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DJ History

DJs have gone from being underpaid live jukeboxes to becoming premier entertainers, producers, businessmen, and musicians capable of commanding admiration from thousands and earning serious money. Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton's Last Night a DJ Saved my Life (1999) is the definitive history of the DJ. [Sept 2006]

Radio DJs: Alan Freed - Frankie Crocker - Electrifying Mojo - Gilles Peterson

Music genres where DJs are important: disco - hip hop - house - reggae - techno

Related: club - dance - groove - discotheque - mix - radio - records - remix - sample - scratching - Technics SL-1200 - turntable - twelve inch - vinyl

Disco DJs: David Mancuso - François Kevorkian - Larry Levan - Walter Gibbons - Francis Grasso - Nicky Siano - Tom Moulton - Tee Scott

House DJs: Frankie Knuckles - Ron Hardy - Shep Pettibone - Todd Terry - Tony Humphries - Jellybean - Masters At Work - Roy Davis Jr - Joe Claussell - Kerri Chandler - Tony Humphries

Techno DJs: Derrick May - Moodymann (Kenny Dixon Jr)

Reggae DJs: Kool Herc - Don Letts

Hip hop DJs: Afrika Bambaataa - Grandmaster Flash - Kool Herc

Bibliography: Last Night a DJ Saved my Life (1999) by Brewster and Broughton is the best book in its league when it comes to documenting DJ history of the mid to late 20th century in Europe and the United States. A close runner-up is Tim Lawrence's Love Saves the Day (2004). [Sept 2006]

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1950-1970: It is generally forgotten that the very first DJs were Jamaicans operating bass-heavy outdoor mobile sound systems. At that time - the late fifties and sixties - the DJ was the person talking live over the records, the 'selector' spinned a selection of American black dance music from the South and East of the United States.

Kool Herc

In 1967, DJ Kool Herc moved from his native Jamaica to New York, and while he adjusted his musical selection to better fit the New York party crowd, he stayed true to the sound system philosophy, bringing recorded music to open air venues, playing a loud bass and talkin' over the records.

Larry Levan (July 20 1954 - 1992) stands at the crossroads of disco, house and garage. He was the legendary DJ who for more than 10 years held court at the New York night club Paradise Garage. Quite a number of today's most successful producers and DJs credit their first exposure to Larry's music at the Paradise Garage as a moment that changed their lives forever and inspired their whole careers.

to DJs

A turntable

It all began with the phonograph in 1877 - and it had nothing to do with music. Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) patented the phonograph and called it a “talking machine” and “sound writing machine.”

It was Gibbons transformation of Double Exposure's Ten Percent from a three minute album track into an eleven minute dancefloor stormer that radically changed the disco undergound in terms of record production, remixing and development of the 12" record. At the time when orchestration was commonly used on dance records, Gibbons' technique was to concentrate on percussion and the song.

Tom Moulton's concepts singlehandedly created a new industry of remixing--producing records with greater dance impact. He leapfrogged Philadelphia sonics by rebalancing the frequency range, extending the high frequencies much further than Motown ever did. "Because 45s were geared for radio, they were all 'middle,' and you couldn't cut a lot of [bass] onto the record. A lot of records didn't have the fidelity and sounded terrible. But you were playing them for the songs, not the fidelity." --Brian Chin

Tape editing

What I say is that the first 'cut-ups' were by Walter Gibbons - the first great 'mixing' DJ. These date from 1974/5 and use funky records like The Fatback Band [building] up to latin percussion jams, cut up on reel-to-reel tape … and used to provide a continuous mix (sometimes 20 minutes plus) in the clubs of New York. A good example of this would be the 'looped up' 'break' (remember, nobody knew these terms back then!) from the Cooley High soundtrack album [‘Two Pigs and a Hog’]. First he used two copies [of the record] to capture the break, then did it on tape to be cut onto an acetate, thus saving the hassle of doing it live all the time. -- Colin Gate


A disc jockey (often DJ or deejay) is an individual who selects and plays pre-recorded music for the enjoyment of others. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disc_jockey [Oct 2004]

DJs as postmodern artists

DJ Academics are intrigued by the fact that the DJ makes a living by filtering information; he makes sense of the confusing mass of musical information that bombards us (there are well over 200 dance singles released each week). There's no way that we could find all the great music within our favorite genre, so we rely on DJs to do it for us. They are like personal shoppers who sift through the hundreds of crap records and find the ones we like. These days, fewer and fewer people buy singles; instead, we decide on our favorite DJs and let them buy them for us. Why spend your life obsessively searching for obscure records (in which case you're probably a DJ anyway) when you can buy a DJ-mixed compilation CD made by someone who does that for a living? You could say that these days we don't buy particular records, we buy particular DJs. --Last Night a DJ saved My Life

The Seventies

"In the seventies, when clubs only needed one DJ, that DJ was in a position to make waves. And in cities where the clubs were usually soundtracked by jukeboxes, those waves could become a storm. "

In the early seventies, the first private after hour clubs , invitation-only rent parties and 'discotheques' give a new twist to New York nightlife. The Loft, hosted by David Mancuso, made Soul Makossa of Manu Dibango the first "discotheque" record - it crossed over and disco was born.

The eighties

DJ Although DJs had found their way to the studio in the seventies, it wasn't until the eighties that the DJ/producer thing became a phenomenon of international grandeur, albeit only to a cult audience.

The eighties were dominated by drugs and DJ cultus. The New York disco scene expanded into Chicago, by way of Frankie Knuckles, who invented house in the process. And while the disco was instrumental in the development of disco, for the nineties genres like house, techno, trance and garage - to name a few - the DJ became the pop star of the dancefloor.

The Nineties

With the rise of the internet, house music mix tapes are shared all over the world by anyone with a computer and a modem.

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