It was recently announced that Simon Cowell’s reality talent show ‘Ultimate DJ’ is going into production and will be live-streamed on Yahoo Live. Domino-signed deep house DJ George FitzGerald explains why the upcoming show can only ever be a total farce.
I don’t find it very surprising that Simon Cowell’s trying to launch a DJ version of The X Factor, Ultimate DJ. The guy doesn’t seem to be motivated by anything other than money and thanks to the global popularity of EDM, a certain type of ‘DJing’ is now the most profitable way of performing music. There are minimal touring costs for a DJ who comes round with a USB stick and reproduces his music perfectly each time. So it’s entirely logical that Cowell wants to buy into this culture, just like all the other major label execs have over the last few years. It’s another cynical move from a very cynical person.
Remember that The X Factor wasn’t ever just a TV programme – it’s a way of cutting out the A&R process. You get your audience to pick you a winner and then you put out the record and it sells a few million at Christmas, without you having to know anything about music. It’s evil, but also genius. I don’t know if Ultimate DJ is going to work or not, but it’s a logical next step.
Having said that, I’ve no idea what the contestants will actually have to do to impress the judges – probably anything other than DJing. That’s why the idea of a primetime TV show about DJing is so utterly ridiculous: a DJ set needs to be experienced over several hours. You can tell if a singer can sing over the course of two songs, but you can’t tell if a DJ’s any good after two tracks. So it’s all going to be about looks and personality, all the things that are complete anathema to dance music and where it came from. One of the things that’s nice about underground dance music is that people who look like shit can still be really big. You don’t have to look like Beyoncé or Bieber, you just have to be good.
Ultimate DJ could only be credible if it were a TV equivalent of the DMC mixing contest, showcasing traditional scratch DJ skills. But a primetime audience doesn’t care about how many clicks you can do in an orbit scratch, or which break someone is beat juggling. They care about if someone looks really nice and if they cry when they’re told they might not make it through to the next round. It’ll make for hilarious viewing, but it’s depressing as well.
DJing has always struggled for mainstream acceptance – it’s not like playing the guitar or singing – but I don’t expect Cowell’s programme to help people understand DJing as an artform. DJing is not about pressing play on tracks, it’s about the curation of music, challenging people with new things and acting as a tastemaker. The EDM guys just play back-to-back hits and it’s often pre-recorded to sync with the fireworks.
As a result, there is more of a celebrity element attached to DJing and that has filtered down a little to the underground. People do expect more of a polished image, whereas I like the fact that most DJs aren’t celebrities – you can talk to them at the bar and have a conversation about music. It’s not like seeing a really big band, these mythical beings who disappear backstage. The problem is that when people start thinking that DJs are stars, it changes the whole dynamic of a night out.