The soul of the matter is a pressing issue.

You know what a computer doesn’t have? Soul.

Are MP3’s made by the human hand with tools and years of expertise?

Vinyl is tangible, touchable music able to be manipulated by human hands for human ears injected with the soul of its creators and purveyors.

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Words From Chez Damier

“… In Chicago, the difference between how we see house music now and then is that it was a lifestyle then.” 

“… for us, it was a culture. We really looked forward to going out—from the high school arena through to the more underground arena—we really looked forward to going out to this event, it was [just] our nature.”

– Chez Damier in his Resident Advisor interview

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Rhythmatic @ SmartBar Chicago w/ selectors Michael Serafini & Scotty Brandon

One of the last great dance and vinyl centric music shops in the U.S., Gramaphone Records is a must-visit destination for out of town DJ’s and collectors and is right in our back yard. Once a month the store takes over SmartBar here in Chicago to showcase the music that has made its way through the store over the years and it is not to be missed.

The night, with music ranging from classics to the newest in the bins, is held down by Gramaphone owner/operator Michael Serafini who is undeniably one of the cities hardest working selectors with residencies at Boom Boom Room and Dollar Disco plus a calendar full of guest spots. He is joined by resident Scotty Brandon who is a writer at Gramaphone’s Phonologue blog, a producer with releases on Fresh Meat Records, Moodgadget and Ghostly International and a selector with over 15 years experience working dance floors all over the U.S.

With a steady stream of guest DJs from throughout the city and beyond, the night is one where musical surprises and a steady stream of good time beats will keep you moving late into the night. Check out our Upcoming Events section for dates and guests!

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Excellent words from Nina Kraviz on Resident Advisor.

“I like it when you feel the person is behind the turntables, not Traktor or any other program… I hate tight mixes. I mean seriously I’m telling you that. That’s why I stopped going out to [see] the contemporary, European nice DJs because even though I like the music, it’s super tight. It feels like they are trying to solve a mathematical theory. They are so into it they forget about the crowd. I will always be battling for the right to believe in a different kind of mixing. I think music is first, the mixing is second… I pray that in years I am not losing the sense for it, because it’s so easy to lose it.”

–  Nina Kraviz in her Resident Advisor interview

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A New Year. A New Outlook.

For many months now, following a great eruption, this blog has sat dormant. In that time I’ve talked to many people, both through this blog and in person, about the topics I had discussed. Some were happy to have found someone who agreed with them. Some were upset that I had talked negatively about something they do. I loved the discourse, it was rewarding and challenging, but what I really want is to be supporting this world of music I care so much about. While that sometimes means exposing its dark side to get people talking, it also means highlighting its bright side.

Call me sentimental, but I love the days of vinyl records and mistakes. I love hearing someone take two records and work them together with effort and an element of risk. I love the occasional pop and hiss of a vinyl record and I love how big its un-limitered, less compressed beats sound on a nice system. I love hearing and dancing to amazing tracks that I have never heard before, and I love it when a selector surprises me and plays something unexpected. I’ve always seen this music as more of the man and machine becoming harmonious rather than one controlling the other. That is why I love hearing the bit of humanity and the physical world that you hear in sessions when they are played with vinyl records.

That may be a nostalgic way of thinking, but its where this scene came from, where I came from and I believe it should be at least a part of where its going. If you disagree with me that these things are important, that’s your prerogative and you can do your thing and you don’t have to read this blog anymore. There is a reason it is called ‘While My Turntables Gently Weep’ and not called ‘While My Computer Laughs Loudly While Pointing At My Record Collection‘ after all. However, this blog IS NOT about hating on computer DJs. For the record I AM NOT ANTI-COMPUTER, but I am PRO-VINYL so don’t get it twisted.

Basically, if you want to know what’s eye catching, ear grabbing or attendance worthy in Chicago and beyond, keep checking in. This is a place for community, for music and for keeping the tradition alive of using creative, emotive, expressive and artistic music to motivate a group of people to shake their asses. ‘While My Turntables Gently Weep‘ is back on it and all are welcome in our world of merry music!

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This is not about Digital DJing its about Digital Files, I Swear.

After reading many of the comments to my 2011 State Of The DJ Address  I was shocked at the number of people who quoted sound quality as their reason for believing digital was better. Yes records have pops, scratches and skips (mainly only if you are a dickhead and don’t take care of your collection) but vinyl records definitely produce an infinitely better quality of sound than a digital file, especially an MP3. Don’t be fooled, MP3’s are horrendous. Talk to any true audiophile and they will tell you that MP3s are garbage. The reality is that CD quality (16bit 44.100 kHz) is not that great either. These digital files only reproduce a fraction of what your ear is capable of hearing.

The above is a representation of a recorded sound wave. The top wave is what your CD (WAV or AIFF) or MP3’s look like and the bottom is what an analog source looks like. Each one of those little notches in the wave is missing information. Information that your ear has to extrapolate, almost as if you are missing key frames in a movie. In an MP3 there are even more of the gaps as more information is removed to create a smaller file. In an MP3 its more like you’re missing full scenes of a movie and your ears and brain have to strain even harder to fill in the gaps.

Go to any club with a good to great sound system and put on an MP3 of any bit rate and then put on a record and tell me which one sounds better, i dare you. You’ll hear that the compression of an MP3 flattens its signal and any of its punch goes out the window, the mids sound hollow and the highs are piercing and nowhere near crisp and bright. Add to that the ear fatigue and strain on your brain from the gaps and you’ve got a not so ideal listening situation.

If you don’t believe me, take it from Tony Andrews the co-founder of elite dance club sound system manufacturer Funktion One. He is a true audiophile and someone with a unique understanding of clubs and club sound systems. Listen to what he has to say from the 6:30 mark until the end of this video.

“It’s not real sound”, “It’s a toy”, and “MP3s are a very big insult”. Thats what this club sound obsessed guru had to say about digital files, and his comments about CD quality aren’t very flattering either.

So, basically, I’d much rather have a night with a few crackles and pops occasionally than hours of consistent substandard sound quality, wouldn’t you? The moral is, if you truly care about sound quality at the very least you should only be buying, ripping and playing 16bit 44.100kHz .wav or .aiff files if you use a computer to DJ. That said, I’ll bet 99% of Digital DJs are using MP3’s and ruining sound quality all over the world. So, please people, do not argue that digital files sound better because as Mr. Andrews says “That is complete and utter rubbish.”

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Something Happened On The Way To Obscurity.

So yesterday I was bored. Something had happened that sparked a long Facebook dialogue that interested me. Having started this blog months ago just so I could have a place to bitch and vent about everything that was going wrong, in my opinion, with DJ culture and nightlife I figured my little 2011 State Of The DJ Address would be a perfect thing to post here. Shit, hardly anyone knew there was a blog here at all anyway.

The funny thing is, people actually read it. Some have really loved it, and found it insightful and some were just downright offended. But, what is annoying to me is how many people just wrote it off as me slagging digital DJing. In the end, I don’t give a shit how you choose to play music for people, what I do care about is when you’re untrained, unseasoned and your set is boring, mixed badly, cliche, trite or overly mashup-ified and what you do gives what I do a bad name. I care about when untalented and even more so uncreative people get booked because they have a laptop, the Beatport top 40 downloaded tracks and they’ll play for cheap.

The fact is that it’s just plain harder to play vinyl than it is to DJ digitally, plus it was far more time consuming and expensive to build a collection and those that continue to do it deserve more respect. You can’t deny that. It is also a fact that if you show up to a gig with your whole set beatmatched, sequenced and planned out in your computer then it’s not really any different than just playing a CD you made and it’s not really DJing, it’s performing a previously choreographed routine. I mean what else are you really doing at that point? Feel free to flame me in the comments by the way.

Shit, I use a computer with vinyl controllers to DJ some of the time and so do a ton of DJs I love and respect. Its a tool we can use, but shouldn’t be a crutch we have to depend on. Now get up, dust yourself off and read the goddamn article for what it is, and while you’re at it read the comments and post one yourself. After all, I am not the defining voice in nightlife culture by any means. I’m just speaking my mind.

In closing, sure I’m cooler than you because I actually have a real record collection and you just have an external hard drive full of MP3s, but that shouldn’t stop us from being buds… Shit I’ll let you rip some of my vinyl… For the right price of course. 😉

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2011 State Of The DJ Address

Three days ago my good friend Michael Serafini posted a self proclaimed “Rant” to Facebook. For those who don’t know, Michael is an amazing DJ, a resident of Boom Boom Room, proprietor of Gramaphone Records in Chicago and a strong proponent of vinyl and the classic DJ ethos. His post read…

“Most clubs do not pay their Djs anymore. We Djs have become promoters/party throwers and make our Living from the Door Charge. So is the $5 bucks at the door not worth Our talent?! Sick of people who make 5 times as much money as i do complaining about paying! You want to complain about it? Have the Club pay for you then!”

This post received 127 ‘Likes’ and 82 ‘Comments’ to date including supportive comments from people like Maurice Joshua, Boo Williams, Traxx and Glenn Underground as well as numerous other DJs, event producers and clubbers. While mostly touching on DJ income and the lack of interest audiences have in being a part of paying it, it really speaks to the many problems that are plaguing todays nightlife from modern technology to club management to mediocre sets. I started to write a comment in reply, but realized that it was far too in-depth for a Facebook post. Here is what it became…

The first step in the declining state of the underground music DJ in America deals with the changes in the DJs themselves. As I’ve said before just because a Graphic Designer can use the paintbrush tool in Photoshop or Illustrator it DOES NOT make them a painter. They can never know the fine nuances of mixing paint, the way the brush feels against a canvas or the way each stroke is final and important to the piece as a whole. The same can be said about DJs. If you don’t have what it takes to show up with a bag or two of varied records and CDs and improvise your way through an entire evening of unknown desires and energy levels without the aid of cue-points, loops and computerized-beat-matching than you are just not a DJ. A computer can aid you, but it shouldn’t do your job for you. If you already have your set planned out and you’re just pushing some buttons on your computer (Ableton, Traktor, etc.) you are a PERFORMER putting on a show of what you want to play, not what works based on timing and the mood in the room. Those that don’t take risks and who haven’t utilized the original medium can never truly know the fine nuances it takes to be a great DJ. Sure they may have people dancing, but does a print of a painting speak to the soul the way the original does?


“[I am not] slagging digital DJing. In the end, I don’t give a shit how you choose to play music for people, what I do care about is when you’re untrained, unseasoned and your set is boring, mixed badly, cliche, trite or overly mashup-ified and what you do gives what I do a bad name. I care about when untalented and even more so uncreative people get booked because they have a laptop, the Beatport top 40 downloaded tracks and they’ll play for cheap.

The fact is that it’s just plain harder to play vinyl than it is to DJ digitally, plus it was far more time consuming and expensive to build a collection and those that continue to do it deserve more respect. You can’t deny that. It is also a fact that if you show up to a gig with your whole set beatmatched, sequenced and planned out in your computer then it’s not really any different than just playing a CD you made and it’s not really DJing, it’s performing a previously choreographed routine. I mean what else are you really doing at that point? (Feel free to flame me in the comments by the way.)

Shit, I use a computer with vinyl controllers to DJ some of the time and so do a ton of DJs I love and respect. Its a tool we can use, but shouldn’t be a crutch we have to depend on.”

“In the 6th sentence of the ‘TECHNOLOGY’ section I stated “A computer can aid you, but it shouldn’t do your job for you.” I actually use control records and a computer running Serato at most of my gigs. Most of my sets are close to 50/50 vinyl and computer because there’s just some things I can’t get on wax, some records just don’t leave my house anymore and there are unreleased demos of mine I want to play. Had you read my other posts here, you would have read sentences that said “Sure, CJs [Computer Jockeys] can bring the house down and DJ’s can suck” or “After all, there is one thing that a computer, itunes, beatport or blogs can’t show you and that is how to express your soul and do it for a dance floor of sweaty bodies.” My statements had nothing to do with Computer=Bad, Vinyl=Good. My point was that there is a process to becoming good at an artistic discipline. If you want to be an architect you have to first learn basic drafting and physics, if you want to be a painter you have to learn color theory and light, if you want to be a designer you have to learn typography and layout, etc. You also have to put yourself out there, be critiqued and prove yourself amongst your peers and audience.

My problems with the current DJ scene are that people who never paid a dime for their music, never slaved away learning how to beat-match, never made mixtape after mixtape and gave them to every promoter in town, and who have never played a gig outside their bedroom calls themselves a DJ. And those “DJs” go out and undercut pay rates and clueless, dollar-obsessed club management takes them up on it. That’s why my piece was meant to be read as a whole, not just in parts, because one problem is creating another.”

“Computers have made good DJs better but have increased the number of bad DJs exponentially. For real DJ’s, the advent of computer DJing made life easier by no longer having to haul crates and crates of records to gigs. It has even made them better by giving them new options, such as cue points and loops, in order to better manipulate and utilize the tracks they play.

The problem is that this ease and convenience of the computer coupled with the availability of cheap (or free) digital music has also meant an influx of bad, untrained DJs. DJs who never had to dig for records in a record store, hone their ear/hand coordination on the decks and develop their own unique sound and style. This has created an over abundance of mediocre “DJs” and the average listener doesn’t know the difference between good and bad anymore, or care for that matter.

What matters most is the end product, a room full of people sweating and boogying, but the process is how you get there. True DJs can accomplish this by playing music, and playing it their way, regardless of whether or not the dancers know the tracks or not. It is truly an art form…”

Beyond technique, there is the way music is now acquired which contributes to the detriment of our scene. When I first began DJing in the early 90′s I used to spend $7-$10 on a 12″ single or EP containing 2-4 tracks, with most likely only 1 track being “my track.” This cost provided a necessary roadblock to the DJ. It forced a DJ to truly select only the best tracks they felt represented their sound and would work best for the dance floor. Then for every gig you could only bring what you could carry, so you’d again select the best of the best of the variety in your collection. This selective process provided a remarkable music experience for the audience, and a continuous challenge for the DJ to be inspiring, unique and keep people coming back to hear you. Today, tracks are $1 or $2 online, not to mention free for all the thieving blog downloaders, so the DJ has very little constraints. Plus a DJ with a computer can have 1,000s of tracks at the ready at anytime. The passion for music selection is no longer evident, and DJs have the ability to easily acquire the same tracks as one another. The first negative this has created is a fairly homogenized music scene. However, and more importantly, combined with current DJ and performance technology, anyone and everyone can do no more than sit at home on their computer and become a “DJ” without ever learning how to read a crowd, mix by ear or dig through a record shop for unique gems.

The result of these “advances” means the average club going audience has gotten used to mediocre DJs & Performances that don’t truly move them; both their body and their soul. So when music directors, general managers, owners, etc. line-up entertainment for their club, especially in the current economic situation, they go for the lowest common denominator. “Who can give me the most bang for my buck right now?” It is about immediacy of return, not about building a club that will reap dividends over time. However, this is just shortsightedness on the part of management as a club with a defined musical direction and a cohesive stable of 2-3 resident DJs versed in diversity and dance floor manipulation will do far better in the long run than a club that does something completely different every night and tries to follow every fad. This lack of know-how and faith combined with laziness and the ever present quest for the easy buck is why management now puts the full responsibilities on the entertainers (DJs & Event Producers) to promote and sell the event and then only offer what is made as a cover charge as compensation. It’s a no-lose situation for the venue because they have nothing invested, they keep the highly profitable bar sales and they receive tons of free advertising for the venue through the various “entertainers” they use to fill their clubs. However, what these people fail to see is that this system waters down the identity, and in turn, integrity of their establishment and does not foster an environment of partnership between the venue and the talent. For example look at the way Robert Williams supported Frankie Knuckles at The Warehouse and then later Ron Hardy at The Music Box. When Frankie Knuckles first began playing his New York styled disco sets at The Warehouse in Chicago (the venue where ‘House Music’ got its name) it was slow and Frankie was not well received, it has been described as luke-warm at best. However, given the unwavering support of owner Robert Williams based on his belief in the music and Frankie, Chicago became the birthplace of House Music. Imagine for a moment if after the first couple of slow nights Williams had cut Frankie and tried to get something more financially lucrative and successful? The same can also be said of Michael Brody and Larry Levan’s partnership which began at Reade Street and led to the legendary Paradise Garage, or Tony Wilson and Rob Gretton’s support of Mike Pickering and the Acid House sound at The Hacienda.

In short clubs truly are no longer clubs, but venues. They are a place for DJs and Event Producers to hold events, not a place for people to get together and unify over a common cause (which in this case is music and nightlife culture). This, combined with lackluster talent, has driven down the club-goer’s desire to attend events, especially when they have to pay a cover. The word that best describes the average American club goer is apathetic. It doesn’t matter to them who’s playing or what’s happening because they simply can’t tell the difference anymore. They are solely there to be seen and get laid. Times were a lot better when it was dance your ass off to amazing music, then be seen and then get laid. To all you club goers out there, times are hard and we’re all trying to save a buck, however that DJ is working hard for your $5, $10 or whatever cover may be, so stop asking to be on the guest list and stop complaining about cover charges. If you don’t have the money, don’t go out and if you just don’t like the cover complain to the venue’s management that they don’t compensate their Entertainment adequately in order to keep the cost down for their clientele.

Many people have quoted this current club situation as a reasoning for a return to underground, warehouse, renegade, rave, loft, etc. parties like in the 90′s. However, I think people seem to remember those times with rose colored glasses. I remember the days of paying $20, $30 even $50 to get into a party only to have the party broken up by the cops shortly thereafter (in fact, just last month I paid $20 to get into a loft party in Chicago that was shut down not 5 minutes after I got in). I remember headlining DJs not showing up, sketchy promoters not paying DJs what they were promised, confiscated equipment and many more awesome times. While these parties, when they’ve gone off without a hitch, have been some of my most memorable times in music and DJ culture, they are also a huge gamble and one that the entire scene cannot depend on.

Younger people whose first experiences were at those parties seem to think that’s how this all got started but that’s not the truth. This culture could not have become what it is without nightclubs. In fact here’s a short list of very important ones in the evolution of our scene: Stonewall Inn (NYC), Salvation Too (NYC), The Sanctuary (NYC), Haven (NYC), The Loft (NYC), The Gallery (NYC), Reade Street (NYC), Galaxy 21 (NYC), Better Days (NYC), Ginza (NYC), The Roxy (NYC), The Paradise Garage (NYC), The Warehouse (Chicago), The Music Box (Chicago), Powerplant (Chicago), Heaven (Detroit), The Music Institute (Detroit), The Hacienda (Manchester), Shoom (London), The Shelter (Detroit). The problem is today’s clubs need to be something more than a space. We need more amazing sound systems, great lighting that elevates the energy and more community. I do not believe there is one world class nightclub in Chicago that has all of these elements, and I’d venture to say there is not one in the United States at all.

Which brings us to the most important factor… We can complain about the technology, we can complain about mediocre sets, we can complain about club politics and beaurocracy, but at the end of the day what we truly need are dancers. There are simply too many wanna be DJs, celebutards, trainspotters, chin-scratchers, Jersey Shore fist-pumpers and fashionistas out there but just not enough dancers. When I say dancers, I don’t just mean people who want to dance to their favorite songs they hear fifteen times a day on the radio, I mean people who go out to be moved for a few hours. People who don’t make requests and trust that the DJ is going to move them. People who get lost in the sound and move to the beat with no other cares in the world. We need them, but most of all… WE NEED TO BE THEM! Never trust a DJ who doesn’t dance. Its an old saying, but a true one. If you want a revolution, you have to start one and the dance floor is the best place to begin.

So, my opinion on Michael’s post is that we all should be paying cover to get in to places, because that’s just the right thing to do. However, it is important to only pay to hear the best DJs, and the ones who move you and not supporting the events with lesser talent but more frills. The bottom line is if you want to dance to good music, played well, then there’s a price. If you think that price is too high then take it up with the club or go somewhere else. I personally wouldn’t pay cover because there’s a “photo booth” or someone taking photos because I really don’t give a shit about trying to have my picture looking all crazy ‘in da club’ on a website or as my profile picture. I pay for a good time dancing, socializing and hearing great DJs express the talents and collection of music they’ve worked for years to cultivate.

Chicago nightlife has an identity crisis going on because it is stuck between LA and NYC and it tries to be both at times, but Chicago is unique. It is the birthplace of house music and of the home studio DJ/Producer. There is amazing talent here that is actually so much better than the international headliners that people pay big bucks to see play the same songs. We don’t need headliners to have a great night, we just need to have an open mind and faith in our local DJs. So put on your dancing shoes, get that $5 out of the ATM and get out there! See you on the dance floor.


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The joy is in the unknown.

I’ve never understood when a DJ, in reference to an upcoming gig, says they’re rehearsing their set or they’ve got it planned out. How is that possible? How can you predict the feeling in the room, what’s working for the dance floor, when to raise the energy and bring it back down? DJing is like jazz; reading the room and playing the tracks that take the dancers on a journey. Besides, what’s the fun in just going through the motions when the fun is in the risks you take.

“A wonderful night is made as much by the dancers as the music, guided as much by the spirit of joy in the room as by the hand that chooses the next record.” – Bill Brewster describing David Mancuso’s thoughts on DJing

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With new methods should come new terminology.

Francis Grasso – inventor of “Slip-Cueing” & “Beat Matching”

The art of mixing two songs together to keep a dancefloor moving has been around for around 40 years now. However, the term DJ has never been modified in anyway to adjust to the many changes that have occurred in the equipment used to do the job since then.

Because of this I propose a new terminology. A new set of definitions for people who play pre-recorded music in public for the enjoyment of others…

The “DJ”
This is the classic term. For those who don’t remember, it stands for DISC jockey. It is a person who manipulates DISCS containing pre-recorded music for an audiences enjoyment. Any person who claims to be a DJ should be able to show up at a party with only vinyl and rock it. Any person who claims to be a DJ should be able to show up at a party with CDs and rock it. A DJ should be able to show up at a party and control a computer with turntables and/or CD players and rock it. A real DJ should be able to mix by ear with no visual aids. If you cannot mix without a computer screen, keyboard or midi controller you are not a DJ.

The “Performer” or “CJ”
First off, a hard disk DRIVE on a computer is not a disc. You can’t take it and throw it like a frisbee and have it sail across the room. It is a mechanical, electrical piece of storage equipment that is housed within your computer of which you manipulate its interfaces (keyboard/mouse). The Performer or CJ (“COMPUTER jockey”) is anyone who doesn’t use disks (vinyl or CDs) to DJ. This includes internal and autosync modes on software like Serato or Traktor, as well as Ableton Live sets. This entertainer requires visual aids (waveforms, bpm indicators, autosync, cues, loops, etc.) in order to mix and often creates their sets outside of the club based upon the music they want to play rather than what the mood in the club dictates.

Sure, CJ’s can bring the house down and DJ’s can suck, see the previous post “I fuckin’ hate DJ… Call me Artist!” This is not a better or worse thing. Its just a more accurate description of what an Artist is using to perform. You wouldn’t call a Graphic Designer a Painter just cause they can use a paint brush tool in Photoshop now would you?

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