One of the many things that I think confuses beginner DJs is the two words genre and style.
Most people define a musical genre as a category / classification of music that is based on certain key characteristics that are shared throughout the group. You could take this even further and break it down further into sub-genres which help classify and define even more so.
Music style, on the other hand, is the key characteristic that is reflected by the individual(s) performing the work. To help make it more concrete, I’ll use four examples containing four of my favorite DJ’s and their Boiler Room house music sets. While they are all playing house music, notice how each person carves out their own signature style of playing that separates them from each other.
The four DJ’s are:
Derrick Carter and his Soulful House | Boiler Room x Ballantine’s True Music: Hybrid Sounds Sao Paulo DJ Set.
Derrick’s set definitely has many of his personal touches and has that steady four-on-the-floor thumping kick that is one of his signature styles. Derrick also is a master of creating on-the-fly mashups and he demonstrates several examples in this mix easily blending rap vocals and house instrumentals.
Honey Dijon and her Boiler Room x Sugar Mountain 2018 DJ Set.
Honey’s set definitely has some catchy elements spread throughout (that Stevie intro!!) and she can definitely give your dancing leg muscles hell with a four on the floor beat. Another interesting thing about Honey is that her crate game is unbelievable and her incredibly deep knowledge of records is often reflected in her sets.
Frankie Knuckles and his Boiler Room NYC DJ Set.
Notice how Frankie plays a very instrumental set occasionally peppering in a strong vocal to keep things from getting too monotonous. He gives each song time to breathe, often allowing songs to play over 5 minutes in length. Also, notice how he favors seamless transitions slowly fading out elements of the outgoing track while introducing elements from the incoming track.
Farley Jackmaster Funk and his Boiler Room Detroit DJ Set.
Farley plays a set that I would consider very classic in style and his choice of music. It almost reminds me of the sets he used to play when he was affiliated with Hot Mix 5 at WBMX in Chicago and used to play house music sets on Saturday nights. While it’s not a very technical set, it still evokes memories of listening to WBMX back in the day because of the music first and the DJ second.
Now you’re probably wondering why does all this really matter (especially if you’re an open-format DJ). Well, I can give you three great reasons why it should matter.
For starters, it can help you become a better DJ. You can craft a signature sound that becomes all yours. When I think of DJs that have a particular style that is associated with them and no one else, I always think of Houston’s DJ Screw (Wiki) and his unique sound with chopped and screwed music (Wiki).
Two, by having a more focused sound, you also gain fans that are more dedicated and focused i.e. Kevin Kelly’s 1000 True Fans Theory. I am a huge fan of Derrick Carter’s and Honey Dijon’s style of playing jackin house music and because of that, I scour the internet constantly for any new mixes that either one of them put out.
The third reason why it matters is that having a focused and signature sound associated with you can help make your brand grow. As you grow more focused, your name and brand will start to become the defacto DJ for that sound. When it comes to Jersey Club music, the first name and brand that pops into my head first is UNIIQU3 ( visit her Instagram). To be truthful, I don’t listen to Jersey Club that much but living in NYC for many years, I’ve heard her name and brand nearly 99% of the time when Jersey Club (Wiki) is mentioned. To have that name recognition with someone unfamiliar with the genre is amazing branding if you ask me.
In closing, how do you feel about genre and style? Have you ever had any issues with playing a genre of music in a style that was more associated with another genre i.e. playing house for only 16 bars like hip hop for example? How important is it to develop your own sound?