This is J.D. and he’s a world class DJ. That may be surprising to say here, at Camp Bisco, a staple of the EDM festival circuit, and where the “DJ as Hero” motif reigns supreme. Some of this generation’s biggest DJs play at Bisco, igniting swarms of adoring fans into Dyonisian fervor. Fans lose all perspective: wearing gear with various DJ insignia on it, tattooing themselves with catch phrases or icons, generally treating the DJ as something separate from them, on a higher plan, worthy of worship. DJs at Bisco are literally on pedestals. They play on large stages separated from the crowd by moats where beefy security guards stand and watch like palace guards. Just the fact that a DJ was seen somewhere in the festival that wasn’t on stage is reason for conversation (“I saw DJ Whatshishoosit about half an hour ago and he was drinking lemonade on a golf cart,” “Wow?! Really? Did you, like, pass out?”). World class here means literally being the world to people … that’s why they came here.
And most people here, do not realize that they came to see J.D. He doesn’t play on a stage. His name is not on any banners or posters, and though there may be a lover out there who has tattooed his name on her neck, in principle … no one here knows who he is.
But chances are not slim that they’ve danced to his beats.
I stole JD away from DJing during the morning session of the last day of the festival. He was casual, relaxed … but serious. “I pick the tunes for the moment, right?” He asks in a declarative style, assuming I have a sense of musical wisdom so I can understand his logic. “Like right now, it’s relaxed, smooth, little bumps. People don’t want to get hit over the head. They’re still recovering from last night, getting ready for tonight … so I’ve got this going. It’s meant to lift you, get you moving, but not expect too much. Know what I mean?”
JD works at a vendor booth selling high end, trendy party gear. They sell expensive embroidered baseball caps, nicely shellacked pinecones that one wears as jewelry, and wall hangings that act as maps to innerspace for those staring at them through multi-hour long psychedelic trips. I’m not sure exactly what it’s called, but one of the most prominent signs is “Third Eye Pinecones,” so I’ll call them that here. One of the things that is striking about 3rd Eye is how epicurean everything is: Carefully selected pieces of ornament that cost quite a pretty penny in this environment of broke college kids and hippies. It is not the typical Bisco fan that can easily afford anything being offered at this booth … but they have decided to come in high, and establish themselves as the more select hippie gear. It seems to be working, since they come back year after year.
This same approach to establishing a space is seen in JD’s musical set. It is hard to take up a meaningful musical space at Bisco, where you are literally up against industry establishing artists, playing on speakers the size of multistory buildings. As people scuttle by on their way to this stage, or that camp site, how do you stand out? The answer: You pick the best tracks, at the best time. And always, you keep it casual.
JD doesn’t use any fancy DJ equipment. He just works off of iTunes, and picks one track after the next. He does it almost absent-mindedly as he holds conversations, or closes a sale on a product. He flits about, looks at the screen inconspicuously sitting on a desk behind their display case, presses a few buttons, and then moves about — continuing to do his primary work. All the time he is perhaps bopping abit, as are his booth colleagues … and as are those passing by. In fact, that is what is most apparent to an outside observer — that almost no one, ever, passes by 3rdEye and doesn’t get into the dancing groove.
“This is where the show is now!” Said one fan, late at night, as people left the night’s supposed main attraction, and cattle-style meandered by the booth. The beats flowing out of the 3rd tent were divine. They were groovy, they were fresh, they were driving, they were new. “Where’s this from?” People are asking (obscurity is always a hallmark in DJ culture). Even though the show was supposed to be over, it wasn’t. Dancing continued here, and so did people stopping to peruse the merchandise, and consider what they might look like in a designer button, or piece of nature-turned-jewelry.
This is DJing at its roots. It’s not about absurd heroes jumping up and down as they tweak nobs. It’s not about spotlights. DJing is about setting up a space. It’s about anonymous people working machines so that ambient space works. I can think of no other performance art that has so many artists who hide their faces regularly: Daft Punk, Deadmua5, Skism, Marshmello … DJing is the artist in the background. The Wizard of Oz working his levers — that’s who the DJ strives to be, and isn’t embarrassed to be. S/he makes the space, and the reward is the improved space itself.
So here’s to you, JD. An anonymous star of the show. People don’t know your name, but they bumped and ground to your beats. They hung out, they talked with friends, they flirted … your beats attracted them like moths to light, and build the possibility for them to enjoy a superstar or two. Thank you.