History of DJing

Well I guess I cant really go into the history of DJing without first mentioning the history of music a little. This means there will be a lot of cross-over between this page and the page on the History of dance music.

Anyway White colonial Europe was quite staid in it’s music taste, being dominated by choreographed dances and the rules of etiquette. The lower classes had traditional folk and working songs but the best rhythms were found in the sea shanties which had been inspired by the songs of slaves being transported to the colonies.

The slaves had mostly African roots and the tribal sound of these drum based African songs is where we can trace our dance music back to.

In the new world (America) the slaves modified their tribal music to include the most prominent rhythm in their lives at the time. The sound of the railroad. This chugging repetitive sound became the basis for the Blues and Jazz music which in turn inspired Rock n Roll and everthing else we call “dance”

But in the old days whenever people wanted music at a party they had to hire musicians to play it live.

Once recorded music was invented and used on radio people saved money by using recordings of music instead of live musicians. These records were often played by jukeboxes. In 1946 Jimmy Saville, from Leeds, was the first person to try using two record players with a mixer because he didn’t want the music to stop while he changed records. Then in the swinging 60s, Terry Noel was the first person to actually try mixing records. Before him DJs played the whole record and often introduced them with a little speaking. The DJ also hardly ever chose their own songs, they were chosen by club owners or by request, just like on radio. Terry Noel was part of a free-thinking scene in which he decided he wanted to create his own music and moods just by using records. He also invented beat-matching.

During the rest of the 1960s and 1970s in the West Indies, New York, Detroit and Chicago this idea was either heard of or developed on its own.  It really caught on and DJs started to develop their mixing and scratching skills.

During the 70s and 80s technology caught up with the DJs’ needs and reliable record players, samplers and drum machines were all used to add to the DJs’ mixes. An MC was often used to add to the musical experience. The term MC originally meant “Master of Ceremonies” and came from a circus/ variety show background. Nowadays MC can mean all sorts of things!

 During the late 80s DJs became real superstars in their own right. Hip Hop DJs were taking funk recordings and making their own music with rappers and MCs. House DJs were using all kinds of disco and other recordings to make their own original dance music. In the 90s computer software and MIDI systems became cheap and more common for home musicians and the whole scene bloomed. Many genres and scenes evolved as different DJs began to become famous for just one style of music. Instead of DJs playing to please people, people started to come and see DJs as if they were famous in their own right. Drum n Bass, Bassline and Hard House all developed in the 1990s.

Digital media such as scratch-emulating CD DJ players were invented in the mid 90s followed by MP3 and 100% laptop DJing towards the end of the 20th century.

Technology has come so far in fact that some DJs who look like they are using traditional vinyl and record players are actually controlling digital music on laptops via what is called a Digital Vinyl System (DVS). Others have given up on Vinyl or CD and use one “controller” which is a dedicated unit with all the controls set out to emulate a full set of DJ gear but which just controls laptop software.

Today anyone with a laptop and internet access can try DJing for free, learn all about DJing, or take their first steps to becoming a real DJ artist without the need for any special knowledge or equipment. YouTube has various DJ tutors whose video tutorials are free; type ‘DJ’ into Google and you’ll find millions of hits trying to sell you songs, records or equipment. If you look on specific DJ website forums you can always find DJs discussing the most pressing issues facing them. These discussions talk about whether old records, CDs or Digital DJing are the best, in which direction dance-floors want DJs to take music next, whether DJs that use automatic mixing functions are really any better than computers and, of course, which is exactly the best break of the best tune of all time.

As DJing uses samples or little bits of songs to make new songs, the music DJs use is always evolving.  Modern RnB and Dubstep are both examples of music that would not exist if DJs had not been messing around with records for the last 40 years.

DJing is now such a huge part of the world’s entertainment industry that it has its own magazines, festivals, exhibitions, TV shows, superstars and more. Some people who actually should be called musicians now prefer to call themselves DJs.

Oh, and, by the way, DJ stands for Disc Jockey!


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