The art of the opening set seems to have been somewhat lost.
Now, let me explain.
The ‘warm-up’ is the term used to describe the first DJ set of the evening. It is the set before the main guests, and headline artists take to the stage. The set takes place when the venue dance floor first starts to take shape.
There is a common misconception that the warm-up DJ isn’t considered as important as the rest of the scheduled guests. Although the set may not be one for glory, it is the one that creates the environment to evolve and work through its patterns.
The art of the warm-up is a subtle, nuanced affair, and its main characteristic is restraint.
If you are a DJ that gets booked for peak times, you don’t get many chances to tease your audience. You can’t coax or seduce (unless you are playing an extended set length). The warm-up set is perfectly positioned to give you just that.
Setting the mood and flow of the room, dictating its direction is, debatably, the most important set slot of the whole night. The atmosphere is fragile, almost raw and cold at this time and needs to be caressed and moulded with care.
The warm-up needs to tease the early arrivals, leading them to the same mindset and place. It needs to create the first chapter of the yet, unwritten story. An underlying rhythm connects the track to the dancefloor. The tempo builds to a crescendo in the art of story-telling.
Playing a warm-up is a chance to dig out all the weird and wonderful pieces of music that you can’t drop in a peak time set. The wobblers and rollers, the obscure and the weird and wonderful delights stored in a precious folder on the USB.
Over time, the art of this special and highly-skilled set time has faded away and been disrespected.
Many DJs playing the opening slot have become completely disconnected from the mood and busyness of the dancefloor. Instead, the set becomes an extension of the artist’s expression, rather than the subtle tempo setting that the environment requires.
Is this indulging the ego of the DJ rather than setting the scene for the event?
Statement: DJs are not willing to adapt to the context of a warm-up anymore.
DJing is in a constant state of evolution. This flux is a necessity to keep creations of both sets and music fresh. Is this the cause of the current disconnection issue at many events?
One potential explanation of the dying art is the over-saturation of DJs.
Now, this is not a dig at anybody; every single person in life should be able to get behind a pair of decks and express their musical passion. The point I am alluding to is competition. With so many DJs available and active, some see it as their chance to showcase their entire repertoire of skills by dropping their biggest tracks to impress. Is this a purely egotistical nuance? Probably not. It is trying to push their ability and get ahead.
Another potential reason is the way music is currently produced. Higher tempo productions are a common occurrence. The upbeat tempos naturally have a knock-on effect with the set itself. However, I don’t buy into this as if you are a true artist and dig for the music, the access to the right tracks, combined with your back catalogue, is ample.
Knowing your music is vital when constructing your set flow. With so much music available and the over-zealous & frankly bizarre nature of many to drop fresh promo’s and the latest tracks – not respecting archive material (often the best material). This in itself can cause a problem. If your knowledge of the tracks is basic, the lack of knowledge can confuse the flow of the set.
Let’s now look at it from another angle.
Some promoters use the first set of an event to book a ‘newcomer’ DJ who is eager to frequent lineups but does not have the necessary experience of reading crowds and gauging an environment to provide the right vibe. It is often a tactic used by a promoter. Bring in a DJ with a following of friends and get them to the gig. You know the score (I’ll give you a set mate, in exchange, you have to bring 10 friends and we will give out two drinks tokens).
We often talk about laziness in promoter setups and the inability to pull a crowd from their marketing strategies. If promoters truly want to create that all-encompassing and immersive experience for their crowds, they would book warm-up set specialists. They know it is vital for the event’s success.
I believe that it comes down to education.
DJs, in my view, need to go back to the roots and meaning behind the set time. Any newcomer should be venturing out to listen to as many opening sets as possible to learn how to construct the folders. Only by educating ourselves and learning the fine art, its technicalities and specifics, the realisation that this set time is to be cherished will drop.
My first real venture into learning the subtlety of this set was one I will never forget. An empty dance floor at a gloomy by nature, Brixton Academy. The expectations and anticipation for the main artist on the night – Booka Shade was floating around the room.
People around the bars lined their stomachs with beer when a certain Krankbrother took to the stage.
It is a set that I will never forget. The duo delicately took the vibe through its paces. The Krankbrother duo teased the early partygoers with some weird and wonderful sounds.
The journey was epic. No ‘bangers’ were evident, nor FX. It built the vibe. It got people in the right headspace, ready for the next stage of the journey. Delicate, mild-mannered, yet incredibly effective.
BOOK WARM-UP SET SPECIALISTS.
Events are being ruined by poorly constructed warm-up sets – played by inexperienced artists wanting to stamp their authority on proceedings. The result – a confusing mess.
DJs – learn the meaning and the art of the set time. Respect its origins and cherish the playing time by seducing the crowd. You will gain far more respect and profile by paying homage to the roots. In essence, your career will be more fruitful than you know.