Ten of my favourite DJs

19:56, Jan 22 2013

Picking favourite DJs - well, it could get ugly; depends what you want in a DJ of course, depends what you are considering.

I like two kinds of DJs - those that tell a story with the records, selection is everything, there are no tricks (beyond the immense skill of knowing the right thing to play at the right time, or the right tunes to pick for a compilation). Everything in its right place. A great example was MJ Cole's placement of Zoom by The Commodores on his Back to Mine album. Reading the track listing it seemed incongruous; hearing it dropped then and there - it was a highlight.

But I'm a sucker for a DJ who has a clever routine too - perhaps with a visual background to play to and play off. Watching a show that has been built (from scratch, pardon the pun) while/as it happens is (often) a remarkable feat.

So, I thought I'd share some of my favourite DJs with you - and then you can do the same. I would expect that we'd cover so many genres, subgenres, styles and trends. And that's the point here. To share your favourites. You might want to select Dr Demento for his novelty songs and bizarre cult classics, John Peel for his taste and passion or your uncle who, one time, rocked the crowd with the Dark Side of the Moon cassette tape tucked away in his top pocket. It could have been seeing Paul Oakenfold opening for U2 in Auckland or Fatboy Slim phoning it in at Ibiza.

There are no wrong or right answers - you can by all means make a case for deadmau5 and/or Skrillex. Sure. In fact I quite liked the empty-gesture that was the most recent deadmau5 album.

I just thought we could share out some of our favourite DJs. And it gives us all a chance to ponder what we think a DJ's role is, who is best at it, and what styles of music we enjoy hearing via this medium; the music being presented to us with the DJ as conduit.


So I'll go first. In no particular order here are 10 of my favourite DJs.

1. DJ Shadow - an obvious pick, perhaps. But as I said here his album Endtroducing... has been huge in my life, something of a gateway drug, even. But it's one of a small list of albums I can always go back to. I've enjoyed a few other things from him, his insights in the movie Scratch, his soundtrack to the documentary Dark Days - but Endtroducing is it for me. That's the reason he'd always be on my list of favourite DJs.

2. Keb Darge - a great example of a DJ you go to for knowledge. I've been blasting the recent compilation, Keb Darge & Little Edith's Legendary Wild Rockers 2 and it's chock full of garage gems. It's like a belated prequel to Nuggets. Favourite tracks from this include The Skee Brothers' While I'm Away and The Shandells' Gorilla. It's superb. You go to Keb Darge for this knowledge. Rockabilly and obscure surf and garage-rock gems. But you  also go to him for Northern Soul shiners. He's a fountain of knowledge.

3. David Rodigan - another great DJ you go to for knowledge. This guy has done the time, collecting, obsessing and now he's shaping the minds of others. This is my go-to guy for reggae and dancehall. And I'm not the only one going to him - he has a huge audience via live shows, radio slots and albums. His recent Dubwize Shower compilation is still in one of my multi-disc stereos. It has a permanent spot. I've got a copy in the car too. It's perfect every time.

4. Questlove - he would make it on to my list for his production/mixing. His compilation album, Questlove Presents: Babies Making Babies was a long-time favourite (I really must dig that out again). But then, having seen The Roots a couple of times in New Zealand I had the pleasure of experiencing a Roots concert in San Francisco last year. After the show we popped along to Questlove's after-gig DJ set. He knocked out a couple of hours of Beastie Boys cuts, all sliced and diced and freshly served before heading down a darker, moodier, electro path. So that recent memory dominates. I think about that gig (both gigs - the band set and Quest's DJ set) often. Most days in fact. It was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life so far. So, yeah, there's also that reason.

5. DJ Yoda - I'm excited about his upcoming NZ tour but he's not in the list just so I can plug that. I'll go to the show, definitely. But I'll be going as a fan. I haven't liked everything he's done but the How To Cut & Paste series has provided me with so many great songs and segues - the 80s edition with its use of the Hill Street Blues theme and collisions involving samples of Hulk Hogan "running wild" on whoever/whatever gets in his way (possibly a Johnny Hates Jazz tune). Then there's the 1930s edition which serves up blues and jazz and has Moondog and Slim Gaillard rubbing shoulders with Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. Perfect. His production albums have turned up some great moments too.

6. Alphabethead - I wrote about Wellington's Alphabethead toward the end of last year. I really do think this guy's a genius. Go back to that post and check out his website for free downloads of mixtapes and albums. He's a wizard.

7. DJ Vadim - I liked this guy for a while, then I forgot all about him. But I'm really sold on recent album Don't Be Scared - and through that I've been let back in to his sound world. Clever stuff. Great grooves and moods. And a subtly crafted flow.

8. Kruder & Dorfmeister - The K&D Sessions.

9. LTJ Bukem - for the Earth series in particular - in fact for this. I've always preferred the jazzier, atmospheric side of drum'n'bass; for the longest time I had a vision/version of it in my head, based on glimpses of what I heard in other tracks. But hearing Bukem's Earth remix CDs - along with this compilation box-set of Detroit techno - made me realise that it wasn't just a hopeful fantasy-sound. It was real. It had been happening for a while before I got on board with any of it. And the best of it still works for me.

10. Derek Archer/Pirate FM - I stumbled across Pirate FM almost by mistake. Flipping the dial in the car radio absently and then there it was. This guy who would drink on air, play Santana albums (sometimes in their entirety). He was probably not a nice man at all (he often didn't sound like it) but as a young student I'd often arrive at my destination and sit for up to an hour in my car waiting - as they say - to see what he'd say (or play) next. There was no rhyme or reason to his show/s. Sometimes he'd DJ all day. Other times he'd just not transmit. To my ears - as I was hearing him and the tunes he played - he was a broadcasting pioneer. A strange kind of legend. R.I.P to Pirate FM - it died along with Archer in 1998.

So there are my 10 favourite DJs - I could list a bunch more of course. That's the way it always is with lists. But now it's your turn. What DJs do you watch and/or listen to? And what attracts you to a particular DJ or DJ style? What are you hoping to hear? Is it about particular genres, or mash-ups of incongruous styles? Is it about individual song selection? Do you wonder about the record's journey? I do. When I see someone play a record I want to know how long they've had it - how special it is to them; where they got it, why they go it, how much they paid for it. If it's the second copy or third or fifth; maybe it was brand new that day for that gig, more likely it's been well-loved, played often but looked after.

I think about that stuff. Perhaps you do too.

So share your 10 favourite DJs.

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