A lot of times when we go see our favorite DJs, there’s an opening act. These well known (and sometimes up and coming) DJs are in charge of getting the crowd ready for the headliner. They are often unappreciated by the crowd, who for some reason or another just want to get to the big name DJ. Other times they are appreciated, turning in a set that sometimes is better than the headliner themselves. We’ve been on both sides of that argument, and wanted to share our thoughts on the importance of the warm up DJ.
As an artist, sometimes you struggle on where your place is. For years, I just wanted to DJ. I was not concerned about being a headliner. I just wanted to share the music I loved with audiences wherever I went. I organized nights, some successful, some not, but I worked with DJs and artists I liked, eventually catching the ear of a major label who I was fortunate enough to work with for half a decade. As a unit, we opened up for larger bands with original music. I DJed in the band, but I also would help warm up the crowd at times in various locations. They all were not successful. I can remember being the warm up DJ and playing very break/ classic hip hop heavy set in the Midwest that was dug by only a few. I also remember a set I did in Montreal in front of a large audience that really resonated with the people that came to the show. Fast forward to a few years ago and I headlined a venue in the Midwest and I had an all together different reception, much better than that previously mentioned warm up slot. It’s not an easy job, and even if you have a degree in psychology, you still might find it hard sometimes to get to the audience. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad DJ. It just means that on that night, you did not align with the lost art of being a warm up DJ.
Playing a warm-up set as a DJ is an incredible art in itself, one that is sadly getting lost in today’s day of everyone wanting to TURN UP from the beginning to the end – Cosmo Baker
The warm up set from the warm up DJ is indeed an art. You’ve got to know who you’re opening for, put together a set that will compliment the artist, and hopefully get the crowd hyped up for the headliner’s set. Most of the time you’re dealing with a crowd you don’t know that can run in excess (if your lucky) in the thousands. Your job is to keep them happy, motivated, and on point until said headliner is ready to rock. I once opened up for Joss Stone for a huge charity concert. Her management gave me a list of records I couldn’t play. At the time, she was doing her version of Sugar Billy’s “Super Duper Love”. I submitted the track to management, saying I wanted to cut it in (not play the whole song) during my set. They approved. Fast forward to my set, I’m cutting in “Girl, are you digging on me?” and her sound guy comes running up to me. “What are you doing? That’s Joss’s song!” I looked up and said it him: “No it’s not, it’s Sugar Billy’s.”, and went on with my set, which went over well. Even when you are doing the right thing and all cylinders are firing nicely, you still get some stick from someone. Did I take a chance and stir the pot with that move? Yes, but I wanted to give props to the original and the new version. The crowd was motivated, and the only one who was upset was a stiff Englishman who tried to make me his whipping boy.
If you have any warm up DJ personal stories, we’d love to hear them. Give us the good, the bad, and the ugly. Being a DJ is hard enough. Being a warm up DJ is even harder. You need to find that balance and win over the audience, but in your own style. Anyone can play banger after banger, but crafting a set that will touch strangers ears and minds is an art that is getting lost in today’s climate of getting everything you want at the moment you want it. Audiences lost the appreciation of the DJ, but rather want the big party right here, right now in every second of your set. They’ve lost the will to learn and would rather hear 60 minutes of “Bodak Yellow” on repeat than a nicely dug up record that has more punch than the latest lean fueled single. There has to be balance, and it seems audiences have no patience for that in 2018. So the next time there is a warm up DJ, pay attention, gives props where props are due, and actually listen to their set. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
When Souljazz Orchestra played their first show of the Under Burning Skies tour in Ontario at the Starlight in Waterloo, I didn’t catch the DJ’s name but in my opinion was on point. Lots of funky Blue Note cuts and otherwise that got heads nodding and set the vibe right. I spent the rest of his set train spotting samples with a friend (yo! That’s Walk Tall! Tribe and The Allergies used that!) For the folks into that sound, listen with open ears and like to dig deeper, that fella came out on top.
A warm up gig I got for Alysha Brilla in my town was great. Folks came up to the side of the stage I was on to tell me how much they enjoyed the music (a mix of soul, funk, reggae, dub and hip hop) and the other performer that evening gave me a shout out and is a connection for more gigs. The warm up DJ is an underrated/estimated slot in my opinion. Thanks for a great article!