“The Journey Begins . . .”
Cary Chang starts his musical exploration on the Habitat – Living Sound stage with these words, simply organizing the soundscape he’s creating into a trip with direction, unexpected treasures, curated experiences, and a buffet of flavourful opportunities. Not bad for a nightclub!
“The first 3 records I bought as a DJ were ‘Rollercoaster’ by The Grid, ‘Melody of Love’ by Donna Summer, and ‘Dreamer’ by Living Joy . . . I have a vivid memory of buying them, (But) I don’t even know how that came about: if I had the turntables or not; I probably did. They were hard to find: imported dance music as (12-inch) singles at the time . . . To be honest, those records continue to hold up, which is a real pleasant surprise. It’s probably nostalgia more than anything.”
Cary (the DJ, not my inner voice), mentions that these records were from when he started DJing at 18 or 19 in ’94, specifically “. . . modern DJing: mixing with 2 turntables. Previous to that I had been part of the Sound System Club in junior high school, and we provided music for school dances. Interestingly, I never really correlated the 2 in any way meaningfully, until about 5 years ago: I started to think maybe this whole path kind of started there.”
Your guileless Writer, willing to admit his inability to distinguish individual tracks in the early evening (with what sounds like Cary’s seamless manipulation of layers and loops and themes), wonders what Cary thinks a “DJ” is doing now in performance?
“I DJ in a very classic sense: for me . . . the fundamental skill set of a DJ is narration through pre-recorded music . . . meaning a song to a song to a song to a song, using the ability to adjust both the volume and the speed of the record to introduce the next record to the last record. Kind of like lining up tiles on the floor. So there wasn’t any sampling going on, beyond , for all intents and purposes, hitting play on one piece of music, and using the volume to introduce it into the last piece of music, to then create a seamless, ongoing, musical journey.”
But, the set sounded like a lot more was going on than simple record-playing.
“That’s ultimately the technical side of the art of DJing. It IS changing, as you noted, and there’s a lot more people doing sampling, and looping, and things of this nature. But I’ve chosen, in part because it fascinates me, to keep it in the most basic raw form. It’s a bit of an homage to, not only where I’ve come from, but (also) what I want to pass down ABOUT the art in my time with it.”
And, when it’s done REALLY well, Cary says, “. . . THAT’S what I consider to be masterful.”
When Cary was preparing for his set on a Thursday night, he used one of his many analogies to describe his process of music-sharing, which clarified his approach for us.
There’s a lot of mystique around what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, in part because, for (most people), they have a hard time telling what you’re doing: they don’t really know for sure . . . If you’re cooking with great ingredients, the challenge is, to my mind, ‘How do I get as good an impact as possible; how do I create contrasts and complementary movements in the music that showcase the different records in a way that I think is meaningful? But not to f*** with it too much.’
“I think, especially in this technological age today, that there’s a lot of movement towards (more tech). And what I find is that people often need to be doing something as a DJ, like pushing some more buttons, and somehow that’s what makes them the artist.
“The analogy I use to explain that is: to be an eloquent writer, you use the same words, but you use them in an arrangement that’s a novel, meaningful and different way.
“And part of it also is to minimize it: to get down to only that which needs to be there to communicate the point. I’m NOT one who likes to get too wild with that (additional tech) stuff.”
Carey, your Writer, meanders through questions, trying to get a grip on the DJ as performer; while Cary, the club owner, talks about modern DJing as still basically a song mixer: WHAT?
“I don’t think there is a paradox in that: keep in mind, the slant that I’M coming at it from, I would not say is common: it’s more common with the upper echelon of old DJs. So I’M definitely coming at it from some degree of pedigree and legacy, and a lot of that has to do with the limitation of the technology. When you were playing with turntables and old DJ mixers . . . what I found is that constraint, in exploring it, created a real aesthetic for me that I subscribe to. So, much like a gymnast who has great poise, and every move seems like it’s the right movement, that’s kind of what I’m aiming for.
“I’m not saying that people who use some of the new technology to do more things are doing anything lesser. (But), anytime I’m having a conversation with another DJ, and the first thing that comes out of their mouth ISN’T about the quality of the music. . . . I would suggest that they’re talking about the garnish on the dish; they’re talking about the plate settings and the lighting in the restaurant. And that’s all fine and good, and that’s part of the experience and it’s not that I’m not concerned with those things: I absolutely AM concerned with those things! But I will always come back to, first and foremost, the quality of the music, and how that process has been selected, as being the foundational aspect of what will create the outcomes that I’m looking for.”
He’s the Boss. Don’t mess with his groove.