How would you feel about showing up a hostel only later to be chased with machine guns? Who ended up playing to an empty crowd? Ugg! Requests! Who becomes annoyed with them? And which deejay had their first major gig upon moving to the UK? FRISKY News caught up with a few artists for exciting insight into their “gig experiences”.
It’s no secret the entertainment industry is difficult and unforgiving in which to carve out a career. The electronic music scene has gone through reinvention cycles over the decades, influencing multi-genre to subgenre sounds including what is ruminated “popular” at the moment. It’s also true that over a course of the past decade, data shows electronic music is the only genre with significant major growth. With this growth, so is the rise in number of self-proclaimed producers and deejays that in the end, become a factor since everyone is competing for coveted club and or festival gigs. Not to mention, today’s rise of the “superstar DJ” persona has grossly overestimated the playing field.
DJs, whether being club or radio, are the coveted gatekeepers of music.
With this said, curiosity sets in. So, on behalf of FRISKY News, I thought it would be interesting to catch up with some deejay/producers from different sub-genres and ask them about first gig experiences, promoter nightmares, mishaps, pet-peeves, performance rituals, advice for newcomers, and what they love most about the electronic music scene.
Let’s meet them!
Mark Youssef (Egypt)
Genre: Deep House, Melodic Progressive
Years in industry: 27
Spending most of his life in his parents’ hometown, Cairo, Egypt, it was there Mark discovered the electronic music. In the ‘90s, he started spinning progressive house and trance in clubs throughout Egypt.
Mark’s iconic progressive sound spans between deep house with a melodic twist and as he says, “sometimes like to throw in a harder beat to spike up the crowd”.
His first gig was in Serbia, as he recalls and tells FRISKY, “it was 2007 where I played club Avante Garde in the winter season. I loved the energy of this crowd and I learned what it takes to drive the energy levels higher and higher.”
Mark has been firing up the decks ever since playing internationally and along side names like: Sied Van Riel. Leon Bolier, Ron Van Den Beuken and his Egyptian friends Aly & Fila, among others. “Electronic music attracts various crowds from all walks of life even if they don’t share an interest in a particular genre. It helps bridge the gaps between styles and techniques, blending different sounds to create a new form of art”, Mark shared with me.
Being familiar with gig venues is something Mark likes to prepare for. As he describes, “I usually travel to the city where the event is taking place at least a day earlier to familiarize myself with the tastes and the culture of the expected crowd so I can tweak my selection of suitable tracks and genres. I do my best to show up ahead of time full of energy and check the venue beforehand to ensure a smooth journey and event.”
Without argument, he’s scoping out Amsterdam already as he gets ready to represent FRISKY for ADE 2019.
Mishaps occur and Mark isn’t immune from them. “I can’t forget that night at Guaba Beach Bar in Cyprus, where I was playing a 5-hour set” he begins telling me “and didn’t even feel tired.” He continued telling FRISKY, “Instead I was so excited that I inadvertently touched the pause button in the middle of one amazing mix. Luckily, the set was awesome enough that the crowd forgave me right away and that inspired me to take it a notch higher.”
What’s that one solid piece of advice Mark has for aspiring deejays? “There are simply no boundaries to creativity, especially in music.”
Name one thing that bugs/irritates you about the DJ scene. Why?
What bugs me the most about the scene are the issues arising from miscommunication due to cultural, language, or other differences. I believe music is universal and brings people together and that’s what I always aspire to achieve.
What has been your worst promoter encounter?
I don’t like to point fingers and try to make the best of every encounter. However, one event comes to mind where the stars weren’t aligned. For some reason it wasn’t meant to happen as I went through a series of unfortunate events leading up to the gig. I had just started my set when the weather turned the event upside down. While everyone was scrambling to keep the show going yet the promoter was nowhere to be found and simply jumped ship.
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*Remember to listen to Mark Youssef’s ‘Sleek’ here on FRISKY every 2rd Friday @ 10am EST/3pm GMT
MATT BLACK (England)
Genre: Progressive house and techno
Years in industry: 25 years
Having been in the industry since the early ‘90s, FRISKY’s Matt Black keeps creating his own deejay legacy.
Positive personal encounters have left Matt admiring the sense of team spirit within the progressive house scene. “Everyone seems to be happy to see people doing well. There’s not much back biting or jealousy. We all get along really well and nobody hates anybody”. And laughingly adds, “well not much anyway”.
Matt’s unmatched experiences tell a story similar to other deejay artists. Preparedness is key! As he explains, “I usually like to have all my music prepared and ready”. Further adding, “I also like to go through my new tunes, see which ones work together and give myself a rough idea of what I am going to play. I don’t do pre planned sets as the one time I did this, I ended up playing the first couple of tunes that I had planned to but after that I didn’t end up playing any of the rest of my prepared set and just winged it”.
Fortunately, he doesn’t really have any promoter horror stories to tell. “Most of my horror stories come from my own nights, like once no one showed up and playing to a completely empty club – even the owner felt sorry for me”.
Even a seasoned deejay becomes irritated with the scene. As he reflects, Matt expressed how frustrating it can become to be known when starting out. “It can take a long time to get noticed and in most cases it’s not what you know but who you know”. Adding, “But it takes a while to make those contacts who can help move you forward. I’ve known many people who were good DJ’s but have given up as they were never quite able to make the breakthrough – other things got in the way.”
Matt shares some grounding advice to aspiring deejays. “Just keep at it!” He further tells FRISKY, “There’s a reason why most of the top DJ’s are a bit older – because they have a lot more experience”. Most will tell you it takes years to break through, so don’t give up at the first hurdle and likewise don’t get too carried away when you do eventually get recognized. It’s a marathon not a sprint and it’s better to build a good following over time than to blow up and then just fade away”.
Yes, the electronic music industry can at times be unforgiving. But there is also “a sense of camaraderie” as Matt said.
Share something about your first gig experience and what did you learn from this?
My first proper gig was at a student union bar in Paddington in London. I had played a few gigs in pubs, but this was my first playing out in front of a proper crowd. I was on warm up so when I started playing the dancefloor was empty but pretty soon it started filling up. And by the time, I had finished playing. The dancefloor was packed – so that’s when I realized the power of a DJ.
Since then I have played many warm up sets and always tried to remember I am not the headliner and I have to remember not to get too carried away and I have also played a few main sets where the warm up DJ has banged it out and I have to try and bring it down before I can take it back up again but I can usually adapt.
What’s been the biggest mistake you’ve made either before or during deejaying?
I have done the usual like taking the needle off the wrong record. And I had a track run out on me as I didn’t realize there were two tracks on the side of the EP and thought I still had half the track to go! Probably the worst thing I did though, was playing a set on CDJ’s and I used to put about 5 or 6 tracks on a CD and I ended up playing the same track twice as I hadn’t realized that I’d restarted the same track when I was meant to play the one after it. [laughs] Thankfully this doesn’t happen with USBs as you can see the name of the track you are playing.
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*Remember to listen to Matt Black’s ‘Housefeelings’ here on FRISKY every 3rd Wednesday @ 10am EST/3pm GMT
SUZY SOLAR (USA)
Genre: Trance, Psy-Trance
Years in industry: 22 years
“There’s nothing like Trance family love and connection”. Suzy Solar has been shining bright as an internationally acclaimed trance and progressive music artist since 1997. Excitingly telling FRISKY, “The scene is super friendly, and all walks of life are accepted. Vibing with everyone on the dance floor is the most special feeling in the world!”
She’s not only a talented DJ, but also a vocalist, song writer, music producer and event coordinator. Therefore, it’s fair to say Suzy knows the business inside and out.
Suzy’s first gig was at a popular Tampa club, Luna Lounge, in 1997. “I remember being nervous before I went on”, she said describing her first gig experience. “Another DJ gave me some good advice and said, “Just have fun. Remember, it isn’t brain surgery, so no one is going to die if you make a mistake.” Adding, “That really helped to loosen me up and I played a good set. I learned to not be so hard on myself and to just have fun with It”.
Having graced the stage with countless big names in the business: Alex M.O.R.P.H., Mark Sherry, Roger Shah, Armin van Buuren, Ferry Corsten, Paul Oakenfold, Above & Beyond, and Cosmic Gate to name a few – gig preparedness is key. “I start out by knowing what kind of audience I’m playing for, Suzy tells FRISKY. “That’s the most important thing. Then I’ll pick a bunch of tracks that’ll work for that club and put them in a folder. I always have the first track and/or intro picked out and I’ll wing it from there – depending on the vibe. Besides that, I always jump around, shake my hands out and stretch before my set. That helps me to have more mental alertness and I’ll be more physically active during my sets.
One of Suzy’s pet peeves is unauthorized people trying to make their way into the DJ booth while deejaying. “In my earlier years, I made the mistake of letting clubbers go in the DJ booth”, she said making me chuckle and gasp. And further added, “Someone stole my headphones and CD book just as I was about to go on. There were too many people around to know who did it. Luckily, the opening DJ let me use his headphones and I also had a case full of vinyl with me to play”.
Suzy is genuinely a multi-faceted artist and remains one of the most sought-after female DJs in the world. She wouldn’t be on top if it weren’t for persistent dedication. “It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and playing a lot of opening sets to work your way up.”
What has been your worst promoter encounter?
One of the times I got booked in Colombia, it was at a music festival at a hotel with a large outdoor area. Dutch trance legend Ron van den Beuken was headlining, so my manager Brian and I figured the party was legit. When we got there, something didn’t feel right. The promoter had left us waiting at the airport for a couple of hours, the hotel turned out to be a hostel and Ron followed his gut feeling to leave before the party started.
At first, the party went well, then halfway into my set the police raided the party with huge machine guns. It turned out that the promoter didn’t secure permits to throw the event. Most of the people left, then we realized that the promoter had stranded us there, up a mountain outside cell phone range at a dangerous location!
A few fans kept us company and gave us food and alcohol. One of the fans didn’t want us to think that Colombian people are bad, so he was kind enough to drive us an hour back to town and he paid for us to stay at a nice hotel! Our stay in Colombia was for four days, and we never heard a single peep from the promoter. Thank goodness the fans were there for us!
What concrete advice would you give to aspiring DJs?
Be yourself and play the music that’s in your heart. Stick to it and follow your dreams. If there is no scene for what you do in your town, create one. When I first started in ’97, there was no trance scene in Tampa. I went to the clubs and gave out mix tapes to get people hooked on trance. Now I throw trance events in Orlando & Tampa and I’ve been blessed with having some great releases on big labels and have traveled all around to play the music that’s in my heart. It’s the life that I’ve always dreamed of, and you can achieve it too.
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JASON MILLER, aka: REDUX SAINTS, PLACEBO EFX (USA)
Genre: Tech House, Melodic Techno
Years in industry: 10+
Jason Miller, better known as Redux Saints, is a catalyst cultivating his underground sounds right here on FRISKY.
Based in LA, he continuously gains support from established House artists and never fails to keep resonating with fans. “I love that it doesn’t matter on the dance floor who you are, what your background is, or where you came from – it’s about an experience focused around enjoying music. I’ve met so many great people across the world because of music – it’s a universal connector”.
Redux Saints has played gigs at London’s iconic Ministry of Sound as well as the legendary Burning Man festival.
More recently, he has left the decks on fire in Spain before heading out in a few days to Amsterdam for ADE 2019 – further solidifying his unmatched talent and growing label, DTLA.
Before thriving as the artist, he is today, Jason began his journey in a Chicago dungy afterhours venue. Telling FRISKY, “I was spinning vinyl back then and recall that there were so many around the decks that someone knocked the table – all of the sudden you heard the record scratch! It happened so abruptly during a build to a drop which caused a combination of confused faces and some not so friendly suggestions coming my way from the dance floor.”
Like every other artist in the industry, Jason’s experiences are what propels him into the artist he’s become. “There’s been many mistakes”, he tells me while laughing about it. “Occasionally I’ll load a track to the wrong deck. That’s pretty embarrassing”.
Luckily, he hasn’t experienced any strange promoter encounters. There’s been “nothing more than the usual promising the world and delivering nothing”, he told me.
Devoting countless hours arranging his set(s) for a gig enabling Jason creative flow dependent on total set time. It may result in “grabbing fresh releases and incorporating them with tracks” he’s come to love. Jason jokingly reveals he has “no real ritual like wearing the same underwear to each gig” other than “putting in the time to have a different set each time I play”.
Redux Saints remains a deejay on a mission refining emerging communities of deep progressive producers in Los Angeles and keeping a pulse on the ever-evolving landscape that is LA dance music.
Name one thing that bugs and/or irritates you about the DJ scene?
Requests annoy the fuck out of me! The amount of time and energy I put into prepping for my sets is a reflection of who I am. And someone asking for a track really has no sense of what time and effort it goes into prepping for a gig. Usually the requests are so far off from what I’m playing as well that it’s like, do you have any clue who or what you came to see play or you just here for selfies?
What advice would you give to someone wanting to become a DJ?
Things don’t happen overnight. You have to put in the hard work and not just deejaying. Work has to go into music production, promotion of your music production, social media, and networking. First and foremost, you need to have a good product that means your music needs to be good.
Then, I would focus first on developing your network of DJ’s. This by far will help you grow your audience much faster than just posting on social media. This can come by using the correct promo service to just going out and supporting other DJ’s.
Overall – without giving all the above time they deserve you will never differentiate yourself from the other million people trying to do the same things as you.
Follow Jason Miller (Redux Saints) on social media:
* Listen to Redux Saints’ DTLA right here on FRISKY every 3rd Thursday, 7pm EST/4pm PST
AMIR HUSSAIN (UK)
Genre: Trance, Progressive House
Years in industry: 5+
Broadening genre crossroads tests any producer and deejay. Professionally deejaying a short time, Amir doesn’t hold back. In fact, he challenges the limits by testing trance and progressive house sub-genre boundaries that’s reflected in his work.
With plenty of high-profile label releases like Armada, Black Hole Recordings and others, Amir’s savory underground beginnings in Trance doesn’t limit his style or tempo.
“I highly encourage everyone to broaden their tastes and listen to as many genres as possible, you’ll find stuff you like in genres you never thought you’d be interested in”, he shared with me adding, “I guarantee that!”
Amir started to feel the power of electronic music over a decade ago and hasn’t looked back. There’s “amazing fresh music from countless genres always inspiring you and putting you in a great state of mind” he said.
Originally born in Bahrain, Amir moved to the UK in 2010 for university studies in Communication and Public Relations. London gave him first-hand experience that catapulted his mark in the electronic music scene deepening his love for Trance.
As both a producer and deejay, Amir not only plays alongside with but has nonstop big-name support from Armin van Buuren, Markus Schulz, Paul Oakenfold, Sean Tyas, Alex M.O.R.P.H, Mark Sherry, and Lisa Lashes among others.
I asked him if he personally has any special rituals before gigs. “Not really”, he replied, “just bring music that you yourself know is good and watch it work its magic. Your confidence increases the more you go deeper into the set.”
In this business, mistakes are made and not having a plan B was one of Amir’s. “You have to be versatile and be prepared to read the crowd. You need to see what they like and don’t like and prepare to shift in that direction.”
Being a deejay does come with a few irritants. Not holding back, Amir expressed his frustration and advice for deejays lacking humility. “Trust me, there will always be one – or many others– more successful than them that are far more humble. Be nice…the music industry isn’t exactly the best for mental health”.
For those of you just starting out, he shared some concrete advice. “Don’t obsess over mistakes, learn from them and quickly move forward”. Further telling FRISKY, “Crowds are forgiving, more forgiving than you think. Don’t be too harsh on yourself, the point is to have fun, grow and learn along the way!”
Share with me something about your first gig experience and what did you learn from this?
Interesting question, there are two first gig experiences for me. Before I moved to the UK and once I moved to the UK, so I’ll give you both. My first “gig” technically was when I was still a bedroom DJ back in high school. I was invited to play what was supposed to be a New Year’s party with what my friend promised me will have “50 sluts”, pardon the language. [laughs] This was not the reason I accepted this “gig” however. Anyway, we turn up and there is no sort of thing – it was an Asian family reunion – very awkward indeed with all of them at the table looking in bemusement. I decided it’s time to run for it and make a dash to salvage what’s left of New Year’s Eve before my friend decided to become a drunk liability. What a way to enter the new year! [laughing]
My first real gig happened when I moved to the UK. Was quite a nice lineup actually, I warmed up for Lange. And that was the start of it all.
What has been your worst promoter encounter?
Can’t really say one sticks out, I have had very few bad encounters. There was a time (I shall not name the country/promoter/event) where me and another artist had to wait 4 hours past our pickup time to get driven to the city, which was another 3-hour ride away. The event itself was great though, the promoter was a nice guy also.
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** On a personal note, I want to extend my sincere gratitude to Mark, Matt, Suzy, Jason and Amir for taking time out of their busy schedules to chat with me and FRISKY News. Thank you!