This is based on a Facebook note I wrote way back in August 2012. I updated it a couple of years later with added stuff for digital DJing. I am also going to add some bits along the way from an event manager's perspective as I do both.
I was originally going to write this about a year ago but my computer died with what I had written so I put it off. By that point I had put it off a few times already as other issues to write about popped up too. So lets get it done!
A quick disclaimer (from me, not The Belfry Network for a change OH SHOCK OH HORROR!). These are just ideas and opinions based on my personal experiences and observations. Different places and people will work differently and likely will not agree with me. These are more helpful hints than anything set in stone.
No. No I did not.
Dark Alternative DJing
This isn't just to cover goth. This stuff can be applied to many types of gigs in the dark alternative scene. But what I have to say here is geared more towards goth and industrial events.
A few people have asked me about getting started, what to do and so on. Rather than continually repeat myself (or leave bits out) I thought it may be a good idea to write it all down in one place. That was the facebook note.
I am by no means an expert and I am far from being a technical whizz. As far as musical knowledge goes, I know enough to get by but there is always something new to learn and a new band to discover. This is written from my perspective which is that of a DJ who uses CDs and later digital via a laptop and DJ controller. If you want tips on using your vinyl collection to DJ you won't find them here unless you are ripping them digitally and/or copying them to CDs. These are just some ideas/tips that may help someone new who is starting out or looking for ideas.
How I got started
I've been collecting music for years, some on MP3, CDs if I could ever find any (though my CD collection exploded after I started).
I have never collected vinyl and all my old cassettes have disappeared. Could you imagine how hard it would be to DJ with cassettes? You would need hundreds of singles to even hope to do it well. DJing with vinyl is an art and I have a lot of respect for those who can do it. But its not for me.
It all started on the Adelaide Goth Forum back in early 2008. DJ Judy Deville was a DJ at the Crown and Anchor Hotel for an event called Fright Club which was mostly punk/horror punk with some deathrock thrown in. She was also a DJ at another event called Parlour which focused on Goth, deathrock, alt 80s and psychobilly. The hotel manager told her they wanted to get a new goth/alternative event going on Saturday nights and asked Judy to spread the word.
Judy posted on the forum saying Crown and Anchor are looking for DJs to apply for a new event. I posted in the thread jokingly saying I should go for it. At the time all I had going was my Corpulence on the Catwalk music project which had recorded about 2-3 tracks plus I used to talk music on the forum all the time. I had discussed potential new events on the forum before (in particular industrial which felt under represented locally at the time) too. Judy said why not do it. I knew a bit about the music and people have generally liked my taste in music so I figured why not.
I rang Crown and Anchor citing Judy's information and the hotel manager set up an interview time. She wanted to hear ideas for what the event could be about, what music I could play etc. I put together an event proposal for something I called Atrocity which was going to be a mix of goth, darkwave and industrial focusing more on the electronic side. I provided a demo CD of some of the music I'd consider playing on the night and made up a mock flyer for an event too.
We didn't run with the Atrocity idea but apparently I sold myself well so I got the job. The end event was The Attic with a focus on goth rock, synthy 80s, industrial and post-punk. In preparation I asked people what they wanted to hear at Attic and lots of people gave me requests, including experienced DJs who wanted to help out. In many ways those early requests helped shape the event though I did cop a little flack from one dude who was butthurt because he ran an internet radio show no one listened to and he thought I didn't know the music. Thing is I know what I like but I wanted to know what other people like too - no point playing music no one can get into.
Cheers to Emerson Ward for designing the awesome logo
The sort of music I played at Attic tended to be more lesser known where Minister (the other DJ/co-organiser for the event) tended to play more dancefloor fillers and anthems. It worked well because it freed me up to be creative and while my dancefloor was often empty people loved what I played. Attic wasn't the danciest of events as people tended to stay out on the balcony and socialize instead of dancing.
I didn't start DJing digitally until mid 2015. A primary motivator for the change was wanting to start new events and having my own equipment to use as a default DJing rig. Its a lot less gear taking a laptop and DJ controller compared to CD-Js, a mixer plus CDs. Some gigs I do now I need to bring a small house mixer too but I would have needed that no matter which route I went. I could have gone with a combo unit that used CDs and USB drives but I felt digital is the way of the future and this way I could bring my entire music library to cover all bases.
My Digital DJ Rig
I use a Windows 10 laptop (was Windows 8) and DJ controller running Sorato.
For someone wanting to start out digital DJing, having a good piece of software even without a DJ controller is important. You don't want to be known as that lazy DJ who just plugs in your phone and runs a playlist from that with no mixing or effort.
There are some great apps for DJing with tablets out there too and most are free or cheap to buy. Some you don't even need your own music, you can run off a Spotify (or similar) playlist and manually mix the songs and apply effects.
For laptops, I think Traktor and Sorato are both solid choices. I'm not a fan of Virtual DJ but some swear by it. The best part is all 3 of these have trimmed down free versions you can try out. Functionally they are all pretty similar. I went with Sorato and bought the full version because my DJ controller had good support for it and the full version unlocked the controller's full potential.
With DJ controllers it can depend on what you want to do. I shopped around for a while before narrowing my choices down to 2-3 different controllers and I ended up buying a Pioneer ERGO. Nowadays its pretty out of date and I will likely upgrade in a couple of years. It still does the job well and other DJs who have used my gear like it too. I keep my laptop as a dedicated DJing laptop so there is less wear and tear on it and I can devote hard drive space to music storage and virtual memory. Plus I put stickers all over it.
You were expecting ravens and biohazard symbols?
What sort of DJing are you looking at doing?
DJing with CDs or from a laptop is relatively easy compared to DJing with vinyl. Are you starting with pre-made sets you rock up and play for 30-60 minutes or do you want to DJ on the fly, possibly taking requests? All important stuff to consider because it will change how you prepare for an event and what you will need.
If you want to start up a new event its another situation, this is just covering the DJing side. Also this is based on being a very basic DJ with few skills over a mixing master like a producer. But it doesn't hurt to learn more as you get more confident even if you never use it.
When applying for a DJing job, do have a demo CD with a mix of music you are likely to play - say 10-15 songs. If applying via email or social media then have a link to a track list or a mix you put together. Unless the event manager knows you and your taste, they need to see what you can do.
SHOW ME WHAT YOU GOT!
When you ask to do a guest spot for an event they want to know what you bring to the party. Try not to have a lot of regular stuff they play all the time, you want them to see you are giving them something different to what they usually provide. A couple of common tracks are fine, remixes can be handy too. Try to show you have diverse taste beyond a single sound to show you are versatile and can tailor a set to the event's needs.
If possible if you are approaching an event for a guest spot go to the event a few times. They are more likely to give someone who supports their event a go and you will know what they expect. You will know if the sort of music you want to play is suitable.
Regarding technical skills, for most dark alt DJing they are less important than say an EDM DJ. You don't have to flawlessly mix everything into a single hour long seamless track. The real skill is in picking up what the crowd wants and having some flow to what you are playing (when DJing on the fly - for pre-organised sets you are pretty much restricted to what you organised).
It is worth learning to beatmatch manually with headphones even if you never use it. At the very least you will learn the equipment better. This is worth doing even if you DJ with a laptop too (either using software or manually on the decks).
If you can, try get some experience playing with EQ levels. Different venues/sound systems will sound different and different DJs like it sounding different. Don't be the DJ who redlines everything because redlining means it will sound crap. Generally I'll set the bass a little higher, mids a little over half and treble just under half but I tweak levels as I go as well. Some rooms require the opposite though. Hopefully if you are doing a guest spot all this will be ready to go so you shouldn't need to change much if anything. You are better off with the gain and master volume higher and the sliders not maxed out so you have some room to move with volume. Different tracks and CDs can be recorded at different volume levels that don't match so room to move is needed.
As for effects a lot of DJ rigs will have some pre-programmed ones. You don't really need to worry about them as a dark alt DJ, maybe if playing more electronic/dancey stuff. I like to play with them at times but thats just me. With a goth crowd less is more with the effects. Going too effects heavy trying to be a "real DJ" you will often lose the dancefloor. Dance-oriented Industrial I find you can get away with doing a lot more "real DJ" stuff. Nature of the scene and what people expect.
For the most part its put CD in side A, play side A, near end of track start CD in side B, crossfade from A to B. Easy stuff. The real challenge is in what you play and when.
Regarding requests I find it best to have a pen and paper rather than dealing with people all the time in the DJ booth. Some DJs refuse to play requests but I like to as it allows me to connect with the patrons and find out what they expect too.
When DJing at dark alt events you will get a lot of requests inappropriate for the event. I try not to be too big a prick if someone requests inappropriate crap, just tell them something like we don't play that here and we offer an experience with music most people can't hear elsewhere.
Bah! Your request is mediocre!
Some General Tips
When DJing, a general guideline I follow is never play the same artist twice in a one hour set or night unless requested and even then try to space it out. The rule isn't set in stone of course (like with playing a tribute set) but its better than people complaining you play too much of X band. And people love to complain! You could have a full dancefloor and there will still be someone who thinks your music sucks and so do you.
Playing the same track twice in a night is generally a big no no but you can get away with playing it early and then again later. If you are doing a one hour set its best to repeat nothing - artist or track/remix. Keep it fresh and interesting.
Try not to play too many covers. Some DJs do it as a gimmick and it gets boring fast. Not everyone likes a cover and the original will usually go down better. For some reason remixes are more accepted than covers - its weird.
You will fuck up. I fuck up all the time. Laugh it off and keep going. I've known a couple of people who quit DJing because they fucked up or equipment failed and they couldn't handle it. I've had a power board blow on me, CD decks fail, burnt CDs screw up, accidentally cutting the volume (if you have big sleeves on this can happen a lot), cables die, laptops crash or need rebooting, fire alarms (though at an industrial event people will just keep on dancing and think its part of the song), black outs - it happens. The show must go on. Pick up and keep going as soon as possible.
Check your ego at the door, especially when new. If you act like a diva around experienced DJs it may cost future gigs. Fellow DJs who like working with you will want to do more gigs with you and may even help you get future gigs. Fellow DJs who like working with you will want to do more gigs with you and may even help you get future gigs.
I can't remember where I read this but its a great point. When DJing don't be the person who turns up just before you go on, play your set then immediately leave. Spend some time at the gig before and after. Not only can you do some networking (yay potentially more gigs!) but people see you are one of the crowd like them. Plus its fun! Isn't fun the main aim here?
We all know the dark alt DJ has a stereotype for being an elitist prick but it doesn't mean you have to follow it. If people like you they will be more willing to like your music, ignore mistakes and most importantly turn up to events you are working at. When it comes to dark alt music I have views that many consider to be very strict and "elitist" but I try to keep it in my head and treat people as nice as possible. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Don't be afraid if there is no one dancing. You will see a lot of empty dancefloors, especially if you are on early, double especially if you are playing music the crowd is less familiar with. Any idiot can fill a dancefloor playing crap everyone knows. Untried guest DJs are often put on early or late because they are risky, the event has no idea how the crowd will react to them or how much they know.
Personally I love going on early or late. Yeah its nice to get a sweet prime time slot (and I'm grateful for any event willing to back me with one) but they can be restrictive. You have more pressure to keep the dancefloor full so you can take fewer risks and need to stick closer with songs people know. Early or late you can experiment a lot more with new or obscure music.
A lot of people consider going on first to be an insult. I see it more as an opportunity. Going on early you get to help establish the atmosphere of the night. Get people into the mood early as they arrive and start drinking, warm up the crowd so the next DJs get them on the dancefloor. Plus sticking a drawcard DJ on first gets people to arrive earlier than they may have. Build that crowd faster. Plus you can do your thing and party the rest of the night making people kick themselves for missing your awesome set. Win/win!
I like posting setlists online as advertising for events and myself. Its also good for the punters so they can research songs they like and its like having a resume for getting more DJing gigs because they can see what you do. Its good to set up a facebook page to keep people informed where you are DJing too. Build a following and its more likely you will get more DJing gigs in the future and people will turn up.
From An Event Manager Perspective
If an event is kind enough to give you a go then promote the gig! Post about it, invite friends, share links on social media. Tell people and make yourself into a drawcard no matter your timeslot. Any DJ I give a go who doesn't promote will not be given a second chance no matter how good they are. If you don't value yourself enough to promote yourself then why should I value you as a DJ? If people are there to see you I am more likely to put you on again.
If something goes wrong and you can't do the gig or will be late, tell me as soon as you can. Things can go wrong but how you handle it may determine if I book you again or not.
Feel free to talk to me. I don't bite. I am more than happy to try new people and if you are prepared (as outlined above) you give yourself a good chance of playing. But also remember I do get a lot of people asking to play so you will likely end up at the end of the queue unless you wow me in a special way. Also sometimes there is no room for guest DJs right now.
If you are expecting to make money DJing at dark alt events it likely isn't going to happen. I will be up front about payment, perks etc but some event managers are not. Knowing the pay situation you can decide to take the gig or not. Personally as a DJ I consider getting paid a bonus. I like paying my DJs if the money is there for it. I have had staff (non-DJs mind you) turn down gigs because they thought they would get more out of it than we can realistically provide. Better to do so before than be disappointed.
Be keen. If I book someone and it feels like they are just going through the motions or are disinterested they likely won't be back. Also if I offer you a DJ slot and you reject it you won't likely be offered another. I need reliable DJs who have a passion for it.
My philosophy for running events or DJing is no single person is bigger than the event, including me. We are a team and we succeed as a team.
Are you team cemetery or team graveyard?
So there you have it. Go get that DJ gig at that event you like!
"But wait Aytakk, there are no events in my area!"
Next article : some tips for organising new events!
-Aytakk has been active in the goth scene since the mid 90s both online and in real life. He firmly believes in the old line "if you don't get the joke, you are the joke". As well as this he produces music for a couple of music projects: Corpulence On The Catwalk (goth/darkwave/coldwave) and Hypnophile (aggrotech/power noise). He is also a club DJ and nemesis of DJ Jelly.