[Editor's note: Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. Be sure to also check out the archives.]
Hang the DJ. Or don't. When Morrissey wrote the hook to “Panic,” the definition of a DJ was straightforward. A DJ mixed vinyl on a Technics turntable for audiences whose access to music was limited to the radio, MTV, the record store and what they heard while out clubbing.
But the needle has skipped. With the advent of Serato, sequencing program Ableton Live and the ease of obtaining digital music, even Paris Hilton can pretend to be a DJ.
Collections that once took crate-diggers decades to assemble now can be obtained in a few weeks on BitTorrent. The ascent of EDM allows “button-pushing” DJs to entertain festival-sized crowds by merely pressing play. Technique and selection often are overlooked in favor of pyrotechnic light shows and ferocious fist pumps. Recent Rolling Stone comments from rodent-masked vaudevillian Deadmau5 lampooned the button-pushing brigade and raised the curtain on the legerdemain. A subsequent article from former turntablist champ-turned-dance producer A-Trak on Huffington Post reminded DJs of the importance of varying their setlists.
With the craft experiencing a mild spiritual crisis (amidst a renaissance), I asked House Shoes, the Detroit-raised, L.A.-based DJ, his thoughts on the matter. Never shy to voice his opinion, House Shoes spent much of the last decade as the most renowned spinner at hip-hop haven St. Andrews, where he became close with J Dilla, Eminem and Proof. Since moving here six years ago, he's spun at such popular L.A. parties as The Do-Over and Low End Theory.
“If you're a DJ and you're doing that press-play shit, you're wack. If you came from the cloth, it's your responsibility to keep it going. You have to represent the foundation,” says the man born Michael Buchanan from his Koreatown apartment. He's surrounded by vinyl and wearing a T-shirt that says “Buy Records.” “I'm not saying you have to beat-juggle all night, but … you can't just be up there lip-synching.”
House Shoes is a DJ's DJ. He's impeccable in his fundamentals (selection, mixing, knowledge) and his biography gives him unimpeachable authority. A producer too, his new cold-steel solid album Let It Go is studded with cameos from rappers returning the homage.
“To each his own, but if you're not using the turntables, don't have them onstage,”he says. “Ninety percent of DJs play the same shit that everyone else is playing. Some people don't care and are like, 'I'm just going to go and get this money.' But they're totally disrespecting the opportunity to educate people.”
That's not to misrepresent House Shoes as a curmudgeon. He cites The Do-Over and Low End Theory as successful weekly parties that blur education and innovation.
Nor does he believe the art of DJing is dying, even if Panasonic discontinued its industry-standard SL-1200 turntable.
He steadfastly believes that subsequent generations will produce new talent to sustain the tradition. And while EDM DJs are distinct from those with classic hip-hop lineage, there are plenty of similarities.
“It doesn't matter what kind of DJ you are; the one rule is don't give a fuck. Do what you want to do,” House Shoes says. “You never want to be interchangeable with anyone else. Do something to stand out, because if you don't, you basically don't exist.”
House Shoes plays Low End Theory at the Airliner tonight.