Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Side effects may include geekiness

Based on a couple recent conversations I've had about encouraging more people to take an interest in DJing, I'm wondering whether some folks out there may have a mis-impression about swing DJing. Being a good swing DJ does not require that you know a lot (or really almost anything) about music theory or jazz history. These are common side effects of DJing, not pre-requisites to getting into the club. Really, all you need to start is 1) some good music--maybe enough to get you through 2 hours without playing anything really shoddy--and 2) the means and the nerve to play that music in public. It's possible to start out really modestly--to just get a toe in the water--without even having a ton of music, decide whether you like it, and then gradually wade deeper and deeper in (the water, children....).

If and when you do get more into it, many DJs tend to start to get interested in jazz history, to read books like Good Morning, Blues and Pops, to start combing through the archives of, quoting early episodes of Hey, Mr. Jesse, wondering whether the correct spelling is janky or djanky, and fretting about copyright infringement while scouring But none of this is at all required.

It periodically occurs to me that Chicago could really use more low-pressure opportunities for people to DJ. Right now there's....Java Jive, maybe? Maybe something up at Northwestern? But nothing in terms of city venues.* In my mind, the ideal opportunity would be hour-long (or even less maybe) slots at venues that have a dependable core of dancers. Maybe the organizers could give the DJs a small tip or let them in for free, but beyond that, no compensation--just some experience, status if you can really win the crowd, and satisfaction from sharing your favorite music. I could see some venues including one or two of these slots every week/month, with the rest of the evening covered by a more experienced house DJ (swing DJ, not house).

Readers, what do you think? Would you give something like that a try if the opportunity was there? Organizers, what say you?

* Of the regular swing and blues events:
  • Fizz (Mon., weekly) has a group of decrepit old dudes who've been DJing there for ever.
  • Black Rock (Tues., weekly), I think Nicolle usually spins on non-band nights, though I'm not totally sure. She invited me to DJ there once--a Mardi Gras set--and I had a fun time.
  • Java Jive (Fri., weekly), I have no idea, never having been there.
  • First Friday at Big City Swing (monthly) I almost always DJ, along with Bob or Chris.
  • Lucky's Savoy Stomp (First Saturday, monthly) is a new venue, not sure who will be DJing.
  • CodeBlue (second Fri., monthly), the organizers cover some of the DJing but have also asked others to step up.
  • Saturday Swings (usually third Sat., monthly) usually hosts live bands, with the organizers DJing the band breaks.
  • Alhambra Palace (last Wed., monthly), always has a live band and somebody I don't know plays music during the set breaks.
  • Bluetopia (last Fri., monthly), not sure how they work.
  • Willowbrook (occasionally), I think it's probably mostly Riley.
Looking at this list is this everything Chicago has going right now?!?! How many million people live in this city?

[Updated to revise the venue list.]


  1. additions to the list:
    --Saturday Swing! (once a month, usually the 3rd Saturday, usually live music with band breaks which are DJed by myself or Harry)
    --I think there is some new first Saturday DJed event that has just started up, havn't been don't really know much about it...

  2. First of all, I have to thank you for encouraging me to give DJing a try (rather than just contemplate it)! I definitely think half-hour to hour sets are nice to start out with. I also think I would have enjoyed the opportunity to do this more regularly when I had more time for that sort of thing (i.e. when I was still out dancing several times a week). Alternatively, I found "djing" on turntable kind of fun, and also good practice (despite the fact that people are not actually dancing to the music). Might be cool for chicago people to meet up on turntable sometime...

  3. Lucky's Savoy Stomp- 1st Saturday of every month at Lucky Number Grill. It's only their second month, and right now the organizers are DJing.