A Practical Interview With a Prominent DJ (4th in a Series): Ctrl_Alt_Dlt
by Dave Segal
on Fri, Sep 14, 2012 at 3:32 PM
From Chris' Facebook
A few months ago, we were thinking about running a feature called DJ Survival Guide. I interviewed several Seattle disc jockeys for the piece and accumulated thousands of words of wisdom re: the selecting, mixing, and playing of music for other people’s pleasure, but the thing never achieved publication. So I’m going to post those interviews on Line Out, because there’s enough solid advice to help a lot of aspiring jocks… and because the replies are interesting in and of themselves. This week’s installment is with Ctrl_Alt_Dlt (Chris Aldrich, former Stranger music intern), who's part of the Sweatbox DJ/promotion crew and a resident of SpaceRock Saturdays at Electric Tea Garden, where marathon sets of trippy techno go down third Saturday.
How many hours a week do you practice/prepare? When I first started DJing 11 years ago, I spent hours in the basement refining my skills and an equal amount of time in the record stores digging through crates. Nowadays, I don't really spend much time DJing at the house unless I've got a lot of new tracks I need to feel out or a really big gig. I do spend many hours a week listening to tracks and DJ sets but I produce as well, so it's a balance of the two.
What’s your DJing format of choice and why? I use Serato on a Mac, preferably an Allen & Heath Xone 92 mixer, and two Technics. I love the 4-band EQs that the A&H offers and the faders are like butter, making my transitions, to me, much smoother. Serato has been the single greatest thing to ever happen to DJing. It has given me access to an endless amount of music and offered me the opportunity to get extremely discerning with my selections, all at an affordable price. It's also made me take a lot more risks within my sets and gotten me far more versatile as a DJ. Now it's just the challenge of being able to sort through and play all of this great music.
What are your recommendations for headphones, needles, turntables, CDJs, DJ-oriented software programs? Given the shoestring budget I've been operating on since I started, I've never been so up on the latest and greatest of DJ gear. I've had the same Sony VDR-700 headphones since I started and my Ortofon needles are haggard to say the least. But if there is one thing I'll endorse, without question, it's the Technics turntable. You can't go wrong with a pair of Technics; they'll last you forever and set the foundation for proper DJing, enabling an easy transition to CDJs or whatever else. CDJs are definitely something you should know how to play, as well. I've been at quite a few gigs where the turntables were in a rough state and CDJs the only option to keep the party going.
Where are the best places to obtain music, both in brick-and-mortar shops and online? I'd say Easy Street on Queen Anne has the best selection for dance music but you can't preview any of the new vinyl so you have to know what you're looking for when you go in. I've found some good stuff in the used bin at Everyday Music on the Hill and that's where I pick up a lot of my "new" vinyl these days.
For digital purchases, I'll go to Beatport and shop around, but I feel the site is over-inundated with mediocre music. When I go there, it's generally with some purchases in mind. I like whatpeopleplay.com, a smaller Berlin-based site that caters more specifically to quality techno and house. I'll start with whatpeopleplay.com and then explore the artists I find there on Beatport as well, since they often have a larger catalog for any given artist. Also, listening to DJ sets on Soundcloud and looking up tracks from the comment lists has tipped me off to loads of new artists and tracks.
What are the most effective methods for procuring gigs? In a hyper-competitive field, how do you set yourself apart from other DJs? When I first moved to Seattle, I passed out a lot of mix CDs and went out all the time, and in the process made a lot of friends and slowly got the chance to play house parties, renegades, small rave parties, and whatnot. It was a slow but steady progression of getting more and more involved with the scene until Jonny Romero and I started up Sweatbox, which really took things to the next level and has provided me the opportunity to play for some amazing crowds and alongside artists I could only dream of a few years ago. Overall, I think you've just gotta be passionate about what you're doing and put yourself out there. Support the shows you wanna play and meet as many people as you can. We're always looking for more quality techno artists to book.
What have you found to be the most efficient ways to fill the dance floor (with dancers, to be specific ;)? By booking me to DJ. ;)
Is beat-matching absolutely essential for a DJ? Not anymore apparently. I've seen some great artists, like Drumcell, Camea, Mikael Stavöstrand, and local artist Sone, play amazing sets utilizing Traktor and its internal mixing capabilities, there's no doubt it can be used as a powerful force for bringing techno to the masses. The flipside of the coin, though, is that it's made it way too easy to become a DJ and watered down the craft a bit. I don't know, to me it's like you're skipping a crucial step if you jump right into solely using Traktor. It seems like it's something you should explore later, once you've mastered the basics of conventional DJing and wanna try your hand at taking it further. There's also just something inherently more exciting about watching a DJ rock the shit out of a 2-3 minutes mix on turntables, than on a computer. I think the crowd feels it more.
How do you deal with requests? I was playing an opening set at ETG several months ago and had a string of sultry deep house cuts going when this girl came and asked for Gaga. It seemed such an absurd request that I laughed and asked, "Are you serious?" When she said yes, I just told her my usual response, "Sorry, it's not that kind of party." She pushed it even further saying it was her birthday and all that, so I told her some other clubs on the Hill where she could go hear that type of music and that was the end of it.
How effective do you think flyering is? Flyering is still effective, but on a smaller scale. You don't need 2000 flyers to pack an event anymore. For our SpaceRock Saturdays night at ETG we always make 1000 business card flyers, with about 3/4 actually ending up on the street. Facebook and social networking have made it much easier, but you still need to be out and about hustling the show. So you've gotta have a flyer in hand to give people something to remember. Not to mention that they play a big role in defining what your shows are all about.
What have you found to be the most beneficial ways to promote your gigs? Facebook is great, but I try to be tactful with it. It's tough to find that balance of how much is too much promoting, but I figure it's better not to beat people over the head with it. And nothing's better than pounding the pavement, hanging up posters, getting flyers to all the record shops, and posting up at the door of similar shows at closing time to hand out more flyers . If you have an overarching philosophy about DJing, please discuss it. I just try to push the limits with my sets, keep things really dancey, but also get as weird and intense as possible and try to make each track better than the last. I think to be a great DJ you've got to be a student of whatever genre you're exploring. Learn the history, get some context to it all and listen to as much good music as possible, both classic and contemporary. It's all about building up an arsenal of tracks and becoming as versatile as possible, able to play the right track at the right time, over and over again, all night. Taking risks with your selections is key, and has always been where so much of the fun lies.