This year, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Chase Festival in Heidelberg as head DJ. I’ve had that position at DJam for the last decade, but Chase is a different proposition – a considerably larger event with nearly a thousand attendees, and one of the highest profile Lindy Hop events in Europe, so it was very flattering to be invited to take up such a role.
Part of my job was to prepare music for competitions, which is simultaneously fun and stressful. It’s a huge responsibility – you need to find music which challenges dancers, but brings out the best in them, entertains the audience, preferably without being too obvious and using the same old songs time after time after time. Lindyhopper’s Delight, for example, is an amazing competition tune, but so well-known by now that most experienced dancers could probably hum it backwards. Yes – I will use it, but I try not to rely on songs like that.
And – of course, you need the songs to fit whatever criteria the organisers have requested – plus you you need enough suitable songs for the number of heats and competitors… and crucially, you need a good number in reserve for any last-second changes of mind, and – from past experience – any unforeseen circumstances such as those extra two heats which are suddenly sprung on you without warning, or the two extra spotlight couples we suddenly need to fit into the only-just-long-enough jam song…
Luckily for me, the Chase team are extremely experienced and polished at running these competitions, and I wasn’t caught out by anything like that – but experience has taught me always to prepare well.
What I want to do in this post is to go through the various Chase competitions, and talk about the music I chose, and why I chose it. So without further ado…
Mix and Match started with a standard format of three preliminary heats, three songs each, two medium speed (of slightly different tempos) – and one fast, in the 180-190 bpm range. Each song was only to be played for the first 70 or so seconds – although I tried to give a little extra time if there was any significant intro, and I tried to end just after a phrase finished. You can watch the heats here:
Heat 1 Songs
- Jimmie Lunceford – The Goon Came On – Fun, playful, and slightly unusual – it’s not all that easy to find – but a lot if nice rhythms to find and dance to. Side note – I really wish I could figure out what the song is actually about.
- Lionel Hampton – Till Tom Special – Till Tom has a real relentless driving energy to it – it picks up the pace from Goon, but still keeps a lot of texture that dancers can use
- Benny Goodman – (I Would Do) Anything for You – Standard Goodman fare – it’s energetic, catchy, with some great rhythm and musical interplay
Heat 2 Songs
- Glen Crytzer & his Syncopators – Ten til Five – This is the only modern piece I played for the competitions – but it fit right in – it has that drive I look for, plus a lot of playfulness – and the call and response sections at the start can be a lot of fun for the dancers.
- Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra – Leap Frog – In hindsight, I’m not so sure about this one. While there’s a good energy, and a lot of rhythm, it almost feels like a very long intro up to the point I needed to fade it – the song hasn’t quite got properly going.
- Lionel Hampton – Flyin’ Home – Perhaps this makes up for the previous choice – classic, well known, awesome driving swing. You just can’t go wrong with this track.
Heat 3 Songs
- John Kirby – Effervescent Blues – Lots to play with in this one – with some fun breaks, and a lot of changes of rhythm. I did wonder slightly whether the boogie piano was quite right for the occasion, but the song still swings like crazy…. so I went with it.
- Woody Herman – East Side Kick – I absolutely adore this track – it gives a sense of almost melancholic joy – and my heart aches to listen to it. This is not really a reason to choose it as a competition track – but the swing, the energy, the rhythms and texture are all there, and the way some of the dancers are using those rhythms is a joy to watch, so I think it worked.
- Will Bradley & Ray McKinley – Scramble Two – We have again – that great drive and strong rhythm – and the growl of the horns at the start of the first few eight-counts have an awesome energy to it. On the downside, with the bridge it did feel like I had to kill it slightly early, and watching the dancers, I’m not 100% convinced it was the best choice. I’m chalking this one up as a “maybe”
The brief for this was slightly different. Just one heat, with three songs as before, but this time the songs were to be medium, slow, then fast. The idea was to provide a different kind of challenge with the slow song, and bring out a side to the dancers that we might not see with the faster music.
Semi Final Songs
- Larry Clinton – Study in Red – This is an absolute favourite of mine – a song that has everything. A lot of texture, real swinging drive, some riff-based sections, some call and response – a lot that brings out the best in dancers. It’s always a shame to fade this one out.
- Ben Webster – Woke up Clipped – Very strong rhythms from Ben Webster’s sax, and a whole lot of fun musical texture to play with.
- Roy Eldridge – Honeysuckle Rose – A new find – and perhaps a bit of a risk, but this is a live recording, with a joyous crazy energy to the vocals, backed by a very solid rhythm section. It doesn’t really come across on this video (particularly as we’ve lost the intro) – but watching the dancers respond is a lot of fun.
So that’s it for the Mix & Match. In competitions, I always try to achieve that balance of songs which do provide some challenge, but which will inspire the dancers, rather than attempt to catch them out. Comps are always the most fun for everyone when the competitors can achieve their very best, and my belief is that a good competition DJ should always be seeking to help them do that.
In Part 2, I will cover the music for the Chase Festival Strictly Lindy competition!
I don’t feel, however, that I can finish this article without talking about the….
The finals, which are always the hardest and part to DJ, were not my responsibility this time – instead, we had live music from the amazing Professor Cunningham and His Old School. I honestly don’t think you can beat a great live band for something like this. As icing on the cake – this was a pro-am competition, so the finalists were paired up with teachers – and it was an absolute blast to watch.
So I’ve added it here for your enjoyment.