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DJ Culture Week: Video Vault, Episode 16: Dance DJ Culture

Happy DJ Culture Week! We’re celebrating the release of DJ Culture in the Mix, a groundbreaking edited collection that takes a critical academic look at international DJ culture. As the week draws to a close, our co-editors wax nostalgic via video.


1. The Early Days
Several of the chapters in the book make reference to the early days of club DJs in New York during the 1970s and 80s. Here is one of the few documentaries that remember the days when dancing was not yet destroyed by the viral epidemic of what was at that time a new auto-immune disease. This includes DJs such as the legendary Larry Levan of Paradise Garage and other underground dance clubs that a few of our book’s contributors, Kai Fikentscher and Tim Lawrence, address in their books, “You Better Work!”: Underground Dance Music in New York, and Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Culture, respectively. To supplement this history, Lawrence wrote a chapter on the musical policy at New York club The Saint for DJ Culture in the Mix.


2. The Amen Break
Here’s a detailed video documentary that explains the “Amen Break,” thought to be the seminal building block of the break beat, DJ-led dance music styles that emerged in the UK in the 1990s, first under the mantle of Jungle and, eventually, Drum ’n’ Bass. This is discussed in the book by our contributor Chris Christodoulou. This break beat was first explored in the late 1980s by New York-based Jamaican-Canadian electro producer Kurt Mantronik, in his hard-to-find solo-recording “King of the Beat,” which ultimately found its way into the hands of the UK rave DJs in the late 1980s.

3. Girls Gone Vinyl
In the context of gender issues in DJ cultures, we recommend the trailer for the documentary-in-the-making Girls Gone Vinyl [Ed. note: Click through for Vimeo-based trailer], produced by Detroit-based DJ Jenny Lafemme and promoter Maggie Derthick.

4. Electric:Indigo – DJ and Female Pressure Activist
To illustrate our discussion regarding gender issues in the work of dance DJs, we selected a 2006 video interview with DJ Electric Indigo (Susanne Kirchmayr), the Viennese powerhouse behind female:pressure. Female:pressure is an international online network, offering a database of female artists, showcase radio shows and other events for, by, and about female electronic DJ-producers and music artists, which developed from a supportive forum that has been going strong since 1998. In 2012 Susanne Kirchmayr was awarded the title of Outstanding Artist Award für Musik by the Federal Ministry of Education, Art and Culture in Austria.

5. DJ Sprinkles at Red Bull Music Academy (2010)
The Red Bull Music Academy website has a great collection of conversations with DJs and producers gathered over the years. Here is a conversation from 2010 with DJ Sprinkles (Terre Thaemlitz), an important figure in underground house music whose work gained significant attention with the release of Midtown 120 Blues in 2009, but who has been engaging questions of gender, identity, and politics in house music going back over two decades. Thaemlitz, who identifies as transsexual and pansexual, often combines house music with political activism; she is now based in Japan, where her mix album project Where Dancefloors Stand Still was designed as a protest of Japan’s ‘fuzoku’ anti-prostitution ordinances, which have placed a curfew on dance clubs and even restricted dancing inside the clubs. For DJ Culture co-editor Bernardo Attias in particular, DJ Sprinkles is one of the most important voices in electronic dance music. Her work reminds us that music is always political, but also always very personal.

6. DJ Culture from CSUN On-Point (2013)
As a long-time university professor and more recently department chair, the identity of Bernardo Alexander Attias as a DJ (and even as a scholar of DJ culture) is sometimes met by colleagues and students with a smile of bemusement or incomprehension. So he was pleasantly surprised when a colleague in the Cinema Television and Film Department asked him to participate in a televised talk show with some student DJs to discuss their thoughts about DJ culture. The conversation covered a number of different topics, including technology, music, inspiration, skills, community, culture, and more.

DJ Culture in the Mix is available via Amazon or wherever academic books are sold. Click here to request an exam copy. Thanks to Ben, Gonnie, and Anna for their hard work this week!

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