I started learning how to DJ while I was in college. Mashups were very popular at the time, and what would become known as "EDM" was about to explode. I was getting into the music scene via blogs and aggregator sites like HypeMachine, and I wanted to throw awesome house parties for my friends, so I started to learn how to use a popular DJ application called VirtualDJ. It was actually surprisingly easy to learn the basic skills of matching BPMs and transitioning from one song to another - the hard part was selecting the music, and reading the crowd during a performance. One of the first parties I did was a Halloween party, so I decided on a "monster" theme for the music. All of my mixes were done in one take, so you can hear some abrupt transitions especially in this early one:
Over time I continued to hone my skills at parties as well as at home. At a party, a DJ needs to read the crowd and play what they want to hear, so many times there was no theme to the music, just a large collection that I could choose from and react on the fly. Meanwhile at home, the concepts I had for mixes got more and more complex. One of my first concepts was of a virus infecting a computer, causing the music to go from a regular beat to increasingly glitchy:
The pinnacle of my conceptual mixes was The Dreamscape, which took many months to assemble. The idea originally came about because I was getting into the so-called "nu disco" subgenre, which has a dreamy quality to it. But eventually I realized a Dreamscape mix should include the full range of dream emotions, from euphoric to nightmarish. The final mix slowly moves up and down this spectrum, reminiscent of a brain wave. Many of the song lyrics themselves reference dreams as well:
After The Dreamscape, I was becoming increasingly worn out with DJing, and graduation was approaching, which meant a lot fewer parties in my future. I still had a lot of songs I wanted to mix, so I looked through them to see if any theme emerged. I settled on a "madness" theme and created my final mix, Rooster Illusion (a reference to Tropic Thunder, one of the all-time best comedic movies). Although the theme was vague, this mix showed off my maturing skills, with the most difficult and seamless transitions to date:
I still occasionally DJ at friends' parties, but at home I have moved from mixing other artists' songs to producing my own covers and original works, which has required me to learn new skills and continually push my creative boundaries.
© 2016 Harrison Shapley