Stevie G: DJ culture has shaped modern music, and will continue to do so

DJing continues to be at the heart of hip-hop and dance music in 2022, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Stevie G: DJ culture has shaped modern music, and will continue to do so

One thing that has had a negative impact on the music scene is how the 12-inch single has declined.

DJ culture has shaped modern music in many different ways and it is now commonplace to have remixes, re-edits, and even mash-ups of tracks that were originally intended to serve one purpose.

In hip-hop the DJ was once the star of the show, and DJs played a huge role in the development of the genre. The MC was merely a hype person initially, but these days the MC is the main star, and few hip-hop DJs are that visible really.

There’s barely any scratching on records and it’s more about the producer or the rapper than the DJ. The DJ’s importance may have diminished in rap, but they are still the ones who help break the music, and DJ culture continues to be at the heart of hip-hop and dance music in 2022.

In dance music DJs continue to draw huge crowds though you could probably argue that superstar stadium DJing is a good bit away from the original ethos of where the music came from. But I guess things change.

The biggest change in the last 20 years of DJ culture has been technological. DJing has pretty much always embraced technology so it’s a bit ironic that many older DJs bemoan the era when it was all about just vinyl and technics. Both records and turntables required cutting edge technology to develop and there will always be advances in this area.

Change has always happened pretty quickly in DJing, and it should be remembered that there’s many music artists who once blamed the DJ for pushing them aside too. The reality is that there is room for live music and DJs and many co-exist hand in hand or combine the two.

The distribution of music is another huge revolution that took place in the last 20 years and CDs now look fairly obsolete, and most people stream rather than buy music. Vinyl is undergoing a huge revival and you’d have to imagine it’s mainly because major record companies, who once told us vinyl was dead, are seeing that they can make big money from large back catalogues of music that will always remain relevant.

I was in a mainstream record store this weekend and couldn’t believe the amount of vinyl on show, though it was all very expensive and fairly mainstream. The same shop had been quick to rid themselves of their vinyl shelves in the early ’90s but again, things change and economically I can respect the decision.

Many music fans of all generations want to buy something tangible too, and that’s a good thing.

One thing that has had a negative impact on the music scene is how the 12-inch single has declined. It still exists as one of the chosen formats in some genres, such as house and techno, but hip-hop 12s have largely become obsolete in recent years.

The knock-on effect is important. First up it doesn’t make sense to press 12s or to buy them as much. Hip-hop DJs were quick to embrace digital and it’s now much cheaper to play two of the same copies of a record and manipulate them live, as many rap DJs do. Back in the day I’d regularly spend more than a tenner each on these sought after doubles; it was an expensive ask.

The expense was worth it in some ways, as the creativity was greatly enhanced. For me, I mainly used the second copy for smooth mixing and for a radio bed, but the loss of acapellas in hip-hop and R&B records has meant that subsequent generations of DJs and producers are still largely over reliant on the ones which were big in the ’90s. These records are still everywhere for many good reasons too, but it also means that younger artists will continue to remain in the shadow of the ’90s’ greats who are being sampled to death on dance tunes 20 or 30 years on.

You can get a Brandy acapella quite easily, but some of the best modern artists will not ever receive the remix treatment as much, as their acapellas don’t exist. DIY acapellas are still used, but the studio ones are better for producers. The 12-inch was the format where acapellas really flourished, and most artists and labels don’t bother any more.

In music genres that change and reinvent themselves so frequently, it would be cool if we had all of the tools to get more creative, and this is one change that has slowed down creativity a tiny bit in the modern era.

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