Friends have asked questions about the music and competition from the weekend (set list for that is here), so here is some more info.
Michael Quisao asked:
Congrats on the accomplishment and for getting through it! DJing for comps is still very stressful for me and I admire the heck out of folks who do it.
If you don’t mind my asking, what was the comp format? What requirements did you have to account for with your selections?
Here’s my reply:
Here’s what the contestants had access to on the website. Plus they could email and ask questions/get support. I think that last point was important. Even if people didn’t end up emailing, hearing ‘just email Squish if you need anything’ was important for reassuring them.
We had done another version of the m&m at the previous dance (which was in July), and that was a great chance to test the format, and generally start people feeling ok about competing. Good practice for me too!
There were two comps:
1. mix and match (everyone welcome)
– heats: 3 allskate songs of gradually increasing tempos
– finals: 1 allskate warm up song, 1 ‘shine’ song for each couple, where they get to dance to the first 1.30mins of a song ; final allskate
2. strictly lindy (everyone welcome, no aerials)
– heats (which we didn’t do in the end)
– finals: 1allskate warm up song, then jam-style with everyone getting 2 shines (of two phrases) each. We used 2 songs, fading out the first one after the last couple had their shine. The second song started with shines, then ended with an all-skate. I was using that fun version of Flying Home, where that distinctive riff cuts in at the ‘allskate’ part.
I can’t remember if people paid to enter or not.
Prizes were medallions.
Judges were local teachers + guest teachers for the weekend.
I don’t know what the judging criteria were (beyond what’s on the site) or how they decided winners.
Criteria for my song choices:
I know the organisers well, so we were on the same page RE musical styles before we started. We had some chats on messenger to sort out little details (and for them to reassure me about my nerves 😃 ).
I went with:
– All ‘old school’ recordings. ie nothing after 1950 (except that one Johnny Hodges song, which was 1951), unless it was for a warm up. I wanted to have all the songs have the same fidelity, as it’s never fair if someone gets a hifi recording that naturally pumps energy into the room. Organisers didn’t mind whether it was a mix or all of one.
– All big band, rather than a mix of small and big. Again, I wanted a consistency of sound and style for every couple. And because I’ve been talking to Heidi Wijk, my DJing influencer, who keeps reminding me that big bands bring big emotions. We were also in a big ballroom, so it felt right.
– All with that New York/Kansas/LA sound, rather than a Nola revival vibe from the 30s. So no Bechet. Again, I wanted to have a consistent ‘style’ for all the couples. I was a bit torn on this one, because what about people like Eddie Condon, my current passion? But I got over it, because BASIE and ELLINGTON and HAMP and WEBB.
– I also avoided the later early jump blues/rnb sound of bands like Buddy Johnson, because I’m personally on a kick to reduce how much I DJ them. I’ve noticed that when I play that stuff, the dancers end up emphasising the second beat really heavily, so when you look out over the floor, they’re bobbing up and down, instead of having a more even bounce, or emphasising any old beat. This is a personal thing, but in Sydney, where rock and roll really dominates all dancing and has squished lindy hop almost to death, I feel it’s important to keep that lindy hop ‘four on the floor’ vibe whenever I can. You’ll notice, though, that I did play Solid As a Rock, which breaks that rule. That was in a heat for the m&m, and I deliberately chose a song that people knew, so they’d feel more comfortable and relax. It’s Basie in 1950, so it’s right on the edge, though.
– Phrasing and so on. This is where I got nervous. I couldn’t find a good enough and long enough song that allowed 6 couples to have 2 shines of 2 phrases each. We’d decided not to use the band for the comp (which would be a simple solution) because we had a lot of plates in the air, and tbh, I know I couldn’t manage liaising with the band on music in addition to all the other things I’ve had on this week.
So we knew we had to use two songs. DJ bud Trev Hutchison suggested just fading out the first song, which was something I’d considered. Heidi had also suggested it. So I did it. I specifically chose a song everyone knows (though, considering this is Sydney, not everyone does), so, again, people could feel more confident and comfortable.
I had the next song in mind, a Barnet recording of Flying Home, which is one of my total go-to songs when I’m DJing big events and want to pump everyone up. It’s good because everyone knows Flying Home. But it’s better because it’s a less well known recording, so it feels fresher. For music nerds, there’s a sax solo in the middle (Barnet himself?) that is very unlike Lester Young’s famous one, but is fucking GREAT. I doubt the competitors noticed details like that in the heat of it, but the audience might.
Which brings me to my final point. I’ve never been a fan of competitions, until fairly recently. I know that a lot of people find them utterly tedious at social dances. And I know that one thing a comp should do (according to Peter Loggins 😃 ) is entertain the crowd. A comp should be about an organiser being able to sell tickets to people who are going to watch a comp. Because there are only a handful paying to be in the comp.
So the most important part of DJing, for me, was finding songs that are fun and good to listen to, and make you feel like dancing. Doing that first m&m a few months ago, I realised that DJing a comp is a bit like working a wave in a social set: you start calmer, but energised, and then you work up to a climax with higher energy and higher tempos. So I tried to do that again. This makes for a more comfortable listening experience, as I’m making smooth transitions between styles, speeds, and energy types.
I think this perhaps the best argument for using a band in a comp: it’s good entertainment for the audience, who if nothing else can simply sit/stand and watch/listen to the band.
As an addendum, over the years I’ve DJed little things like solo charleston comps, and I’ve run other little comps, but used bands because I cbf DJing when I’m running something. One of the best ones was in a smaller, cosier space (but still big), where we did a basic ‘strictly lindy’ style comp, open to couple registrations, but we also offered to help match people up with partners if they just wanted a go. The band played great music at not-blistering-fast tempos, and it was all over fairly quickly. We had real prizes from community businesses (who were there to watch). I can’t remember how we judged, but I really want to run a comp where we have a famous (but not necessarily a famous dancer) judge.