(Re)Branding - Who Am I?
I've started working with Gracelle Mesina, a branding and logo designer based here in Vancouver. I've been putting more and more thought into what I want to do with DJing. A big part of that is defining my image and values.
The logo I use has been the same since the early 2000s. It's something I threw together in photoshop using mostly fonts. At the time I liked the look of the Bauhaus '93 font. I used some kind of dingbat font for the world map, and something close to crimson for a bold backing color. It has served me well for years, but lately I've been wanting to refresh my image to better reflect my values as a DJ and producer.
Before our first meeting, Gracey was very helpful in providing some questions for me to workshop about how I define "DJ Dain" as a brand. The first question (and arguably the one I found most difficult to answer) asked me to consider three words that describe who I am/what my brand is. In other words, complete this sentence: I am [this] but I'm not [that].
I struggled to come up with anything that wasn't too vague or cheesy. What helped me eventually break through was thinking about my values as a DJ, as well as rethinking "but I am not [that]" as a modifier to "I am [this]". Essentially, narrowing down even further what made my chosen descriptions unique to me.
I am adaptive, but I am not insincere
I have repeatedly changed up my strategies while DJ-ing to accommodate my MC/audience. When I had a residency at my College's Middle Common Room at Oxford University, we would host Bops every two weeks. They usually had a theme, from the TV show Glee to a 1920s Flapper Party. However, between 10:00 PM and 11:00 PM at every event someone would come up to me asking for the latest Rihanna, Katy Perry, or otherwise "cheese". I would quickly need to bail on whatever plans I had in terms of music selection in order to accommodate the needs of the dance floor.
In a more recent example, working with Francis Arevalo and "The Lions We Are" Band has led to me using the expression "stay frosty". One of the things I admire and respect about Francis is that he pays a lot of attention to his audience and is sensitive to their needs. Leading up to a show we will review and refine our set list multiple times. I've come to expect changes on the day of the show, during soundcheck, just as we're about to perform, and even in the middle of our show. While some DJs might find this frustrating, I love it. I know Francis is making these changes for important reasons based off reading the crowd. I'm very grateful that he and I share similar values around crafting an experience for our audience.
Although I pride myself in my adaptability, I have not sacrificed my taste in music just to placate every request. I have a firm stance about only playing out tracks I can get behind. If I'm not moving and grooving to the track in any way from behind the decks, how can I expect my audience to get into that mindset? I have seen too many DJs who play out pop, top 40, and other "bangers" simply because they know those tracks are popular. Anyone can buy and mix the Beatport Top 10, but if you don't love those tracks and aren't stoked to share them, why bother? I'm not saying one should only play underground tracks. Moderation is important! But one's taste emerges from being picky and building a library over time. I want to position myself as a curator who can put people on the path to discovering even more amazing music.
I am observant, but I am not thoughtless
I see and hear patterns in music. This has enabled me to make very successful mashups and develop my tastes across different genres. It started when I noticed certain songs had similar chord progressions or rhythms. As I looked into things further I started to use software to detect and alter key signatures to ensure everything sounded harmonic. Patterns started to emerge as I studied the dance floor. What's the flow of traffic been like to and from the bar? How many people are in groups having conversations? Who's starting to sway and tap their feet? Who's stopping and walking off? From traffic flow to body language I started putting the pieces together. But I needed more confirmation. Do other DJs see what I see? How does the venue impact the audience's expectations? I dedicated my Masters degree to the search for more information. I interviewed other DJs. I went out to clubs - staying out from when their doors opened to when they closed in the wee hours of the morning. I wanted to see with my own eyes how a night transformed.
Since leaving academia, I have begun a new path of learning. I have been extremely fortunate to participate with members of "The Lions We Are" creative community. They have been integral to my continuing growth and understanding of my relationship with people and their art. My thinking has changed as I have become more conscious of my privileges and what it means for a person of my background to "play" with other's art. I have started listening more critically, resulting in even more scrutiny about the songs I choose the play and the messages they contain. What good is a beautiful song when the words hurt the listeners? What stories am I telling - intentional or unintentional - with my choice of tracks? My underlying DJ philosophy has been "the right song, for the right moment, right now". Continuing my search for enlightenment about other's experiences can only help me towards realizing that intention.
I am knowledgeable, but I am not incurious
I have a passion and knowledge of a lot of dance music history. When I was in high school, one of my favorite internet destinations was a flash app called "Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music." It was my springboard into the vast sub-genres of dance music and their histories. Mind you, the guide is extremely cheeky and biased (and even fabricated in some instances) but it introduced me to so many new sounds.
During a university trip to England, a fellow classmate was very generous to pick up a used book she thought I would enjoy. It turned out to be Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton's "Last Night a DJ Saved My LIfe" - a history of DJing and DJ culture. That book would end up being pivotal as a starting point inspiring my academic research. I would go on to eat up any documentary, biopic, interview or news special I could find about dance music's history and evolution. From Thatcher's role in rave culture to diving deep into each of the five pillars of hip-hop. With so many facets and sub-genres available, I've felt free to gorge on a music buffet.
Despite years of research, study, and straight-up nerding out, I still struggle with imposter syndrome. There is still so much to learn. For all I've consumed on the subject matter, I still feel like I've only scratched the surface. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I feel like I have to always maintain a high working knowledge of my passion for this music. Thankfully, I've started working on changing that into a healthier mindset. My hunger and curiosity is something I should celebrate and nurture. I am learning to manage my expectations about myself and regain agency regarding my fear of other's judgments and opinions.
Values & Principles
As I discussed these ideas with Gracey, she noticed that there was a common thread between most of the terms I presented. My talents are rooted in my analytical thinking skills. There is a logic and calculating nature to my approach to DJing. However, my goals and intent are very much rooted in an appreciation for human experiences. I prioritize a kind of "vibe" or "energy" I want my audience to feel. My skills and understanding of systems are applied to the best of my ability to make these experiences a reality. I want to turn this way of approaching DJing into a process that I can grow and evolve as I continue to learn and discover more.