There I was on a Friday evening, refreshing Twitter over and over again, my heart racing, everything going at 100mph, sweat pelting down onto my keyboard. I could barely thing straight. This was it. This was what I'd been waiting for all year. I was there, watching it happen in real time, loving every fucking second of it. What a thrill. What a buzz. What a life and what a time to be alive. I cracked open a can of ice cold fizzy drink, took a slurp and strapped myself in for more. I was ready for more. I wanted more. I wanted to get to the very end and I didn't care how knackered or battered I was by the end of it because it would all, I knew, have been worth it. Eventually, a few hours in, with my clicking finger by now decidedly engorged and turning more and more puce by the second, it happened:
I was left sweat soaked and in awe. Of all the people in the world to top the prestigious DJ Mag Top 100 DJs of 2015 Powered by 7Up list (or TDJMT100DJSo2015PB7UP for short), it was Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike! What a resu….wait, who the fuck are Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike? Why am I pretending I spent a Friday night getting excited about a Twitter account periodically tweeting the name of yet another DJ I'd never heard of? That's right: I've set up an imaginary scenario as a way of getting to grips with a topic in a humorous and relatable way, like all good writers do.
In all seriousness, the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs of 2015 Powered by 7Up list (or TDJMT100DJSo2015PB7UP for short) is absolutely baffling. Kind of. Skimming through it is an exercise in swimming in the murky waters of unfamiliarity. Who is Angerfist (down 1 to no.38 this year) and why is he so angry? What kind of music does new entry DJ Chetas play? Is Radical Redemption a person or an abstract concept? My eyes aligned on names I knew, but these names were placed in strange places, removed from the context with which I traditionally associated them. It was like being on ketamine or something equally shocking and daring for a writer to mention. There was Richie Hawtin but he was sharing sake with "Vicetone" and "Wolfpack". Disclosure were sitting there, looking like two nice, quiet lads, chatting amiably with new companions Laidback Luke and "Firebeatz". My head was spinning. I was lost. Who was to blame here? Them, or me?
It was tempting, as it always is, to point and laugh at the list, to blame its WTFness on an inherent structural problem — that problem being that every single DJ on the list is either shit (because I've heard them and know they're shit) or presumably shit (because I've not heard of them and it's my job to be aware of these things and the fact that I've never heard a set by Tenishia or Brennan Heart or Blasterjaxx) because, presumably, if they were any good, I would have heard of them.
That's the easy and obvious thing to do. This list — a list of the best DJs in the world — headed by two dudes I'd literallynever heard of had to be wrong. Didn't it? Why didn't they pick the DJs I liked? Where was Gerd Janson or PLO Man or Axel Boman or DJ Koze or Roman Flugel or Ada or anyone, y'know, actually good? Fuck 'em, I thought, as I sipped on a pint, an imaginary pint I'd bought after pretending I spent Friday evening watching the results of the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs of 2015 Powered by 7Up list (or TDJMT100DJSo2015PB7UP for short) trickle in, while I was actually in an actual pub sipping actual pints. Fuck them.
It dawned on me the day after though, as I nursed hangovers both real and imagined, that with a list like this, or rather, with this list specifically, the problem wasn't with the compilers, or the dubious presence of a soft drink manufacturer. The problem, I realized, painfully — though that might have been the result of a particularly sharp crisp going down the wrong pipe — was with me. Well, us, if I can speak on your behalf. The problem was that we've decided — and I'm using the word 'we' here to implicate every last one of you who is interested in Mood Hut 12"s and buys Turbo Island t-shirts and goes to Corsica once a month at least and has a hardrrive full of Dance Mania classics and blah blah blah — that these DJs, DJs who bring joy to hundreds of thousands of people a week, are worthless, pointless, and, plainly speaking shit.
Why though? What makes us think that they're shit? Aside from the fact that they are shit. Which, my conclusive study — skimming through a few YouTube videos of sets by Quentin Mosimann, Zatox, and Da Tweekaz — proved they are, by the way. Aside from that, it comes to down to a question of self-image and self-perception. Most of us are so wrapped up in thick veils of irony and projected cool that the line about Kierkegaard that Chris Kraus trots out in I Love Dick that suggests that, "the sign will always triumph through the screen of an ironic signifier" is about as true and accurate as me saying that I'm both incredibly wealthy and incredibly handsome. Anyone who knows me that it's only the latter that's true.
Hardwell is the second best DJ in the world. Last year he was the best. Now he's the second best.
When we watch videos of "these kinds of DJs" — creating an us vs them binary is always a useful way of defending yourself against that which is perceived to be uncool or unworthy, right? — we find ourselves unable to relate to the vast hordes who line the floors of arenas and stadiums around the world. We're baffled by the brash sounds and the massive crowds, unsure as how to react to this kind of spectacle, as sure as we are that "real DJs" just need dark rooms and good records to give us the kind of life changing experience everyone at a Hardwell show probably has, but we're yet to experience at a Lobster Theremin label showcase. It's a world we can't access, and one we tell ourselves we don't want to access.
There's a subversiveness at play here, too, that's interesting. While it doesn't make the acts on the list any more artistically acceptable, it does confer on them an odd kind of status. These are acts who operate outside of the traditionally accepted confines of the mainstream and have redefined popularity, in a way. If contemporary dance discourse has gorged itself on the hoary old debate about the authenticity of the underground fighting against the bloated corpse of the nominal mainstream — a debate, which, by the way, is slightly less interesting than pub classics like "Beatles or the Stones?", "Pele or Maradona?" or "Daddy or Chips?" — then acts like Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike are, surely, anomalies, DJs who play to crowds of ungodly size but have genuinely no traction outside of the hyperspecfic circles they move within. This might not be the case in America, but America is a place where cheese comes in a can so we don't need to concern ourselves with the country.
That courting of a devoted, dedicated audience at the expense of attempting to capture a foothold on the charts is arguably indicative of wider cultural trends in 2015. We're all curators now, and we like to think that our tastes are the result of our own exploration, rather than something foisted on us by those ghastly corporations and conglomerates we're all trained to (rightly) despise. In terms of dance music, it puts a list like the DJ Mag Top 100 DJs of 2015 Powered by 7Up list (or TDJMT100DJSo2015PB7UP for short) in a very odd place. Who is it catering for? Well, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike fans, clearly. Who likes Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike? We haven't got a clue.
We, with our Italo/minimal wave/industrial club nights, and our haircuts, and our bomber jackets and expensive tracksuits, we don't need a clue. We don't care. We know that this world, with its garish light shows and fist pumping and lasers and UFOs and sheer unbridled joy, isn't for us. We sneer and mock and still feel as hollow as ever, as we watch the crowds bundle out of a Martin Garrix megashow, beaming wildly, lives changed by a DJ.
I still don't know who Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike are, by the way, and I'm happy to keep it like that. I think. Maybe.