The New Cool: Modern DJs Do More Than Jockey Discs

Feb 3, 2017

As a young music fan, I considered the radio DJ the ultimate gatekeeper to good taste and sophistication. Humbly, now in that position, I still do.

But the next generation of music fans has a different idea of what a DJ is. No longer sequestered behind a microphone in a cramped, dimly lit room filled with records and maybe a stick of incense, today’s DJ is at the front of the stage in a giant arena, surrounded by lights and computers.

The culture of hip-hop and later rave dance parties has elevated the DJ to artist, as new beats are created on the fly to blend and splice into familiar melodies or abstract tones with thick bass thumps. It truly can be spontaneous performance, not unlike jazz.

Many producers of electronic music have moved onto stages, calling themselves DJs even though they may not “jockey” a single vinyl disc. Remixing and even completely reimagining previously recorded music has developed into its own genres, and has raised a generation of listeners who love to get lost in a groove — a repetition of rhythm and riffs that set the stage for whatever improvisation a live DJ might create.

It’s this level of listening and dancing to complex rhythms that make me think the younger generation is ripe for the world of jazz — heavily focused on drums and electronic textures with the freedom of improvisation. And the world of jazz is developing some fantastic DJs – you’ll hear Mocean Worker, Koop, Nicola Conte, dZihan & Kamien, Skalpel and many other electronics whiz kids on The New Cool. Many other artists utilize DJ methods of production and sampling within their group’s sounds.

As for myself, I’m excited to blend the two worlds – you’ll find DJ Abe Beeson spinning New Cool jazz and a few older soul jazz favorites at Nectar Lounge in Fremont on Saturday evening, opening for sax and flute player Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. No samples, no break beats, no scratching — I’ll just be playing one song after another, just like on the radio, but for an “intimate” sold out crowd.

The setting of a raucous bar can throw off an inexperienced DJ, but yours truly has been around the block. As soon as the needle breaks into the first few bars of a song, I’m looking for that reaction from the crowd — is anybody moving to the beat? Success! Are they more interested in conversation? Maybe it’s time to pick up the tempo! It’s a feeling of bringing the cramped radio booth to life, and I hope you have your tickets to hear my Frankenstein’s Monster at Nectar Saturday night. If not, I’ll be trying again at the same club warming up the crowd for The Polyphonics on February 28. Let’s boogie!

The New Cool airs Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. The program is hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.