Flipping the turntables

Winnipeg DJs keep the speakers thumping in the new dance explosion

More than just putting your iPod on shuffle: True DJ-ing is like ‘alchemy,’ mixing different elements to create something new, says DJ Mama Cutsworth. Kelsey Clifford

The reason for the genre’s rising popularity is most likely because everybody likes to get on the dance floor and shake their ass once in a while, but it might also be a reflection of our modern society’s ever-increasing capacity to process more information at a faster speed.

The increased popularity of dance music creates a higher demand for DJs here in Winnipeg, and digital recreationists have stepped up to fill the demand.

“During the ’70s, dance music had a big explosion and now people want to start dancing again,” said Mark Penner, who DJs under the name Cyclist, attributing the increased popularity of dance music to a cultural trend cycle.

“Technology is also a huge part of it, since anyone with a laptop can make dance music.”

Being a DJ makes it possible to jam with yourself – you can record drum beats and produce the music all by yourself – and write a good song without worrying about the lyrics, Penner said.

“The culture of the DJ has moved to the mainstream – it is not an underground culture anymore,” said Sarah Michaelson, who is also known as DJ Mama Cutsworth.

An older crowd might want to hear the whole song, while a younger audience expects the mash-ups and remixes. They have a shorter attention span.

Sarah Michaelson, a.k.a. Mama Cutsworth

“People are listening to music differently now. People, especially younger generations, are engaged with the Internet and are faced with a whole lot of information that they have to process more quickly.

“You don’t even have to watch the whole three minutes of a YouTube video to get it. An older crowd might want to hear the whole song, while a younger audience expects the mash-ups and remixes. They have a shorter attention span.” 

Penner describes crowds’ cravings for remixes and mash-ups as being “a combination of people reliving the past and thinking that they’re on the edge of new music happening.”

It’s why Mama Cutsworth never plans her shows, as she prefers to see where the night and the crowd take her.

She describes the way she plays her sets as being dependent on a kind of “social psychology” of the crowd to determine what she will play for that particular show.

“It’s not all about short attention spans. Being a DJ is about crafting a set over the course of the night that has a build up and an ebb and flow,” she said.

Even though putting sets together for an event is often her biggest challenge in being a DJ, it is also the most rewarding, she added. 

Still, there is a definite dichotomy in the profession: what Mama Cutsworth refers to as “glorified iPod shuffles” and truly artistic DJs.

“Some people create a unique set and manipulate tracks in a musically artistic way, rather than just pressing play,” she said. “Use-your-iPod nights degrade the professional DJ.

“It’s sort of like alchemy to me. There are so many existing pieces of music, this web of everything that has already been crafted and (DJs) juxtapose different elements and create something new,” she said.

“It’s a thoughtful process.”

Published in Volume 65, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 7, 2010)

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