You go out to your favorite spot, there’s a long line outside leading to the entrance, and at the door there’s the bouncer and the usual guest list situation. You walk into the semi-crowded venue and weave your way through the crowd as they start filling up the dance-floor and bar area. There’s silence. What’s missing from this equation? The DJ.
A lot of the times people will come to the club for the DJ billed to play, hence the song titled “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life”. It’s the sounds of the DJ that brings life to the venue, and without them you can swap the cushy couches for plastic chairs and be at a PTA meeting or Alcoholics Anonymous.
The disc jockey, as the full name of the acronym suggests, juggles songs and are the life of the party. Without them, clubs will be filled with that awkward silence, in fact, clubs would most likely not even exist. The DJ has the power to move the crowd and be part of the reasons why a night out is considered legendary.
With hip-hop, a number of DJs have come to the forefront and showcased their skill. Technique differs and in some cases the introduction of technology has evolved from the traditional turntables to mixing straight off a laptop. We now see DJs with CDJs (a line of CD players from Pioneer Electronics that allow play from CD while using an emulated vinyl control surface) and MacBooks with the famous Serato software.
With this new wave, is the art of mixing dying out to software and “press play” DJ? CHEKA Digital had a chat with Pioneer Unit ambassador Raiko, and one third of the Kool Out Lounge alongside two other prominent DJs Akio (Reason and Ill Skills DJ) and P-Kuttah (L-Tido’s DJ).
Raiko’s resume is one a lot of his peers aspire to. He has been the tour DJ for Gini Grindith and Ben Sharpa, he mixed Hype Magazine’s mixtape HYPE Sessions vol 15, and he has recently put his scratching and cuts expertise into Trompie’s “You Can Have It Remix” and the Metro FM Best Collaborations winner Khuli Chana featuring Notshi “Tswa Daar”.
CHEKA DIGITAL: How hard is it to break into the industry as a hip-hop DJ?
RAIKO: Hard to say. I came up in an era that didn’t revolve around an Industry. I was persistent with older DJs until I was thought worthy to play at gigs. Track selection and skill-set is what you got by on. It‘s been a long journey and hard work always pays off. I guess what you put in, is what you get out. Others roll in the right circles and get put on instantly.
The use of technology. Has it improved the standard of DJ’ing as a whole or has it tainted the industry from the day of turntables?
To a large extent it’s created new ideas. DJs that came up on turntables are now open to a whole new world of options to incorporate into mixing. They doing incredible stuff with new tech, but at the same time lots of people jumping onto it cause I guess technology in a sense has made it easier for people to DJ, which doesn’t mean it’s made it better. Overall, with newcomers, they’re missing something that you can easily spot from a DJ that has been doing it from its vinyl roots, and I feel the standard with new DJs have dropped.
DJ’ing is one of the core elements of hip-hop, how are you making an impact on the industry so as to not get overlooked?
We’ll I’m part of KOL; we have a certain approach to DJ’ing. We incorporate a lot of the traditional Hip-Hop cuts + scratching into our mixing. I’ve done cuts on numerous tracks, something that was quite prominent in Hip-Hop music in its Golden years. I don’t know if I’m making an impact, but I try keep true to the art as much as I can. The industry has a perception of DJ’ing and those doing something against the grain are overlooked compared to, say, a marketable brand associated DJ.
What processes and studying, if any, goes into being a highly recognized DJ?
Practice is always a must. Physically DJ’ing is the best way to learn. Getting comfortable with it, club DJ’ing requires you to change things up if the tunes aren’t working, and the more comfortable you are, the easier it will be to make adjustments on the fly. I grew up watching other DJs’ every move. That was a studying process, I took note of when certain tracks were dropped, how DJs kept momentum, read crowds and matched songs… The scratching part requires tons of practicing, like you would with learning any other musical instrument.
One famous person came out and said as a DJ all you do is press play. He is known to be a DJ as well. How do you prep yourself for an event e.g. Launches, Monthly events etc.?
Maybe he’s highlighting the point I made bout the tech making it easier? A good DJ is recognisable from a mile away; in any genre, you’ll know instantly and it has nothing to do with just pushing play. Every gig depends on what type of party it is. Experience has taught me, to in a way, predict the type of crowd I’m playing to. I then prepare various playlists that would accommodate them. We run a monthly gig in 2 cities, that requires line-ups to be chosen, all the logistics of the night to be sorted, bookings, promotions and then the physical run around, including DJ’ing on the night. The trick is to find your rhythm and pace, and then run with it. Needless to say it’s been trial and error.
What are some of your wishes in seeing the DJ industry elevated and grow in SA?
A better understanding of what you are doing, playing hits doesn’t challenge anyone or build any scene, it mimics what is shoved down our throats from the media. A more technical approach to DJ’ing, kids are killing an art form by all the shortcuts being taken. More acknowledgements from crowds for DJs that aren’t the main slot radio hit guys, there’s so much music out there, and parties with variety are always better.
DJs are now featured on tracks for cuts and spinning. Do you believe it will grow in SA where a DJ exhibits their skill on a record or only a select few are willing to dabble in it?
DJs have been cutting on records for years now, since the 80’s, even locally. POC, our biggest local Rap Group has had cuts on songs as a staple since day one. It’s the norm. I’ve personally added cuts to over 10 songs, which have all been officially released. This new age Hip-Hop doesn’t acknowledge it much these days but it’s out there. SA has great DJs that are recognised internationally, that the general local public has never heard of.
Red Bull used to host DJ competitions where DJs would spin, scratch, cut and do tricks while on the decks. Can SA adapt such an initiative?
DMC and Hip-Hop Indaba have been running for over 10yrs now in this country. They cater to the DJ culture and have produced champions that have competed on an international level almost every year since.
Artists have tour DJs. What impact does that have on the DJs career?
You get to see a different life to the club scene. You should transform into a performance DJ; you playing original music and it’s now a show, not a DJ set, so you have to match that and input what the other musicians are putting in. DJ’ing for a high profile artist will translate into shows and publicity, which if handled well can help elevate the your status, provided the status doesn’t outshine the skill-set.
One word that comes to mind when you hear: DJ Ready D
One word is hard to sum up D’s contribution to DJ’ing in SA, but one that covers it all would be: PIONEER
Compiled And Written By: Siphiwe Zwane (@SDotJR_)