You’ve probably seen this interview circling Facebook this week – it’s a powerful half hour of techno DJ DVS1 talking to The School Of House. The topics are wide-reaching, but generally he’s leveling some pretty well-deserved criticism of nightlife culture and discussing how festivals have affected nightlife. Keep reading for what we think are some of the big challenge ideas that DVS1 presents in this interview.
I wanted to take some of the big ideas that Zak (DVS1) brings up in the interview and segment them out, because there’s almost too much in this interview to remember when you’re done watching it. If you have 30 free minutes, I highly urge you to watch the full thing and reflect on it (maybe speak up in the comments, even).
Here are some of the big issues brought up in this interview that I think every promoter, venue, and DJ should start thinking about, especially if they rely on and participate in a scene that isn’t Top 40/”mainstream” in origin.
Focus on Scene Success, Not Individual Success
“We were very close with the kids from Chicago, the kids from Wisconsin. We would go to their big raves, they would come to our big raves. We would send fliers to them and they would help us promote. So it was more of a shared culture that you were a part of, and we policed ourselves, we supported ourselves. If somebody was not respecting that culture, we all came to them and said ‘you can’t be here'”
There’s no denying that nightlife and dance music party culture have been somewhat infiltrated by big industry. DVS1 is making the point that true scenes are not focused on the financial success of one party with a mainstream headliner – they’re communities. If the members of the community aren’t supporting each other, then it’s a competitive industry, not a collaborative culture.
“If I met a promoter 20 years ago, you knew that they weren’t doing it as a career, they were doing it as a passion – because there wasn’t much money in it. […] It’s harder to reach people’s intentions nowadays because it’s an industry, and because there’s a lot of money behind it.”
“We’re not a rock concert […] that was the whole difference of going to the DJ environment, was it wasn’t a bunch of people staring at a stage with a bunch of bright lights shining at them.”
If you’ve gone out to a show featuring a well-known in the last ten years, you’ve seen them: hordes of people not dancing but staring at the DJ on the stage. If a club has a ton of people treating the dance floor like it’s a stage at Coachella, pushing past to get the “best view”, there’s something wrong.
DVS1 presents an idea in the interview that has been popular in the past that he tries to bring with his “Wall Of Sound” tours – reorienting the experience around music instead of performer. The key components:
- “The sound has the be the star of the show – as big as any of the other DJs” – promoting the sonic experience should be just as important as promoting the DJs who are playing
- “Remove the DJ from people’s peripheral” – physically removing the DJ from the center of attention.
“You have to break this habitual thing of ‘Ok, I want to see the DJ, and I’ve got to stand to the right, or to the left, and I find my spot.’ Well, you don’t see the DJ. So now where do you stand? What do you focus on? It’s like you have to retrain their brains.”
Mainstream electronic music has transformed the experience of “seeing a DJ.” It has become a consumptive activity for a lot of dance music fans – instead of an experiential activity. Essentially, people pay money to “see a DJ”, and are focusing their nightlight experience around seeing that artist play the tracks that they’re famous for.
Festival-Induced Mediocrity In DJ Performances
“These big commercial-style 10, 15, 20 thousand person festivals – that’s what I think are destroying the culture. Not only from a DJ side – the DJs are becoming used to playing 90 minute sets on these big stages to short attention span audience, which is then taking them out of the environment of being ‘artists’.
Because when you have 90 minutes to play on a big stage to a bunch of kids who are no willing to sit through your left and right turns, you play in the middle, the bangers, and that’s all you do, because otherwise you’re going to lose everyone. When you play in a club for 3, 4, 5 hours, it tests your ability to move through time and space, and go up and down, play with the vibe and play with the tensions in the room. If everyone’s focused on that one room, on that one sound, they’re with you.”
If you’ve ever seen a DJ play at two large festivals in a row, you know that there’s a very good chance their sets will be practiced and near-identical. That’s because of this exact phenomenon: DJs are competing with tons of other performances at large festivals, and with such short set times, why would they take risks and not play every banger they have?
Value-Based Dollar Segmentation
“From a crowd perspective, you’re losing the value. Let’s say a club wants to charge 10, 15, 20 euros for one DJ to play all night. But some young kid says ‘Why would I pay 20 euros to hear one DJ when I can pay 40 and go see a hundred DJs?”
How can local clubs and promoters compete with a non-stop deluge of multi-stage festivals that promise more “bang for your buck”? Especially with a lot of younger electronic music fans who have grown up in the current era of non-stop festival opportunities, it can be hard to be an individual promoter in a region where there are a lot of regular dance music festivals.
And as Zak points out in the interview, festivals with tons of DJs then create a sense of constantly moving from stage to stage to “get your money’s worth” as an attendee. Do this enough, and then move back to a club experience – and it can feel stagnant and boring in comparison.
What do you think the biggest challenges that nightlife culture faces today? Share your thoughts in the comment section, below.