These are both great books from Grove Press. Last Night a DJ Saved My Life is more readable, as the story of the history of the DJ has a plot, and some very interesting characters. It does an incredible job of tying together seemingly disparate genres, showing the direct links and chronology between Northern Soul, Disco, Reggae, Hip Hop, House, Techno, and other styles of modern dance music.
Northern Soul started in England in the 60’s with people traveling across the country to hear DJ spin obscure, upbeat soul 45s. (And to take speed and dance.) This was the first time the DJ as we think of him today was the center of the event and “raves” haven’t really progressed much since. Jamaican labels had been issuing instrumental versions of songs for live vocal reworkings since the mid to late 60’s, and DJ Kool Herc’s move from the island to New York and the importing of this technique in the late 70’s played a direct role in the genesis of hip hop. In the meantime other New York DJs like Francis Grasso had been developing their own techniques, beat-matching, mixing and blending disco 45s to keep their dancefloors as lively as possible. Chicago house in the early 80’s was vital in adding the thumping bass and general drum machine abuse to create a constant stream of seamless beats. Taken together this history constitutes the state of electronic sampling and beat manipulation that we take for granted today in hip hop, dance, and pop music.
How to DJ Right is a pleasure as well and again there is a lot in the book that supercedes the realm of the DJ: MIDI, virtual studios, how to use EQ, test pressings, DIY gigs/records/recordings, and more. Broughton and Brewster simply explain many things I learned the hard way through trial and error with rock bands.
The book starts slow, politely advising against skipping to the beat-matching chapters. The authors maintain firmly that taste in music and record selection is far more important than technical bravado on the turntables. From gear and record selection to beat matching and scratching; after the real meat of how to actually DJ is delivered we get to the most interesting chapters — how to book gigs, how to promote, how to move from “DJ” to “producer,” how to press and release a record. Along the way are quotes, advice, and quips from famous and/or successful DJs and producers. I would venture to say for anyone interested in any aspect of music or music business, there is a lot to learn in this book.
These books are both such obvious labors of love with such a firm knowledge and appreciation of disparate genres of music I can’t believe most dance music I hear is as boring and repetetive as it is. As opposed to making me appreciate DJs I see more, these books make me think most DJs I see are just doing it wrong. Then again they both repeatedly advise you cease reading if you’re not on the dancefloor yourself; so given that I shouldn’t have read the books in the first place they did a great job of getting a rock-biased general music fan to understand and, to a limited extent, appreciate DJ culture.
Through both of these books an absolute love and enthusiasm for music reigns supreme. They may be DJ-focused, but it’s the authors’ understanding and attitude towards music, records, and the surrounding industry that makes these books unique and valuable.