The DJ Anti-Profile: How not to write a DJ bio
ell, I remember—back in the days when raves were promoted primarily by flyers printed on actual paper and distributed to record shops that had bricks-and-mortar storefronts you could go and visit—that a “DJ profile” used to just mean someone’s name and their affiliations to rave collectives…and, later, to record labels. Sure, those DJs that were big enough to have an agent probably already had a paragraph or two about them written down somewhere, but they circulated in a smaller, closed circuit of “professionals” behind the scenes. About 15 years later (for me, at least), even beginning DJs have a carefully-crafted “bio” to email to anyone, to bundle into their press kit, and to post on their blog, personal website, MySpace Music profile, Facebook fanpage, Soundcloud user page, Resident Advisor DJ page, and so on. The move of event promotion from paper flyers (where text space is expensive) to the internet (where space is cheap, but attention is hard to keep) has vastly expanded the amount of information we expect to have available for a DJ: a few well-targeted web searches about any particular DJ will provide you with a discography (including collaborations and remixes), DJ-charts (where a DJ lists his/her “top ten” records of the moment), several versions of the DJ’s biography, images of him/her, DJ-mixes/podcasts, videos of the DJ performing live, and—if s/he is doing well—a few interviews. These changed expectations mean that DJs launching their careers now are under enormous pressure to generate “media presence” at levels that DJs of the 80s and 90s never even imagined. In particular, the “biographic” aspect of the DJ profile has become an important element of career-building and marketing; and, like any other type of marketing, there are certain narratives (story lines, themes, events) that “sell” well.
In other words, there are clichés and standard formulas for writing a DJ profile, and the sheer number of DJ profiles available today makes these clichés obvious. Certainly, anyone who goes out to Electronic Dance Music (EDM) events (and, therefore, is active in the online communities that list these events) has probably read hundreds if not thousands of DJ bios already, and can probably name a few of these formulas without effort. When I polled friends and acquaintances who were involved in EDM scenes, here’s the short list I got (including a few of my own):
- “…started playing records when s/he was 10 years old.”
- “…benefited from his/her parent(s)’s vast eclectic record collection and so started from a very young age.”
- “…is the child of professional musicians.”
- “…is a classically trained pianist.” (i.e., took piano lessons at age 9-11)
- “…is not just a whiz behind the decks, but also a classically-trained trombonist and has a doctorate in quantum physics.” (extra points if these things have nothing to do with the kind of music s/he makes)
- “…has always had a keen interest in music.” (no shit!)
- “…started playing at local parties.” Or, for bonus points: “…Originally hailing from Quietville, X soon found the club scene of nearby Trendycity irresistable, and so relocated at age 19 to try his hand behind the decks.” (i.e., a combination of “authentic” small-scene origins and trendy big-city prestige: “I’m not fake and snobby like these scenesters here, but I proved myself on their turf.”)
- “…developed his/her encyclopedic knowledge of electronic music by working in the local recordshop.”
- “…has shared the decks with such techno luminaries as SuperstarDJ1, RetiredButRespectedVeteran2, and FlavorOfTheMonth3.” (i.e., s/he played 6 hours earlier/later and never met any of them)
- “…has influences ranging from Kraftwerk to Miles Davis, via George Clinton, Joy Division, and classic sixties beat pop” (especially when there’s absolutely no evidence of these sounds in his/her fairly straight-up minimal techno)
- “…is deeply steeped in the legacy of Chicago house and/or Detroit techno and/or New York garage.”
- “…is known for spinning eclectic sets,” or “…is not limited to any genre, combining deep house, pounding techno, dubstep, disco, and baile funk.” (+1 point for every genre named that never actually appears in any of his/her mixes)
- “…is completely self-taught, not having even the benefit of observing/consulting other DJs. So pure is her/his talent on the decks.”
- “…always whips the crowd into a frenzy,” or some variation on this theme. This is, after all, what counts as the “bottom line” for promoters who are looking to book a DJ; the biographical information might help sell the event, but the promoter wants a guarantee that the DJ will create the sort of excitement that drives up drink sales and builds the club’s reputation.
- “…has released the banging tune Y, with support from Ritchie Hawtin, DJ Hell, William Orbit and others” (where tune Y probably isn’t all that well known, and “support” is vague and ill-defined.)
Read altogether like this, these clichés are ripe for parody. In fact, let me improvise a spoof profile in five minutes:
DJ Glittersnizz has been rocking the decks since he was barely toilet-trained, when he rifled through his parents’ vast and eclectic record collection and started experimenting with the controls on their old walnut-veneered record player. He grew up in a profoundly musical household, his parents being professional musicians who put him into classical piano and jazz guitar lessons from the moment he had enough motor control in his hands to hold a guitar pick. He is nonetheless a completely self-taught DJ, buying all the necessary gear with money saved up from a part-time job as a dishwasher and learning by bringing a new piece of musical technology home, plugging it in, and pushing all the buttons until something happened. The first record he bought was a now-out-of-print EP of Parliament Funkadelic covering Kraftwerk’s “Calculator.”
He began playing in local bars and clubs in his hometown of Nowheresville, getting his first break when the DJ called in sick at a local pub where he washed dishes. He soon blew up in Nowheresville and began playing in TrendyStateCapital, after he was discovered by Well-ConnectedScenester of the BigCityPartyPromoter crew. He was taken under the wing of EstablishedVeteranDJ1, who took him on tour to Ibiza, Berlin, Tokyo, Santiago, Miami, and some secret techno resort that common tourists don’t know about. He has since enjoyed immense success, blowing up dancefloors across the globe (OK, OK, mostly around TrendyStateCapital) to sold-out crowds. He has shared the decks with the likes of SuperStarDJ1, EstablishedVeteranDJ2, and HotForTheNextMonth3, all of whom played at his afterparties in the swank uptown loft that his parents are TOTALLY not paying for, he swears. He is also a prolific and respected producer, having released two albums and 10 EPs since he got up this morning. His most recent mega-hit track, “My Snizz is Glittery,” has been charted by every single fucking DJ listed on Resident Advisor and Discogs combined, with support from all the leading DJs signed to any label that ever mattered—plus his grandma.
Glittersnizz’s musical style reflects his eclectic influences—from high-modernist integral serialism to jazz-funk fusion to Armenian epic poetry to 80s hair metal—all distilled down to pure, crystalline minimal techno. He’s not limited to minimal techno, instead combining disco, dubstep, clickpop, glitch, and progressive house to create a new sound that the entire staff of Pitchfork has been trying to name for the last year (the senior what-is-this-electronica-crap editor suggested “jigglestep” and then resigned in shame).
There you go. That took a bit more than five minutes because I got carried away. Easy, eh? There’s this interesting collision between the 19th-century Romantic “natural genius” narrative and the 20th-century American Dream “I earned this all through hard work” narrative, which produces odd contrasts and contradictions. A greater challenge, however, is to write a DJ bio that is the opposite of these clichés. I’m not thinking of replacing the positive hyperbole with negative hyperbole—that would be far too easy and much too boring—but instead produce a biography that is unremarkable, banal, modest, ambivalent, and even a bit realistic. Here’s what I came up with:
DJ Meh never really had a particular interest in music, and is only really getting into DJing because his other friends have been doing it and he’s beginning to feel left out. He comes from a middle-class, suburban home, where he shuffled his way through the educational system without any major incidents and moved on to the nearest state university to pursue a degree in economics (with a minor in psychology). His parents supported him through school, so he was able to buy cassettes and CDs when he liked (never vinyl records, though) and he could occasionally indulge in musical whims: he bought a used Roland 606 from a pawn shop during a moment when he was fascinated by sampling technology and, not knowing its market value, sold it back to the pawn shop for $20 when he got bored with it. The same thing happened to a guitar, an ill-fated hamster, a Dungeons & Dragons gaming set, and a screenprinting kit. Despite his financial security, he did have a part-time job during high school at a chain fast-food restaurant, where the only music-related thing he learned is that you shouldn’t call banda music “mariachi” music, especially in the presence of those Latino guys that were always working the fryers.
Meh used the funds from his lucrative consulting job to buy all the top-of-the-line gear on a whim, which he may or may not be using in a month. Too impatient to learn through trial-and-error and observation, he purchased several “How to DJ” instructional videos and has hired a local wedding/event DJ to teach him how to mix records. His musical influences have mostly been top-40 chart-pop, not-so-indie rock, and whatever hip-hop and r’n’b that iTunes recommends to him. His musical style is a generic mix of house and tech-house, mostly chosen from whatever tracks show up on DJ-charts, whatever Beatport suggests when he logs in, and any tracks that his DJ friends mention more than once.
DJ Meh feels quite good about his infrequent gigs over the past few months, which some people in attendance have described as “surprisingly decent.” Some guy from a downtown event promoter has expressed interest in booking him as an opening DJ, and there is some hope that he might even get booked out of town. He hasn’t played with any internationally-known DJs (or nationally-known, for that matter), but he once picked up Richie Hawtin from the airport for a gig, and he had very polite things to say about the mix-CD that DJ Meh insisted on playing the whole drive into town. Other DJs have said that Meh is “a very nice guy” and “vaguely memorable.” He has enjoyed moderate success with his first track, “Sigh, Shrug, and Continue,” which has garnered support from a handful of B-list DJs—although maybe they were just providing support to increase their own profile in the industry.
DJ Meh doesn’t really know what he’s up to next. He’s been digging this DJ thing alright, but it doesn’t feel all that important to him.