11 iconic DJs tell us the acts that influenced them most
Even the top DJs had to learn from someone. In the Top 100 set questions in the preceding pages, we asked all the DJs voted into the chart who their mentor was when first starting out, and here we ask a number of the most successful and respected DJs in their various particular fields who inspired them initially...
This month we’ve learnt who the public have voted as their favourite DJs, but who are the DJs’ favourite DJs? Who inspired them and put them on the exciting path they’re on today?
We’ve asked this to some of the most respected DJs in the game this month. Selected across the genre spectrum from house to hip-hop, techno to drum & bass, each turntable titan was given the chance to vote for their own favourite DJ. But when the art of mixing is your career and lifelong craft, the very idea of picking just one DJ is a complex and often philosophical issue. We came for the favourite DJ story, we left with a deeper understanding of what DJing means to some of the most respected selectors in their fields. Time for a true DJ schooling...
Nina Kraviz (Laurent Garnier)
“This is a very complex topic. People think there’s a simple formula to be a good DJ, but there isn’t. Formulas contradict the true meaning of being an artist. Many qualities represent a good DJ; knowledge, skill, passion, charm and the ability to transmit subtle emotional matter, guiding people through unexpected musical routes to achieve the optimal experience where everything unites and becomes one. But it’s not solely based on these qualities; it’s also the combination of time and the place, where a DJ is at in life, his physical and mental state, risks he is ready to take, true artistic freedom and confidence that shines through a leader. But more than anything I value human touch, vulnerability and a sense of a real individual behind the mix that is opening the door to their world and doesn’t know quite yet where and how it will all end up. “We are not robots. Not yet. Unless you rely too much on technol- ogy, you shouldn’t always be technically perfect. I love hearing the record breathing and becoming almost physically attached to an artist. I want to feel the DJ living in the moment of that mix. We might be heading towards a singularity where emotion will become lost. Technology is a great thing but it’s okay to make errors and remain a human being in the full sense of the word.
“Jeff Mills is a great example. I love his intuitive, rough, fast and at times loose vinyl mixing. You can hear him adjusting, chasing and locking those records together. You can almost feel his blood pressure. It’s so haunting. And then there’s Laurent Garnier, who I feel is as close to the universal emblem as we can get. “During my beginner steps, he had everything I needed to capture my imagination and emotions. When I saw him playing as a young DJ looking for inspiration, he was so passionate that it seemed like he had electricity running through him. I loved the way he could mix everything genre-wise and make it completely coherent in such a masterful narrative. His ability to transmit feelings struck me forever.
“It’s a shame that emotional sensitivity is almost treated as a mistake or problem now, but for me it’s paramount. We live in interesting times. Things, values are changing, and that’s cool. But I will always continue doing things my way because of inspiration from guys like Laurent, Jeff, I-F and many less-known DJs who I’ve been influenced by. I don’t much rate sterile soulless mixing and trendy tracks dropped in the most usual ‘effective way’. I’d rather want to be part of an experi- ence and contribute to the whole emotional quality of the moment that the DJ is sharing with me. And a solid cherry on top would be magically brought to a totally unexpected sonic place by a DJ who himself wouldn’t know how that actually happened.”
Andy C (DJ Randall)
“Going right back to the very start, the first DJ I saw was a guy called Just Jones at an event that Scott Red One put on. He then started me on the path, and from there I was hooked. Hooked on raves, listening to the music, soaking up the vibe and understanding what raves really were. Then I went to AWOL at the Paradise Club and that pretty much changed my life. I was super-young at the time but it had a profound effect on me. “It was five DJs, two hours each; Kenny Ken, Darren Jay, Micky Finn, Dr S Gachet and Randall. All of them were so inspiring, with their own totally unique vibe. But, for me, it was always Randall who inspired me the most.
You knew the second he and Goldie arrived in the club by hearing Goldie’s whistle. It’s like, ‘Right, Randall’s here and it’s going to go off’. He’d blow your brains out. The way he’d roll things out and his selections were just out of this world. I can still remember some of those blends now. “And he’s still just as inspiring to this day. I had him down at XOYO earlier this year and watched every mix and would think, ‘Wow, I’d never even think of doing that!’ You see some DJs playing and you know what the mixes are going to do and when things will come in, but he still throws in surprises after all these years. The genius of his switches and how he’d take things where you’d least expect. It’s not about transitions, it’s about creating actual moments between the records. That’s the art of DJing right there. That’s Randall, mate.”
Eats Everything (Carl Cox)
“No other DJ has been at the top of their game like Carl Cox. The main man for 30 years and the only DJ who can put 10,000 people in a nightclub anywhere in the world. He seems to get bigger and bigger. He’s peaking now! And what makes it better is that he’s such a fucking dude. “The first time I saw him was Lakota, Bristol, in around 1996. He was late. Very late. 4am, 5am, 6am, still no Carl Cox but we’re promised he’s coming. By the time he turns up, around seven or eight, only around 300 of us had stayed but he played until around midday and he absolutely fucking smashed it.
“There was a rumour that he didn’t take a fee because he let the people of Bristol down. An urban myth that we’d all speculate on at after-parties. I’ve since asked him if he remembered the night. He did. And he didn’t take the fee. What a legend. We can never forget how privileged we are to do this for a living. So when you’ve not done everything right, that’s how you should behave. “Basically, if Carl Cox doesn’t do it, you probably shouldn’t too. Not the way you DJ, but the way you handle yourself. No one says a bad word about him. Why? Because he’s sound and nice to people. People won’t take you seriously if you’re a bit of a twat. You won’t cross genres like he has if you’re a diva. When you’re a nice guy, people want to rebook you, hang out with you and make your life enjoyable and amazing when you’re away from your family and close friends for weeks or months on tour. That’s how Carl Cox behaves, and 30 years at the top is testament to why it’s the best way to behave.”
DJ Craze (QBert)
“One favourite DJ? Man, I could name 10 just off the top of my head! The very top spots, the guys who really drove me to get into DJing and really work hard would be Magic Mike right back at the start then, a few years later, QBert.
“The first DJ I actually heard who made me think, ‘Oh shit! What’s this?’ was a guy called DJ Laz on a Miami radio station — Power 96. He made me aware that something was going on. But it was Magic Mike who opened my eyes. I was really young, I was sneaked into a club and saw him scratching and it blew me away. Then not long after Mike, I got into the whole battling scene and realised it’s way more than scratching. These guys would be using disses and beat-juggling routines and all that stuff. “That’s when I saw QBert, and his scratches were the craziest thing I’d ever seen. He was doing tricks like picking up the turntables and doing electro juggles. He was so fast, he sounded like he was on coke! I was like, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’ QBert, for me, is the pinnacle of turntablism.
“And then I have to say, when I got back into club culture I’ve also been super-inspired by people like Kid Kapri, Andy C, A-Trak and Four Color Zack. DJs who can be technical as fuck but rock clubs in a different way, controlling the crowd and fucking shit up in a different way? Now that is the ultimate for me.”
Dave Clarke (John Peel)
“For me, it all started with Kool DJ Herc. DJs before seemed cheesy, untrustworthy and driven by ego and not music. Something that has sadly returned in this post-Trump, post-EDM, social media era. I saw a documentary on TV that featured him, and it clicked. From that point I realised it could be possible to be focused on music, be serious and not a glit- terball joker. Then of course it became about technique. Red Alert, Chuck Chill, Mastermind, Marley Marl; all these guys were the essence of being creative with a record, not just seamless mixing but inventing a new sound or new loop.
“Then there was Shem, a Brighton DJ who’s sadly not with us anymore. He blended everything together; I watched him as a youngster at a club called Downbeat and was blown away, jaw to the floor. It made me see a goal, tighten up my game and put my head down. “But my biggest influence? That would be John Peel. His show was vitally important. It was about passion and belief. Every genre under the sun brought together with honesty and integrity. He broke my career, he made it happen. All the other radio support, which was graciously received, was only because John played my music. He fitted it on his playlist in the middle of many other artists that would continue to be important in my life such as PJ Harvey, Nick Cave and weird, weird music that no-one else dared to play. Without John, I truly believe all these years down the line you wouldn’t even be wanting to ask me this question as I would probably be doing another job that had nothing to do with music.”
DJ Yoda (Skratch Bastid)
“Everyone has a different interpretation of ‘DJing’. It can mean anything from super- technical turntablism to hospital radio. So, I can only talk about my favourite DJs by breaking down what DJing means to me. What’s important to me in a DJ is skills, musical knowledge, personality, a sense of fun. Probably in that order, too.
“Coldcut were the first DJs to truly capture my imagination. I saw them at the Blue Note in London in the ‘90s, rocking four turntables with all kinds of beats and samples. They even ordered pizza direct to the DJ booth. This is my idea of DJing! “But if I had to pinpoint an example of a great DJ who really inspired me in 2017? I’d say someone like Skratch Bastid from Canada. He comes from a battle DJ background, he’s technically flawless and he backs it all up with a really comprehensive and diverse understanding of music. He’s a huge record collector, but he understands what music crowds actually want to dance to. And he does so with a smile on his face. He even has a deep love of barbecue food and has his own hot sauce... That’s my kind of DJ.”
Joris Voorn (Derrick May)
“When I started DJing, the guys that inspired me the most were the Detroit guys and one DJ who inspired in particular was Derrick May. The moment I first heard him on a radio recording of a mix he did at an Amsterdam club on cassette, I’ve been inspired by him. “The way he would mix every single style I liked from disco into techno, house into ambient and everything in between. The way he can really create an atmosphere with a great craft. It was about mixing things that weren’t meant to work together but making them work. It’s about the mix and making it creatively; using the turntable and mixer as instruments rather than trying to sound like a computer and seamless.
“Over 20 years later and you can still hear Derrick’s influence in my own DJ style. His ability to play and release both beautiful, melodic and emotional tracks and very groove-based house and techno is something that’s driven me since I first learnt to mix. They’re two very different approaches and styles but through listening to Derrick I learnt you can do it. And when you get it right, there’s no better feeling as a DJ.”
James Zabiela (Sasha)
“I’m currently on a plane somewhere over Middle America, having come from a gig in LA travelling onwards to the next one, and the reason I’m sat here at 35,000 feet —getting to do what I love for a living — is pretty much down to Sasha. Not because he was kind and generous enough to give me amazing opportunities that allowed for me to be in this situation, but because when I was starting out as a DJ he was a constant source of inspiration and formed my idea of what a DJ could be.
“Sometimes, when I need some inspiration, I’ll often find myself going back and listening to one of his legendary mixes or I’ll be playing with him at a festival and will be reminded about what makes him so special. He has the ability to masterfully weave a majestical story within his sets — all with seamless technical prowess. He has an ear for how music should fit and work together beyond just syncing some tracks together. Not many people can create an atmosphere in the way he does, that can transport you somewhere else. I wonder how many people have lost themselves in his sets over the years? It’s some achievement, and in every set I hear of his I’ll always find something to be inspired by. He’s the man.”
“I’ve gone through many phases of favourite DJs; Hype was a huge inspiration for me for years. Then Doc Scott. Then LTJ Bukem. I’ve always loved Joey Negro, too. But the more I think about this question, the more I think about Calibre.
“He is authentic. He plays his music, the music that he believes in. This is so important in my point of view. I think some DJs see the dancefloor as a different concept now; there’s a lot less attention on teaching people about good music, and they just want to make them scream. They play with six or seven CDJs and play every 16 bars of every single style, so it’s like Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers. They don’t let anything roll out and everything has to be so heavy. This isn’t my style. It’s not the drum & bass I grew up on. It’s not the artform I grew up on. And that is what DJing is for me; art, something we’re missing as more technology makes it so easy that even my dog can mix.
“When you really think about how you present the music, how you create an atmosphere and you’re playing what you believe in and not what is expected of you; that is total art, and it’s what I want from a DJ set. It’s what I get from
Calibre. He doesn’t need 100 CD players or tunes to make you scream, he just plays from his soul. That’s art.”
Erick Morillo (Louie Vega & David Morales)
“I look for a DJ who doesn’t just play what is popular, but takes risks with his music selection, takes the crowd on a musical journey and, most importantly, can read a room. Knowing how to pick up a room that’s a little bit down or being able to bring the vibe down in such a way you don’t lose the crowd and then being able to take them back on a musical journey is a key skill for me.
“A lot of DJs don’t know how to read a room properly but two DJs who do, and I rate the highest, are Little Louie Vega and David Morales. The way they use the turntables and go back and forth with different records was amazing! Louie used to have a party every Wednesday at Sound Factory Bar in New York City back in the vinyl days. The way he would mix in an intro back and forth seamlessly so that you would not know he was mixing the records was simply incredible. Also the way he would cut records in and take people on a journey was really special. It was the Wednesday Sound Factory nights with Louie that made me want to become a DJ.
“In fact, you can still hear how David and Louie have influenced my DJing style. I love working a good intro or working a good drop so that it lasts a little bit longer, adding a reverb or an echo, dropping my acapellas over records and remixing on the fly. These were all styles that I picked up from Louie and David and incorporated them into my DJ career ever since.”
Spencer Parker (Boris/Radio Slave)
“People often wax lyrical about legendary DJS like Larry Levan playing unknown gospel records AND strange UK new wave AND The B52’s AND early Chicago beatdown tracks. Well, maybe we should also remember and celebrate the fact that there are still DJs in this day and age that are capable of moving your body in the same way...
“If I had to name a couple of DJs that I really admire, respect and I’m constantly inspired by, I would have to say Berghain resident Boris and Radio Slave. Both for similar reasons. For me, the most difficult thing to do with DJing in clubs is playing across the genres of house/ techno/disco and — this is the important/difficult part — do it well. “I’ve heard Radio Slave play obscure disco records at Robert Johnson before shifting effortlessly into his own tough house productions and then blend into some smooth Detroit vibes, not losing the crowd or letting the energy dip for a second. Similarly, I’ve witnessed Boris belt out hard-as-nails techno in London for Chapter 10, then move into an exhilarating high-energy selection before
I knew what had hit me. My personal highlight is of him finishing a monumental closing set in Berghain with the full- length version of Sylvester’s ‘Take Me To Heaven’. Not one person left the floor for the duration of the 11minutes and 13 seconds that record runs for.
“I think it’s natural, to a certain extent, to sometimes stick rigidly to one genre. I’m a big fan of a lot of DJs who do exactly that and are known as masters of their chosen route. But, for me, to be able to hear Jeff Mills, Diana Ross and Shed in the same set and not even notice how the DJ got me dancing to all these different sounds takes real talent.”
(Words: Dave Jenkins)
Want more? Check out 9 artists you need to get to know this month.