CULTURE

DJs spinning all over the world

Top DJs have, for years now, enjoyed the type of celebrity status once reserved for others in the entertainment business. DJs are worshiped by legions of fans, internationally, both for their innovative production skills in the studio and the ability to set clubs alight. Amid all this, jet-set lifestyles and never-ending world tours have become the norm. One of the biggest currently trekking the globe, the Heineken Thirst World Tour, featuring a celebrity cast of internationally renowned DJs, stopped over in Athens last Saturday night for a big-budget production that included audiovisual effects, all put together by a hefty crew. As for the entertainers, on board were Pete Tong – a celebrated British DJ whose assorted other music-related activities include hosting very successful weekly dance music programs on the BBC’s Radio One – as well as three other famed colleagues, Smokin’ Jo, Daniele Davoli, and Miss Motif, aka Mandy Marcy, a relative newcomer. It was fascinating to watch a virtually packed house of some 2,000 clubbers at the semi-outdoor Summer Venue in Varkiza, on the southern outskirts of Athens, gradually succumb to the deliberate actions of the DJ behind the turntables. The dance fever didn’t hit the club until after 3 a.m., while Tong was on the decks. Prior to that, he jabbed at the crowd’s resistance with a tantalizing progression of entertaining tracks. Clad in a T-shirt sporting the emblem of hard-rock legends AC/DC, Tong even threw in the occasional big-guitar-riff icebreaker to melt down the tentative clubbers. Earlier in the day, at the crew’s luxury seaside hotel several kilometers away from the club, Tong, a low-key figure who nevertheless obviously knows how to entertain the masses, shared a few thoughts about his work’s finer details. «We’re entertainers. We’re not doing it for ourselves. We’re doing it to rock a room,» said Tong, whose success story runs parallel to the growth of dance music in the UK from the late 1980s onward. His long-running experience has landed Tong various dance music-related jobs, including running record companies, finding and promoting new talent, hosting radio shows – his current show on the BBC’s Radio One, «Essential Selection,» ranks as one of the station’s most popular both in the UK and abroad – and spinning disks as a resident DJ at some of the world’s most prestigious clubs, many of them on Ibiza, a dance-music mecca. More recently, Tong has also been associated with [email protected], a local competition for upcoming DJs staged wherever the Thirst tour passes through, several nights earlier. The winners get to play at the Thirst events in those countries. Also, the ensuing exposure, if all goes well, can also lead to bigger careers, as was the case with Miss Motif, one of Thirst’s celebrity DJs now doing the current world tour. After winning a [email protected] competition last year, the 24-year-old from Ireland has swiftly established herself as a rising force in her field. Greece’s [email protected] national final, which followed regional qualifiers, was staged at a downtown club early last week with Tong as head of the jury. He picked a 26-year-old winner from Xanthi, northern Greece, Cosmas Efstatiou, or DJ Cosmas E, as the Greek showdown’s winner. «He won because he had that little notch extra above the other two in the sense that it didn’t really matter what he was playing. I think he would travel much better and represent Greece better when he goes out there,» noted Tong. Tong said he bases his decision-making on three main criteria when searching for new DJ talent. «I think originality and entertainment value, as well as taste. Technically, everybody’s kind of expected to be able to put the records together. It’s obviously important, but not the main thing,» explained Tong. «It’s important how imaginative and tasteful they’re being with their music selection, and whether they’re just following someone else’s footsteps or trying to forge their own way. That’s important. So, too, is personality, and I don’t mean when you meet them. Some people walk on stage and they do have a personality. That comes into it as well – a bit of an X-factor,» he added. Commenting on his victory, Cosmas, who has DJ-ed on a number of local stations in Xanthi for over a decade, and, more recently, focused mostly on production, said he went into the competition feeling that victory was within reach. «Getting involved with something like this means that there has to be a spark of hope inside you,» said Cosmas. He advised up-and-coming colleagues to put their «hearts into DJ-ing and don’t just look at it as a secondary interest.» The [email protected] win, Cosmas hoped, would lead to more opportunities. «Who knows? They may be infinite or they may be not. Whatever comes my way after this will be good,» he said. Last Saturday, Cosmas played a mild one-hour opening set to a modest number of early arrivers – in clubbing language that is – which began at around midnight. Smokin’ Jo, the first of the celebrity DJs who followed, certainly lived up to her name with a set of funky, tough, and streetwise sounds. It was still too early for the gradually swelling crowd which, still mostly grounded, didn’t begin unwinding until Tong’s set that followed. Judging by Smokin’ Jo’s comments at the hotel earlier in the day, the leading British DJ, who has played in Greece before, was probably not surprised by the early hesitancy. «Greek crowds are very different to other places I’ve been. They don’t go mad. They don’t dance as much. They like to drink a lot, wave arms in the air and all that sort of stuff…» said Smokin’ Jo, who ranks as the only female to have won the influential – for the sector – DJ Magazine’s «DJ of the Year Award.» Smokin’ Jo, nowadays based on Ibiza, admitted feeling slightly perplexed by the celebrity status enjoyed by DJs today. But, not surprisingly, she gladly embraced the mass reception. «It doesn’t surprise me but… yeah, it’s a bit like ‘I don’t get it,’ because you’re just playing somebody else’s music, really. It can seem a bit strange having 80,000 people looking at the DJ box. So you are elevated to a status which is kind of not real. But, hey, why not?»