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Northern Soul DJs Never Had DJ Shazam To Worry About!

by Matt · 3 comments

in DJ Culture

You should know about Northern Soul DJs. We wouldn’t be who we are today without these guys.

As DJs, we’ve gone from the early Northern Soul DJs movement to wannabe digital DJs with a 50 dollar controller using Shazam..to rip other DJs tunes and play them!

Am I being mean? A bit. Has the world really changed that much?

Northern Soul DJs

First of all, just so you get my drift, let me take you back. “Waaay back into time” (said with a rasping voice).

We’re in the late 1960s in Northern England in the midst of an exciting early DJ and dance movement, comparable to that of the early 90s rave culture in the UK.

Despite its name, Northern Soul music is not from Northern England. The movement is from Northern England. The music is American soul and motown with a fast tempo and most importantly, DJ music that makes us dance.

Kids in Northern England

What were these pivotally important Northern Soul DJs doing coming in a cold, working class part of a funny island in Northern Europe? Well, they were from there for a start.

England and all of the UK has played a massive part in shaping DJing culture and dance music as we know it. And Northern Soul DJs were a big part of that.

The young clubbers and dancers in Northern England made this movement theirs and gave it the name. Yep, and even today people break out in a smile and start twitching away to these feel good tunes.

Finding rare DJ music

In the late 1960s, Northern Soul DJs would come back from the USA with rare singles and would drop these on dancefloors in places like Wigan and Blackpool, creating a new scene which changed the dancefloor as we know it.

Believe it or not, today’s DJ scene would not be the same were it not for these early pioneers. We owe them one. They were the first ones.

Young people would go out and practice their dance moves all night in Wigan Casino to upbeat soul tunes. There was hardly any alcohol, no fighting. Just good times, dance moves and all nighters.

I bet you wish you were there during these years that helped form today’s DJ culture. I certainly wish I could have popped out a few moves like these guys.

Rare Tunes found by Northern Soul DJs

Back then, the top Northern Soul DJs would try to keep the identities of their dancefloor bangers secret from everyone.

Other DJs would give anything to see the track titles, some whose identities were kept secret for years before breaking out and being revealed. This preserved their status as top DJs: the guys who would find tunes accessible to no one else.

After all, if you were a DJ, wouldn’t you wanna be the only one playing the rare gem of a classic you found in the 8th record store you churned through in Harlem?

You wouldn’t want other DJs to steal your thunder and take over your gigs I bet.

So what about now? Can DJs still do this?

Since the digital age has taken over, almost no track identity is secret.

As any DJ who plays out regularly will know, people often come up and ask you for the name of that last tune you played.

As I live in Paris, sometimes they don’t quite get it with the spelling (people are French in Paris after all) and some bring a pen and paper to me.

These are the people who don’t yet have iphones though! For most of you who do, you just activate Shazam and let it identify the tune that’s playing and bingo. You download it when you get home and you’ve found the latest hot release or that rare gem from 1991. Yep, the very same tune that this DJ searched for and sweated over.

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve done it myself, a number of times. I’ve heard tunes I like whilst out and I’ve got Shazam to identify them for me.

I’m a disc jockey and I’m always looking for new music so why not? I still make my sets different to other DJs and unique; that’s what’s important.

What does this mean for us DJs?

Of course, when DJs first realised how easy it was for anybody to get almost instant access to their amazing music collection, many of them got quite worried.

After all, for some DJs, their very identities depended on getting access to the best tunes early and on no one else knowing what they were. That’s what made many disc jockeys so successful.

I used to love it when a track hit the big time that I’d already been playing out in clubs for 6 months.

I was such a big head about it. People would start dancing like crazy to a tune that I had played before any other DJ. I broke some new tunes in my city myself and others followed.

However, I’ve since got pretty pissed off playing what anyone else can play and my rare tunes catching on before I even play them 3 times because some other DJ there shazams it right away!

I mean, this was a tune I spent ages finding just for someone else to get it with next to no effort!!

So nowadays, I read the press less than before and go blindly and wildly into charts, genres and finding my tunes without recommendations. I wanna find stuff that Shazam doesn’t have a clue about and there is so much music to choose from, I’ll never run out.

Yes it is possible to still find those rare bangers in 320kbps that no one knows about. Don’t be discouraged, this is what any great DJ will do. The difference now is that the goalposts have moved.

Be creative

So to replicate the success of the Northern Soul Godfathers who would hang on to their rare gems and not share them, you have to be creative.

Think sideways, go against the crowd. Don’t get what everyone else gets, that’s bullshit. Don’t be a sheep, be a punk.

Spend time on finding unknown tunes as it’s more than worth it. You’ll get invited back to play more gigs and in better places.

Unless you play out in cheesy clubs, smart promoters and club owners will spot your originality and you’ll stand out from Mister Average DJ who just plays what everyone else does.

The digital age hasn’t changed things that much

The digital age has changed how we find music, but it’s only moved the goalposts.

If you wanna be the guy with a cool rep who gets called for gigs all the time and doesn’t have to do so much promotion then follow my advice.

Find tunes that Shazam can never have. Go off the beaten track, don’t just follow press reviews or hype machine blogs.

Do the opposite and find music only with your ear. After all, 9 year olds read music blogs these days. Who wants to have only music everyone can hear?

By all means, read the press so you have well known tunes on hand to play. You never know when you may need them. But to stand out, go against the grain too. Trust me, it works.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 The Boss August 12, 2011 at 7:17 am

Interesting article. I didn’t know anything about Northern Soul and looking at some of those dance moves, wow. These kids knew how to enjoy themselves. Makes me kind of wish I could have been there.

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2 H-Bomb August 12, 2011 at 7:18 am

Awesome moves. Just to have people who can dance like that at your gigs..I’d do anything for that.

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3 Hector September 23, 2011 at 2:16 pm

The best way to do this today is by making your own remix of new song that are ok but your ear tell you that the track is missing something.

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