Tonight I DJ my most favourite set: the beginner half hour. Followed by the ‘everyone dance now’ half hour. And rounded out with the ‘just DJ already’ fifteen minutes of fame. Part 1 of ‘get ready for DJing in Seoul’.
Hello there. Seems it’s time for another reminder about working conditions for DJs in Australia. Particularly as event ticket prices are increasing, and DJ pay is not increasing at the same rate.
Here’s a tip: gender parity is often a result of good event management. So you’ll get the sisters if you run a good event and have a good reputation. BECAUSE the reasons women don’t DJ are structural and institutional, not individual.
If you are looking for gender parity in your DJing team, you will need to be sure your DJs are safe, your pay package fair, your working conditions just. If they’re not, women will avoid your event. Because omgicanteven.
And because women DJs face enough shit already. We don’t need the extra grief of DJing at a shitty event. Bro DJs get less hassle at dance events, so they’re more likely to volunteer for substandard events.
Here is my professional opinion, as an experienced event organiser and DJ. All of these things must be agreed upon in writing, well before the event.
Have a clear vision for the musical program. If it’s a lindy hop event, get DJs who play classic swinging jazz. Do it right.
Do not do a ‘call for DJs’ for your event. This is not a casting call for some random chorus line spot. Nor are you some bullshit company running a competition for punters to ‘design your new logo!’ so you don’t have to pay a real designer. You are looking for talent to promote on your event program, so seek out the skill.
If you want good DJs to play your event, email those DJs directly. Woo them. Flatter them. Offer them a very attractive deal. Go above and beyond.
Hunt down new talent. Go to events. Ask DJs questions. Ask your interstate contacts about fresh young talent, for progress reports on newer DJs, for updates on older DJs.
Music should be your priority at a lindy hop event. So go out of your way to get the best DJs.
Then promote the buggery out of them. Brag that you got Reclusive DJ X to your event.
– $30 per hour MINIMUM. This is a low rate.
DJs should be paid in cash on the night, before their first set, or at the end of their first set.
Or they should be paid by direct bank transfer by a specified date.
Or they should be paid in response to invoice by a specific date. They should never have to ask for the money.
– Band break DJs should be paid for the entire duration of the gig they are DJing, not just for the actual minutes they are playing.
– All DJs should receive free entry to the gig they are DJing.
– Use fewer DJs, and give all DJs a full free social pass to the event. Your event will suck if you use a heap of shitty DJs who have no skills, and you don’t give anyone a free pass. If you use fewer DJs and give them free passes, your event will be better.
– There should be a DJ coordinator, head DJ, or DJ manager, and they should be the DJs’ point of contact for the event. They should be available at all times during the event, and should reply promptly to emails before and after the event. They should provide the DJ with their agreement, terms, etc. All discussion with event management, musicians, sound crew, MCs, performers, and so on, should be mediated by this DJ manager.
– DJs should be given an agreement or contract before the weekend, which they should read and sign and return before the event. They should have adequate time to read and negotiate this contract.
– All DJs should be treated with respect by DJ managers: no shouting, no rudeness, no harassment, no bullying. All DJs should know who to speak to if they have difficulty with the DJ manager. And they should know this before the event.
– DJ managers should ensure all DJs have a safe way to get home after an event.
– DJs should – as with all staff, contractors, and volunteers – know who to speak to if they feel unsafe, are harassed, injured, or in danger or injured. That person should be introduced to them, and the process explained, all in a quiet, calm place and manner.
– The sound set up should be safe, electronically and for hearing.
– The DJ does NOT set up the sound gear at a big event. EVER. Nor do they pack it down.
– DJs should not have to plug or unplug their own RCA cables to connect their laptop to the sound desk. There should be at least 2 cables ready at the desk at all times. Safety first, yo.
– The DJ must be behind the speakers, not in front of them, so their hearing isn’t damaged.
– There must be adequate heating or cooling. Both can serious issues at dance events. I’ve played gigs where it’s been so cold I couldn’t feel my fingers and couldn’t use the trackpad. I’ve played other gigs so hot and humid the trackpad didn’t work because I was so sweaty.
– There must be sufficient room behind the DJ booth/desk to sit and stand comfortably, and access to this area must be restricted to staff, or to the DJ’s friends with permission (so punters can’t just wander up and touch the DJ’s gear or hassle them).
– DJs must have a chair or stool to sit at the right height to DJ, but room to stand as well if necessary.
A decent work space includes:
– adequate power outlets (which are safe) already set up
– a clear, flat, clean, safe area to setup a laptop, sound card, and various gear
– lighting (so they can see the dancers and gear properly)
– the DJs can see the dance floor well, from a raised platform, where dancers won’t bump their table (and damage gear)
– a copy of the event’s DJ schedule should be available in the booth
– DJs should know ahead of time (ie before the weekend, or at least before the shift) about all performances, snowballs, speeches, special stuff during their set. They should also be provided with a copy of performance music before the event. This music must be tested and of performance quality.
Let’s look at what’s happening around the Australian scene at the moment.
At this point, $30 per hour + free entry to an event is standard. This includes band break DJing (which is often paid by the hour). This is not a good deal. It is in no way commensurate with the average rates for large events in Europe or America.
– many events do not provide RCA cables already set up for DJs
– booths are frequently in front of speakers, where DJs can acquire industrial deafness
– many events do not have anything more than a basic code of conduct; they do not have clear emergency or safety procedures
– djs are not made aware of the event’s code of conduct, safety measures, or what to do in an emergency, or if they are harassed, feel unsafe, are injured, or endangered
– the dj gear is set up by inexperienced amateurs, who do not take proper sound and general safety precautions
– djs are often left to tidy up or close an event
– djs are doing more than just playing music during competitions
– djs are not given free event passes. They are offered unfair ‘deals’ on passes, or asked to choose between a combination of cash pay, free entry to some parties, or passes.
…and so on.
Breaking down the average existing pay rate:
If an event has only DJed music for 4 days, over 3 evening and 2 late night parties (ie 72 hours), with DJs paid at $30 per hour, that’s $2160 all up for DJ pay. Plus entry to that for a DJ team of about 15 DJs.
If an event has (as is more usual) one DJed night (4 hours), 5 band events (3 evening and 2 late nights), then they will need 10 DJ shifts (2 x 2 hours on Thurs; 1 x 4 hours, 2 x 2 hours on Fri, 1 x 4 hours, 2 x 2 hours on Sat, 2 x 2 hours on Sun). That’s 24 hours (give or take some) @ $30 = $720.
Get 4 DJs maximum to cover those shifts, and that’s 4 full social passes @ $120 = $480.
One band is paid $1500 on average for a 4 hour gig in Sydney. Each musician is paid about $250 each, plus a cut for the band leader.
The bands for this weekend would cost $7500 (usually a bit less if they work some good deals). Sound gear and engineer will cost them $4000 at top rate (usually less if they work a deal).
The basics of a weekend music budget, then, will cost $11850. 6 riders for bands and DJs @ $100 each (I just lump band break DJs in with bands for riders), and that’s $600 (which is more than you’d probably spend). That’s $12805, at the outside. The DJs are $1200 of that. Less than one band.
The value of a good DJ:
All those DJs are also dancers, often very good, experienced dancers, dancers who come with their friends to events (so for each DJ, add at least one punter you know will definitely come, and a handful of others who’ll come because your DJ talked about your event to them in person. Solid gold word of mouth PR). A good DJ is a draw in their own right. People (meaning more experienced dancers who care about music) will come to a gig if they know DJ X is playing. If DJ X also has a reputation for being associated with good music and good events, then that’s even more good PR for your event. Yes, there are plenty of dancers who don’t care about the DJs or bands on the program. But they are only part of the available market. You do want those more experienced dancers, because they have stamina, they give good photo, they bring energy to a party, and they’re another little part of the market to tap into with your event.
As you can see, underpaying and exploiting DJs is one way for dodgy events to cut their costs. Or is it?
Poor working conditions and pay make DJs shitty, and make good DJs avoid your event. Shitty DJs make for shitty dancing. That means you don’t get any good videos of good dancing to help you promote your event. Particularly if you have a shitty DJ DJing your competitions or other high-traffic events.
Shitty DJs give your event a shitty reputation. Neither of which is good business sense.
Another, very important aspect of hiring good DJs, is that you’re hiring an experienced professional. A person you can just trust to get on and do the job. You know that having a full floor is just a baseline. You know they’ll be able to run your dancers ragged, keeping the floor full, and your dancers full of strong feels and crazy dance CRAZY. Which they document like ranting nuts on facebook, document in photos, document in video. And talk about. Everywhere. Word. Of. Mouth. Gold.
Incidentally (and more importantly), a ‘good DJ’ is nice to work with. So your job as an organiser is easier. PHEW.
Let’s talk about band breaks.
When a DJ is doing band breaks, they are effectively working for the entire night, not just those minute they are actually playing music. A band break DJ is also:
– meeting and working with the sound engineer
– meeting and working with the band leader, watching them to be sure they are ready to go when the band finishes or starts
– meeting and working with the DJ coordinator, event manager, various performers, etc
– working with the band’s style so they don’t play the exact same type of music, or clash too much with that style
– they also need to avoid playing the same songs on the band’s set list. Which means coaxing a set list out of the band before the gig (good luck with that) or noting every song the band plays during their set (enjoy focussing on your dancing, DJ)
A reasonable (yet still not equitable or internationally standard) pay rate is:
– free entry for all parties (a measly $120 on average)
– pay per hour
– drinks and snacks
To make this cost effective for organisers, we should hire fewer, better DJs.
What is a top rate DJ deal for a big European (eg Herrang or Snowball) or American event which has about 1000 dancers in house during the event?
– free airport transfers (eg taxi to and from the airport to the venue)
– free flights for A rank DJs
– free food for the entire event
– pay per hour (this varies)
– full free pass for all parties and workshops for the duration of employment
– accommodation (hotel room, often shared)
– accommodation for partner (eg husband or wife)
– child care assistance
– free wifi
– office space/chill space (essential for working DJs at big events)
Additionally, their working space (the DJ booth) is set up by a professional sound engineer, who is also available at all times for repairs or assistance.
The ‘work space stuff’ is just basic amenities. Remember that DJs are working from anywhere between 1 and 4 hours at a stretch without a break.
They payment package obviously applies to the top rank events, and is less for smaller events.
A 300 person event is a moderately small event.
DJs also receive a contract or agreement, which sets out the terms of the gig (including all the above). This is sent to the DJ well before the event, signed by both parties, and agreed on. DJs are able to negotiate terms if necessary.
Finally, a word about good DJ managers:
If you want a good team of DJs who do good work, you’ll need someone to keep an eye on them. Someone to protect their interests, get the best possible work out them, keep them happy, and serve you up a good load of great music and happy dancers. So organisers need to look after their DJ managers. They need to hire good people-person type managers. They need to hire experienced dancers or DJs to be their DJ managers: head DJs is a term that means something here.
So DJ managers should have their own agreements and pay packages. They should also be happy, safe, and healthy, enjoying their job and doing good work.
…so, in sum, equity makes good business sense, and is economically as well as socially sustainable.
“Female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own.”
From Claire Landsbaum’s piece Obama’s Female Staffers Came Up With a Genius Strategy to Make Sure Their Voices Were Heard.
I’m quite surprised by how common it is to be edged out of conversations when I’m hanging with some DJbros or some jazzbros. As you can imagine, I’m not the quietest person in a conversation, and I’m usually reminding myself to let other people talk too. But there are definitely bros who aren’t interested in anything a woman has to say. Just because she isn’t a man.
My usual solution is to just walk away and find someone more interesting to talk to. While these women couldn’t really walk away from these bros if they wanted in to the power, we can in the jazz dance world. And if I want jazzbros (particularly musician jazzbros) to pay attention, I change my mode of interaction. All those years hanging out with punker musician bros and academic bros in my 20s has skilled me up.
But honestly. Bros. How dull.
Ok, so I’ve been thinking about the way leads and follows relate to timing and tempo. I’m not entirely sure what I know, and what’s accurate, because I’m still working my way through this stuff.
I have big problems with the insistence in some quarters that leading and following are interchangeable. They’re not; they’re very different. Not just because one of you leads and one of you follows. At first I thought it was because the lead had to ‘be more confident’ and initiate stuff (which we tend to associate with hegemonic masculinity). But now I don’t think that’s quite it. I have found that the biggest difference between leading and following, for me, is about my relationship to the beat. And this is why I am finding it harder and harder to switch between leading and following these days: I have to consciously change my relationship to the beat. I’m getting better at this (especially since starting tap), but I’m definitely not there yet.
I think that leads are closer to the beat, and follows swing a little more. They’re further behind the beat. Not just because of physics (ie leads ‘go first’ so they are closer to the beat, and follows physically a moment behind). But because of the way this makes us feel when we dance to swinging jazz.
I can’t remember the reference, but I’m pretty sure I read in Gunther Schuller’s book The Swing Era, about the different parts of a big band having different relationships to the beat. I think that we also addressed it in a session with a band a couple of years ago. The rhythm section (piano, bass, drums, guitar) all have slightly different relationships to the beat, and it’s the way each of them work together that then makes for this lovely complicated network that makes dancing so much fun. And so interesting. It’s not just that everyone is sitting way deep in the pocket. It’s that some people in the band are a little deeper than others, and this relationship – an almost-tension – is what makes the music feel so good.
Anyhoo, a drummer friend Andrew Dickeson linked up Ethan Iverson’s blog post The Drum Thing, or, A Brief History of Whiplash, or, “I’m Generalizing Here” on facebook recently, and it caught my attention. I don’t think it’s the most coherent or awesome of pieces, but it did ping my radar a little. So I wrote a long comment there, which I’m going to copy here:
I’ve been thinking about this article a bit.
Tuesday night in tap with Ryan we did this exercise where we tapped a rhythm straight, then swung it. The straight version was very stressful, because it feels like you’re rushing and there’s less time to move your body.
On Sunday at the Unity Hall Jazz Band gig, I danced to a nice swinging, yet faster, song with a lead who was rushing the beat, and it made the dance stressy because we didn’t have time to get through movements. I was following, and follows typically lag a little more than the lead. I found that the lead was cutting me off before I could finish my rhythms or movements, and this was stressy, and difficult, because I never quite had enough time to move from point A to point B, because he was starting the new move before I’d finished the last one.
Last night in class, Alice and I were looking at how slight changes in our posture, and covering less ground affected our timing and ability to dance faster. If covering more distance = using more time*, then it’s harder to dance fast if you try to cover more ground (ie move too far away from each other). So we were working on staying closer together, but with a free-er, less controlling lead**. So the follow had more time to complete her movements. If the lead (that was me) swings more – ie doesn’t rush the beat – then the follow, who sits naturally a bit further behind again has more time to finish things, and the whole dance looks and feels really relaxed. Hence the ‘swing’ in lindy hop. Or, in african dance terms, you get a ‘cool’ body with ‘hot’ legs (ie chilled, relaxed upper body, and energised legs and feet).
Anyhoo, we were testing stuff out with different songs. Because I’m still crushing on that Lester Young Mosaic set and listening to lots of Basie, we started with ‘Feedin the Bean‘ (Basie 1941, 180bpm). It feels really relaxed, and felt super easy to dance to. As a DJ, I often use this song when I want to build energy for a faster, more exciting follow up song.
Then we moved to ‘Pound Cake’ (Basie 1939, 186bpm). It feels similarly chillaxed and not fast at all. Then we tried ‘Lopin” (Basie 1947, 190bpm). It has a more exciting, energetic feel, so it feels faster.
The point is, these are only incremental changes in tempo, but when you dance fast, you need to relax your upper body so you can move faster. If the rhythm section is pushing pushing pushing the beat, you feel as though you have less time to move, so it’s stressier, and you tense up. If the lead is too close to the beat, and stressing, pushing the beat, the follow doesn’t have time to get shit done, and complete their rhythms nicely. The syncopated triple steps that are central to lindy hop just get flattened out. And that just makes a mess of the whole thing. It feels yuck.***
Anyhoo, we noticed that the chillaxed drumming was really important. The base gives you the tempo, but a chillaxed drummer takes the edge off, so you can make it swing.
When I DJ, I find this ‘feel’ or energy in the room is what I’m manipulating with song choices. I might move the tempos up and down, but I want to move the energy up and down too: I think of it as working the ‘feels’, and it’s about the way everyone in the room is sharing feelings. I don’t know why humans do this, but when I read the quote from Ellington in this article, it just articulated what it’s like when the room is ‘warmed up’ (that’s how I think of it – when I DJ or lead a class, I need to ‘warm up’ the room before we start going hard):
Sonny Greer and I were real tight buddies and, naturally, night creatures. Our first night out in New York we got all dressed up and went down to the Capitol Palace…
My first impression of The Lion – even before I saw him – was the thing I felt as I walked down those steps. A strange thing. A square-type fellow might say, “This joint is jumping,” but to those who become acclimatized – the tempo was the lope – actually everything and everybody seemed to be doing whatever they were doing in the tempo The Lion’s group was laying down. The walls and furniture seemed to lean understandingly – one of the strangest and greatest sensations I ever had. The waiters served in that tempo; everybody who had to walk in, out, or around the place walked with a beat.
Anyhoo, thanks for linking up this article, Andrew. It’s been rolling around in my head since I read it, and really joining up some dots for me.
*This is why the lead taking a huge rock step on 1-2 of a swing out is an issue. It extends the first 2 counts of that move, and changes the emphasis of the rhythm. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, we change rhythms all the time. But if you do it on every rock step of every move, you change the entire rhythm of the dance. It also means you take up lots of room on the floor, and you feel you like have to RUN to get to the end of the movement, as you’ve ‘used up’ a lot of time at the beginning. For the follow, it means that you have to take an enormous first step which throws off your balance and timing. If you want to dance fast, you’re really going to struggle, because there’s less time for each step, and the follow has to cover more ground in less time. It also means you won’t be emphasising the rotational part of a swing out (the 3-and-4), which means you won’t be getting that centrifugal force that you need to then sling shot back out again into open.
In dancing, distance = time. So you have to take that into account when you’re dancing to a specific tempo. It’s especially interesting when you’re looking at air steps, where gravity is a constant (ie it always takes the same amount of time to fall), and you have to take that into account when you’re timing a landing. This really struck me watching this video about the physics of Simone Biles’ turns. She adjusts her rotation and timing just by moving one hand against her body!
**By ‘freer, less controlling lead’, I mean a few things. First, that the lead doesn’t ‘steer’ the follow out of closed using their left hand. They just step back and out of the way, dropping that hand immediately so the follow can ping out of closed position, choosing their own speed, direction, and rhythm.
Secondly, the lead lets go on 5 of a swing out, so the follow can come out sideways rather than always coming out backwards. Follows who are always let go later and always asked to come out backwards tend to habitually turn themselves to come out backwards. Ain’t nothing wrong with coming out backwards. But if a follow always turns themselves to come out backwards, rather than having variations in directions, we have an issue. Even more importantly, taking time to turn your body 90* takes time and energy away from booming out of closed like a gun, or rocking out like a rhythmic jazz superstar.
But more important than the direction a follow comes out of closed, is the fact that by letting go earlier, the lead gives the follow more physical freedom, earlier. The longer I touch the follow, and keep that back connection, the longer she has to pay attention and respond to me and that connection. Well, she doesn’t have to. But by letting go, I’m making it super clear that she can do as she likes, and is 100% responsible for direction, timing, angle, etc. Experimenting as a follow, I also found that letting go earlier means that the follow needn’t go as far away from the lead. They can choose to reach the ‘end’ of the swing out earlier, and turn and be ready to come back in again earlier. They don’t have to end earlier, but they can.
I hope I’m making it clear, here, that there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. But if we always do things one way, then there’s an issue. We… well, I aim for flexibility and mindfulness. I want to make conscious choices about the way my body moves, so that I am mindfully responding to the music and absolutely present with each partner, rather than just dancing by rote. Because dancing by rote is boring and limited. And dancing mindfully with each partner makes dancing with everyone much more interesting.
I am suspecting that insisting a follow goes really far away into open (ie covering a lot of distance) + the larger rock step by the lead on 1-2 = changing the rhythmic emphases of the swing out. Instead of being a constant state of motion, the swing out becomes two extreme stretches in long, straight lines, with a tiny bit of rushed rotation in closed in the middle. I’d prefer my swing outs to have constant energy throughout, so that I’m not dividing the music up into blocks of 8 counts so aggressively. I want my swing outs (or moves) to just be different shapes put on top of rhythmic movement across the floor, where the emphasis can vary, and the rhythms are functional as well as fun. ie the triple step, with its added step, is not just rhythmically interesting, it also gives you an extra step to travel further, or to turn or to ground yourself as you rotate at speed.
And, to sum up this digression, if you give the follow more time in open, or with a less demanding, less intense connection, you give them more independence. This means that they a) bring their rhythmic wonderment, and b) pay more attention to you, because they don’t feel like they’re waiting for the rare chance to bring their shit; they know you’ll give them plenty of time, and that you’ll be working together, with their hot shit integrated into the dance, rather than slotted in as a separate ‘gap’ in the lead’s predetermined pattern.
***Or you change your basic steps, replacing the triple step with a kick. If you check out very early lindy hop, you see more kicking than triple steps, because the music had that more vertical feel. It feels super exciting, because it does push a little bit more, but it doesn’t make you triple step or swing out the same way. It’s not about tempo (ie speed), but about the relationship to the beat each musician holds.
I’m part of a very good facebook group about teaching lindy hop and swing dance, and there was a recent question about ‘heavy’ following, which referenced this 2010 article of Bobby White’s.
My first response was this:
One day someone will write an article about the heavy/light lead, and we’ll get to argue about whether or not it’s too do with men’s physical weight, physics, or their just not being a very good dancer.
…i’m sorry to be so snarky in such a friendly forum, but honestly. This discussion tires and depresses me.
While Bobby has updated his post with a little disclaimer, his post still circulates in the lindy hop community, frequently touted as an important or useful source of information. Me, I think it’s total rubbish. Questions about ‘heavy follows’ are rooted in a fundamentally unhelpful and flawed understanding of partner dancing. It is, as I’ve ranted elsewhere, based on the assumption that lindy hop is about successfully completing a series of moves. Leading them ‘well’ and following them ‘well’ for a ‘good dance’. In this context, if you can’t perfectly ‘follow’ the lead’s leading, you are a ‘bad follow’. This sort of thinking leads to nights where follows stand around the dance floor moaning that there are ‘no leads’, when there are in fact plenty of leads, it’s just that they are looking for leads who can set out a perfect sequence of moves for them to complete. It’s the sort of thinking that leads to women competing with each other for dances with particular men (yes, women do actually queue up around the edges of the dance floor), with big-headed leads convinced that they are the fucking business because they have these queues. It leads to the myth that we have a ‘lead shortage’ or, worse, ‘too many follows’, which in turn leads to bullshit registration deals for events, where leads receive cheaper registrations, or more flexible registration deadlines.
If you’ve read any of my posts before, you’ll know that I’ve really moved away from this idea of leading and following. If we stop thinking of a ‘good dance’ as a sequence of moves perfectly executed, then we can start thinking about a ‘good dance’ as one where we have just two rules: take care of the music, take care of your partner.
The term ‘heavy follow’ is profoundly sexist, places the power in the lead-follow dynamic firmly with the lead (who is usually male), and prioritises moving across the floor, performing a sequence of inflexible moves ‘perfectly’.
I think it’s fucked up, and I refuse to accept it as in any way legit.
But I think my immediate response to the post (which I’ve quoted above) wasn’t productive in this particular group, where the values we espouse in our jazz-centred dancing carry on into a discussion based on kindness, mutual respect, and listening to one another. So I apologised.
I did write a long comment in response, but when you find your comment is too long to fit in one comment on facebook, you know it’s time to write a blog post.
Interestingly, it seems Anaïs was writing a response at the exact same time I was. A post which sets out many of my own values, but in a much more gentle, productive way. Anaïs Sékiné’s lovely post about leading and following and dance as collaboration, is a nice alternative to the ‘heavy’ follow paradigm. I recommend reading it. It’s full of good feels.
But here is the long comment I wrote on facebook, but didn’t manage to post:
I don’t accept the premise of the ‘heavy’ or ‘slow’ follow.
I think it encourages a focus on moves-based dancing, rather than rhythm-based dancing. I also think it makes us focus on moving across the floor and executing moves perfectly, rather than listening to the music and connecting with another human being.
I’ve been thinking about my own dancing a lot lately, as I’ve done a few very useful and interesting workshops this year (Herräng most recently, but also the Little Big Weekend in May with Jenny and Rikard, and Snowball classes in December 2015). These, and the work I did last year, as well as lots of interesting talk in that facebook teaching group, and with my co-teachers, have been really inspiring. My general focus has been on simple shapes and solid rhythms, and is connected by the content and focus of the Frankie and Harlem Roots streams at Herräng in 2014 and 2015. I’ve also been inspired by Lennart Westerlund’s approach to teaching and learning.
Thinking about my own dancing hasn’t just been about getting my shit together (ongoing project, right?). It’s also about improving my dancing and understanding of what I do so that I can be a better teacher. And this in turn helps me improve my own dancing. I see my own limitations reflected in my teaching and hence in my students’ dancing: I’ve been thinking about how to dance faster, more relaxed, and with interesting rhythms at all tempos.
RE the swing out in particular, and how to make it work if one partner isn’t moving as fast as needed.
As a lead, my first response would be to change my plans. I don’t need a swing out to be a 360* turn. It can be 180* or 90* or any old degrees, fitting into the space on the floor, working with my partner, and the music.
I think this is the most important thing: leads need to work more actively with their partner. This is why I think we need to talk about ‘active leads’ rather than ‘active follows’: leads need to be able to change their swing outs and respond to what’s happening with their partner. Not just get cranky if a follow is ‘too slow’ to make the lead’s preferred swing out ‘work’.
1) Teaching translation: we say that to our beginners in week 1: You don’t have to have rules about the angle you cover. Just aim to be open, in closed, then in open. They immediately stress less.
My second response would be: am I asking the follow to move too far? My current bugbear is leads who ask the follow to go three million miles away in open, but still somehow run in and get around 360*, all at a million bpm. With this sort of swing out, the follows end up super fast and strong (in their bodies), but also more likely to send themselves miles away from their partners. So you get a kind of flattened out rhythm, where the emphasis is on horizontal movement across the floor, rather than a more nuanced rhythm-as-movement using different planes. I also see a lack of good, relaxed, swinging timing. There’s a lot of rushing, with a rhythmic emphasis on the extremes of the move – 3 and 4 in closed, and 7-8 in open. This emphasis often starts to look like a ‘dead spot’ where there’s a hold in the rhythm. Which is totally ok, but begins to ignore the music if it happens on every swing out.
So I fix this by staying closer to my partner, at all points of the swing out (closed and open). Rhythmically: I don’t go flat when the follow is in open – the rhythm I keep provides the timing for how long a follow should be traveling. And time = distance here.
2) Teaching translation: look at your partner; keep dancing leads, don’t stop when the follow goes into open. Don’t think of the rhythm as sets of 8, but as a continuous rhythm with the music.
My third and most important response: am I hauling arse? If a lead stands on the spot and asks the follow to do all the moving, then it’s twice as hard as it needs to be. If a lead steps up and moves their bodies, then the follow needs to cover half as much distance. If you stay closer together, then you can halve that distance again. And this means you have more time in the music for fun.
As a lead: I need step up and haul arse. I really need to hustle.
3) Teaching translation: leads, haul arse. Move your body. Do not let the rhythm drop. Everyone learns a new rhythm on their own first. Everyone has to carry the groove; it’s a shared rhythm. (all this keeps bodies active)
My fourth response: how am I oriented to my partner?
This is my current issue. I am trying to aim for a 3/4 profile for my partner. I describe this as the ‘perfect instagram selfie pose’ to our students: you want a 3/4 profile, and you want your weight on one foot, rather than split. If your butt’s out, then you are immediately ready to rumble. Or leap out from the blocks and beat Usain Bolt.
I am trying to stop myself ‘squaring up’ to my partner, because it’s inefficient, and makes it harder to recruit the bigger muscles that help me haul arse. It also lets your arms relax, and encourages an efficient weight change. A squared up profile is harder (this is 100% Rikard teaching btw).
4) Teaching Translation: 3/4 instagram perfect profile.
Fifth: I also try to be more ‘alert’ in my connection when we get into open. This is helped by having that 3/4 profile.
I use that triple step at the end of a swing out or move to say ‘Hello, I am ending the swing out earlier, I think, so please listen to see what happens next – we can choose something else to do.’
If I just go ‘dead’ or ‘limp’ in my arm as the follow gets out (at about 6), then the follow feels no signal, so they often just continue that last message or momentum I suggested. I’m not talking about ‘tension’ or any of that stuff – I’m talking about facing my partner, about moving my body, etc.
5) Teaching translation: leads, don’t let that rhythm or groove drop. Both partners – watch them move away from you, and be ready. Because you don’t know what jazz they’ll bring (a practical beginner exercise is just having them do a call and response jazz step – so as they move into open, one does a jazz step, and the other echoes it for 8 counts – they naturally have to watch each other, and stay closer together).
Sixth: out with the butts.
The other thing that’s important (when I’m following), is to not send myself so far away from my partner, and to check my posture. We’ve been talking to our intermediates about this – ‘out with the butts’ as eWa says. If you have your butt out, as a follow (but not sitting down into the shape), and you come out of a swing out sideways (ie the lead lets go earlier and doesn’t ‘steer’ the follow out with their left arm), then you are more engaged in your glutes, etc, and in a more athletic posture that helps you respond faster, or move faster, or just plain bring the shit.
Out with the butts is very important coming out of a swing out for follows. It stops them leading groin first (which makes it harder to balance or control yourself).
6) Teaching translation: out with the butts. Practical exercise: anything Frankie related.
Seventh: feel the love.
Asa and Daniel were crapping on about this in Herräng: get closer to your partner in closed. Treat it like an embrace. So they didn’t do this squaring up thing where the follows grip the lead’s bicep and clamp the lead’s right arm with their elbow. Instead they moved closer together. Learning from so many first gen revivalists in the Harlem Roots stream at Herräng stream, two things were made very clear: closed position is much closer (in a v-shape, where the follow’s arm can be further around the lead’s shoulder, and the lead’s arm further around the follow’s back). This embrace makes it easier to feel what your partner is doing with their body, too.
The second thing: follows are much more likely to do stuff like just go into open if they were sick of closed. Catrine, eWa, Asa – all those Swedes who worked with Frankie. None of them were worried about ‘backleading’ or ‘hijacking’. If they didn’t like a move, they just didn’t do it. And their leads were all 100% ok with this – they just saw it as normal. This signalled a fundamental shift in lindy hop ideology in the mid 2000s in America in particular: lindy hop follows stopped seeing this ‘just don’t do it’ as ok. They saw their goal as ‘follow perfectly’. To me, this is the most important point, the absolute total point of all this: FOLLOWS DON’T HAVE TO AIM TO ‘FOLLOW PERFECTLY’. Being a ‘good follow’ doesn’t mean ‘do exactly what the lead asks, perfectly and quickly.’ Being a ‘good follow’ means ‘go with your feels.’ Trust yoself.
7) Teaching Translation: when you’re in closed, check in with how you’re touching your partner. Ask them if this is ok. Remember that the way you touch your partner sends them information (eg the claw of panic from follows; the floating weirdo right hand from leads). If it doesn’t feel ok, tell your partner.
For me, these things have made lindy hop much easier: don’t move so far from my partner; feel the love in the embrace; out with the butts; perfect instagram selfie pose; take more time to feel the groove before you start dancing; clear rhythms.
Just in the few weeks since we’ve been back from Herräng and focussing on these things, we’ve seen massive changes in our students’ dancing. They can dance much faster, and have greater freedom to improvise.
I don’t worry about ‘follows being heavy’ because it’s simply not an issue. I don’t even recognise it as a thing.
I do worry much, much more about leads who don’t haul arse. I think the lazy arse lead is a much bigger issue than the ‘heavy’ or ‘slow’ follow. I also get very cranky about leads who never look at their follows: it makes for bad connection, bad vibes, and dancing that focuses on horizontal momentum rather than good solid rhythms, polyrhythms, and call and response. ie jazz.
…having said that, if a lead is physically slower or older or infirm or fragile (as with our lovely Extremely Elderly student), then hauling arse isn’t the issue. He has mad rhythm skills (tap dancer!), so the follows have to figure out how to make this work with him. Much more important skill set.
As Anaïs says in her gorgeous post,
Lindy hopping is about sharing through dancing and through jazz. That’s our common language. The rest is up to each and everyone of us.
As Lennart says,
…it is a very simple dance
As one of our beginners said in their first class
A swing out is when you are together and then you are away from each other.
And that’s it.
I don’t often co-DJ, but when I do, I choose the finest woman DJ the Netherlands have to offer. Superheidi is a most excellent DJ and good DJ buddy, and this set was excellent fun. Note how we problem solve together, we drink tea together, we brag about our full floors together. Huzzah!
[edit: photo credits to Superheidi, who made DJ Anton take the photos. DJ team win.]
Once again, I’m writing a post that’s meant to be short, but will no doubt be enormous.
Herräng uses staff DJs and volunteer/guest DJs for music each night on its three (or occasionally more) dance floors. There are also unofficial official staff DJs who provide music for the special themed Midnight Ramble parties in the library. Staff DJs are provided with a pretty good renumeration package (which I can’t go into online because confidentiality, but can discuss in person), and guest DJs are given free entry to the night they DJ.
Staff DJs’ duties include:
- Regular meetings about DJing;
- DJing every night for 7 days, at any time between 10pm and 11am the following day;
- DJing in blocks of at least 2 hours at a time;
- DJing to the Herräng music brief;
- Being available for other themed or special sets (eg early RnB, shared sets, competitions, taxi dances, shows, band breaks, afternoon dances, etc);
- DJing for lindy hop, balboa, slow drag, boogie woogie and solo dance.
And usually a few other random things are expected of you (eg dropping in to meetings or talks about DJing and music, mentoring or riding shot gun on newer DJs’ sets, being ‘around’ and participating in camp life).
All of this is most excellent fun, very fulfilling, but quite tiring. It is definitely a full time job. And the role requires professionalism (being on time, having all the gear, being good to work with), practical skills (knowing how to work a mixing desk, how to DJ comps or special dances, mic skills, can keep the floor not only full but exciting and interesting for several hours), and a solid musical collection.
All the DJs I’ve worked with at Herräng have extensive music collections (far beyond the lindy hopping ‘favourites’), and devote hours each week to preparing sets and making sure they have an idea of what they might play. This preparation is a continual response to what’s happening in camp, the music they hear each night, the bands playing each night, and the general mood or vibe of the event.
And all the staff DJs also have a creative instinct that makes them suggest ideas for special sets, shared sets, or just general party ideas.
Volunteer or Guest DJs have a different job.
They are booked on a per-set basis, doing one set at a time, usually for one to two hours only, and may not be asked to DJ again during their stay. They must also play to the Herräng music brief, and submit previous set lists. The usual professionalism and practical skills are required. Most of the guest DJs are also then recommended or vetted by an experienced DJ or dancer.
Basically, you can’t just walk in and ask to DJ then score a spot. This is as per normal for any large, reputable event.
The Midnight Ramble DJs have a different role again. They usually have very specialised collections and/or skill sets. eg they may DJ an early RnB set, a latin set, or a slow drag set. This means that they have extensive collections of these types of music, and special skills. They’re often DJs who use vinyl or shellac, and are vastly experienced, working with the particular demands of this themed room/party.
All Herräng DJs are managed by the DJ managers. This year and last, the managerial role was shared by two very experienced DJs who also have a lot of experience with Herräng. This year we were lucky enough to have Meghan Gilmore (Canada) and Jonas Larsson (Sweden) as our managers.
Each day the managers liaise with the various stage managers, event managers, and other Herräng staff to put together a program of DJed music on three (or more) dance floors that begins at 10pm and can end as late as the first class in the folkletshus ballroom (ie 11am or later). This program juggles live performances by bands and other acts, the evening meeting, the demands of particular parties (eg Midnight Rambles, the beginner hour, balboa nights and so on), and each DJs’ skills, preferences, and workload. There are frequently last minute changes to the program, and both managers and DJs need to be able to respond enthusiastically, calmly, and competently to changes.
Meghan and Jonas were the best DJ managers I’ve ever worked with, in ten years of DJing. They were calm, professional, and very excellent company. They know HEAPS about music, are very experienced DJs, and were just wonderful to work with. I felt that they really had my back and were supporting me at all times. Even when my laptop died on day 1 of my contract, they were right there holding my hand. Or at least sending me comforting fb messages. They also knew how to lead, and how to put the breaks on madcap schemes that were a little too madcap. DJs can be quite headstrong and a little too sure of themselves (and their schemes) sometimes, and both Meghan and Jonas were very good at curbing in some of the less sensible scheming. Which I think is very important. I want to know my DJ managers have limits and a clear sense of what they want, and what is achievable, so that I can just go ahead and be full-on DJ nut, knowing they’ll say No when No needs to be said.
Meghan and Jonas also put quite a bit of work into developing a sense of team camaraderie. They provided a comfortable office close to other Herräng staff offices, so that we could both have a place to store our stuff and work quietly, and also meet and mix with other staff. We found our office was often a popular place for unofficial catch-ups and socialising by other staff. Not as rowdy as other offices, not as full-on as other offices. The fact that there was always a stack of records or someone wanting an opinion on a particular song was only a bonus for camp where pretty much everyone is music obsessed.
We also had a couple of organised dinners and DJ-friendly parties/catch ups, which were very nice. I found that this team of DJs gelled particularly well. I adore them all, and I miss them SO much. I loved their music, I loved their commitment to DJing, but I also really liked their ‘let’s have FUN!’ approach to dancing and DJing. And they made me laugh like a fool, so many times. Having a good, solid team of buddies around me really made the long hours and challenges of staff DJing easier. And I learnt a LOT about music and DJing from them all. It was really lovely to be part of this group.
This year the DJing at Herräng was particularly good. Jonas and Meghan had worked hard to find DJs beyond the usual subjects. They found DJs from all over the world, who were both excellent DJs, and had excellent taste in music. And, incidentally, they had gender parity in weeks 2,3,4, and 5 of the 6 weeks of the camp. This is very unusual in the lindy hopping world, and the consequences were very interesting. Things I thought this gave us, as dancers:
- A wider range of DJs, people I’d never heard before, and who had interesting, new ways of thinking about DJing;
- A wider range of DJing styles and musical collections;
- Better music for dancing;
- A much more interesting and fun working environment: this wasn’t a DJ Bro team. It was a diverse, interesting group of people who worked fucking hard, valued great music, but could work a crowd like fucking ROCKstars;
- As a whole, two of the clearer consequences were crowded, crazy dance floors, and crowds who stayed up much later dancing. As a DJ and dancer, I found myself spending more time hanging around the DJ booth listening to the DJs who were working, or sitting next to them listening to them work. It was very exciting, and the BEST fun.
Who was on staff in Herräng this year?
Ralph Hueur(Boogie) [Germany], Felix Berghäll (Boogie) [Sweden], Philippe Crompton-Roberts [Hong Kong], Jon Tigert [USA]
Christina Loukaki [Greece], Jon Tigert [USA], Arnas Razgūnas [Lithuania], Leru [ Russia/China],
Sam Carroll [Australia], Heidi Van Der Wijk [ Netherlands], Anton Cervin [Sweden], Jonas Olsson [Denmark]
Birkley Wisniewski [Canada], Helena Martins [Brazil], Laura Spencer [USA/Germany], Dan Repsch [USA]
Kris Bauwens [Belgium], Susanne Kenross [Sweden], Haerim Kim [South Korea], Sage Min [ South Korea]
Featured Guest DJs:
Frida Häggström (week 1 to 5), Big Papa Mac (week 1 to 3), Natty Bo (July 20 and 21), Stephan Wuthe (week 3 and 5)
Guest/volunteer DJs included:
Arnas, Pontus ?, Philippe, Jonas Olsson, Sam Carroll, Alexey Kazannov, Felix, Miroslav Mironov, James Pack, Olov ?, Vasily Muravyev, Olga Moiseeva, Jon Tigert, Nathan ?, Skye Humphries, Gaston Fernandez, Veit, Rasmus, Daphna Harel, Soo chan Lee, Leo Newman, Ramona Staffeld, Ingrid ?, Naomi Uyama.
As you can see, some of the staff DJs also did some volunteer DJing. For me, it was in week 2 so I could get rid of some nerves and settle down to DJing. People like Jon T just have mad skills and love DJing. People like Olga are THE BEST.
I have to pause and rave about a couple of those volunteer DJs. Olga Moiseeva from Moscow (now based in Brussells). WOW. Just the best. She has mad skills. And has also been a key player in Moscow becoming the historically grounded, fun-centred lindy hop scene it is today. Vasily Muravyev, also Russian, still based in Moscow, has been one of those people who DJs regularly at home, and SHOULD have been DJing at bigger events like Herräng, but just needed a bit of a push to get into it. Gaston is of course, an experienced, fantastic DJ, and one of my favourites. Other DJs in this list did some lovely work too. I didn’t hear any shithouse DJing. Which is a testament to Meghan and Jonas’ hard work and carefully vetting of DJs.
But my favourite was Naomi Uyama. Yes. That Naomi. Sure, she’s a grand lindy hopper. We know that. I reviewed her band’s first album in this post and did a follow up post here.
It should surprise no one that such a talented band leader is also a fantastic DJ. But, having said that, there are a few band leaders who are also DJs, but not terribly awesome DJs.
What made her so good? 1) Song choices. Familiar, unusual, all awesome, 2) The way she put them together.
Shit. She is just such a fucking great DJ.
In sum, my picks for a superhot DJ team from Herräng’s guest DJ team would include Olga, Naomi, Frida Häggström, Vasily, and probably John Tigert. John is an interesting one, as at first glance he seems a bit of a cowboy, prone to showing off. But I’ve found over the last couple of years that I’ve ended up sitting next to him while he DJs a few times. Because he’s such a thoughtful, inspired DJ. He kind of settles into the job, focussing on the dancers, with a really good feel for what they feel, and then making good, solid, creative songs choices to work with those feels. Frida is kind of intimidating, as she’s quite reserved, but you shouldn’t let that stop you getting to know her, and her DJing. She can basically do anything. Anything old, and anything fucking GOOD. I once danced like a crazy fool to a 20s dance band set she did in the library. Not something I’d usually dig, but mate. She has SKILLS. And an unparalleled collection. Get to know her, and get to know her collection: she is A1.
I’d also make sure you had Arnas from Lithuania on that team. He’s fun, and he makes a very good coffee. He’s also a skilled DJ, who is prone to DJ cowboyism. But it always pays off.
I could go on and on and on about the DJs from Herräng this year that I loved. Heidi from Rotterdam: what a fucking gun. Tireless, fearless, fierce. Excellent. Anton and Jonas, Jonas and Meghan. Really, the very best.
Such most excellent fun. Did enjoy. Would do again.
I’m just back from two weeks at the Herräng Dance Camp in Sweden.
Just in case you didn’t know, the Herräng dance camp runs for 5 weeks in a little town in Sweden called Herräng. Herräng focuses
on the American vernacular swing dance tradition.
That means all the dancing and music in the program (and around camp for the most part) is jazz. African American Jazz. This definition stretches a little for dances like balboa, but African dances, hip hop, various latin dances, and other fun stuff squeeze in as well. So this really is a camp devoted to dance and music of the African diaspora, with emphasis on the jazz and swing eras.
When we say ‘camp’, we’re not talking a school camp where you sleep in dorms or cabins, or a tents-and-firepit camp. We’re talking about a whole range of accommodation (from private houses to dorms, tents, shared rooms, and caravans).
The camp itself is huge, spreading across the town’s folkets hus, dansbana, school, sporting ground, marina, shop, private homes and roads, local forest, and camp grounds. Dancers are fed in a bar, ice cream parlour, and cafe (all run and produced by the camp), and a number of other local food outlets. The classes are taught on the two dance floors, and then in a series of huge marques.
Herräng employs around 150 staff each week, and sees between 700 and >1000 campers per week. But you never really ever spend time with 1000 people at once, as there simply isn’t anywhere big enough in camp to hold us all. My usual Herräng experience is with a handful, a classful, or a dancefloor full of people.
There are 7 departments within the administration, and the camp board includes three famous dancers (Frida Segardahl, Lennart Westerlund, and Daniel Heedman).
Herräng hires 77 top shelf dance teachers, about 10 formal bands (and zillions of jam session groups), around 26 staff DJs (about 5 or 6 working 7 days per week on 3 dance floors 10pm-10am), and ~24 guest/volunteer DJs each year.
There are full time carpenters, laundry staff, doctors, chefs, cleaners, IT workers, staff managers, bike shop staff, retail, and retail staff. It really is a little town that’s alive for about 8 weeks of the year.
There is a program of dance classes over a 7 day period, and all night social dancing over 3 dance floors with DJs and live music. The entertainment program also includes educational library talks and panel discussions, film screenings, cultural activities on the Wednesday morning and afternoon, and free evening classes in all sorts of things.
It is truly a prodigious event, the largest in the world, and one with the most consistent reputation for presenting high quality music and dance in the historic jazz and swing tradition. It’s also know for being somewhat hedonistic and a little chaotic.
It has much in common with a european summer camp, but no doubt owes much of its longevity (and development) to the role of shared common spaces in socialist democratic Sweden. The Herräng camp perhaps would not ever have begun without the town’s folklets hus and dansbana. It has also always prioritised the involvement of old time dancers from the 20s-50s. This connection with history, as well as the 24-hour program of ‘semi-surrealistic’ events have secured it respect in the modern lindy hopping world.
I like it because it’s mad fun. I can work super hard on dancing, or I can sit about in the sun making friends and talking shit. I can stay up all night social dancing, or I can live a sensible diurnal lifestyle. The music is fantastic, I get to see a truly diverse range of the very best lindy hop, jazz, tap, etc dancing, and I get to spend time with people from all over the world. It’s the combination of diversity and quality that brings me back. I enjoy not knowing what will happen each day. I love it that I can be rowing into a misty lake in the middle of the night to look at a friend’s bunkbed accommodation on a floating pontoon in the middle of the water. Or dancing with a 10 year old to Count Basie at 2pm at a tea party. Or learning the Russian word for hello at a communal dinner table.
not everyone loves Herräng. If you’re the sort of person who prefers a hotel style event, where you are told what to do, where to go, and how to do it for every minute of the day, you’ll find Herräng’s more casual approach maddening. I have noticed that Americans and Australians who prefer a more rigidly hierarchical event with clear bosses and ‘cool people’ struggle with the more complex power dynamics of Herräng. Shit regularly goes wrong in Herräng, from you getting lost at 1am looking for your bed, to teachers not turning up for classes. There’s a chance you’ll pick up a heavy cold, or hate the food. And the dry humour of the daily evening meeting might not work if you have a more (excuse me for this) ‘American’ sense of humour.
As an example, this sort of sign outside the main eating area would drive you mad if you wanted to know exactly what was on the menu. But I enjoy it.
It can also be a struggle if you’re used to traveling in a pack of your friends from home. Herräng invites you to meet new people, and make new friends. Shared dinner tables and communal living are clear markers of that socialist-democracy I mentioned. And if you’re into individualism and strict rules about what belongs to whom, you’ll get shitty when you see your dress end up in lost property, then turn up on stage in an evening meeting performance. Herräng definitely has rules, a hierarchy, and very clear power structure. It’s just not as clear as at an Australian or American event. And I like that. I like that it’s assumed I’ll find my own bed, make my own friends, and enjoy sharing a table. I really enjoy meeting lots of people, and I quite like the mad, unexpected things that happen.
- first case of Herrang flu (including head aches, fever, voice loss, cough, sore throat, snot, nausea)
- second case of Herrang flu (as above)
- sudden onset of menstruation during week of DJing. Of course.
- loss of hearing, voice, stamina, and brain due to Herrang flu
- Left both my passports on the plane as I arrived in Seoul (the first of six legs in an international journey);
- Accommodation for second city in series of four cancelled while in aeroplane, leaving only a couple of hours to book new accommodation while in in transit. This was achieved;
- Discovered travel agent had not booked baggage allowance for third leg of international journey. Paid a frightening amount for luggage allowance;
- Herrang flu led to development of serious snoring which led to eviction from accommodation in Herrang. Self esteem devastated, but alternative accommodation secured;
- Laptop actually broke inside. Discovered this two hours before first set in seven day week as staff DJ scheduled to begin;
- Couldn’t DJ for two of the seven days I was hired for;
- Couldn’t prepare for DJing for two of the seven days I was hired for;
- Kendra, IT support queen, headed off a case of DJ panic with some wonderful support and practical testing. Goddess bless Kendra in staff coordination;
- Hard drive salvaged by Brad, head of limo services;
- New hard drive case fetched from Halstavik (goddess bless the limo service, most especially Brad, Ben, and the nice guy with dreds), but it turned out to be the not-quite-right-type. Still worked;
- Lost my Australia-Sweden plug adaptor thingy. Australian power cable for laptop and phone therefore useless;
- Borrowed a macbook air to run my laptop’s hard drive as an external hard drive. All good until I realised mid-way through the week that it was resetting all my trackpad preferences each time I shut it down and rebooted from the external hard drive. This resulted in a number of very high profile, very embarrassing double clicks while DJing to a massively crowded room of dancers;
- Discovered the UK-Sweden power board adaptor thingy I was using with the UK-plug borrowed laptop was faulty. Had to borrow power cable from different DJ each night. Forgot on one particularly memorable night;
- Second round of Herrang flu during week as staff DJ = lack of late night DJing stamina from me;
- Somehow manage to bend prong of headphone jack on (only pair of) headphones, so that it no longer works with laptops;
- Second round of Herrang flu resulted in complete loss of hearing in one ear on flight home.
I think perhaps Herrang is sending me a message: is it time to stop DJing?
People who saved my arse during all these dramas include Dave, Australian IT support; Kendra for diagnosing my laptop’s problem; Kendra’s friend in the USA who assisted in diagnosis; Phillipe, who leant me the macbook air; Brad in limo services for rebuilding my hard drive and actually coming up with a solution; Ben, Travis, and a nice guy with dreds in limo services who went to town and bought the actual hard drive; Meghan, Anton, and Heidi who all leant me power cables for my laptop; various members of reception staff who handled laptop trade-offs with aplomb (and well beyond their job descriptions); Meghan and Jonas who dealt with my being completely fucking useless for two days like wonderful professional wonderfuls. I love them.
Incidentally: Jonas Larsson and Meghan Gilmore were the DJ managers for Herrang this year, and they did a magnificent job. They were fantastic to work with (professional, boss-like, setting clear limits, yet also respecting and encouraging creative experiments), an inspiringly good management team (they have to work together to make up DJ rosters using 6 staff DJs and a range of volunteer and guest DJs across at least 4 or 5 dance floors EVERY NIGHT for five weeks), and just plain old good DJs.
They were the best DJ managers I have ever worked with. They improved our working conditions, they made sure we had a good DJ ‘base’ (ie office) that was so friendly we occasionally had to kick other staff out of it so we could work, and they did lovely things like make us have dinner together to nerd out on jazz. It was a real pleasure and privilege working with them.
Despite all this rubbish, I actually had a nice holiday. I didn’t stress out (except for when I discovered I’d left my passports on the plane), and even Kendra was amazed by how calm I was. But as you soon discover in Herrang: the way you respond to the first drama in Herrang dictates the type of Herrang experience you’ll have. I choose ‘whatevs’ as a response.
Ok, Sydney’s jazz scene is A1.
We have so much live jazz on Sundays that even our huge scene can’t field enough dancers to cover them all. We do all the styles: hot jazz, classic swing later swing easing into bop, NOLA reactionist stuff, NOLA purist stuff, big band swing, small group swing, neoswing, jump blues. One of the best badns I’ve danced to – the Ozcats – is from Sydney. Adrian Cunningham is from Sydney. The scene has a reputation for being quite competitive and kind of seriously Professional, less casual than Melbourne’s more open, friendly scene. But that’s also led to some seriously professional, hardcore jazz acts.
Two of my favourite bands have recently gotten it pretty seriously together. One is Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band, and one is SwingRocket. I’ll talk about the Blue Rhythm Band in this post.
Andrew Dickeson’s Blue Rhythm Band
The Blue Rhythm Band is my current favourite. Band leader Andrew Dickeson is a jazz history nerd and a Basie specialist. He’s also my current favourite drummer (after Lynn Wallis, but then Lynn is everyone’s favourite drummer), and he’s my friend. I’ve been working with Andrew and his band on a number of projects lately, including having them as the house band at the Little Big Band recently. This band understands lindy hoppers, and what we want. So they do it.
They’re so good, they’ve been booked for every major Australian event this year. Yes. MLX, SSF, Sweet n Hot, Canberrang, Jumptown Jam, Little Big Weekend, SLX… and probably more I’ve missed. One of my concerns is that they’ll be over-exposed by all these gigs. Can their repertoire hold up? Can they keep it interesting? Yes.
The rhythm section stays the same, but Andrew uses his serious connects and sound judgement to bring in great talent. These aren’t just a bunch of random musicians, or dancers who’ve been playing instruments for a few years. These are the best musicians in Sydney, with years and years of professional musicianship and national and international tours under their belts. They are fully legit. And they do not compromise this professionalism and ability for dance gigs.
The last party I booked them for, George Washingmachine played violin and it was quite special. Though George does a lot of manouche and western swing, this was solid Ray Nance with Ellington.
The following night they were booked to play another party in the Last Minute Exchange, and I was worried they’d sound a bit samey. But on that night they had Dan Barnett playing trombone (plus a different bass player – a nice guy who was also a tapper!) and it was a completely different sound. Both nights they played Take the A Train, but it was a completely different song each night.
I’ve also booked them to play in a larger formation, with Bob Henderson on trumpet (you can see him playing with Andrew and Brendan in this video), and Dan Barnet on trombone again. Completely different sound and feel.
My ambition is to have the core rhythm section (Peter, Brendan, Andrew) do a skanky barrel house blues session with Brad and perhaps a good, fierce woman shouter on vocals. I’m certain it would make people dance extremely skank.
So what makes the band so great live? We’ve heard all these guys a million times before in different bands. Why do they work so well in this incarnation?
Perhaps most importantly, Andrew’s a strong band leader. The band has a clear focus and direction, guided by Andrew’s leadership, vision, and taste. And he listens when I talk to him about the music dancers like. He thinks about tempo and song length and energy.
But he doesn’t compromise on musicianship. He makes sure the band play music they have strong feels for. When the band sets up on stage (or on the floor, usually :D ), his drums are right in the middle of it all. The other musicians are gathered around, with Brad in the front. This is pretty much as Andrew described the way Basie’s rhythm section working – the bass set down the beat, the guitar added, and then the drums filled in around all that.
Andrew’s not the sort of drummer who pushes things forward. He fills in, letting the bass set the beat. And one of my favourite things is the way he treats his entire kit like a set of percussive instruments. It reminds me of a good NOLA style drummer (like Lynn Wallis :D) where the drummer makes all sorts of sounds. He doesn’t just ride that high hat or bonk on a drum. He makes taps and thwocks and shushes and pings.
I often think of Andrew as the brain or bigger structure of the band, calling solos, songs, etc, as a good band leader should. But Brad Child really brings the feels when he’s in the band. He has a very good ear (heart?) for the feel, the energy of a room. Watching him in the band, I’m reminded of a very good DJ. He knows when to adjust the tempo, or beef up the energy, or back off the chunk. Between him and Andrew, you have a very nice band dynamic. The two work so well together, you don’t get a sense of conflict or competition between two leaders. You really feel as though they have a good, solid collaborative relationship. Andrew listens to Brad’s ideas, and goes with his suggestions. Brad lets Andrew set up the structures and guidelines for the show.
This was really brought home when I saw Dan Barnet sit in with the bigger band for me at Little Big Weekend. Brad and the others had worked with vocalist/lindy hopper Georgia Brooks, and guest tappers Ramona Staffeld and Ryan Campbell-Birch a few times now, and had figured out how we dancers approach the feel of a song. He also clearly realised that Mona and Georgia and Ryan aren’t just ring-ins to be tolerated.
When Ramona got up to tap with the band, there was a moment when Dan was about to come back in after what he clearly thought was Ramona’s ‘turn’, and Brad touched his arm to keep him back. Brad had seen that Ramona was just pausing a moment to listen to the band, before replying. And there was a sudden flash in Dan’s face, as he realised what was going on. Dancers: part of the band. And then he got excited.
It’s this collaboration between dancer and musician that’s really made the Blue Rhythm Band fantastic for us over the last six months or so. These musicians are really, really talented. They know how to work in an improvised band (this is where the riff-based sets come in – they are always improvising within a structure). They know when to back off, to pause so someone can play, when to step up an intensify. And they’ve realised that this is what we do as lindy hoppers too. We know how to jam. We do it within a swing out. Within a jam circle. And I’ve seen these musicians suddenly go, “Ah-HA!” and figure out that we’re not just stooges who’d dance to a metronome. We are jazz dancers.
This relationship has been made clear by (and developed in) having the band play for a jam-style lindy hop comp we held recently for the first time (the Harlem Spoon). We all had to figure out how to do this, both organisers and musicians. Talking to the band after a practice contest before the main event, I was just so delighted when Brad said “Was it ok? I tried to give each of them something to work with.” He just understood that each couple needed a bit of feel or something to work with. They didn’t just want a random drum solo or boring bit of fill.
I can’t help but gush about working with this band. They’ve just fitted into the lindy hop jazz dance vibe like we were meant to be together. Because we were! Having them as the house band at an event with Jenny Deurell and Rikard Ekstrand, and tappers like Ryan Campbell-Birch and Ramona Staffeld, has been wonderful. They’ve talked to these dancers and started seeing that we are really all in the same family. And their lovely cooperative approach to playing as a band has just been the perfect, BEST articulation of the philosophy of dance Jenny and Rikard and Ramona in particular have been teaching. And when we started working with Ryan earlier this year, it all just seemed to click into place: we’re all jazzers. We might embody that in different ways, but we are all working with the same principles, practices, and skills. These are:
- work with other people in collaboration, not antagonism or competition;
- listen, pay attention, don’t just ‘blow your own horn’ all the time :D;
- be prepared to contribute, to speak, to solo, because the second rule of jazz club is: you must jazz;
- learn the physical cues of passing a solo or communicating in jazz – a crooked eyebrow, a cocked ear;
- understand the structure and the ‘rules’ of this game – it’s not chaos or total anarchy;
- be prepared to improvise within this structure. That’s what makes it FUN.
I think that this is why this band is so good: they have figured out that as jazzers, if musicians and dancers work together in an intelligent, creative way, it is the BEST FUN OF ALL TIME. It can really push your art to the next level.
Musicians: Andrew Dickeson (drums), Brendan whatsit (bass), Peter Locke (piano), Brad Child (sax, clarinet).
Style: classic, four on the floor small group swing, riff style (that means they don’t work from scores, and they improvise a lot).
Website: Blue Rhythm Band
Contact: email Andrew on firstname.lastname@example.org
Recordings: not yet – hassle Andrew for some!
Georgia, Brad, Andrew, Brendan, Peter playing at the chillaxed Sunday party for the Little Big Weekend.