As DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJs this year grows with votes, verified by Facebook, there’s no doubt that these awards are clamping down on the unique verification of each vote. Resident Advisor have a slightly different approach, requiring voters to have previously marked attending to an event featuring their nominations. We thought the days of rigged voting were over, until we were waiting for entrance into Tomorrowland and a swarm of promoters equipped with tablets started approaching the crowd, getting them to log into Facebook and vote for Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike. The publicity continued following Tomorrowland, as newsletters were sent out to tens of thousands prompting them to submit their votes for the DJ duo.
Just by looking at the top 100, the top 20 alone feature DJs that are slated regularly by industry critics, but they still manage to pull in votes. With the rare exception of a few, the top 20 consist mostly of chart-topping producers and those throwing financial weight behind their votes, such as Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike. On the other side of the internet, we have Resident Advisor’s Top 100. It’s more DJ based, but highly dominated by Techno.
While it’s an impressive accolade to have a Top 100 DJ status, essentially there is no such thing. For some people it’s nothing but the choice of tunes. As they dance away at a festival in one arena to the likes of Seth Troxler, who often makes mistakes while beat-matching but plays a phenomenal set, others can be found admiring the technical abilities of DJ Jazzy Jeff, James Zabiela or Carl Cox in another. Then there’s the personalities, preference of genre, production and of course, the cake throwing. Paris Hilton is one of the most hated DJs in the industry, yet the glamour and production behind her nights at Ibiza’s Amnesia have the place full of punters. You’ll have those that swear by vinyl while others salute the usage of laptops. DJs in the top 100 range across the entire spectrum, and it’s impossible to combine all of these into one person or collective.
So what makes a good DJ?
You can’t have a good time without great music. If you go to an event, you’re generally going because you like the genre. Regardless of technical abilities, production or personality types, the tunes that get played ultimately create the experience.
It’s not just about the tracks you play at one event either. Variation across events always goes down well, giving the fans that regularly come something new to experience, while maintaining that consistent feel across sets. This is something that the likes of Armin Van Buuren, Seth Troxler, Eats Everything and Deadmau5 do perfectly, where others such as Martin Garrix fail. These all DJs that have featured highly in the DJ awards around the world.
For the majority, unless their is a major malfunction such as a silence in the music or some really bad beat-matching, technical ability is of no particular importance. For others, it’s quintessential.
The ability to mix is a requirement. If you can’t bring in a song without it sounding bad, you’re not a good DJ. EDM is easy to mix, and in a lot of cases isn’t even required. Regular drops build up to points in the track when another can just be dropped in. You don’t really even need headphones providing the track is properly cued, and yet most the DJs in the Top 100 exclusively play EDM. When we say EDM, we know it’s not technically a genre but it’s usually the label given to the type of music associated with DJs such as Afrojack, Blasterjaxx and Hardwell.
DJs such as James Zabiela incorporate an incredible technical talent into their sets, chopping and remixing songs in realtime, while others such as Seth Troxler have frequented back to mixing purely with vinyl, under the argument that songs have been made to sound a certain way and should just be left as is. A DJ with good technical ability will be able to chop, remix and change a song in any way they like, but equally demonstrate an ability to exercise discipline and know when to leave a song alone. Finding the balance is so important.
Then there’s the scratching. DJs such as DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Shadow and more demonstrate such a unique ability to jump around the mixer while moving the records back and forth to create this brilliant sound. Add some decent scratching into any genre and you’ll get a great reaction from the crowd.
DJs such as Skrillex work hard with their Video Jockeys, Light Technicians and choreographers to create an exhilarating experience with time-coded vinyl and extensively pre-planned visuals, while the likes of Deadmau5 just takes things to a whole new level with his mouse head, DJ cube and recent use of Microsoft Surface to adapt the production in realtime.
Some sets can get away with just minimal production, such as Techno, but any improvement on the standard is always well received and adds to the experience. With EDM, Trance and uplifting music, great production is expected. By adding in a plethora of lights, lasers, giant screens and a themed environment to the stage, you’re creating a memorable experience from the get-go. This is something Tomorrowland have nailed perfectly.
Then there’s the novelty aspect. Steve Aoki incorporates inflatable boats, cake throwing and stage dives into his set, while Flosstradamus thrive on creating mosh pits. It’s all down to personal preference.
Nearly all the DJs in the Top 100 aren’t actually DJs by their primary nature, but producers. Being a producer adds a unique quality to the set. You can watch any DJ in the world perform an entire set flawlessly and generate a great atmosphere, but only the well known tracks provoke the biggest cheers.
The problem with this is many get a little tired of these so-called popular tracks being played, particularly at festivals like Tomorrowland when almost every DJ was dropping in ‘Tremor’!
When a producer is DJ’ing, they attract a crowd that know them for certain tracks. When they play these tracks, it sends an electric feeling of euphoria through the crowd. Nothing can quite compare to the reaction of DJs such as Laurent Garnier dropping in ‘The Man With The Red Face’.
Fame and Marketing
Some DJs are simply famous for being famous. We all know Paris Hilton cannot DJ, but the crowd she attracts go because they like her, and they’re with like-minded people. Add in a mixture of these types of people with the power of music and you’re guaranteed a good time, regardless of how good the DJ actually is. The same applies to marketing. If you target it at like-minded people, you’re going to bring in a community, rather than a crowd.
Regardless of any of the above, attitudes are contagious. If a DJ has a poor attitude, it’s obvious. Their reputation spreads quickly and there’s just something cold about the atmosphere when you know they don’t want to be there.
On the opposite end of the scale, a DJ with a big personality is incredibly infectious. If the DJ is having a good time, the crowd is too. This is the reason DJs such as Eats Everything and Seth Troxler have gained an almost cult-like following.
When the DJ Mag Top 100 DJ list comes out, it annually sparks a plethora of controversy. We witnessed it first hand with Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, paying for votes at Tomorrowland and no doubt employing as many tactics as possible to ensure they get the votes.
As this article shows you, there literally cannot be such thing as a “Top 100” DJ. What’s great for one person significantly differs for another, and where there is money, there is usually more votes.
P.S. We’re sorry for naming Paris Hilton as a DJ!