I recorded a humble video invitation to my upcoming gig in London on June 15:
Organising playlists by energy levels, vibe, and flow
It would be interesting to know how you prepare your DJ sets, how you decide which track will be mixed well with the previous one, how on stage you choose such tracks that were not included in your planned tracklist, etc.
How to organize your music collection in order to quickly pick the right track in the right moment out from tons of material?
Preparing for the performance includes a lot of things: negotiating with the promoter, visiting the venue (when possible), agreeing on a technical and domestic rider, researching the lineup and communicating with other artists, thinking through and launching an advertising campaign, recording a video invitation or a promo mix, working on social media and much more. Maybe someday I’ll tell you about it, but today is all about the “creative” part, the music.
I don’t think of DJ as a creative profession, hence this word is quoted. I’ll write my thoughts on this later
Vlad, in order to answer the question of how I decide which track will be mixed well with the previous one, I have to explain the structure of my DJ collection first. A similar question was sent by Dj Nerva, so I will combine them into one.
Rekordbox and playlists
DJs play on various different media, apps, and gear: laptops, disks, flash drives, vinyl, smartphones; on Pioneers, in Ableton, Tractor, Serato, and much more options. Speaking of myself, I use three things: Recordbox, USB sticks, and Pioneer media players.
Here is how it works. First, I add music to Rekordbox on my laptop. Then I carefully tag the tracks so that they are automatically distributed among the ‘intelligent’ playlists, and sync these playlists to the USB sticks. Then in the DJ booth, I connect my USB sticks to the Pioneer players, and inside I see all the playlists exactly as I structured them on my laptop back home. And this is the key moment because thanks to these playlists I can easily find that very track I want to play next within a few seconds.
Now I’ll tell you about the key playlists that make up the structure of my collection.
First of all, after adding tracks to Recordbox, I assign them the energy level. This is the main criterion. The most important thing here is that the level of energy is how I feel the tracks and not a formal thing like the tempo or anything like that.
How usually DJs do
Here I want to make a little detour and tell how DJs usually do. Most DJs pre-select the required amount of tracks in advance and arrange them in the order in which they plan to play. So that is complete predestination. Of course, such pre-planned sets can sound great at home, but they might be completely inappropriate on the dancefloor.
It may seem that only newcomer DJs do this, but no: even those who have been performing for more than a decade are doing this, so it’s really common. Some DJs even record the whole mixes in advance and during the performance they basically fake, but this is just so wrong so I won’t even discuss it.
More proficient DJs don’t prepare sets in advance in such way but select tracks right during the set looking at the crowd in front of them. Most often, they use tempo as a plain simple criterion for choosing the next track.
So it turns out about the following. Let’s assume the following track is playing on the dancefloor:
A DJ thinks: “Aha, 122 BPM. The dancefloor is going on well, everything is fine, let’s not slow down the pace.” He is looking for the next track in his digital library of hundreds of tracks, scrolling and scrolling that rotary knob, and he finds this — a track in the same key and even two BPM faster:
Obviously, the energy on the dancefloor went down; people going out. Lowering the energy during a set down is fine if you know why you are doing this. But if the DJ from the example above wanted to keep the driving vibe, then this is a failure.
Or here’s the opposite example. Suppose a DJ is playing such melodic progressive:
He does not want to speed up the tempo, so he finds the track in the same key and even one BPM lower, and in addition also from the same record label:
Do you get it?
It is clear that the energy is partially correlated with the genre, and as a result — with the tempo. But the relationship of energy level and the tempo is not always that obvious, and it is not always predictably linear.
This is why relying simply on the tempo of the tracks and thus mechanically select the next track for mixing is clearly not worth it, and hence I organise my tracks by the energy levels instead.
So, now going back to the energy levels I use in my Rekordbox. In total, I make five levels:
Experienced guys might have noticed that these names resemble a type or time-slot of a DJ set: opening, warming, “peak-time” and so on. Indeed, speaking of the energy level, I immediately think about the scenarios for using a particular track. In other words, I ask myself: “At what point of the event would it be appropriate to play that particular track?”.
For example, I can easily put a driving track in the middle of a warming-up set if I realise that I need to cheer-up the dance floor a bit, or vice versa – put a warming-up track in the middle of the night, if I decide to give the crowd a little rest.
energy level is how I feel the track
Inside the energy level playlist, I make four more sub-playlist nested according to what I call vibe and the flow:
And here the most interesting part begins.
“Dark” and “melodic” are more or less intuitive terms, although the names are very nominal. This is emotional ‘colour’, the mood of the track.
First, a couple of obvious examples. Here is the “melodic” — think of rainbow, butterflies, flower meadow:
And here’s the “dark” — twilight, anxiety, hypnotism:
Please note that these tracks even have the same key, but how different their mood is.
But there is also a less perceptible difference. This is especially true for Techno, where a pronounced musical part is not always present.
Listen to this:
Is it “dark” or “melodic”? Someone can say, “what are you talking about, there are just a kick, bass, and hi-hats, how can you understand anything?”. For me, the answer is clear: if while listening to the track I’m smiling like an idiot, then this is “melodic”.
Now listen to this track. I specifically chose a similar style and even the same artist to shift the focus of attention only to the vibe:
To me, this track is colder and more aggressive, hence clearly “dark”. And if you think there’s not much of a difference when listening at home, there is a huge difference on the dancefloor.
“Hands-up” and “heads-down” are pretty unique entities, and I didn’t see anyone using these terms for their music libraries.
To me, this is all about the structure of the tracks: build-ups, breakdowns, pitch-rising effects, big drops, climax etc. In other words, how the tracks flow.
If the track goes smoothly, and you can just dance and keep dancing without being distracted by the breaks and big drops every minute or so, then this is the “heads-down”. In a sense, we can say that the heads-down tracks are more monotonous. This is not very accurate, but sufficient for a general understanding.
If there are constantly some breaks, new leads, intense breakdowns and all those big things where people literally put their hands up, literally, then it’s “hands-up”.
Below are a few examples:
Pay attention to the breakdown in the middle and drop at 1:30. This is “hands-up”.
You probably realised by now that this is “hands-up” too.
From the two examples above it may seem that the hands-up is always something melodic and cheesy. But for the vibe we have another criterion, and here we are talking only about the structure. Just both of these tracks are “melodic hands-up.”
Here is another “hands-up”, but this time it’s “dark”:
And now let’s take a listen to “heads-down”, for contrast:
Can you feel how much smoother this track is?
If it seems to you that heads-down is necessarily something slow and deep, here’s a driving Psytrance example:
Note how this track just is going and going without the interruption, you can close your eyes and just dance without the breakdowns.
Speaking of breakdowns, listen to this track:
Here the breakdown is stretched for a minute and a half, but notice how smooth and even monotonous it is, again, if we compare it to breakdowns in the hands-up tracks.
Therefore, knowing the energy level, the vibe, and the flow of the track, I can fully control the direction of the set. And thanks to the playlists, I know exactly where the next track is. This classification of all the tracks and new arrivals in my media library is the main work on the preparation of my DJ sets.
Important message to promoters and fans
After introducing Rave Podcast with a new format last week as a sort of re-launch, many people keep asking me where I’m going to musically, do I change the genre, and where is Psytrance after all? This is true that I’ve been making and playing Psytrance mostly for the last seven years, so these questions are totally understandable and make me no surprise.
Let me give you my honest answer.
The main driving force and the reason why I choose to pursue a music career is genuine excitement from music I make, play, or listen. A pure and simple joy.
The problem is that I didn’t felt it that way for the last year or so, in Psytrance in particular. Every month it was a pain for me to find even ten to fifteen tracks that I would really love to play, there was a few but the rest were just ‘fillers’ to fill the time gap in my 1-hour mixes. It made me really sad and it was certainly not the way I wanted it to be, so that’s when I decided to put Rave Podcast on pause and take a little break.
Don’t take this the wrong way. The global Psy scene is flourishing at the moment. And there are certainly some amazing talents that keep making fresh music, and I still have my love for Psytrance. But I don’t like the majority of productions and the overall trends where it’s going musically, it’s just too generic and boring for me. It’s just not inspiring to me as a DJ to play same feeling tracks with pretty much all the same predicted sounds and cliché.
A typical distribution by genres in my Beatport carts. The numbers say it all
The Progressive scene, however, is fresh air to my ears. Every week my Beatport carts are full of amazing, high-quality and forward-thinking releases that truly excites me. Ironically, I played Progressive in the early sets in 2011, even some older Rave Podcast episodes had a lot of deeper music, so it all comes naturally to me. In some way, I’m going back to my roots.
So, what’s next?
Listen to the first half of my recent 5-hour Open To Close set. Listen to the new Rave Podcast episode aired on DI.FM last week. Listen to my Opening set for Astrix back from December if you missed it. This is where I am musically at the moment, and this is what you can expect to hear from me in the near future. My own productions will follow along, too.
I understand that this might upset some people who’ve been following me for years as a Psytrance producer. I also understand not everyone going to like my new transformation, sort of speak. But I’d rather be honest with you guys, and most importantly, be honest with myself.
A great party is made by many factors, but eventually it all comes down to the passion and the professionalism of the promoter. Emma from Dance:Love:Hub is exactly that type of person, she’s probably one of the most committed and devoted to the underground scene promoters I know. Emma is running amazing events, and it is my privilege to be headlining a Dance:Love:Hub party in London for the second time on June, 15.
The new venue is Five Miles Warehouse, Seven Sisters with a great cafe/bar at the front and a purpose-built dance temple in the back. A dancefloor set on rubber isolators, with bass cushioning in the back wall and a custom-built sound system.
We’re one month away from the date but the first-tier tickets are sold-out already. Please make sure to contact Emma at email@example.com or send a message to Dancelovehub Facebook page to get your second-tier tickets before sell out too.
See photos and more from my last gig in London by Dance:Love:Hub tag.
Since 2012, Rave Podcast was broadcasted on Digitally Imported radio Progressive Psy channel. But the latest edition brought a new format and a new schedule.
From now on, Rave Podcast will be aired on Progressive (and not Progressive Psy) channel on second Friday of each month at 21:00 CET, so the next episode will be on June, 14. Add this to your calendars to make sure you do not miss it. And let me put this loud:
2nd Friday of a month 21:00 CET, Progressive channel.
May 2019. Brand new format
Yes, I’m back with Rave Podcast from almost half a year break! It was a bit longer than I expected, but now I’m really pumped to be back and I hope it was worth waiting.
The show got quite a few changes: there will be no guest mixes anymore, so just a straight 1-hour mix from myself, broadcasted on Digitally Imported radio Progressive. And there’s a visual update to the podcast artwork, which I hope you like too.
Let me know what do you think about it!
|00:00||Darin Epsilon — Golden Triangle (Jerome Isma-Ae & Alastor Remix) Perspectives Digital|
|05:45||Ivanshee — Serpantine (Luciano Scheffer Remix) Clubsonica Records|
|09:25||Ivan Nikusev, Platunoff — Aura (Original Mix) Welcome Music|
|12:48||ID – ID JOOF Recordings|
|16:58||Olivier Giacomotto — Breath (Original Mix) Yoshitoshi Recordings|
|21:15||ID — ID JOOF Aura|
|24:52||Santi Cebrero — Orion (Julian Nates Remix) Balkan Connection|
|29:08||Rick Pier O’Neil — Shining (Original Mix) Particles|
|33:54||E’sh, Matan Caspi — Eidothea (Original Mix) Outta Limits|
|36:24||ID — ID JOOF Aura|
|40:38||Tolga Diler — Refusal Of The Call (Ivanshee Remix) 3xA Music|
|43:43||Ann Clue — Salvation (Original Mix) Fckng Serious|
|48:28||Timmo — Canvas (Original Mix) Drumcode|
|51:15||Monika Kruse, Timmo — Violet (Original Mix) Terminal M|
|56:16||Human Element, MVMB — Spectra (Original Mix) IbogaTech|
The photos from my 5-hour set a few weeks ago:
Photo © Pavel Tzimisce
Yes, you heard it. By popular demand, I decided to revive my Rave Podcast radio show. The 101st episode will be broadcasted this month.
Just as before, Rave Podcast will be broadcasted on Digitally Imported radio, but this time on Progressive channel. All the details coming soon, keep an eye on the updates.
Many asked if I recorded the set from my Open To Close last Saturday, and the answer is yes! The full set in high-quality streaming is up on SoundCloud now.
Due to some personal events, it was probably the most emotional set for me ever, and you can clearly see the reflection of this in the tracks I’ve played. Thank you everyone for staying with me all five hours long, from start to finish.
Listen to the first three hours especially closely as this is where I am musically at the moment for the most part, and you’ll see me doing more like this.
|0:00:00||Matteo Monero — Anunnaki (Hot TuneiK Remix)|
|0:06:52||Da Luka — Focus (Original Mix)|
|0:12:41||Latin Intelligent — The Last Night On This Planet (Original Mix)|
|0:17:58||Phi Phi — Breaking Danger (Roddy Reynaert & Phi Phi Remix)|
|0:24:27||Amol Reon, Nosh, SJ — Fairy Tales (LoQuai Remix)|
|0:29:11||Kamilo Sanclemente, Mauro Aguirre — Hera (Original Mix)|
|0:34:57||Darko De Jan, Matan Caspi — Black Street (Original Mix)|
|0:39:40||Chris Sterio — Zen (Matter Remix)|
|0:44:21||Don Argento, Paul Angelo — Final Sentiment (Alfonso Muchacho Remix)|
|0:48:46||Matan Caspi, Ziger — Templar (Original Mix)|
|0:53:27||Aves Volare, Citizen Kain — Balance (Original Mix)|
|0:57:43||Dylhen — The Upside Down (Extended Mix)|
|1:02:39||Beckers, D-Nox — Polyacid (Original Mix)|
|1:08:23||D-Formation, Rick Pier O’Neil — Odisey (Original Mix)|
|1:13:35||Rick Pier O’Neil — Throaty (Original Mix)|
|1:19:21||Bastian Bux, Hxnter — Edenvale (Original Mix)|
|1:23:44||Aaron Cullen, Tommy Conway — Glack (Original Mix)|
|1:27:37||Balthazar, Jackrock — Purple Antelope (Original Mix)|
|1:32:15||Ettica — Phantom Guide (Original Mix)|
|1:37:56||John 00 Fleming — Looking Back. To Look Forward (Ziger Remix)|
|1:41:40||Phil Martyn — Come On (Kastis Torrau Remix)|
|1:47:37||Dylhen, Paul Thomas — Diablo (Extended Mix)|
|1:52:15||Phil Martyn — Storm (Original Mix)|
|1:56:54||Township Rebellion — Monocloque (Original Mix)|
|2:03:12||Jiggler — Rising (Original Mix)|
|2:06:58||E’sh, Matan Caspi — Eidothea (Original Mix)|
|2:10:35||Union Jack — Cactus (Jonno Brien Remix)|
|2:15:11||Klaark, Sisko Electrofanatik — Onium (Original Mix)|
|2:19:45||David Granha — Savala (Original Mix)|
|2:23:49||Antimatter, MVMB — Odyssey (Original Mix)|
|2:29:28||Bart Skils — Ocean Drive (Original Mix)|
|2:34:01||Hell Driver — Shorebreak (Original Mix)|
|2:39:18||Rudosa — Run Riot (Original Mix)|
|2:44:49||Stiv Hey — Control (Original Mix)|
|2:48:42||Spektre — Carnival Of Souls (Original Mix)|
|2:53:12||A*S*Y*S, Dominik Schwarz — Destruction (Original Mix)|
|2:57:57||Raito — Acid Overflow (Original Mix)|
|3:02:27||Tom Laws — Hold On (Giovanni Carozza Remix)|
|3:07:12||Reaky — Never Say Never Again (Reakson Remix)|
|3:10:11||Subliminal Codes — Moonwatcher (Original Mix)|
|3:15:15||Daniel Lesden — Surreal (Part 2)|
|3:20:29||Ectima — Immortalize (Original Mix)|
|3:24:34||Captain Hook, Liquid Soul — Liquid Hook (Zentura Remix)|
|3:30:31||Vertical Mode — Lazer Shot (Original Mix)|
|3:35:42||Outsiders, Symbolic — Life On Earth (Original Mix)|
|3:40:22||E-Clip — Aurorae Tales (Original Mix)|
|3:44:50||Daniel Lesden — The Last Of Our Kind (Original Mix)|
|3:51:08||V-Society — The Creator (Original Mix)|
|3:55:24||CPU, Mad Maxx — Shiva On Acid (V-Society Remix)|
|4:00:50||Photosynthesis — The Empty Space (Original Mix)|
|4:05:47||Nertum — Transcending Dimension (Original Mix)|
|4:11:25||Faders, Mental Broadcast — Psychedelic Theory (Original Mix)|
|4:15:28||Avalon, E-Clip — Isotonic Tuning (Original Mix)|
|4:19:45||Starlab — Mission Simulator (Original Mix)|
|4:25:06||Sonic Species, Volcano — Riding The Wave (Original Mix)|
|4:31:18||Deedrah, Talamasca — Transwave (Original Mix)|
|4:35:13||Hypnocoustics, Relativ — Final Frontier (Original Mix)|
|4:39:24||Xerox & Illumination — Paranoia (Symbolic Remix)|
|4:43:22||Neuroplasm, Relativ — Moon Ritual (Original Mix)|
|4:48:31||Cosmic Tone, Freak Control, Static Movement — Inevitable (Original Mix)|
|4:52:09||Astral Projection, Raja Ram — Dance Is The Answer (Original Mix)|
|4:55:17||Radiotrance — Plasma (Original Mix)|