DJs today are confronted with an astonishing number of choices, from vinyl to digital media, controllers, mixers, and the unending stream of more music being released for consumption than at any time in history.
It’s all a bit overwhelming. We thought we’d create a new space, called How I Play, in which we talk to DJs about the one thing that isn’t a matter of “choice”: the culture of DJing itself.
This month we talk to Connect:d Music’s Scott Diaz. I first interviewed Scott about two and a half years ago – before his remix of “Gabrielle” with Matt Jam Lamont hit big, and before Grant Nelson called his remix of Lovebirds’ “Want You In My Soul” one of his favorites of all time.
But there’s a topical reason for this too: Scott is finally appearing in Chicago this weekend at the Saturday Night Concoction at Grandbar (1600 W. Grand Avenue) with Chicago’s Spence, Midway Hustle, T. Mixwell and Rose Silva.
So you’ve been at this for awhile now, but do you still look at yourself as a “DJ that produces”, a “producer that DJs” or is it part of a broader identity?
I will always see myself a DJ firstly, because I was a music fan and a vinyl buyer before I got into making music. I see it as a natural progression – you want to move from playing other people’s music to incorporating your own, you want to make people react and move in the same way that your favourite records do. Also I saw it as a way to stand out from the competition – by having my own dub plates I could have my own personalised version of a track, mashup or bootleg I had made.
It is now part of a broader identity in the sense that you really can’t make a living as a DJ unless you have some sort of profile from releasing records. It’s a shame because a lot of producers don’t have a clue how to DJ. It took me years to understand how to play the right music. On the flipside, it’s sad that if you start as a producer and you love being in the studio and it’s all you desire to do, it’s really difficult to sustain that without doing shows.
Was there someone you emulated and looked up to when you started out (doesn’t have to be anyone well-known or anything)? What about now – is there anyone you admire as a DJ, for their consistency or their selection or skills, etc?
I started out listening to hardcore and jungle/drum n bass – house and garage came after that, so I suppose initially it was all of the early rave DJs. Ellis Dee and Sy at Dreamscape 11 were the actual sets that sparked my love for dance music. Once I discovered house and garage it was Tuff Jam, Derrick Carter and Grant Nelson that always stood out for me. To this day, Grant remains probably the best DJ I have ever seen. I don’t really get excited about DJs but Grant is on another level – great track selection, a ton of personal edits and bootlegs and he uses acapellas and loops flawlessly. Oh, and he also mixes it all harmonically by ear.
How many tracks would you say you’ve listened to for the first time in the last month? This is new music, older music, everything – just stuff you haven’t heard before.
I’ve probably listened to around 120 tracks this month, as I do every month. This can be from YouTube, my soundcloud stream, my personal iTunes for non-dance stuff.
I tend to listen a lot of music each day because it helps me to reference what I’m doing in the studio, gives my ears a break and can keep me motivated. Although sometimes you hear something so good it makes you feel like instantly giving it up. Ha.
I’m sure your email address has found its way onto a bunch of promo lists. How many would you say you get per month? and how many of those do you listen to?
I get around 60 per month. I listen to basically everything I am sent and I usually download 4 or 5 of those… I can decide in about 10 seconds whether I’m likely to play it and if I will continue listening. I pay for 90% of the music I play.
How much do record stores and that kind of face-to-face interaction fuel how you select music today? Do they play any role at all in your music discovery & selection?
If by record stores you mean digital stores, then I do tend to follow the same artists and labels and listen to what they have out but it isn’t the only way I select music. It’s really a combination of discovering stuff for myself. I try to stay away from the overall Top 10s on the respective sites because if everyone is hammering something it kinda puts me off. Labels have become very important in terms of having a sound and an identity.
Do you have a latest “discovery” (any music from any era), and how did you “discover” it?
TOURIST. He’s signed to Method Records, who look after Disclosure and Friend Within and in my mind he’s got the potential to be as big as Disclosure, for sure. He was making amazing music at the age of 18 so it’s not a surprise to me at all. We were friends, we knew each other through what was left of the garage scene a few years ago, but we lost contact. Nonetheless, he’s supremely talented and it’s very emotional stuff. Highly recommended.
How do you organize digital music? Do you have it dumped into a big folder called “MUSIC!” or do you use an application like iTunes, Songbird, etc?
I have sub folders which are set by style (jackin, garage house, soulful, bar grooves, and then I may also split that folder into warm up/peak depending on whether it’s appropriate. I find that it helps me to play stuff that would otherwise stay hidden – if I can be confident that the 40 tracks in the ‘warm up’ folder all fit together, then I can safely play pretty much any of them, even if I don’t recall how the track sounds when I see the name/artwork. I think this keeps things interesting.
I’m about to get into Rekordbox though, everyone’s been hassling me about that for ages.
What headphones do you use for DJing? and what about for listening (on an ipod/home stereo, when traveling, etc.)
I use Sennheiser HD25s. I’ve had the same pair for over 10 years now and I’ve just replaced the parts as needed. They still sound great.
I don’t know if you have a rider for clubs you play at, but if you did, what would be your absolute ideal/dream gear set-up at an out of town club?
Definitely Pioneer 2000s, I love to get busy with the looping and cue points. Any mixer from the Pioneer DJM750 upwards is fine for me, I like to use the effects but it really depends on the venue and crowd. At bigger events you can use the equipment a bit more, but at a more intimate event I don’t think that people want to hear you doing a 90 second build up and drop. A true DJ has to be able to adapt and you have to be very aware and respectful of the environment, people and vibe.
Scott appears in Chicago this Saturday, May 17 2014 at Saturday Night Concoction at GrandBar (1600 W. Grand) – RSVP & more info here.