"You’re just playing records... anyone can do that"

dj skills


Anyone can just play music, but the music you play, when you play it and why you play it at a certain time, for me, is the real art form of the DJ.

DJ’s play other people’s music (sometimes their own) but mostly, other people’s, we all know that. But the best DJ’s, the good and the great, find the music that makes your feet move, the hair on the back of your neck stand up, raises your hands in the air, makes your heartbeat a little bit faster. Music that you’ve never heard before, music that you’re asking yourself ‘what is this??’, music that feels like an old friend, even though it’s new to you. They play it at exactly the right time, to take the dancefloor to another level. They are in total control, you are in their musical hands, and you love it. You, the crowd, the DJ, everyone, could not be in a better place.

Sasha, Carl Cox and Paul Oakenfold (to name but a few) have been absolute masters over the years at playing the right record at the right time and getting exactly the right reaction. Creating that energy, keeping it going and knowing how and when to take it up or take it down. When to play that tune that will get those feet stomping, hands in the air and that dance floor moving as one. These DJ’s scour record shops around the world, search every online resource, dig through their vast collections to find exactly the perfect tunes, to create the perfect moments at exactly the perfect time. That’s the skill. The art.

I remember seeing Sasha at Golden in Stoke-on-trent one Saturday night, about 2001. He was playing a pretty deep progressive set and the dancefloor seemed to be getting a bit ‘bored’ and low on energy. The music was bumping along, then he mixed in Satoshi Tomiie’s remix of The Future Sound of London’s ‘Papa New guinea’. It went into the breakdown. The lights went down, the darkness, the quiet, the stillness. The shimmering melody appeared out of the dark and started to rise. It kept rising, into that perfect melancholy vocal, the crowd immediately responded, smiles, hands in the air, feet with renewed energy. Then the drop. Pandemonium.

I saw Paul Oakenfold do the same thing many times at Cream in Liverpool. He was the king of Cream for a long time. There were lots of great DJ’s that played at Cream, but none had the draw of Paul Oakenfold. Progressive, Trance and Goa Trance was at its peak and he was the master of it. His Courtyard was filled with his disciples every Saturday. He always started with ‘Y-Traxx – Mystery land’ as his signature tune. He knew it, his crowd knew it. As soon as he dropped it, you were off on a Journey. He broke so many big records there. Records that no-one else was playing and the fact that he played them and the crowd knew them, they became hits (Mansun – Wide Open Space, CJ Bolland – The Prophet). I remember the first time I heard him play Virus – Moon (Jam El Mar Remix), if you’ve never heard it, have a listen on Youtube. When the hook kicked in at 6:52, my mates had to help me back down from the ceiling.

And as for Carl Cox, he’s been responsible for me being a sweaty mess on the dancefloor many many times. Have you ever seen anything less than a packed, heaving, dancefloor when Cox plays? The undisputed master of techno, never pandering to playing ‘big’ tunes, always finding gems, tunes you’ve never heard of and couldn’t even guess where they’re from. The ultimate selector. The DJ’s DJ.

These are moments I still remember now, almost 20 years later, clear as day. Because of the emotion, joy, euphoria. The perfect record at the perfect time to get the perfect reaction. That’s the real difference between just playing records and being a DJ.