Microwave DJs

A few months ago I wrote a piece on the term “Microwave DJ”. This negative description is used by a lot of different people to easily identify their personal interpretation of a push-play DJ. I expected the piece to be controversial but is was more misunderstood than anything else. A regular reader and fellow blogger put it best:

“I sort of took offense to the article at first, but when I saw one of your youtube videos I totally understood where you are coming from – your motivation for the article is: if you’re going to be using a laptop to dj you better be putting it to good use… I think people who don’t understand that about you will think that you’re trying to defend that traditional dj culture but you’re really advocating change in a weird way.”

Until people really get the creative potential and intention behind this new digital movement they are not going to see how its can easily co-exist with the old traditions of DJing. The German philosopher Hegel is thought to have presented the idea that everything begins as a conflict between two opposing ideas , the thesis and the antithesis and is ultimately resolved by the synthesis – the superior resolution that includes the best of both ideas. We are trying to find the synthesis around here at DJ TechTools.

Microwave DJ

Have you ever introduced your sister to a buddy and then ended up regretting it for years to come? That’s how I feel sometimes about DJing. It’s beginning to feel like 1998 again when everyone owned a pair of decks and was convinced they were definitely a better DJ than Paul Oakenfold. The club scene is officially in the midst of a nu-dance, nu-rave revival that is looking more and more like the ’90s every day. With another Clinton running for the hot seat, all we need is a reunion tour of Technotronic, and then it’s all Girbauds and fat pants from there. And that’s not even the scary part.

What’s worrisome is what has happened to the quality of DJs. The situation has gotten bad enough that a new term has risen from the flame wars frequently scorching the Serato Scratch Live forums. “Microwave DJ” is a term applied to anyone who has not “paid their dues,” but because they own a laptop and thousands of MP3s, they are now qualified to play in a club. This, of course, threatens the old-school cats who spent 10 years and thousands of dollars honing their craft — as well it should. The game is changing fast, and DJing as we know it is appropriately morphing into the Internet age. The trouble is not with the technology itself but with new DJs taking technology shortcuts and failing to learn the crucial aspects of the craft.


Let me give you one shining example of this common pitfall. About four years ago, an acquaintance started DJing with popular DJ software that performs the arduous task of beat matching for you, albeit not always so well. This particular individual was genuinely proud of the fact that after only six months, he was being booked to play clubs all over Brazil. During one of my first tours there, he opened for me at a major nightclub, and the resulting sonic mess was sadly predictable. Even though the software was able to match up the songs 60 percent of the time, he was not able to tell that everything else was completely off. Technology had fast-tracked the learning curve, and his ears did not get the chance to become properly trained.

Mix timing is not the only casualty when a newcomer opts out of DJ basic training. During the years that it takes most people to learn, hone and subsequently improve their craft, normally their tastes grow and get more critically focused. That applies to all arts, including the simple task of playing music in a club. Without that crucial time it takes to train the ears musically and rhythmically, a DJ is really not ready to hold the reins of a proper dancefloor.


You really can’t place all the blame on the DJ — it’s a bad combination of several wrong ingredients that turned sour when placed in the sun for hours. Consider this formula:

[blogosphere + easy digital technology access + amateur-DJs-turned-professional overnight] × [bad taste] = bad music.

When the Hype Machine (www.hypem.com) and other music blog aggregators showed up, it was basically the Second Coming for DJs. Seemingly endless supplies of unreleased, one-of-a-kind remixes stretched out for days, promising fresh new music as long as the Internet bill was paid. This was in the “early days” (one year ago in modern technology time), so the smaller music blogs had not yet become the major tastemakers that they are today. Submissions were fewer, and the bloggers seemed to try to outdo each other with the hottest cuts they could dig up. Then it caught on like wildfire and everyone with a few MP3s and Ableton Live started pumping out carbon-copy remixes based on the latest submicro-genre fad. Conveniently, these fads implode after a month, but with each death a more horrendous one seems to grow from its still-warm ashes.

[Nonexistent music training + zero filter] × [unlimited distribution] = endless supply of bad micro-genres.


Now before anyone gets too insulted, let me reiterate that blogosphere and the new world of DJing are wonderful things. We are in an exciting time when digital DJ technology, broader access to music and the proliferation of music blogs has resulted in a second honeymoon for music lovers everywhere — no complaints there. It just seems a little more restraint on the part of the DJ and bloggers everywhere might improve the uncharted terrain of this new musical frontier. Just because you can post or play anything does not mean you should. The final layer of quality control, nightclub bookers, also seems to be losing to the laws of the free market. From a promoter standpoint, it’s quite simple: Why should I pay you all that money when this guy over here will play for next to nothing? The common excuse: Sure, his mixes might be a bit messy 80 percent of the time, but the crowd is piss drunk. Who really notices anyway?

When you blend all the conditions together, it’s no surprise that the established veterans are up in arms about Microwave DJs taking their hard-earned gigs. It’s enough to almost throw in the towel and start a jam band. Maybe that’s why it’s such a breath of fresh air hanging out in Berlin, where the status quo is pure minimal predominantly played on 12-inch vinyl by a seasoned DJ crop. Yes, it almost sounds like this could be the incredibly tired “nothing sounds like vinyl, man” debate. Well, it’s not: Digital technology rules. I personally switched over five years ago without a single regret. Blogs and MP3s have revived a dying music industry, and it’s great that so many people have access to DJ technology. Unfortunately, I just kind of wish I hadn’t introduced it to my little sister because next week I am going to have to open for her epic rave-rap-electro-rock-ghetto-tech-favella-crunk set.

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