The 1980’s saw a different setup of nightlife spring up in India. Following the footsteps of the very successful nightlife scene in the west, Discos as they were called then were becoming the flavour of the youth. The principal element in them was the DJ. A handful of them went on to attain the status of Superstar DJs.
The DJs created an aura around themselves. They were the party makers. Though largely limited to the elite, this culture spread like wild fire and soon the youth across the nation was engulfed. This paved the way for the evolution of the DJs. Their demand was rising by the day ensuring star status as well as forcing them to be professionals. The ones who did so, subsequently rose to the Superstar DJs ranks.
The rise of the Indi pop era, the entry of international players and overall change in the societal outlook made these superstar DJs a household name. The role of the DJs was no longer restricted to spinning at parties, they entered the world of remixes. DJ Akbar Sami’s ‘Jalwa’ album is still one of the biggest remix album in India. Delhi based DJ Sunny Sarid became the first Indian to win an international DJ competition. DJ Whosane’s trance/techno album, Moksh, helped popularise the genre to an extent. Ma Faiza is still arguably the most popular female psy music DJ.
This was still a time when DJing as a profession was in its nascent stage. Today, it is a full-fledged industry. The availability of music, hardware, machines, quality sound and lights has propelled DJing to a bigger stage. They have taken up the traditional orchestra and musician’s space at family events. The DJs are now an essential part of school and college functions. One seldom hears about a party without a DJ now. They are a dime a dozen.
But are there any Superstar DJs now?
“There are just too many of them. Every person with an iPhone is a DJ today. With so many of them, mostly average, the respect for the person in the console and the profession has degraded phenomenally,” said DJ Sunny Sarid.
Uncontrolled growth is detrimental to the industry. This is exactly the case with the DJ and night life industry in the country. The spurt in the number of DJs has been phenomenal to put it mildly. If one were to throw a stone, in metros or small towns, it would hit at least a couple of DJs. Quality over quantity is the forgotten mantra here.
“Just about everyone seems to be a DJ, including the crowd so what is the need for superstars DJs? It is much more commonplace and competitive now, there still are few superstars, though it takes a lot now to really stand out,” quipped DJ Whosane.
DJing has been appreciated as an art. DJs would be glued to their set while performing as the luxury of ‘pre-mixed sets’ was non-existent. The music would be in tune with the vibe of the party and not what was recorded in the studio. Watching a DJ project his skill and art of playing on turntables was a crowd puller. Today most DJs are engrossed in their laptop screen searching for the next song.
“There are self-acclaimed DJs, as they call themselves, who are paying event promoters to get them an event. The rise of social media has made it possible for any and every one to pose with a headphone around their neck and make a funny face and put in the word “DJ” before their name,” feels DJ Akbar Sami.
Adding to Akbar’s thoughts, DJ Senthil said,
“Everyone today claims to be a Superstar DJ. Even the ones playing in their bedrooms. They are falsely promoted on marketing flyers as DJ from London, New York etc. When they see a pro DJ console in front of them they are baffled because they dont know what hit them.”
Losing its sheen
In this melee the aura around a DJ has diminished to say the least. A layman with limited music knowledge feels it is an easy job to play a party. The DJing softwares are easily available on the internet and so is music. Earlier DJs had their individual personalities. DJs were taken very seriously because one had to be technically sharp as there was no a sync button or DJing tutorials on YouTube. The access to music was limited and even expensive. The age of streaming, downloads has made music availability quite easier for the DJs. But it is like a double edged sword as anyone can download music. The exclusivity of a DJ is lost because of this.
“Today the mystique of DJs is blown. When you see a three year old ‘DJing’ in a YouTube video, one would feel there is no art to DJing and we are a bunch of talent less people. Many celebrities have swapped careers to become DJs. Today, due to technological advancements, anyone can mix songs on their devices,” asserted DJ Ma Faiza.
The changing dynamics
But not all are of this thought, veteran DJ Russel feels the role of DJs has changed. DJs are expected to bow down to the ‘requests’ of the patrons who book tables at exorbitant prices. They often have phones shoved into their faces by the patrons requesting a song. DJs are now expected to deliver promised bar sales and fill the place.
“I do not believe the aura of superstar DJs does not exist. I feel the concept of superstar DJs has evolved with the times. Back then there were a handful of clubs across India and few DJs who played it all and people came to listen to us. DJs today are also ‘musicpreneurs’. They specialise in a particular genre and each genre has its kingpins. They may not play as frequently as we did back then. But then that is because there are so many DJs,” opined DJ Russel.
Unlike the 80’s and 90’s, very few DJs hardly get to play their set in peace or continuity. Earlier the DJs played the music and crowd came to listen to them.
“Earlier DJs played to keep the community together, they played for passion and now they play to become overnight celebrities with fake followers. The party scene in the past had people who were more aware about the genre of music they wanted to listen and dance to. Now a days it is just about being seen at the event so they look and feel cool,” feels DJ Nisha Harale.
The new nightlife culture
The nightlife culture has undergone a drastic change over the years. Gone are the days when people would move out to party post 11pm as the clubs would be buzzing till the wee hours of the morning. With the law enforcing deadlines, rising competition and rise of house parties, it has become a difficult job for the DJs to keep the crowd grooving.
“The main thing affecting gigs today is timing. Places shut early and that severely affects a DJ’s set. By the time the party starts, it is over. Dedicated DJs will keep the dance floors packed. There still are superstar DJs. It’s just that there are so many on this star-pedestal level that we just call them DJs. Today everyone is so accessible that I guess a lot of people are on the same level. So that aura is less. We need to separate the wheat from the chaff,” stressed DJ Gavin.
With the increasing number of DJ concerts and festivals the talented bunch of DJs have a platform to perform and garner a reputation. A new set of Superstar DJs is bound to emerge. This is a cycle and one will see that happen. To carry on a legacy as long as the first Superstar DJs of the country, is their prerogative. The upcoming DJs can look up to and learn from the veterans as examples and mentors. They have the court and just have to keep the ball rolling. The earlier bunch has not spaced out yet. They are pretty much in the circuit albeit playing various roles.
“I have mentioned this in many interviews that, I/We are busier now than before. As you say back in the days. The competition is in between the wannabe DJs here,” smiled DJ Akbar.