on the terrace, clubbers watch families slowly paddling past the party in canoe formations. The families warily eye the clubbers. The clubbers smile at the families. Inside next to the bed, Villalobos and Zip finish up and Panoramabar resident Cassy takes over, first alone and then back to back with Guido Schneider. On a dancefloor this tiny, her brand of delicate minimal house music makes perfect sense: Each tiny sliver of sound fills up the room completely, each slight change is greeted with cheers and whoops. Eenie weenie ones. But mostly it’s just dancing, and best of all, no jostling, with Cassy grinning from ear to ear behind her decks all night. Parties don’t get much tighter than this.” – Jeremy Armitage
- 7.Michael Mayer
Next: Fri, 19 Sep 2014
N.A.M.E Festival / Les Nuits de La Tossé..
Hart Plaza, Detroit, May 27: “Then Cologne's finest, Michael Mayer, takes over to cheers from the crowd of wannabes, geeks and techno animals. His set begins subtly, a mixture of tech house and nu-disco. He might be wearing a Mr. Happy t-shirt, but his set is not all about the grins: the melodic basslines are equal parts menace and cheerfulness. Amongst his many interesting selections there are a sprinkling of SuperMayer tracks, including their remix of ‘Doppelwhipper’ and an early rinsing of ‘Two of Us’ from their upcoming album. As the sun set, Mayer’s set turned into a party—surrounded by passionate music lovers from all over North America, it felt like one for the books.” – Enrique Vanegas
Next: Fri, 19 Sep 2014
TOY TOY The Third Birthday Feat. Efdemin
Weekend, Berlin, Aug 31: “Up on the 12th floor in Club Weekend in Alexanderplatz, Berlin's singles crowd is on the prowl. But there's also another courtship in progress too, with Efdemin valiantly struggling to catch the attention of the lustful hordes. But who cares what they think when the music is this good? Tonight was one of those nights where you spend half the evening leaning over the decks trying to read the labels of what’s playing. Pigon’s ‘Promises’ gets an early spin, as does Efdemin’s bouncy remix of Till Von Sein’s ‘Gestern’. Later there is ‘Ribcage’, Visitor's 'Stop the Music' and plenty of techno classics brimming with big chords and synths. Suddenly, the cuties at the bar seem to have temporarily taken a break from sucking on each other’s faces…and the dancefloor is bustling. Music 1, hornbags nil.”— Tami Fenwick
- 5.Richie Hawtin
Next: Thu, 18 Sep 2014
Sonar by Night, Barcelona, June 15: “Despite the appearance of the Beastie Boys earlier in the evening, festival favourite Richie Hawtin was the bonafide headliner for Friday night, commanding the type of reverence by his fans not seen since the heydays of Michael Jackson. How many electronic artists can fill a venue the size of a football field? Hawtin meticulously worked the crowd into a state of euphoria with his signature brand of minimal techno, which leaned heavily on the techno side of the equation tonight. Type “Hawtin Sonar 2007” in YouTube and hundreds of clips will come up for this set, such was the impression it left. Every bass drop, synth line and hi-hat was met with rapturous approval from the adoring masses. Highlights included monster hit ‘R U OK?’, ‘Spastik’ and the first airing of Gaiser’s ‘Withdrawal.’ Few DJs have been at the top of their game this consistently for this long.” - Angus Dawson
Next: Sat, 20 Sep 2014
Milan Social Music City Pres.: Tale OF U..
Fabric, London, Aug 18: “Terry Francis’s early set did not set the tone very well, starting things off with macho jacking house, but when Dixon came on at 1.30 a.m., he quickly set things right. The first half of his set was deep and soulful, with Ferrer & Sydenham’s 'Timbuktu' the first of many tunes somehow intertwined into the Âme/Dixon catalogue. Things really kicked off though when the opening riff of Mark August’s 'Warm' penetrated through Fabric’s amazing sound system, such a tune! (Innervisions 10 for those keeping score at home). The Martin Buttrich remix of Tracy Thorn’s 'It’s All True' (Body Language Vol. 4) made an appearance before the second half of the set upped the tempo in preparation for I:Cube and Âme, but when Dixon dropped the mammoth 'Baladine' (you’re getting the idea), it sounded and felt amazing” – Angus Dawson
- 3.Sebo K
Next: Sat, 27 Sep 2014
Sebo K's Scenario
Hotel Diagonal, Barcelona, June 16: “An afternoon pool party during the Sonar festival is an interesting gig for a DJ. On one hand it’s an after-after-party where each record needs to engage and excite tired punters. On the other hand, it’s a pre-party that needs to gradually build up steam for the night ahead. When I arrived, Phillip Sherburne had already finished and Sebo K was spinning butt-shaking house and techno to a largely industry crowd. Big tunes preceded monster tunes, and the dancing mass filled the boards between the decks and pool. Sebo finished triumphantly with Daft Punk’s ‘Rock N Roll’, which elicited howls of enjoyment from the crowd as the darkness closed in on Barcelona. Fortunately it was not his last track of the night, as we then headed off to the RA party...” – Richard Chinn
Next: Fri, 19 Sep 2014
Luciano & Argy
Picadilly Station, Manchester, Oct 5: “Luciano made controlling the crowd look effortless, sashaying casually behind the decks and delivering wave after wave of warm breezy Latin-infused techno. Playing for over three hours, the heavy funk of his set had the venue on springs with muscular beats interrupted by towering breakdowns. A riotous mix of St Germain’s 'Rose Rouge' was especially well-pitched—lots of smiles and cheers of recognition with the majority of the crowd even obeying the command to “put your hands together.” – Andi Lane
- 1.Ricardo Villalobos
Next: Fri, 19 Sep 2014
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.