An itch to scratch
Can a gadget turn an amateur into a pro club DJ for a night?
If you’ve always wanted to deejay but are intimidated by the thought of dancers mocking your ineptitude on the turntables, you’re in luck. The new cheap, easy-to-use, portable hardware and software systems for mixing songs (see “Hot boxes,”) make it easier than ever for nongearheads to deejay sans turntables. These systems—complete with faders and knobs just like audio mixers that work in tandem with DJ software running on your laptop—let you manipulate digital music files as though they were sides on a record.
But how would a wanna-be DJ with no turntable experience fare in a real club with one of these new systems? We decided to find out.
For our experiment, we put the Behringer BCD 3000 through the paces: It packs a punch for the price ($199); it’s easy to set up; and it has an intriguing number of knobs and dials that make for a good tactile deejaying experience.
As for the club, J Bar at the James Hotel graciously allows us some play time—it has a primo sound system, and West Coast hip-hop producer Clinton Sparks recently spun there. But no pressure, right? To ease our novice spinmaster’s nerves, we secure the DJ booth for a mellow Tuesday night when tourists and downtown party prowlers are the only audience.
Our guinea pig is Taryn Parker, a Humboldt Park resident who is launching a clothing line, Coco Irene, this winter. When she takes the reins just after 10pm, she’s got a concentrated, not-messin’-around look on her face. Parker has wisely brought a posse of five friends to boost her confidence—there’s also a group of business-casual conventioneers, some dashing fellows in matching polos and one guy who hits on women by referencing his lack of endowment. Savvy.
While Parker sets up, a woman in a tight gray dress and knee socks asks for some hip-hop. But when Parker opens with Lil’ Kim’s “The Jump Off,” Ms. Knee Socks barely moves to the beat. Okay, so Parker’s not an instant success, but soon her track selection—alternative rock, slow jams and not-too-recent hip-hop—begins to work some magic. She manages a smooth transition into ubiquitous gay anthem “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross, then into Queen and David Bowie’s hit “Under Pressure,” which earns an appreciative hoot from one table. Next, she switches to the dirty South beats of OutKast’s “Gasoline Dreams,” prompting one cocktail-sipping gal to mutter, “I don’t know about that segue.”
But that’s the most jarring moment of the night, and the crowd is enjoying the tunes—a father and son and some canoodling couples are smiling, drinking and singing along (though they stop short of getting on the dance floor).
Her guilty pleasures—from Warren G’s sampling Michael McDonald in “Regulate” to the Cure’s “Fascination Street”— are more college mix-tape than dance-magic, but the set is charming, leading to discussions among the crowd of proper booty-dancing form. Yet even as more partyers stroll in and get settled, no one is cutting a rug—not even Parker. Finally, when she starts a Justin Timberlake “Love” suite—“My Love,” “Summer Love” and “Like I Love You”—Parker relaxes and starts grooving in the booth, while the amiable crowd mostly sticks to lounging around the corners of the club. There’s not much dancing, but it’s a Tuesday night after all, and Parker’s getting the job done, giving the crowd a fun, stimulating and danceable set.