Well – it’s been a few weeks now since I posted the most read article this blog has seen. Probably the most read article this blog will ever see. To put that in perspective – this blog has been going since 2011… and in four days, that article gathered fully a quarter of the hits the blog has ever had. The blog even broke a couple of times. Strong opinions seem to get more attention, it would seem.

I was going to leave at that – at least for the time being… but there have been a lot of responses (well – a lot by the standards of this blog), both positive and negative – and some of them have been extremely interesting. I’d like to respond to a few of these and discuss some of the points made, but rather than write another huge essay on the subject, I thought I’d start small, and respond in bite-size chunks. So here is the first morsel – written, for the most part, while sitting in Helsinki airport.

Criticism of my DJing

I confess – I didn’t expect that one. Perhaps I should have done – we all make mistakes, and I’ve certainly made my share of blunders while DJing, but the thing I found interesting was that for the most part these criticisms had, so far as I could tell, nothing at all to do with the content of the post. Draw your own conclusions.

One criticism, however, was particularly interesting to me – apparently, I am guilty of not “ensuring that *every* track has a clearly discernable beat“.

OK. So do I think this is justified? Do I believe I ensure that every track as “a clearly discernable beat”?

The answer is no. I do not. I do not care if a swing track has a clearly discernible beat. I couldn’t give a monkeys. If I’m playing beginner-friendly music, yes, that’s one thing, and I’ll do more to ensure that the beat is clear. For more advanced dancers, no. It’s not an issue for them, and it’s not an issue for me. Lindyhoppers get off on rhythm. Great swing dance music plays above all with rhythm, and it’s one of the main things I listen for, and by which I judge what is going to work for dancers, and what isn’t. For an example of what I’m talking about, here’s the beginning of the classic Bob Zurke stride piano number – You Hit My Heart with a Bang

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

For a beat – well – you can hear the rhythm section quietly doing its thing in the background…. but that’s all. Most of the rhythm in this section is coming from the piano and the horns… who are having so much fun its completely irresistible. Who needs a beat when you have rhythms like that to dance to?

Here’s another sample: Cab Calloway’s Three Swings then Out.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Yes – there’s the rhythm section again doing its job in the background – and there’s the rest of the band swinging away like crazy. That’s the part I want to dance to. If all I wanted was a beat, well – then I shouldn’t be a swing DJ… and dare I say it, perhaps I’d be focussing on the wrong dance for me.

Epiphany e-DAC

Epiphany e-DAC

Welcome to another of the bees in my bonnet – the use of an external sound card while DJing from a laptop.

First question: what is an external sound card?

Very simply: it’s a gadget, usually USB-powered. You plug one end into your laptop. You plug the other into a mixing desk, some kind of speaker, headphones, you name it. Sound comes out.

Second question: I have a perfectly good headphone socket on my laptop – why on earth should I spend money on something like this?

Well – there’s a host of answers to this.

First - if you use the right DJing software, you can preview – in other words, you can listen to tracks on your headphones while playing – so it makes it easier to find the next track you want to play.

Second - redundancy. Headphone sockets break. The one on my last laptop did, during a gig, which would have been highly embarrassing had I not had one of these widgets handy.

HRT Music Streamer II

HRT Music Streamer II

Frankly though, both the above reasons are just useful extras. The real reason is that laptops are not designed as high quality audio devices. Apple laptops have far better sound quality than most, and they sound dreadful if you pipe the music out over a decent set of speakers. Netbooks, which a lot of DJs use, are cheap, with cheap components, and they sound diabolical. Add in the fact that much of our music comes from very old sources, and the sound quality is pretty iffy to start with… so it’s far worse once piped through a laptop’s dodgy sound output. Sound cards, on the other hand, are designed for only one purpose – to play sound. Even a fairly cheap sound card will generally sound better than the best built-in headphone socket. Add a quality one  - and the difference is night and day. Sadly, this is not something I can demonstrate via samples on a blog… but it is something I can easily demonstrate in person, and I’m more than happy to do that – so do ask me about it if you see me at an event.

As an aside, I’ve seen people advocate the use of sound cards purely to preview, while using the headphone socket as the main sound output. This is terrible advice. You don’t need the quality for your own headphones. You need it for the dancers.

Lionel Hampton was chiefly known for his vibraphone playing and his drumming skills, which were phenomenal. What’s a little less known is that he was a a very impressive pianist… but what’s a little bizarre is that he generally played with a two-finger style – a little akin to his vibes playing. And it was still amazing.

… champagne without bubbles.

Louis Armstrong

Swing that Music

Time to return to this particular fray. I’ve been DJing swing a while now, and like many swing DJs, my ideas on what is, and isn’t acceptable to play for swing dancers have taken something of a journey.

Like many swing DJs, I’ve slowly become more and more of an advocate of old-school swing for swing dancing. Many would brand me a purist. Many do, and perhaps I am – but I know others who’d say I’m not (yet?) enough of a purist. We all have different tastes and ideas, and your mileage may vary.

In the past, when I’ve talked about this issue, I’ve been a little more laissez faire – a little more inclined to say: “Well – what I do is this, but what you do is up to you.” Right now, I’m feeling a little more forthright – in fact I’ve feeling like ranting on this subject for quite some time now – so hang on to your hats – this could get ugly.

In light of this I’ll start with a confession – I don’t mean that at all. The camp I really belong to is very simple: Lindy Hop without swing music does not exist in this dojo. It might, to many, look like Lindy Hop… but Lindy Hop it isn’t, and the more you take swing music out of the equation, the further from Lindy it will go. So… time for my slightly more … forthright take on things.

Continue reading »

© 2014 Straycat's Swing and Blues Corner Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha