Seamus Haji on the art of DJing | Features | MN2S

MN2S DJ and house legend Seamus Haji recently announced that he is starting a 1-on-1 DJ school, where eager hopefuls will be able to receive dedicate, private tutoring in all things mixing. We asked him to wax lyrical (pun intended) about where the idea came from, and to give us his views on the art of DJing and what it all means in 2015. 

Giving something back

I’ve been on the advisory board for the Brighton Music Conference since it’s inception in 2014 and I was asked to speak on a couple of panels last year about DJing and also about giving something back and working with charities. I think the team behind BMC did a great job. This year I felt even more involved and I was honored to be asked to chair panels ‘Working With Vocalists’ and ‘Benefits Of A Manager’. It feels inspiring and rewarding to pass on well earned knowledge and experience.

I was approached by a few people about teaching DJing and the music business as a whole in some major institutions and it has sown a seed in me to get involved in an area I’d never really considered before. And that’s partly where the idea for my 1-on-1 DJ school came from.

The Role Of The DJ

If you asked most kids today what a DJ is, they would probably think of some bloke with his hands in the air playing lowest common denominator music at a festival for an hour. It’s DJing, but not as we know it! I’ve played at big festivals and still do. Once you’re playing to thousands of people – especially 5-10,000 – then the more obvious you have to play, and playing a 1-hour set means you have to hit it hard. Massive tunes and mash-ups to cater to all tastes.

When I was a young teenager, my idea of a DJ was some dark shadowy image in the corner of the room totally engrossed in the music and not on some big ego trip. Someone who was breaking new music but also entertaining the crowd – and for me the best DJs were those that were technically gifted too. We all know selection is more important than skills, so I’m not dissing those that aren’t naturally made up that way. I was intrigued by the art of mixing and scratching, but at the same time I didn’t want to watch someone who was just a turntablist. For me, Jazzy Jeff to this day is a DJ who has mad skills but who can also play a wicked boogie, disco, funk set with the skills sprinkled throughout. I grew up in the mid-’80s when soul soundsystems ruled the roost in London. Derek B (RIP) former Kiss FM DJ used to play for Rappattack and he was shit hot as a mix DJ, and their main competitors Mastermind were also excellent club DJs who could also mix up a storm.

The Art of DJing: Where’s It At?

Here’s what happened in the UK: in the mid-noughties, the breweries wanted to sell more alcohol, so the bars got late licenses and put local DJs in the corner playing really commercial dance music all night for the girls – so a lot of people stopped going on to night clubs. We also had the smoking ban come into play at a similar time, so people stayed at bars, outside most of the time ‘smirting’. This had a massive impact on the super clubs across the UK and one by one they shut and moved into the festival circuit. Less frequent parties, but much bigger prices.

Most youngsters DJing would either be the local lad playing commercial dance at the bar or big hitters at the festivals. Neither of these displays the best in DJing. There may be the odd exception – Jazzy Jeff playing at a festival makes sense as he is doing something visually – but most DJs are just stood there holding the Jesus position. That middle ground of going to a club every weekend, the resident warming up the night, breaking his favourite tunes and creating his own non-obvious hits in preparation for the guest DJ to come and do his own thing and maybe the resident going back on to end the night on a high… again not just playing the biggest tunes of the day… that’s what it’s all about. It used to be standard for the DJs to play long sets, especially as I did at Ministry of Sound many times, playing up to 5 hours in the main room. Across Europe many times I’d open and close the room spinning 6 hours or more. That’s when the DJ really gets to grow and dare I say take the crowd on a journey (man).

Since the demise of UK clubland, there has been an underground swell going on in some cities and nights like Back 2 Basics and Chibuku are still running which is good to see – but I still feel the art of DJing is being lost due to new technology. I’m not against using technology. I was an official ambassador for Pioneer when they first unleashed the CDJ-1000. The main guy there saw me playing a spontaneous back-to-back set with Sandy Rivera, working three turntables and only playing vinyl – so I guess he thought I was quite technical and asked me to join the Pioneer team. I got free equipment and embraced it, tested new products, made suggestions and performed at trade shows. Roger Sanchez was the main ambassador who endorsed it and he’s shit hot. I’ve always respected his technical ability and been influenced by him. Like me he comes from a hip-hop background so he can scratch and mix like it’s second nature.

Without sounding big-headed I taught myself how to DJ, mix and scratch and my inspirations as a young teenager were the turntablists like Grandmaster Flash, Cash Money, Jazzy Jeff and club and radio DJs like Greg Edwards, Tony Humphries from America and in the UK Mastermind and Rappattack. All these DJs were mixing up an eclectic selection of music, different tempos, fluctuating BPMs on two turntables and a mixer – and this was before mixers had effects as standard. If you wanted to phase a track, create a delay or extend a section you had to cleverly work two copies of the same track and make sure you cued up the next track in time. So, if you’re going to use new technology, that’s fine – but knowing the basics is still important. Tune selection, structuring a set, reading the crowd, when to mix and when not to, using acapellas, avoiding key clashes and embracing harmonic mixing and personalising your sound are all still paramount.

Click here to find out more about Seamus Haji’s DJ School.

Click to enquire about Seamus Haji via MN2S booking agency.

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