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Backspin – Origins of the DJ

“Re-re-wind, when the crowd say Bo-Selecta!”, warbled Craig David from somewhere between his designer-stubbled cheekbones back in 1999, whilst fending off amorous advances from hordes of tweens.

‘Selecta’ was, back in the UK, a slang term for a deejay. Sure, there are plenty of terms for the bouncing, headphone-clad fist-pumping figure behind the decks (plus a few I’m not at liberty to repeat in public), but where does the inferred celebrity status of these individuals stem from?

How did the DJ become a performer in their own right?

Back in the early 80’s, a little-known DJ with the phenomenally awesome name of ‘Grand Wizzard Theodore’, (time for a rethink, David Guetta? DJ Dumbledore is still available), was playing tracks on two decks using the ‘needle drop’ method. This involved physically dropping the stylus on a vinyl record at the exact point the beat or sample starts, and is still seen today by vinyl-playing DJ’S that mark ‘drop-in’ points on their tracks with colored dots. The only problem with this method was the few seconds of silence between each drop, and as any current DJ knows, silence in the middle of a set is not exactly a huge crowd pleaser.

Grand Wizard Theodore

Around the same time, DJ Kool Herc, often credited as being the originator of Hip-Hop music, was rebelling against the whole disco thing by playing old James Brown and hard funk tracks whilst ritualistically burning beige flared pants and paisley shirts (ok, maybe not that last bit). He began experimenting with the use of two identical tracks to extend the ‘break’, or instrumental section, resulting in what was known as ‘break-beat’ DJ’ing. I guess we’re more familiar with these in today’s terms as drum loops.

DJ Kool Herc

However, the catalyst that brought all these elements together was a kid by the name of Joseph Saddler. You may also know him as *pause for dramatic effect and polite applause*…Grandmaster Flash.

Grand Master Flash

Credited as being the inventor of the first crossfader, which he created by sourcing parts from a junkyard in the Bronx, GF effectively created a way to flow two tracks together seamlessly, rather than using the ‘needle-drop’ method, made popular by GWT.

GF also developed and mastered three techniques still used by DJ’s today; Backspinning, Scratching & Punch Phrasing.

In 1981, he release his legendary single, “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”; a 7-minute live DJ set of him on 3 decks, tearing up artists like Blondie, Queen and the Sugarhill Gang.

By | 2016-12-02T15:07:43+00:00 July 31, 2012|News, Opinion|3 Comments
  • I’m sorry, but you can’t boil down the history of the DJ as performer to three pioneers and a single genre either. You have left out so many important figures, including but not limited to: Francis Grasso, Jimmy Savile, Afrika Bambaataa, Frankie Knuckles, Jesse Saunders, Larry Levan…

    • Miles

      Totally agree, but if I wrote a single article that covered all the incredible, influential DJ’s we’ve seen so far..(and for argument’s sake let’s say I stopped at the early days of the DMC World Champs with Chad Jackson and Ca$h Money, this piece would have turned into a novel..

  • Don’t believe the hype!!!

    I was just about to say, what about Larry Levan & Mr. Magic? How about house music and disco DJs back in the day. Come one now.