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Book: Turntable Stories

Chapter: What Do DJs Do?

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.46295


In March 1998, I took the money my parents had saved for a car—my eighteenth birthday present—and returned (by taxi) with two turntables and a mixer. I was happy to walk, so long as I could mix. The frosty reception thawed when Dad recognised the beginning of a lifelong pursuit and, for over two decades, I’ve been resident at some of Australia’s best- known nightclubs. Mum came around later when my practice-led research turned into a PhD.

This chapter shares some of the tools, texts, and techniques I discovered on a quest to understand what DJs do. My transition from aspiring bedroom banger to aging veteran has coincided with new genres, futuristic instruments, and old formats in parallel with an evolving discourse on authenticity and virtuosity.

The DJ’s instruments are subjective: Technics SL1200s—the turntables I valued more than a car—were at the time considered the ’industry standard’. Today, the CDJ3000 ‘professional DJ multi player’ is a digital equivalent. Notwithstanding continual advances in technology, my connection to the turntables was revived during the pandemic. When clubs closed and I could no longer play, I directed that energy toward Discogs, the online record marketplace, to buy any release containing ‘locked grooves’: a record-cutting technique that traps the stylus in an endless loop. As an enthusiast, practitioner and academic, I’ve encountered myriad labels for the DJ: ‘shaman’ (Rietveld 1998), ‘custodian of aural history’ (Miller 2017), plus ‘God’, ‘rave dad’, and ‘glorified jukebox’. I’ve seen how trends inform these terms, but how do they align with the tools and the work? Drawing upon archival material, interviews, scholarly discourse, and first-hand experiences, my objective for this chapter is to better articulate what DJs do, and to discuss how the work of DJing aligns with popular views of the craft and culture.

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