In bars along the Ossington strip—and across the city—amateurs with iPods rule the dance floor.
Have you ever heard of an “iPod DJ”? Even if you think you haven’t, you probably have. We all have a friend—or a friend of a friend—who Facebooks us to come hear them play tunes at some bar on some night.
The so-called “iPod DJ”—or maybe it’s more accurate to say “laptop DJ”—is someone who ports his or her entire digital collection to the bar for your listening pleasure. Consider Fridays on the Ossington strip: Fashion girl-about-town Caroline Shaheed plays at Churchill on Dundas West, while Justine Iaboni and a group of girls who operate under the stage name Secret Models are taking over the party at The Ossington.
Another one of these DJs, Anupa Mistry, has played music-woman at CHUNES, a monthly dance party she once spearheaded at Stella on Bloor West, near Lansdowne. Like most iPod DJs, she started doing it by accident. “I am just a big geek about being able to hear songs I love played out loud in a bar,” says Mistry, who had a social connection to the manager of Stella. And that’s basically how it happens: You know someone who knows someone who owns or manages a bar and can vouch for your musical taste. Through the use of laptop audio programs (the most basic ones are free on the web), Mistry and the others are able to import a playlist and create mixing and layering effects that once could be produced only by using turntables.
But it’s not so much the technology that makes this trend a takeover, since vinyl DJs (the “real” DJs) have also embraced the advancements that make their work easier. What’s new is the way this honoured profession (one that has at least a dozen anthems dedicated to it) has opened up to non-pros who can hold their own musically. Using a so-called fake DJ is easy and inexpensive for venues, especially since bar owners and managers often recruit candidates from within their own culture clubs. It’s also an effective marketing tool for smaller bars since these DJs often come equipped with a social network that shows up out of support and interest—and also buys a lot of drinks. The Secret Models, for example, started as a one-off for a friend’s birthday party on a quiet-ish Tuesday night. Now they play at least once a month to a full house.
The success of the iPod DJ raises a question, though: Now that the tech is readily available, what’s the difference between “real” jockeys like Your Boy Brian—long-time resident DJ at The Drake and other places—and hobbyists like Mistry? For pros like Brian, these newcomers are not a threat. “I have no problem with iPod DJs,” he says. “I’ve never really spent the time to ponder their existence.”
For her part, Mistry is quick to shy away from claiming official DJ status. “I think [that] kind of spits in the face of the real DJ who actually takes this seriously in terms of making a living or as part of making music.” For Iaboni and the Secret Models, the logic is different. “If someone asks me if I’m the DJ for the night, I say, ‘Yes,’” she says. “I think anyone who has the ability to turn a whatever night into an everybody-getting-sweaty-and-dirty-on-the-floor night, shouldn’t feel any less entitled to call themselves a DJ.”
It’s the bars that really benefit from letting the less experienced play a set. Stella, for example, has only recently begun letting trusted friends take over. After a renovation of the space for its re-launch as a neighbourhood hotspot, manager Vince Pollard and the staff tried their hand at the music. “We started inviting our friends to help us out and then as regulars started dropping in, we invited them to play, too.”
These days, the ritual at Stella is serious, and it now boasts music makers with bi-monthly or monthly nights on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. “Without the DJs, people wouldn’t stay as long on a weekend night,” notes Pollard. To promote its events, the bar posts updates on Twitter and Facebook, and their laptop DJs do the same. “We’ve been getting busier and busier every week.”
But just as not every blogger is a writer, or every person with a camera is a photographer, not everyone with a laptop or an iPod knows how to translate music to a dance floor. Dougie Boom, LeVack Block on Ossington’s resident DJ, puts it this way: “What makes a good DJ is being able to mentally step back and imagine yourself as the listener. It’s important to be a good scientist; be observant, prepare and experiment.”
So can you tell the difference between a real DJ and a fake one? If it’s a Saturday night before last call, there’s space on the floor and a beat to move to, chances are, you haven’t even noticed.
Your Boy Brian is spinning at the Drake Hotel on Friday, Dec. 2. 1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042.
The next Secret Models party at The Ossington happens this Saturday, Dec. 3. 61 Ossington Ave., 416-850-0161.