Ode to removable media

Since retiring from DJing in 2010, I hadn’t touched a single piece of DJ gear. I quit, completely, after 15 years of clubs and a few preceding years on the radio at a few college stations. From my very first awkward pressing of a rubbery “play” button that glowed green with possibility, I had always used CDs. I came into the DJ world near the time when that was a very new thing and it felt pretty cool to think of myself as some kind of trailblazer. Of course, this was pretty ridiculous, I wasn’t blazing shit. CDs were just a gazillion times easier to deal with than 12 inch plates of vinyl and took up less space. I knew how to use a turntable, but precise cue, quick track selection and countdown timers made this an instantly popular approach.

Last week I came out of retirement for one night only for a Manray reunion Halloween party and spun with Chris Ewen, one of the New England Goth/Industrial scene original masters. He never stopped and had already been at it a long time when I started, so to have his respect is not insignificant. Though, in truth, I respect him not because he’s just lingered around for a long time, but because he’s a genuinely excellent DJ and kept his standards high the entire time I’ve known him, while also not being an egomaniacal douche-bag.

So, we spun, CDs. It all worked, even when one of the discs I burned wouldn’t read, since I had burned a backup and just chucked the bad one.

For a new DJ today, however, it’s preposterous to think of them choosing CDs as the way to go. The software and interfaces for digital media are light-years beyond anything we could have imagined in the early 90s. Aside from that, it’s generous to call the use of CDs in big mainstream clubs even passe at this point, it’s bordering unthinkable.

For those of us that honed our skills on CD decks, especially when we have experience with the older (WAY less user friendly) models, the thought of scrapping years of hard won skills and techniques is fairly unappealing. The kids learning how to use their laptops and tablets today sometimes get an unreasonable amount of grief from the previous generation, since their tools offer more functionality and potentially more assistance with the technical aspects of DJing, which I think is stupid. I’ve been at the decks, at a paid gig, in a large club full of dancing people and told with a judgmental sneer  that I’m not a real DJ because I was using CDs. I see the same attitude toward laptop users now and in 15 years the laptop guys will be complaining that the neural interface/augmented reality users aren’t real DJs either.

I heard a famous author once relay a story that when asked if she could teach someone how to write, she replied “I could teach you how to construct a sentence, I could teach you how to develop a plot, but I couldn’t teach you how to have something to say”. I don’t think DJing is any different.