My rules for DJing

My rules for DJing are pretty simple, and I’ve written about them many times before:

  1. Make it easy for everyone to have fun.
  2. What you play is not as important as the combinations you play them in.
  3. These combinations are dictated by the crowd’s feels, not how you feel in your pants.

That’s it.
But how does that work? If any of the following phrases don’t make any sense to you, have a read of this post How I think About DJing afterwards.

You don’t need fancy technology, and there’s no substitute for listening to your music and getting to know it well.
I DJ using itunes on a mac + cog and an external soundcard for previewing.
I always choose songs on the fly.

Work a tempo wave, and work an energy wave.
It’s ok to play favourites.
Play solid, swinging jazz from the 30s and 40s, and A bit from the 50s.

If you fuck up (clear the floor), follow up with an apology song (i have a list of tried and true favourites).
If you don’t social dance a lot, you’ll be a rubbish dancer.

Only play songs you love.
Only play jazz. If you don’t love swinging jazz, don’t DJ

Watch the dancers. Stop looking at your computer. Watch the dancers. Learn to read how they feel from how they dance. Don’t leave the booth while DJing (because you can’t watch the dancers). Watch the dancers. Learn their feels.

And most importantly, be a pro. Be on time, bring all your gear, be helpful, accommodating, and polite, and ask the organiser what they want.
Know how to play a birthday jam, learn to use the mic, and buy everything Basie up til 1955.

DJ fashion report

Herräng DJ fashion report:

Last year we saw the lindy hop community shift abruptly from hot pre- and early swing to hi-fi new testament Basie and Ellington (finally). But this year in Herräng we saw a shift back to something more like the middle: the late 30s and early 40s swinging big band. Including those led by Ellington and Basie.

Don’t throw your copies of Newport away just yet, but do try to pick up a copy of some of Basie’s work with Columbia in the 30s-40s, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you to buy all Ellington, all of it. Heck, get all the Basie too.

But this season expect the best lacquered DJs to be playing from the classic swing era, both big and small bands. Four solid beats to the bar, my friends, and no cheating.

clapping, slapping, scatting, and dancing

The other week in Herrang at the Bad Taste party, I was given permission to go off-piste. I’m usually very reluctant to go the stunt DJing route, but I’d spent the hour before my set in the DJ office listening to all the types of music that comes from New Orleans, but never gets played in the New Orleans parties.
It had gotten me thinking about the other rhythms that were part of African American vernacular dance in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, yet are carefully avoided by places like Herrang. Not to mention hip hop and street dances of today, which have much closer roots with black dance history than the contemporary lindy hop community.

I’d also spent most of the weekend tapping in one tent, while drummers and dancers from Ghana Guinea (thanks for the heads up, Bert) banged out insistent rhythms in the neighbouring tent. And scatting. And learning to understand, remember, and reproduce complex rhythms.

There’s a very interesting book called The Games Black Girls Play by Kyra Gaunt.
If I cut down the blurb for the book, we can summarise it as a book about skipping, clapping, and rhythmic games that black girls play in America.

More generally:

…the games black girls play — handclapping songs, cheers, and double-dutch jump rope—both reflect and inspire the principles of black popular musicmaking…

…these games contain the DNA of black music…black girls’ games …teach vital musical and social lessons that are carried into adulthood. In this celebration of playground poetry and childhood choreography, she uncovers the surprisingly rich contributions of girls’ play to black popular culture.

I’ve written about this book before in a post about double dutch skipping and gender.

One of the points Gaunt makes in that book, is that clapping, skipping, and rhythmic girls’ games teaches black girls complex rhythm recognition, reproduction, and improvisation skills. Both with their brains and their bodies.

When I was DJing that party, I had songs like this in my head:

Big Chief by Donald Harrison featuring Dr John.

Bechet’s Ti Ralph.

And

Step, Clap, Go! from Opening Ceremony on Vimeo.

Step Clap Go ad for clothes for teenaged girls from Target featuring Bad News From the Bronx steppers.

I’d also gotten a little angry in a history talk that failed to name or mention most of the women in the lindy hop partnerships, and also did some serious racefail that a couple of the Frankie Manning ambassador kids picked up. I know Herrang may like to talk about black dance and history, but it’s a very white place. And also quite a patriarchal one. So when women, girls, black kids, black women, and especially black girls speak up, they’re usually very quickly silenced.

With all this swirling through my brain and muscles, it’s inevitable that I ended up playing the clapping song:


Shirley Ellis’ “Clapping Song”.

I actually played it three times. And got into trouble for it from Lennart. But it felt quite wondefully cathartic to break the rules like that, to be openly defiant, and to say FUCK YOU to all the stifling genderfail, safespace fail, patriarchal white washing of black dance history that was going on. If we’re going to valorise lindy hop as a black vernacular dance, we are doing a very bad thing if ignore all the history of black dance after lindy hop. All the black culture after lindy hop that living generations of black kids and adults participate in and own. I’m absolutely not ok with being part of the strange exoticism of some white lindy hop culture that deliberately places this culture well beyond contemporary black cultural practice. A white woman playing a song for a bunch of white european lindy hoppers isn’t really revolutionary, but I was playing a song by a black woman, a song which is an adaption of a black girls’ rhythm game. And I was repeating it.

As a DJ, I think the stunt worked well. I played the song three times, but in between each playing, there was a stack of solid, hardcore swinging jazz. All upenergy, and all solidly within the ‘will make you dance the lindy hop’ genre.

What happened with the crowd? The first time they were quizzical, but tolerant. The second time they started losing their shit. The third time they were out of control, and I could see them literally leaping into the air all over the room, jamming, rocking out, even swinging out.
It was a punt, and three times was definitely enough (even in a week where playing the same song multiple times was the stunt de jour), but it did what I wanted it to do. It was in ‘bad taste’, it played on the crowd’s crazy/nervous masquerade night costume vibes, and it definitely took advantage of the hilarity of that night’s cabaret performances. The burlesque cleaning show in particular.

I would never do this on an ‘ordinary’ night of dancing at Herrang. It did remind me a lot of the crazed Twist party from a few years ago. Particularly a few songs later when they all formed a caterpillar, as my french friend called a congo line. I didn’t plan it, I didn’t encourage it, and I was a bit scared when my boss turned up halfway through the second song and asked what was going on. I definitely didn’t plan for the whole room to turn into one looping snake of chanting, dancing, scatting congo line dancers. But what I do think happened is that the perfect storm of conditions led to the sort of natural chaos that happens in Herrang sometimes:
– over-excited dancers wearing costumes that make them feel crazy
– the uptempo fun swing songs let them feel relaxed
– the clapping song said ‘the rules may be broken’ and was also exciting
– the repetition of the clapping song said ‘unexpected things will happen’
– the burlesque act with its mix of sexual and off-kilter humour stimulated people’s excitement
– it’s a _masquerade_ party, which means that people are masked/feeling permission to be other than their usual selves
– it was mid-week, when people are tired and also very relaxed.

Anyway, it was a very interesting moment. Me, I’m now obsessed with rhythm dances in a whole new way. Yes, it’s possible to get even crazier about this stuff.

Technology and power

Last night while I was sleeping, Jon posted an interesting and provocative post on fb.
You can read it here.
Jon made some good points about why spotify isn’t a good tool for DJing, and I agree with all of them. Except the first one:

OK Swing Dance DJs,
Do yourself a favor, and stop using Spotify as your primary DJ source.

This is what I wrote, long after everyone else had discussed the issue to death.

I disagree.
Most dance scenes are small, and have just a handful of people running and teaching classes, DJing, booking venues, doing advertising, running the door, running parties, booking visiting teachers, running weekend workshops, researching insurance APRA and other music use licenses, dealing with sexual harassment policies AND SO ON.

When it comes to music, something like spotify – which takes a bunch of hours and $$ out of the equation – can make or break a small event.

It’s a tool, like any other, and it can be a tool for levelling entry to DJing.

When I started DJing, there weren’t any legit streaming or download sites or tools. We bought CDs. It was fucking expensive, because a CD cost $30 in Australia. I was lucky enough to get in just as the $US dropped, and CDs on amazon were $10 a pop.
Even now, if I buy a CD from a band, it’ll cost me $20. If a band knows what they’re doing, they’ll do it old school and distribute free promo copies of their album to DJs who can then play it and encourage local sales.

I did a bunch of research for my phd on the issues surrounding women’s participation in swing DJing, and I found that money, time, and confidence were the barriers.

A tool like spotify, which people know how to use (because they use it for fun, even if the UI sucks), can afford, and feel confident using, and can afford can be the step up into DJing that women and other marginalised users need. No imposing music nerd shops, no expensive, heavy, space-eating CDs, no ‘take a punt because we don’t preview albums’ limits.

So I say YAY SPOTIFY.

Most of the DJs in the international lindy hopping world never do or ever aspire to DJing at huge events all over the country. They DJ locally for no pay and little respect.

If you are into DJing hardcore, you will move on beyond spotify, because it simply doesn’t fulfill your needs. For all the reasons listed above.

[Jon replied to my post with this good point:]

I understand that people have hurdles. And if its a “no swing scene or spotify” decision, then its no question. Use Spotify.
But the minute “you” want to be taken seriously, its time to get off spotify and start collecting.

[I was struck by the way this post exemplified some of our assumptions about DJing in the dance world. I was reminded of this book about Horace Tapscott, which essentially points out that sometimes being super famous isn’t as important as community.]

But what if someone doesn’t want to be ‘taken seriously’? And who’s doing the judging? Members of a male-dominated high profile, high-power group?

My DJing rule is ‘make it easy for people to have fun’ not ‘you must own all the technology to DJ your local event’.

Me, I don’t use spotify for DJing because it’s not adequate (UI sucks, and I can’t add my tags).

It’s not the size of your collection that counts, it’s how much pleasure you and your friends get from it.

I really feel as though we (as a scene) have this discussion every few years. Last time it was itunes. The time before it was DJs sharing hard drives of music.

In my brain, of course I’m all about buying music, paying APRA fees, using good tools, being a professional, etc etc etc.
But in practice, when we police the ‘right’ way to DJ, we see so many potential DJs think ‘oh, that’s too serious for me. I’m not a real DJ,’ and give up.

I’ve seen DJs do fantastic sets from spotify. The fact that musicians get screwed by spotify doesn’t change that. Most DJs I know don’t have proper APRA or POCOS licenses, don’t follow the laws about format shifting, use youtube videos of songs, etc etc etc.

I think it’s more important to tip our argument sideways, and say “Stop looking at your computer and fussing about software, and start looking at the dancers, getting better at reading their feels”. And I know that this is something you do, Jon, which is why I enjoy your DJing so much. But there are plenty of DJs reading along in this thread who don’t have those skills, and will interpret discussions about tools as metrics for valuing DJing.
As Kevin suggests above: if you’re not watching the crowd, you might as well hit shuffle. And to be frank, there are plenty of DJs who’d be better replaced by someone’s very good collection on shuffle. And there are quite a few very good DJs who are such unpleasant people it’s simply not worth hiring them, because they make everyone miserable.

The collection is the least important part of DJing. But it’s an easy way for DJs to compare size and girth, and much easier to quantify than dancers’ happiness. So we talk about collections.

And you know I’m going to say the least useful thing ever, but: bands > DJs.

Boogie > Jump Blues > Rock n Roll

I was thinking about replacing some of my favourite 50s songs with earlier versions (when I DJ). eg Basie’s 50s Roll ‘Em Pete with this Joe Turner and Pete Johnson 1938 version. But this is too boogie, and not swing enough for lindy hop… or is it?
…this is related to my ongoing concern that I play too much jump blues.


linky

I often play the 1950s Joe Williams/Basie version(s), both live and recorded, because the boogie factor is pared back, and the bigger band setting gives it a proper swinging feeling. It’s super dooper fun…


linky

I also play this version with Big Joe Turner, because Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson. I usually play the Basie if I want to transition from shouters to big band, or this one if I want to go the other way.


linky

…incidentally, the Hornsgatan Ramblers played a version of Jumpin The Blues (as sung wonderfully by Rikard Ekstrand) in Seoul, which was quite excellent. And they’re super old school nerds, so I’m a bit reassured.


linky

I have never played or even heard this Chuck Berry version of Roll ‘Em Pete before, but it does make the move from boogie to jump blues to rock n roll very clear.


linky

Patterns in behaviour: towards a discursive understanding of sexual harassment in dance

[note: this is a discussion that began as a fb post, then outgrew itself as I commented on my own post zillions of times.]

The list of people I’ve blocked on fb over the years correlates with the list of men who’ve been accused of sexual assault and harassment. This behaviour doesn’t happen in isolated incidents.

As R said on fb, “Scary stuff!”
…and yet kind of helpful. We can learn to identify the common traits of offenders.
This is one reason why we should be asking questions about events that don’t pay workers, don’t provide clear, written terms of employment/agreements, and don’t address other issues of equity and justice.

There is also often a correlation between exploiting workers (whether volunteers, paid employees, or contractors) and sexual harassment and assault. Which makes sense when you think of harassment and assault as being about power and control, instead of just being about sex (or even being about sex at all).
I’ve also noted that an insistence on not writing down terms and agreements also correlates with exploitation and harassment. If you don’t write down the terms of the agreement, then the worker (or the less powerful person in the relationship) can’t refer back to it to respond to questionable behaviour. It is much easier to gaslight someone (“It didn’t happen! You’re imagining it! You’re overreacting! It was just a joke!”) if you don’t have a clearly articulated list of what the job does and does not involve.

Incidentally, this is another reason why I actually explain what we define as sexual harassment in our code of conduct. So that people who just ‘have a feeling’ can follow up those ‘feelings’ with reference to a list of specific behaviours. When you have a list like this, and it’s in writing, and available to everyone, it’s much harder for someone to gaslight you, or pass off their behaviour as a ‘misunderstanding’.

I really like a code of conduct to be very specific.
And why I insist that people read it before they accept a job with me. If they read it, then we all know what’s on and what’s not on. And we remove that airy-fairy, amorphous confusion that benefits the people with social power (eg the power to physically intimidate).

A code of conduct is a way of empowering less powerful people. It gives them the tools to articulate their concerns, and to say, “Hey! STOP! I don’t like that!”

If you rely on ‘common sense’ or ‘the rule of law’ to determine how dancers treat each other, you assume that all parties have the same ‘common sense’ or the same understanding of the law and willingness to abide by this.
Which is obviously not the case.
In my case, I don’t think ‘the law’ actually does a good enough job of articulating behaviour I think is wrong or inappropriate. Nor does it deter men from offending.
And because dancers come from different cultures, different backgrounds, and share different values, we don’t have a ‘common’ sense of how we should treat each other. And it’s patently obvious that offenders do think it’s ok to harass and assault people.
So we need a clear outline of these values or sense or laws.

The truly terrifying thing is that I’m beginning to suspect that there’s a network of mutual protection between male offenders in the lindy hop scene.
As J said on fb, “I want so badly for you to be wrong about this…” Me too. But it’s logical. In many cases offenders don’t believe what they’re doing is wrong, so they don’t quash that behaviour in other men, and don’t manage their events to prevent it.

These thoughts were prompted by my going through my events for the rest of the year, and my DJing and traveling for next year. What are my limits as a punter and DJ. What events will I avoid? Do I need a written agreement and code of conduct to attend an event? If there is no explicit code, what sort of broader set of guidelines and strategies will I accept in substitute? If I do refuse to hire known offenders, how do I find out who these offenders are, if women are unwilling to publicise this knowledge, for fear of their own safety? And how do I develop the networks that can help provide this information?

All terribly cheering thoughts in this last, busy part of the dancing year.

international balboa dj

I DJed for balboa dancers at SBOSS Today. I really liked it.

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This is what I ended up playing. I was going to make a spotify list, but I couldn’t find the first two songs so I gave up.
I can’t remember if I played all those live Ella songs at the end or not – there was a request for some faster stuff to practice jamming to for Bal on the River next weekend.
Basically: I LOVED this set, because I got to play music I adore and love to listen to. It reminded me of Herrang.

Songs that failed: really just that live version of Rock A Bye Basie. It’s a bit shit.
Surprise win: Let Yourself Go (Bunny Berigan and his Boys). I love that song SO much. Dancers really dug it.
I was delighted by how much the dancers liked the stuff I really at the moment: the classic big band stuff. Seeing people dance to that Basie version of Honeysuckle Rose: solid gold.

It Ain’t Like That 1941 Una Mae Carlisle 190 2:30 Complete Jazz Series 1941 – 1944

Jack, I’m Mellow 1938 Trixie Smith acc. By Charlie Shavers, Sidney Bechet, Sammy Price, Teddy Bunn, Richard Fullbright, O’Neil Spencer 199 2:49 Charlie Shavers and The Blues Singers 1938-1939

Seven Come Eleven 2016 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders 223 3:22 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders

“C” Blues 1941 Barney Bigard and his Jazzopators (Ray Nance, Juan Tizol, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Blanton, Sonny Greer) 187 2:53 The Duke Ellington Centennial Edition: Complete RCA Victor Recordings (disc 12)

Feedin’ The Bean 1941 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Buck Clayton, Harry Edison, Al Killian, Ed Lewis, Ed Cuffee, Dan Minor, Dicky Wells, Earle Warren, Tab Smith, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Buster Harding) 178 3:15 Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947 (Mosaic disc 06)

Honeysuckle Rose 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Joe Keyes, Buck Clayton, Carl Smith, George Hunt, Dan Minor, Caughey Roberts, Jack Washington, Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Claude Williams, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Jimmy Rushing, Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, Buster Smith 225 2:58 Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie And Lester Young Studio Sessions Mosaic (disc 02)

Don’t Tetch It! 1942 Una Mae Carlisle with Charlie Shavers, Buster Bailey, Russell Procope, Billy Kyle, John Kirby, O’Neil Spencer 191 2:21 Una Mae Carlisle: Complete Jazz Series 1941 – 1944

You Got to Give Me Some 2007 Midnight Serenaders (David Evans, Dee Settlemier, Doug Sammons, Garner Pruitt, Henry Bogdan, Pete Lampe) 187 4:02 Magnolia

Swing 39 2012 Ultrafox (Peter Baylor, Jon Delaney, Andy Baylor, Michael McQuaid, Julie O’Hara, Sebastien Girardot) 200 3:30 Chasing Shadows

One O’Clock Jump 1937 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Ed Lewis, Buck Clayton, Bobby Moore, George Hunt, Eddie Durham, Dan Minor, Earle Warren, Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Jimmy Rushing, Skippy Martin, Buster Smith) 181 3:00 Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie And Lester Young Studio Sessions Mosaic (disc 02)

Date For Eight (1946) 1946 Billy Kyle’s Big Eight (Dick Vance, Trummy Young, Buster Bailey, Lem Davis, John Hardee, Billy Kyle, John Simmons, Buddy Rich) 218 3:00 The Complete H.R.S. Sessions (Mosaic disc 4)

The Girl I Left Behind Me 1941 Bob Wills 206 2:40 San Antonio Rose [disc 10]
Don’t Try Your Jive On Me 1938 Una Mae Carlisle with Dave Wilkins, Bertie King, Alan Ferguson, Len Harrison, Hymie Schneider 188 2:52 Una Mae Carlisle: Complete Jazz Series 1938 – 1941

Slidin’ & Glidin’ 2016 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders 160 3:34 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders

Let Yourself Go 1936 Bunny Berigan and his Boys (Chick Bullock (vcl), Bunny Berigan (tp), Bud Freeman, Forrest Crawford, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, Mort Stulmaker, Dave Tough) 168 2:50 The Complete Brunswick, Parlophone and Vocalion Bunny Berigan Sessions (Mosaic disc 4)

Benny’s Bugle 1940 Benny Goodman Sextet (Cootie Williams, George Auld, Count Basie, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Harry Jaeger) 203 3:06 Charlie Christian: The Genius of The Electric Guitar (disc 2)

Big John’s Special 1934 Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra (Henry ‘Red’ Allen, Buster Bailey, Ben Webster, Benny Carter) 204 2:52 Tidal Wave

C-Jam Blues 1949 Duke Ellington and his Orchestra 185 3:23 At The Hollywood Empire

Rattle And Roll 1945 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Johnny Best, Conrad Gozzo, Billy Butterfield, Bernie Privin, Kai Winding, Chauncey Welsch, Dick LeFave, Bill Shine, Gerry Sanfino, Stan Getz, Peanuts Hucko, Danny Bank, Mel Powell, Mike Bryan, Barney Spieler, Buddy Rich) 178 3:18 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 06)

Rock-A-Bye Basie Count Basie and his Orchestra 193 5:05 One O’Clock Jump2

Moten Swing 1944 Jay McShann’s Kansas City Stompers 192 2:57 Kansas City Blues 1944-1949 (Disc 1)

Lunceford Special 1939 Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra 235 2:52 Lunceford Special 1939-40

Jumpin’ at the Woodside 1939 Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (Ziggy Elman, Chris Griffin, Corky Cornelius, Bruce Squires, Red Ballard, Vernon Brown, Toots Mondello, Buff Estes, Jerry Jerome, Bus Bassey, Fletcher Henderson, Arnold Covey, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool) 248 3:02 Classic Columbia and Okeh Benny Goodman Orchestra Sessions (1939-1958) (Mosaic disc 01)

Air Mail Special (Good Enough To Keep) 1941 Benny Goodman Sextet (Cootie Williams, George Auld, Johnny Guarnieri, Charlie Christian, Artie Bernstein, Dave Tough) 230 3:23 Charlie Christian: The Genius of The Electric Guitar (disc 3)

Losers Weepers (Live) Tommy Dorsey & Bill Abernathy 181 5:42 Tommy Dorsey Plays Sweet & Hot (Live)

Twenty Four Hours a Day (Bonus Track) 2016 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders 228 2:51 Michael Gamble and the Rhythm Serenaders

Doggin’ Around 1938 Count Basie and his Orchestra (Ed Lewis, Buck Clayton, Harry Edison, Bennie Morton, Eddie Durham, Dan Minor, Earle Warren, Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Jimmy Rushing, Edgar Battle, Don Kirkpatrick) 256 2:58 Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie And Lester Young Studio Sessions Mosaic (disc 03)

Panassie Stomp 1938 Count Basie and his orchestra (Ed Lewis, Buck Clayton, Harry Edison, BEnnie Morton, Dicky Wells, Dan Minor, Earle Warren, Lester Young, Herschel Evans, Jack Washington, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Helen Humes, Jimmy Rushing) 249 2:48 Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie And Lester Young Studio Sessions Mosaic (disc 04)

Stompin’ At The Savoy 1939 Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 226 2:55 Live At The Savoy – 1939-40

One O’Clock Jump 1939 Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra 228 2:46 Live At The Savoy – 1939-40

Wrappin’ It Up (The Lindy Glide) 1934 Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra (Henry ‘Red’ Allen, Buster Bailey, Ben Webster, Benny Carter) 208 2:42 Tidal Wave

Let’s Get Together 1934 Chick Webb and his Orchestra 209 3:05 Stomping At The Savoy (disc 1): Don’t Be That Way