DJ Day brings together all types in celebration of the craft.
Last year photographer Jonene Taddei and DJ Excel, both from Philly, were driving around town when he sprung a question on her: “Wouldn’t it be dope to take a big ass flick of all the Philly DJs?”
A seed was planted; a plan was set in motion. Soon organizer-extraordinaire Kamau Stanford and his green thumb were on board to nurture the seedling. He knew a few (hundred) DJs. He’d put out the call. His DJ friends Cosmo Baker and former- PW scribe Dirty South Joe had more contacts; they put out the call too.
A mega master list of DJs was drawn up. Would it be possible to get every Philly DJ of note—past, present and future—together for this epic pic? Looked that way. It was worth a shot. After all, like Taddei told Stanford, “If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly.”
And my, how that grizzly roared. What started as a picture morphed into the first annual Philadelphia DJ Day, a celebration of the legacy of the Philadelphia DJ seeking to bring hometown spinners of all nationalities, ethnicities and ages to represent every genre of music, and come together as a unified whole. The DJs share experiences, find new techniques, shoot the shit about music, explore new rhythms and beats and hold workshops for newbies interested in becoming mix masters themselves one day.
Mayor Nutter, a former-DJ himself (“Mix Master Mike”), even showed after Stanford pals Jazzy Jeff and Schoolly D extended an invitation to him. On Sept.24 of last year, the picture went off without a hitch, and Philly DJ Day was born.
Only “without a hitch” isn’t exactly correct. Just four days prior, one of the biggest names to appear in the photo, DJ AM, had been in a terrible plane accident and was recovering in a hospital. His good friend Jazzy Jeff had shirts printed with his name on them to let him know he was in their thoughts. Dozens of the DJs wore it to the shoot.
As the second Philly DJ Day approaches—this year a gigantic block party complete with free food, giveaways, art, more workshops and a DJ battle—last year’s photo appears particularly heartbreaking. DJ AM—Adam Goldstein—passed away in August at age 36.
“Adam touched a lot of Philly DJs,” Stanford says.
“He was a prodigy,” says DJ Rich Medina. “His musical scope of understanding with his incredible turntablist skills made him a true innovator. He introduced the pop world to what pure DJing can do on a larger platform.”
“I learned to be a tastemaker because of him,” says Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of AM’s fearlessness. “He’d mix 2 Live Crew’s ‘Get It Girl’ with Ray Charles. He’d play The Golden Girls theme with Daft Punk. Seriously, absolutely a maniac.”
That tastemaker mania is a thread common among Philly DJs who aren’t happy taking requests, and who are unafraid to play music crowds need to hear, opposed to what they want . It’s an especially unique trait now that any shmoe with iTunes on his laptop can book a DJ night at a bar hoping to bring in something more than the regulars.
“DJs have become robotic pussies,” says ?uestlove, with apologies to his mother, who hates it when he curses in the press. “They’ve become so timid and afraid to alienate these sheep on the dancefloor, and are only concerned with looking good and being the center of attention. They will play something even if they personally don’t like the song. I’ve been the victim of this pressure a few times, but mostly I pull out my inner Larry Levan and grab mofos by the throat and force them to see it my way. That’s what you paying me for, right?”
Now that technology has made becoming a DJ easier—doing everything from beat matching to song selection for the novice with undeveloped know-how—the ability to put together an ironclad set is more paramount than ever, separating the DJ wheat from the DJ chaff.
Good DJs don’t just read the pulse of a room, they manipulate it.
“They’re like dope rollercoaster conductors that can take you over the loops over and over ... faster and faster ... then let you catch your breath ... and whisk you off again,” says Stanford.
“You still need to know the basic funk-dementals of DJing,” says ?uestlove, dismissing the newest DJ toys available. “The magical but hard to obtain know-how of when to play the song that could make or break someone’s night...”
Philly is rife with DJs oozing that know-how, and Philly DJ Day seeks to bring them together.
“I think people in Philly, and especially the neighborhoods, are really competitive,” says legendary Philly DJ and rapper Schoolly D. “And basically people in Philly are always looking for a good party.
“And if you’re bad they will throw quarters at you,” Schoolly adds before laughing.
DJ Rich Medina seconds Schoolly. “There has always been a spirited competitive nature amongst those of us in the culture which forces us all to be sure we’re ready for prime time when our turn to rock comes along. We all have enormous footsteps to follow, and we all wanna have good showings in order to stay employed.”
“It must be the Schuylkill Punch cause we’ve bred some of the best DJs on the planet!,” says Stanford. “I think Philly is such a tough town. We like big sandwiches, winning football teams and good music. You fuck any of those up … and you got a freakin’ problem!” ■
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