Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Where do you get your music from?

“Where do you get your music from?” is a question I am often asked. Of course the answer is that it comes from a wide variety of sources: hearing other DJ’s play stuff, being sent it by friendly labels, recommendations from mates and of course DJ music websites. My favoured three DJ websites are the omnipresent Beatport, distinguished Traxsource and delightfully underground Juno Download.

I tend to bounce between these three as to my mind, they seem to have slightly different priorities. Beatport is fairly Eurocentric which gives greater access to some of the most inventive techno out there. Traxsource is more US-centric which means they host such genres as Sweet Soul, Latin Afro and the more recently emerged Afro House. Juno champions the truly underground and also hosts a comprehensive Balearic section.

I have DJ’d digitally for many years using Traktor Pro as my means of delivery. More recently a number of DJ’s have tried to convince me to convert to Pioneer’s Record Box software so I could travel from gig to gig with little more than a memory stick and a set of cans. Yet I continue to lug around my Traktor controllers and a computer!

Maybe in part my preference is because I’m pretty familiar with computers but more importantly, I’m familiar with the concept of databases. What excites me about Traktor Pro are not the brightly illuminated buttons, its wealth of special effects or ergonomic design but rather that, at its core, it is a very flexible database.

Back in the days of Vinyl, DJ’s didn’t need a database as the weight of the vinyl provided a limit as to how much music could be carried to a gig. Records were identified not just by the name on the central label but often by the colour of the sleeve and, as most self respecting DJ would carry with them a selection of almost identical white labels, record identification sometimes rested on such subtleties as a mark, rip or wrinkle on the cardboard sleeve that would set it apart from the rest.

I have known many a Dj who could rifle through a couple of hundred records in their boxes or bags and immediately recognise a track from the sliver of cardboard that was visible.

As soon as DJ’s started moving over to CD’s the identification process became more tricky as many of the CD’s were their own rips so had no label other than some often indecipherable scribblings to go by. Because the physical weight was no longer a restraining factor many DJ’s soon adapted to carrying larger quantities of music with them.

The more “librarian” amongst them took to hand writing track listings to place in the pouch beside the CD while others continued to rely on their personal data base of memory — such as, “I remember playing that particular track at the party I played two years ago in a forest in Germany”. Sure enough a quick scrabble through the slightly tatty folder of CD’s would no doubt reveal one with a handwritten scribble readings something like, “Sunrise Forest Set”

I embraced digital DJing with enthusiasm because it enabled me to carry an ever expanding library of tunes with me (currently around 7,000) which meant that theoretically I could, if I wanted to, begin playing Reggae or Funk and stay there for a number of hours. In practice I never do this as I think I have a short attention span. Or more probably it’s because I was raised on a diet of Frank Zappa who, with his band of virtuoso musicians, would switch from one genre to another in the blink of an eye.

Traktor Pro thoughtfully offers the possibility of uploading album artwork to assist with the search but there is a big difference between tiny thumbnail images and the visual familiarity one can develop with a track by regularly handling its cover as you pull it out of the bag and carefully remove the vinyl from it.

Of course just like iTunes (which is also a database) Traktor Pro provides a wealth of categories that can be used to describe a track which is only limited by how many you can fit to the width of your screen. Title and artist get filled straight away but then there is the tricky bit of genre classification.

I must have collected well over a thousand tracks which I had designated ‘House’ when I realised that this wasn’t going to cut it and so began adding words to the genres such as ‘Jazz’, ‘Tribal’, ‘Deep’ etc. But it  wasn’t too long before I realised that this also had its limitations in describing the detailed nuances of a track so I began inventing my own genres such as “Mad Latin”, “Wonky Keys” and ‘Clockwork Electro’.

I also started half-heartedly adding descriptions in the Comments column. Here too I found that again the limits of vocabulary in trying to describe Dance music fell short. It’s surprising how quickly one can build up a collection in which many tracks fit the description of “Deep and kicking with great break”.

So my next step was to listen very carefully to a track and try to think what emotion it evoked in me. Did it have a sense of potential or gradual awakening or was it blissful and phased or chilled with vibrant tones? I realised that with a single search window the whole of the Traktor Pro database is completely searchable so it is no longer important for me to memorise the name of the track or artist but rather search for the words which it evoked in me. This also means that you can move away from the constraints of beat matching and start to mix using emotions and moods.

DJ music websites are also, at their heart, just databases. Of course when you visit these sites you might not arrive with any criteria to search for other than “recently released” or “best-selling tracks of the moment”. In most cases you will probably just select a genre and dive in.

They all feature a general search bar which will take you through the whole database if you are looking for something specific. Sometimes I have found it fun to type titles based on a feeling I am hunting for, such as ‘tribal Latin’ or ‘deep piano’ and such random searches can often take you off on an excursion with no map.

I do hope the lovely people at Juno won’t mind me saying that while their site is probably the least slick of the three I mentioned above it is my personal favourite because it offers much more flexible search criteria. For example, all three sites provide their current best-selling Top 100 but Juno allows one to not simply rely on what is selling most but to make your own mind up what is of interest by searching new releases over a period of one to eight weeks. It also allows you to search the best-selling tracks over the same definable period.

When I used to buy a lot of vinyl my main outlet was the wonderful Piccadilly Records in Manchester. They helpfully provide a weekly staff selection with helpful reviews. was also one of my favoured sources of vinyl before I moved on to their sister site Both of the Juno sites also provide helpful reviews and comments to some but not all of their tracks.

I suspect that some of these reviews might well be heavily flavoured by press material but in my mind I would like to think that amidst the bustle of Juno and Piccadilly Records offices there is a huddle of eloquent music fans who attempt the impossible: describing what music sounds like in words. Some of these are both eloquent and entertaining so I thought I would share some of the gems I have come across recently.

"Dope High is an itchy, Kenny Dope kinda tune boasting a totally swung-out percussion and a militant groove for the DJ's.” Not quite sure what “itchy” means in musical terms but it attracted my attention.

“Constructed from clipped drums, a shuffling rhythm and features the kind of wide-eyed, jazz-tinged keys that you'd associate with classic Prescription releases”. I had to check this track just because I loved the term “wide-eyed, jazz-tinged keys”.

“From the surging machine disco of Oklo Gabon's "City Gym" and the undulating alien funk of Comeme man Sano's "Duraco", to the Ket-addled wonkiness of Golden Teacher's trippy "What Time Is It?" I certainly know what they mean by “Ket-addled wonkiness” not because I am an experienced user of ketamine but because I have witnessed its detrimental effect of its “wonkiness” on the dance floor.

"Don't Want The Regular" is a hazy twist on slo-mo broken beat, all dreamy and just the right amount of abstract”. I bought this track largely because I agreed with the review that it had “just the right amount of abstract”. God forbid there should be too much abstract.

Of course all this eloquence in describing music is a bit like trying to describe the taste of chocolate; no matter how good the description there is no substitute for eating the chocolate. However, I applaud music journalists and reviewers at making such valiant attempts and will continue to try to develop my own eloquence otherwise I am destined to lose some of my gems in the dusty corners of my Traktor Pro database.

Periodically a musical phrase or style enters the musical vocabulary that launches or influence a whole genre of music. One such element was something that came to be termed the Amen Break. If you aren’t already familiar with this as a concept you definitely will be as a sound and I strongly recommend this short documentary to enlighten you.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

I'd like to teach the world to sing....Balearic

Recently I found myself saying to a friend that I have a new ambition – to introduce the world to the Balearic musical vibe. I’m not really sure how this could happen, but ever since saying it I’ve felt a growing sense of excitement.

Ibiza was not the starting point of the Dance music scene, which began in the mid 80’s, but it was a crucible, blending together many of the ingredients which had been gestating in various parts of the world. One of the familiar tales that people will tell of those early days of the Ibiza scene was the sense of musical freedom. Yes the club might have been pumping out an evening of disco and early electro hits but there was always the lingering possibility that someone like DJ Alfredo would, with no warning, drop something by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin or……well that was the point, there were no boundaries and, if the vibe was right the dancers would respond to whatever was thrown at them.

This spirit of musical inclusivity eventually became known as the Balearic vibe or simply Balearic. This style of DJing is really given its full expression in the beach bars, cocktails lounges and private villa parties that abound on the island because only there, away from the Beats Per Minute tyranny of clubs, can the eclectic nature of Balearic be given full and free rein.

When the dance music scene began it was made up of quite young ravers (I was one). Dance music was never intended to live very long, at least that’s what the critics said. However, they were wrong and it became a crucible for the creation of new sounds and has since multiplied and divided into countless genres and sub genres all linked by the egalitarian heartbeat of looped rhythms. Many of the, now older, ravers (grey ravers or Gravers) have ‘been there and got the T shirt’ with night clubs but still want to enjoy contemporary Dance music. Turning away from clubs many of them are finding stimulus in DJ bars, cocktail lounges - venues for people who like dance music but don’t necessarily want to dance.

People who go to nightclubs don’t want to wait for it to get started and the beat is pretty uniform so that people can jump on it and dance from the moment they arrive. Don’t get me wrong, I have great admiration for many club DJ’s. It’s a very demanding skilled job keeping everyone dancing and knowing when and how to build the atmosphere. It only takes one badly chosen track and you can find that half the dance floor spontaneously decides to go for a drink and you end up with a half empty dance floor.

Once dance music leaves the dance club environment the criteria change. How do you entertain people for two hours of conversation and canapés? If the objective in a beach or cocktail bar is not to get people dancing how do you gauge your success? How do you know if everyone is engaged and stimulated by their experience? Firstly I think DJ’s have to change their priorities. In a previous blog I tried to define what DJ’s do and broke it down into the three elements of selecting, mixing and nob twiddling. I could have added a fourth dimension of reading the mood. On a dance floor the criteria of success are fairly obvious - are they dancing and having fun? Reading and manipulating the mood of a more passive audience is harder. Yes I look for the head-nodders and feet tapping under a table but there are also levels of enthusiasm in conversations and sense of energy in the room. I’ve started to think that whereas DJ’s traditionally think of beat mixing as the way to create transitions, I am now more interested in the concept of mood mixing. However, in order to do this successfully you need a broad palette to work with and hence my love of Balearic.

Most Balearic DJ’s tend to play long sets so they can take people on a musical journey either from early afternoon into early evening or late afternoon till late at night. So, what is Balearic? Firstly I should say that nothing is excluded but it does have a number of regular strands and I thought it might be an idea to consider some of them. 

Chill-Out and Ambient
The whole chill-out genre was probably best encapsulated by the Café Del Mar series of releases. 

Much of this music was concocted to be taken with delicious sunsets but then, as people took the music and the vibe back home with them, it also found favour with afternoon garden parties and cool dinner parties. However, I think that what many fans failed to recognise was that this music was not designed to be played as background sound filler but rather, when played at significant volume, its psychedelic soul has the power to take your head off. However, be warned: too much chilling turns your brain to mush.

Lounge Music
Another bedfellow is what has come to be known as Lounge music. A major constituent of ‘Lounge’ music is more chilled versions of popular dance and rock tracks. Sometimes, slowing a track down and placing what might have been quite angry lyrics against a more lyrical backdrop, can bring a new sense of clarity or add a sense of irony and humour. I like humour in music.

Jazz, the original ‘lounge music’, also found a new lease of life in dance’s Lounge genre but generally its more demanding elements were eschewed in favour of Cool Jazz. I think the popularity of Lounge music grew because bar owners were looking for music that wouldn’t ruffle feathers. Sadly this often resulted in a musical diet of tunes which sound as though their soul has been surgically removed.

One of my favourite Lounge tracks is Barefoot’s Cool Jazzversion of Grandmaster Flash’s anti-coke Hip Hop anthem, White Lines. When I first played at London’s Groucho Club this was my opening track as I thought it was an appropriately ironic take on that sophisticated but hedonistic environment.

World Music
Parisian restaurant Buddha Bar with DJ Claude Challe was one of the prime movers bringing Oriental, Arabic and African rhythms under the Dance umbrella and all thanks to them for opening things up. 

Ibiza's Bambuddha Grove also produced a beautifully eclectic world series produced by the wonderful MOC Paoli.

However their very successful concept was quickly copied and before long record shops began touting dire collections with titles like “Buddha Best Hits” and “Desert Lounge Greats” Whatever, the arrival of world music on the dance scene certainly enriched the musical palette. One of my favourite early Oriental Dance tracks is Substances from French producer DJ Cam.

Deep House
Some of the more ‘sophisticated’ cocktail bars now frequently serve a diet of Deep House. I love Deep House but how would I define it? Well initially I think it was House music which had a more subdued tone and often I used to think that it sounded as though it was played through a muffler as though the hard edges had been rounded out. As it’s progressed this has also often meant that highs and lows of emotion are eradicated in favour of a more minimal, comforting warm groove. 

I really appreciate the phasing and psychedelic nature of many of its tracks but sometimes, when sifting through hundreds of Deep House tracks searching for new gems, I find myself thinking, “Gosh this is so dull” and much of it undoubtedly is. Maybe it’s because, like a lot of Dance music, it is produced by people who don’t really have a very good grasp of music and rely rather too heavily on the groove.  This is one of my favourite Deep House tracks which certainly has musicality:

Nu Disco
I must admit that I didn’t really like Disco music when it first appeared as, for someone raised on Soul, much of it seemed rather sugary sweet to my taste. However I love Nu Disco. Nu Disco largely consists of Disco tracks which have been slowed down, vocals degraded or minimised and a much heavier, sometimes darker beat added to give it an almost hypnotic tone. Nu Disco cuts across age barriers. It is particularly popular with Gravers because it brings the comfort and reassurance of familiarity but with a contemporary twist. At the same time it uses production techniques which are attractive to a younger audience.

One of my favourite Nu Disco tracks is Just a Memory from Glasgow’s 6th Borough Project. The original was “You’ll Never Know” by Hi Gloss from 1981. 

In the Nu Disco version the vocals have been virtually eradicated in favour of an incessant introduction. By the time the chorus arrives I am so wound up with anticipation that I feel like shouting for joy and it seems to have a similar effect on many people hearing it for the first time.

A few years back a musical genre known as Folk Psych emerged. These were largely acoustic or stripped back laments. Once the remixers got to work they helped introduce many subtle song-based tracks into the Dance canon. A producer friend of mine is so enamoured with this genre that he trawls albums by many famous rock bands looking for more acoustic tracks to edit in such a way as to bring out what might be regarded as their Balearic quality. In fact he is so enthused with this particular style that he once, during one of my sets, had the cheek to tell me that I wasn’t a real Balearic DJ because I played too many looped beats. I didn’t have the inclination to discuss this with him in depth as I was busy lining up the next track but had just enough time to wink and spit the word “Fascist!” at him. As I said, to my mind, there are no barriers with Balearic.

So, Balearic is all of the above but mixed with a magic sprinkling of Latin, Jazz, Breaks, Tribal Beats, Reggae, Dub, Techno, Hip Hop, House, R&B, Funk, and just about any other musical genre you can think of as long as it’s appropriate to the changing time and mood of the audience.

So why do I want to take the Balearic vibe to the world? Because I think the maturing audience for Dance music deserves it. People are often much more sophisticated than entertainment professionals admit. Variety can be refreshing, enlivening and inspirational. If you don’t want your feathers ruffled you should stay home and drown in Easy Listening music. If you are out and about meeting people you deserve something that will draw you in, entertain and stimulate you.

If you check out my latest mix below you should be able to namecheck some of the genres mentioned above though my suggestion would be that you simply play it and enjoy the journey.

NB. I could have named it Tribal Electro Nu Disco Deep House Rock Remix Chilled R&B Funky Hip Hop Island Jazz but the title wouldn’t have fit on a CD.

Lest anyone thinks that I am trying to lay sole claim to the Balearic vibe I would like to pay my respect to some of the founding fathers of this movement, all of whom I am pleased to say are very active largely in Ibiza with periodic gigs around the world to places where an audience for Balearic has developed.The following links will take you to either their biogs or their musical interpretations of Balearic.

The Godfathers of the scene in Ibiza were Alfredo, JosePadilla, DJ Pipi and the man who inspired me to begin DJing in the first place, Jonathan Sa Trinxa. On Ibiza Sonica Radio a number of DJ’s and producers host regular weekly shows including Andy Wilson, Pete Herbert, and Danish record boss and producer Kenneth Bager. Others notable advocates are producer/DJ’s Phil Mison and Kelvin Andrews.

A number of record labels also feed the well of Balearic music, including Kenneth Bager’s Music For Dreams, North of England label Is ItBalearic?, and Claremont 66

The web site for Piccadilly Records in Manchester features a weekly best of Balearic releases which largely focuses on the lush, chilled, downbeat and quirky aspects of the genre.

There are many, many more names and places but if you are really interested then these are good starting points.

Enjoy the Music and Magic


Saturday, 31 January 2015

Lost In Translation

I am rather ashamed to say that, after two years living in Spain, my grasp of the language is progressing at a glacial pace. However, it seems that I’m not alone amongst expats and periodically this can lead to some interesting misunderstanding. Every couple of months I put together a new 2 hour mix featuring my recent favourite tracks.

Towards the end of last year one of my friends told me how much they loved the VIP song on one of my mixes. I wasn’t quite sure what she was talking about but thanked her and thought nothing more until another friend told me about how she and her daughter loved dancing round the kitchen dancing to the “VIP” song. Obviously something was resonating with people and so I began researching which of my nearly 50 mixes they were talking about. In the end I discovered that the track in question was a jolly Brazilian number called, “Take Me Back to (no not the VIP but) Paiui” by Juco Chaves. When I bought the track I had no idea where Paiui was (it’s north eastern Brazil) but from the enthusiasm of the singers it sounds as though it’s worth visiting and is much more exciting than any VIP area I have been in. However, it appears that some of my friends have a much more positive experience of VIP areas which is why they are so enthusiastic to return to those privileged places.

Although my understanding of Spanish is less than basic I love the sound of it and while I might regard French as sounding sweetly sexy, to my ignorant ears, the sound of some female Spanish singers is positively erotic. In fact amongst my enthusiastic collecting of various Latin music I have a particular penchant for that which feature the husky whispering of erotic sounding Spanish women.

So it was that one day last year I found myself playing to a full beach restaurant including many Spanish families. I had been proudly playing an assortment of Latin flavoured vibes for the past half hour when I decided I would drop a gentle deep house track with an almost whispered female vocal. But of course, while it might have been whispered in the mix, played through the clarity of a Funktion One sound system all was perfectly clear to hear. The track hadn’t been playing long before I was jolted by the site of a women, seated with her young children on the other side of the restaurant, who shot me a sudden and staggering glance of outrage. She said nothing but I knew immediately she was in effect saying, “What the fuck do you think you are doing playing that with young children present.” I didn’t stop to query but rapidly brought down the fader to replace it with another more neutral track. It was only in retrospect that it occurred to me that the reason the voice sounded so enticing and erotic was because it was sampled from a Spanish language porno film. I have still have no idea exactly what she was saying but now, listening to it again, its intent is as clear to me as the young mothers withering glance.

Then, a couple of weeks back, I came across a Tango style song. The vocals were male and there was something lascivious and cheeky about his voice. I loved it immediately but based on my previous experience was determined to be a bit more circumspect before playing it in public. So, before playing it at a gig I approached one of the waitresses and asked her to listen out to the lyrics and tell me if it said anything inappropriate and if so to please let me know immediately so that I could mix to something else. When I put it on she was on the other side of the restaurant and turned to smile to me waving positively as it progressed. After it finished she came over to tell me that the words were saying something like, “They say I have a big nose but I am enjoying my life.” She then added, “I think they are talking about cocaine but it is never mentioned.” Phew, got away with that one then.

If you would like to hear the rest of the mix featuring Take Me Back to Paiui here’s a link:

Warm Winter Beaches

Alternatively here is my latest mix:

Gratitude for Sunshine