What makes a “real DJ” anyway?

Last week, while he was here to tour the country in style, inthemix tasked Miami legend DJ Craze with showing us just how impressive his skills are. In a few days, our video of the DMC champ’s ‘real DJing’ routine clocked up over 1.5 million views, 40,000 shares and endless debate. The sticking point? What, exactly, constitutes “real” DJing – does technical ability trump all else, or does turntablism belong in its own category?

To find out, we asked some of Australia’s most renowned selectors what they think makes a “real DJ”. From track selection to reading the crowd and pure passion, their answers are a masterclass in how to rule a set. Read on and wise up.

Mike Callander

“I think the ‘realness’ of a DJ relates to their process, rather than the package. If he or she is doing the hard yards behind the scenes to set things up for a great performance, then they’re earning their keep and deserve their spot. Different DJs play different sets, under very different circumstances, so the requirements are varied. For a turntablist it could be hours and hours of practicing scratch techniques, while for someone like me who is mostly playing longer sets, it’s all about seeking out new music and rediscovering old stuff too. If the DJ is spending more time on managing their profile or their hairstyle, you can probably hear it.”

Anna Lunoe

“I think it’s about song choice and the journey – beatmatching and the way a DJ mixes records together is super important to flow. Personally, Ableton mixing doesn’t do it for me as much as when the DJ is beatmatching themselves.

“Having said that, when Craze says that he uses beatmatch tool in Traktor so he can scratch and do 10 million other things I can totally understand that side of it as well, but that is a totally different kind of DJing. I guess you could say it’s like being a painter or collage artist – you are trading on a different skill. Obviously any well worn DJ can beatmatch in their sleep, so it’s not like that is the challenge if you are a scratch DJ predominantly. Ultimately, whatever is pushing forward the art form is a good thing.”

Late Nite Tuff Guy

“A difficult question to answer as there are many things to consider. I think it’s someone who is open to all styles of music and not scared to mix it up. As a DJ with 33 years experience I’ve always thought that the DJ should not only entertain, but also educate. When you’re starting out this takes time, so listen and learn as much as you can. Playing the right track at the right time is what truly makes a good DJ. It’s about connecting with your dance floor; sometimes I feel like I can read minds, it’s an amazing thing. It’s a spiritual thing.”


“I think it can mean a lot of things. Breaking into the scene as a DJ primarily meant that I always wanted to step up that side of my game as much as possible. You’ve got artists like A-Trak and Craze who are so on point, coming out of the DMC world where turntablism is key, but if you put someone with their level of talent in front of a more progressive crowd, the tables might turn if they don’t adapt their style to meet the situation. Sometimes that level of insane coordination and mixing skill isn’t appreciated as much.

“A lot of people rip into artists for a lack of technical ability, but I think being a real DJ also means playing music in a way that suits the crowd in front of you, whilst educating them in amongst the familiarity. It’s about playing a set that agrees with the energy of the time and respecting the fact that the crowd is there for a reason – you’re not just there to play for yourself. In saying that, I think a lot of people have lost their way recently in an attempt to become superstars. A “real DJ” cares about what they do to create a vibe that completely lifts the feel of the room, while bringing some sort of dexterity to their mixing or part of their live performance.

“Whether it’s playing across multiple decks or knowing your music back to front to nail the flow, I think the main reason people gain respect as a DJ is putting in the effort to transform standard music into something unique.” [Photo by My Media Sydney]

Simon Caldwell

“A “real DJ” to me is someone who has taken the time and effort to buy and know music that they love, then learned how to mix that music with skill and learned how to lead as well as respond to a crowd with music…not hand gestures and lasers. All while sticking to playing the music that they love.”


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