DJing is evolving so quickly in terms of musical styles, technique, equipment, and popularity; that even the experienced DJ is a little confused right now. In the video short, “Keep It Moving Chapter 2”, DJ Ross One attempts to make sense of the life and trajectory of the modern, professional DJ. We had a chance to continue the conversation.
what inspired you to do this video?
I think that I just wanted to make something that was a little more honest than the typical promotional video. I have conversations similar to these with my friends every day, and I thought that we could do something unique by making a video that showed another side of DJing. For some reason we all love complaining in private about how ridiculous certain aspects of our job have become, but we’re afraid to say these things out loud. If you can make a joke of it, it’s easier to deal with.
one of the things I got from the video was the difference between the two different kinds of top-level DJs: the high level bottle service / vegas DJs and the more visible EDM DJ rockstars. It seems like the EDM guys have it easier. What do you think?
The short answer is yes, if we’re strictly talking about DJing, they have it way easier. A lot of the new crop of “rockstar” EDM guys are producers who realized they could make a fortune by DJing. I can’t hate on that, I’d probably do the same thing. The difference is mostly in the fact that they are being hired as an act, with more of a concert/show mentality, while us grinder/open format guys are being hired as a DJ. We don’t have the same name recognition or ability to sell tickets. Those are the undeniable facts (as pointed out by my manager daily). Our goal is to be consistent and kill it every night, or else lose our job.
It’s really important to differentiate between electronic DJs who respect the history of what they do, versus some flailing 22 year old acting like a messiah of dance music. I’d have to imagine most of the house guys who have been doing this for years would probably look at my video and agree with much of it. I have a lot of respect for most of the big name EDM guys.. But when a guy in a mouse head says the only time and place for a DJ is a bar mitzvah, I think we all need to step back and ask where things went off track in the commercial electronic music world.
how did you get recruited into the SKAM family?
SKAM actually does work sort of like a family. I got recruited when a few of the other DJs on the roster decided that I was working enough in my market (mostly Miami) at the time, and would be an asset to the team. Guys like Vice, Roc, and Irie vouched for me and I think Sujit really listens to his DJs when it comes to bringing on new talent.
what’s your travel schedule like?
It’s pretty intense. I’d say I average 3-4 flights a week for the last 4 years or so.
is it cushy?
85% of the time it’s just work. Lonely, tiresome, “Up In The Air” style work. You spend so much of your time just getting to places and in transit, you don’t realize that years are passing in the meantime and all you’ve done is flown a million miles, DJed, and slept. I had to pull back a little in the last year and find some balance. Then there’s the 15% of the time it’s completely unbelievable and I wonder how I got so lucky to have this life. I never don’t feel fortunate to get paid to do this.
from talking to the Roc and other touring guys, it seems like the touring DJ life is very lonely, lots of time to think, repetition etc. What’s your take on it?
It can be brutal. But it’s a job and when you’re on those long tours you just sorta glaze over. It looks good and people think it must be amazing to travel like that, but most people have never been on a plane 10 days in a row. People see superstar DJs and it looks like a nonstop party where they make millions of dollars, but for the grinding club DJ the job looks a lot more like that of a traveling salesman. Having friends in the cities you travel to makes a huge difference, as does having a personality that isn’t opposed to a little pensiveness. You’re getting paid very well to go out there and play cheesy mp3s about saving the world.. That’s the paradox that Roc is probably talking about, it can really take a toll on your psyche. If you don’t find some balance it’ll eat you up and you start having full panic attack meltdowns as the airplane door closes.
can you list the DJ things you bring to a gig (be specific)?
MacBook Pro, Serato records, Technics headphones, Shure 44-7, Pepto Bismol.
you’ve played your early set and you’re moving into prime time. how do you get the crowd to recognize there’s a real, skilled DJ behind the decks? do you have go-to mini-sets. what’s your most effective one?
Ideally I’d slowly build it up. I’d rather have the club popping off more at 2:30am than 1am. In some cities, like Vegas, you just gotta hit em. 12:30- Throw on a DJ drop, hit that airhorn a few times, and let the Pitbull rip. It took me a long time to understand that but it’s what the people want. The best way to let people know you’re a skilled DJ is by being consistent and having the next song make sense. When I first started doing these clubs most of the guys I looked up to worked in mini sets… Little bursts of musical genres arranged by artist, crew, city, etc. Then that style started to get a bit repetitive, and the mash-up craze threw a real wrench into the whole mentality. If I never have to hear a mix where the only reason the songs are together is because they have the same word in the title, I’m definitely ok with that.
do you ever say F it and play things that a big vegas crowd might not want to hear?
No. I have 0 desire to see a bunch of people on vacation to wile out in Vegas blankly staring up at me for trying to “educate” them. To be honest, I wouldn’t want that done to me. I will say however, that some of my best nights have been when a rapper/DJ/boxer comes through, because it weirdly gives me license to play for them. And then I get to go in on the hip hop that I like the most and I feel like I’m at my best. For example, Lil Kim came by the club on NYE this year and the 6 minute Lil Kim mini-marathon I gave myself permission to do was definitely the only part of the night I will remember.
do you ever mess up?
Probably every night. Nobody cares, just keep it moving. I’d rather hear someone slam a record here and there, instead of 20 perfect 8-bar intro/outros in a row. Technology has made it so any idiot can be an adequate DJ, so It’s better to have a little personality than to be perfect and boring.
do you play requests?
Yes. If you’re respectful and don’t give me your life story before spitting out your request, I’ll definitely consider it. I’ve had tons of requests save me when I’m in a real mental block during the night.
I think a big myth is that DJs get a ton of girls. At least 80% don’t meet girls in the booth aside from the request, what do you think?
I can’t speak for all DJs but in my single days that was never true. Plus no respectable chick is lurking the club after like 2:30/3am anyway (Cue Roctakon calling me a pussy).
who has inspired you as professional DJ?
A lot of my favorite DJ’s have become great friends. Obviously all the guys in the video inspire me in one way or another.. When I was young and starting out I listened to anything I could find from Kid Capri, Riz, Stretch & Bob, Emskee etc.. I think Eli Escobar is a true DJ’s DJ (ed.note: is it me or do all NYC DJs have a man-crush on Eli?). In the era of serato it’s really hard to be inspired. I ask my friends a lot when was the last time they saw an open-format/club DJ that blew them away, and nobody has a quick answer. That’s probably a sign of the times with Serato etc.
you seem like a clean-cut dude that shaves your body hair and has a really clean apartment, am I right?
No shaving of body hair.. Apartment is full of useless rap memorabilia and trinkets.
any plans for more videos?