DJ Shadow in the 2002 DJ documentary "Scratch"
The role of the DJ has become somewhat nebulous in the present age. I fear that kids growing up nowadays just won't understand what the role of the DJ actually is now that we have Pandora, iTunes Genius Playlists, Spotify, Last.fm, and every other music service out now that recommends music in their own special way. Why have a guy stand behind two turntables playing songs at a party that most likely aren't even on vinyl anyway when you could have a machine that selects better music for less money and blends them together almost perfectly? What is the point of the DJ anymore? I mean no one goes to a festival to hear someone play music from an iPod right...? Right? Errrr.... You mean they pay some of those DJ's $100,000 a show to do that for a crowd of 10,000 people? Sounds awesome. Where do I sign up?
The DJ has always been the person who stood behind two turntables and lovingly played music for a party, choosing the selections and making sure there was never a dull moment for the dancing crowd and that's the way it's always going to be, right? I look at hip hop DJ's at shows and sometimes think to myself, "That really doesn't look that hard, what is he even doing up there? Oh yeah, he's there because having only one guy on stage really isn't a good look and wow look at those TURNTABLES. Oooh, the mystique".
Now I sometimes wonder what the role of the DJ is in the future of music if his job no longer requires advanced technical skills to play the music, tastemaking ability to select the music, or even the actual money to acquire the music for his collection. The DJ's job really has never been that safe of a profession, but nowadays it seems shakier than ever. In hip hop, it seems that the DJ has become synonymous with the producer these days. The DJ now makes the beats and he also plays those beats for the artists. He is an artist who plays his music for an MC to rap over.
But now that DJ's are no longer the tastemakers, then who are? Well the answer is quite simple: music blogs. The music blogs are the new DJ's because they are the ones listening to the new and old music and introducing that music to new people. They are the ones keeping the best of the culture alive by loving it and caring enough about it to share it, or at least that's what some of the blogs do.
Now the video of DJ Shadow above is possibly one of the most intimate and humble things I've ever heard an artist say about music before in my life. He talks about the thousands and thousands of artists whose records sit untouched in a large basement and how virtually none of them have a career anymore, but at one point they felt like they were on top of the world. DJ Shadow is a DJ who creates new music from the sounds and samples he finds while searching through old records; the process by which is affectionately known as "digging" in the hip hop community. These days digging can be done digitally or the old fashioned way at record stores, but no matter what, the process of digging will never die because humans have a natural drive for novelty and discovery. The bloggers are the new age diggers of hip hop, finding and passing on what they find. This increase in sharing will theoretically allow the cream to rise to the top in the digital age and preserve the best music for generations to come. Digging is a process of preserving the culture through sharing and change; by fostering new creativity through reinterpretation of the old. It's musical evolution. The records are musical memes and it's the diggers that pass on that information to preserve the best of the culture. What music will you pass on?
"It's not gonna make a bad DJ good, but it'll make a good DJ better" ~ DJ Shadow on digging