FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

Who Says DJing is a Young Man's Game?

We spoke to a few of electronic music's elder statesmen who prove age ain't nothin' but a number.
January 13, 2015, 9:15pm

DJing is an cushy job: you're paid to fly around the world playing other people's records and doing other people's jobs. In many ways it's paradise. So it's unsurprising that for many DJs, the encroachment of middle age and beyond is rarely a deterrent. Sure, the hangovers take days to evaporate rather than hours, and the back ache gets worse but the passion doesn't suddenly evaporate. Neither does the skill, nor the drive.

Advertisement

With young producers and DJs making the jump from the back rooms of pubs to the main rooms of superclubs quicker than ever, there's a growing demand for the kind of solidity and sure-handedness that only the old guard can provide; the men and women with twenty, thirty years of experience behind the decks, the jockeys who've been telling stories through their sets for decades now. With this in mind, we spoke to selectors from across the board for whom age ain't nothin' but a number.

Danny Tenaglia (53)

I think that the times are changing around us so fast, that's what's really ageing. The scene and the way it's gone from massive nightclubs to smaller venues or to a post-rave generation of festivals everywhere all over the world, as well as arenas… that's the thing that's hard to keep up with. But I don't think me ageing is affecting my attitude or my approach towards my career as a DJ. I still love it as much as I did thirty-five years ago. The drive is still the same.

Anyone who has a history that goes back 10, 20, maybe 30 years is appreciated because of their knowledge and years of devotion and passion. We're seen as mentors now. And I think people are really able to hear the difference when they hear a DJ like myself where even if I'm only given two or three hours, I'm still going to deliver it more theatrically than a DJ who's only been doing it a couple of years and maybe has never played nightclubs as a resident, never played records on vinyl or CDs or reel-to-reel or knew the art of playing from the opening to peak hour and bringing it down to closing. This was normal to me for almost three decades, so it's definitely going to be a different approach - and I think people can definitely appreciate that.

Advertisement

Alfredo (61)

Ibiza's favourite Argentinian Alfredo pretty much single-handedly invented Balearic as a recognisable, codifiable sound. Starting out as a DJ-cum-barman he was eventually asked to spin at open-air roadside superclub Amnesia. Even at 61 you'll still catch him commandeering the decks at Space with a collection that'll happily span jazz, boogie, house, folk, psyche and techno. Alfredo is Ibiza. 

DJing is something I always want to do as much as the evolution of the scene still allows me do it, and also, of course, my age. I play in Japan, Bali and Switzerland and a few times in the UK together with my son Jaime - something that is a real pleasure. My schedule is not as busy as it used to be, but I think it's natural. The crowds change and there are plenty of new young DJs doing their thing. But also I still feel that I have quite a lot to give.

Terry Farley (56)

I remember all the house DJs saying they would give up before they hit 40. I'm sure I read Frankie Knuckles saying the same in 1990 but things have changed. House is now a culture in the same way as reggae, hip-hop and even dare I say it jazz. If you got the music and you can contribute positively then there's a place in whatever musical culture you exist within. I'm lucky in that I play to people who love house and disco. You get all ages, races and sexual persuasions under the umbrella of the culture. I would not play a commercial high street club where I did not have control over exactly what music I played .

What would ever make me want to give up DJing? Not feeling the music I'm playing or not making people dance anymore. I started DJing for free and I'll end up playing for free as long as there's a connection when I play and I truly love the music I play. I do think a lot of 'older DJs' who play the more commercial trance / hard dance music really can't enjoy the stuff they play .

Advertisement

If I make my eighties of course I'll still be listening to house music - why not? Do you think timeless classics like "Tears" and "Your Love" will sound rubbish in 30 years time? They won't; they will sound as good as the classic rock 'n' roll still sounds today. House music - like reggae, funk and hip-hop - will never die. It's in our DNA now.

Greg Wilson (54)

It is something where you look ahead five years and think, 'where are you going to be at that point in time'? I think from my own side, it's about pacing things out. I've noticed in the past with long haul stuff, if you do things too close together sometimes, it can be pretty exhausting. I remember speaking to one DJ in his early twenties who was literally going out to China for one night to do a gig. It's crazy! That would destroy me with the jetlag and everything, so I think you've gotta look to pace it out a little bit and make sure that you're not too full on.

When I first came back into this 10 years ago, I was very sure that I didn't want to be this DJ fossil, come from the past, playing the old tunes in the same old way - so re-edits enable me to take music from the past and recontextualised it in a contemporary sense, so it's a kind of meeting halfway. And that's what has enabled me to bridge that gap between then and now really.

When I started out, I was always the young one. I was 15. To be on the other side of that scale and to find myself being something of an elder statesman… it's an odd one. But it's something I'm comfortable with now. I'm the kind of person that needs to know why they're doing what they're doing. It's not enough just to do it as a job and to earn good money from it. If there was no underpinning with that, I'd struggle to continue. That's why I packed it in in the first place: I'd fallen out of love with it.

Advertisement

Dave Seaman (46)

As one half of Brothers In Rhythm, Seaman was one of the key figures in the UK's progressive house scene in the early 90s that also made stars out of the likes of Sasha. He mixed a slew of classic compilations for Renaissance and Global Underground, remixed everyone from Pet Shop Boys to Kylie Minogue, and also had a spell as editor of Mixmag. He runs a label, Selador Recordings, and continues to DJ across the globe.

The biggest change for me in recent years has been that I have a young family so I'm always on the last flight out and first flight back so I can get to spend as much time as possible with them. There's no more touring for weeks on end for me and it used to be that I came home for a rest after DJing at the weekend. Now I get more rest at the weekend than I do when I'm home! Juggling my time is a lot more difficult. It makes me laugh when I see DJs complaining about airports, flying and the traveling aspect of the job. That's when I get most of my work done these days. That's my 'me' time that I really look forward to!

I've never thought about packing it in. Occasionally, I might have a couple of bad gigs and so might question myself but the bottom line that always comes from this is that it spurs me on to try harder and be better. This is what I was born to do and until the day arrives where I don't get excited about going out to play new music for people, I won't be hanging up my headphones anytime soon.

Goa Gil (63)

Gilbert Levy was born in San Francisco in 1951 and engulfed by the city's hippy atmosphere in the 60s. He began travelling the globe in 1969 and ended up settling down in western India where be became Goa Gil. He spent the next two decades DJing beach parties, developing the Goa trance sound that begat psytrance. When he wasn't behind the decks he was becoming a sadhu – an Indian holy man. He DJs around the world to this day.

Age is not really something that I think about when it comes to anything! I'm just doing my thing and I'm just being and I don't really think about things that much. I just do whatever needs to be done in front of me. The universe is always giving me cues.

I would say that my age is greeted with reverence. Most of the people who follow me see me as the baba [Indian for "father"] and they're coming [to my gigs] to get a higher transmission from the baba. I first came to India when I was 18-years-old, I travelled around with some sadhu and took part in a diksa ceremony [an a Buddhist or Hindu initiation] in the 1970. I've always kept my connections up with the religion and music is partly an expression of spirituality for me. That's my mission.

Follow Ben on Twitter: @bengomori