I take comfort in the underground music community. It is a privilege to inhabit a sphere satisfied to rumble safely below the radar of a mainstream culture obsessed with causing commotion.
When EDM heroes and social media superstars spew garbage online or on the mic, I tend to resist catering to the controversy. Instead I smile because we know better — and for that, I am grateful. In my opinion, the most effective response to the ignorance preached by commercial voices is simply to perpetuate purity. When popular icons — for example — loudly declare dubstep as “dead” for the umpteenth time, I quietly counter their cries by pushing the sound I know to be very much alive. To be honest, I take pride in our collective power to disprove the bullshit by disregarding it altogether.
That being said, one of EDM’s most prevalent purveyors of misinformation and media madness recently dangled an especially juicy morsel of clickbait, and this time I can’t resist taking a snap at it.
When the notoriously outspoken personality graced us with this ruthlessly ignorant outburst, my response was irreverent. I laughed. The outspoken celebrity — who I refuse to promote by mention of his name, so let’s call him “Better” — painted a crude caricature of local DJs in his original (since deleted) tweet and the explanation that followed. He accuses headliners of the usual transgressions: specifically redlining, and playing too many bangers. The travesty he describes comes off as comical, partly due to his grossly misdirected outrage. But in reality, my amusement is a symptom of “spoiled Denver dubstepper” syndrome. I’ve rarely witnessed an injustice akin to this headliner’s struggle.
See, when I think of opening DJs, I think of Subliminal.
Confronted by Subliminal’s existence, “Better” might be genuinely confused. Subliminal is a blatant contradiction to the celebrity DJ’s understanding of the role of the DJ and the opening DJ’s craft. “Better” depicts openers as clumsy and inexperienced, but Subliminal sparked his romance with the art back in 1999. “Better” injects his outrage with a touch of feigned empathy, referring to opening sets as the “grind”: a rite of passage to be endured rather than celebrated. But with 17 years of experience under his (decidedly metaphorical) belt, Subliminal has a reputation for — in proud words of fans apt to bragging for him — “rinsing” headliners “right off the stage”.
Of course, “Better” raises objection to that sentiment, too. He chastises openers for getting a crowd too “turnt”, leaving no room for the headliners to escalate. The grievance is reminiscent of many an internet debate over the appropriate approach to opening sets. Aside from the, unfortunately obvious, nuggets of wisdom (ditch the controller, learn to beatmatch), advice often mimics the celebrity DJ’s opinion: don’t go too hard, don’t play all the bangers. If this sounds like common sense, it’s a sense that Subliminal shamelessly ignores.
As a DJ-in-training, I’ve studied Subliminal’s opening sets extensively (excessively). The pointers I’ve gleaned are a bit different from the aforementioned ‘enlightened’ instruction. What I’ve learned from Subliminal is more along the lines of play what you want to play. The DJ’s job isn’t to cater to the crowd, and it certainly isn’t to sate the headliner’s ego. When you’re on stage, you’re the boss, so play what you love — and play it so your audience can love it, too. Rather than DJing to the “vibe” of the night, dictate that vibe yourself.
The dancefloor feeds off the energy of the DJ.
If you’re genuinely excited about your set, your audience will be, too; when your set is over, the enthusiasm remains. This isn’t stealing the headliner’s spotlight: it’s setting them up for imminent success. Work the dance floor into a fevered frenzy, then step aside and let the headliner deliver what their fans crave.
Even when his technical talent surpasses those of the headliner’s, Subliminal doesn’t receive many complaints. He has a knack for bringing out the best in the DJs he plays with, and enough skill to make a whole lineup sound good. Still, the guys he’s opened for are no scrubs: the original Sub.mission resident’s resume includes essentially every legend, pioneer, and innovator that dubstep has to offer — and the list spills well beyond the genre’s boundaries. He’s shared the stage with iconic artists from all ends of the bass music spectrum, including many EDM superheroes and his own idol, Andy C.
Over nearly a decade of representing Sub.mission, he’s earned the universal respect of Denver’s music fans and partygoers, the city’s underground promoters, the greater dubstep community, and your favourite international producers and performers. For Subliminal, support sets aren’t a “grind”. They’re a mission. “Moving people through sound, not hype” is more than a slogan printed on the Sub.mission t-shirts he sports on stage. It’s a personal passion, and a profound professional responsibility.
Therein lies the fundamental misunderstanding highlighted by the celebrity DJ tantrum. He directs his anger at the DJs who open for his tour sets, but truly, it is the event organisers and promoters who deserve the blame. Sub.mission would never subject fans of any sound to such a spectacle — in fact, the collective enlisted an army of ten resident selectors to protect Denver’s dancefloors from the threat. The Sub.mission roster is stacked, with Subliminal and nine more DJs who share his unwavering dedication to the .mission, the sound, and the craft (and each deserving of features of their own). These local DJs aren’t a target for ridicule. They’re respected as guardians of our sacred scene and emulated as role models. Here, the status of the local DJ is an honour to aspire to — thanks not only to the artists themselves but the promoters who don’t take them for granted.
In all his fury, our EDM friend makes one unarguable point: opening DJs are important. They’re absolutely essential. “Better” recognises that inadequate local openers can ruin a show — but the potential possessed by the good ones is a force far more powerful. The selectors who open shows are the magicians who open scenes.
So I present this set from Subliminal in defence of local openers and extend an emphatic “thank you” to the DJs and promoters who know why they do what they do. If anything, Better’s rage reminded me to give gratitude where it’s due. And if his drama also strikes you as laughably foreign, I urge you to forgo the fruitless arguments in favour of doing the same.
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Peace, love and respect.