Over the years, the DJ Mag Top 100 poll has become dance music’s favourite piñata, and the accusations against it have varied over time. The current favourite is that the poll is colonialist and doesn’t represent the origins of dance music. Accusations of sexism frequently circulate too. And whilst there’s a degree of truth to these views, my main criticism of the poll is that it’s basically rubbish.
And now, the backlash has come along – in the form of the Bembe DJ Awards. Set up by Carlos Mena, the poll was set up in order to create a list that was more reflective of the culture and roots of dance music. Nothing wrong with that idea, allow me to emphasise. Late last week, they revealed their list of top DJs – all 125 of them…
Why does the list consist of 125 names? Your guess on why the list has this random number is as good as mine. Not much is known about the voting process either. According to a video Mena posted explaining the process, the list was compiled by a combination of a selected panel and members of the public. But this answer raises far more questions than it settles.
How many people are on the selected panel? What are their names? Are any of them DJs whose names have ended up on the poll – and isn’t that a conflict of interest if this has happened? And how does the panel work – did they merely submit a shortlist for the public to vote on, or were they given a certain percentage of the power to decide, with the public having the rest?
Secondly, there’s a decided lack of women on this list – admittedly, I’m not aware of the genre of all 125 DJs on the list, but a quick glance suggests to me around a dozen females. I also note there are very few white DJs on this list. Without information on the panel and who voted for this and in what area, it’s extremely hard to make any deductions as to why.
And here’s one I have a particular issue with. Bembe DJ Awards is the creation of Carlos Mena, who runs Ocha Records alongside his friend Osunlade. The winner of the poll is Osunlade. And Carlos Mena is even in the poll himself, positioned at number 41.
The DJ Mag Top 100 DJs poll of 2020 was won by David Guetta. Imagine it then transpired that David Guetta was in charge of the poll at DJ Mag and he just happened to have won it. You simply wouldn’t be able to move for shouts that the poll was rigged.
If the best that Bembe DJ Awards can seriously manage is to essentially be yet another bro fest, then they might as well not bother again…
One thought on “When people complain DJ polls are full of white guys patting each other’s backs, what’s the answer? If you’re Bembe DJ Awards, you create a list full of non-white guys patting each other’s backs instead!”
Good call there.
And colonialism is being stretched past its breaking point.
The DJ mag list stopped being credible over 20 years ago.
The whiteness is certainly an issue. The fact that Plastikman succeeded where his black detroit contemporaries failed was an early indicator. But he was also a trailblazing technical DJ from a scene mostly known for producers.
But mostly it became packed with generic shit, djs laser focused on success, and probably helped by being extremely marketsble assets to the superclubs whos ads kept the mags going.
A garbage-bag term like colonialism doesn’t even try to address that, since it only seeks to replace marketable malleable whites with black people who are just the same. The slights to history isn’t that races don’t get equal exposure, I’ve not ever heard the lack of native american dj representationed mentioned.
Black men specifically originated a lot of the magical ingredients others have built upon. Their contribution was in originality and soul.
They came from modest or impoverished backgrounds.
Tokenism isn’t a response to that. It just doesn’t reach the rotten core, it just paints the surface.
Impoverished backgrounds is key. There are enough black kids with well-off parents, the confidence of security and strong networks to stack any celebrity sphere with tokens.
But if you’re not finding and platforming the current originators, it’s all just so much theatre.
It’s differentiating between the originators of footwork and johnny-come-latelies, even if the johnny come latelies are black, female or of unoethodox sexual distinctions.
It’s recognising that the kids in russia that make something out of nothing in hopless post-industrial wastes are not beneficiaries of colonialism, even though they are white. They have more in common with the Detroit originals than anyone who can afford to live in new york and try their hand at creative life.
I can’t speak to osunlade’s DJing prowess, I do know him as a great producer.
But I don’t imagine him being the most underrated DJ around.
You don’t unpack this with tokenism. Comsumers get screwed over by these corrupt systems. Bland shit kills the culture. Replacing it with mediocre talent hidden behind layers of pretense isn’t the solution.
And if you curate such a list, you get to choose. Because the topic of DJs is about as subjective as you can get.
That’s the whole thing.
Also, I love that Guetta topped the list. He was probably good once. He had some fun tracks around 2006. Since then he’s just been hell-bent on celebrity, the best known mime in DJing, all prerecorded sets.
But that shit seems to work. He’s huge. So I can’t make up my mind, if I love him for the brazen disrespect of puritanism, or if I’m… no I’m sure I just love him. I don’t know what his music sounds like, but stadium performance isn’t DJing, and it isn’t supposed to be.
I watched Skrillex from the photo pit at sonar back in the day, he spent so much time hyping the crowd that his rapid mixes can’t have been real.
But it worked. While I was there I thoroughly enjoyed his dubstep-but-for-3-year-olds schtick. Because he really… performed.
But the only real dj set i remember from sonar was miss kittin. Her face was on the giant screen, it was 2004, she was a fresh face, thrown onto the stadium stage last minute to cover for carl cox’ absence.
She seemed frightened. And she played the most beautiful, emotional set, completely free of the hits everyone else was playing,
Because that intimacy felt a bit like a good dj set. The connection, the unexpected turns.
Like you get in a space where everyone can see everyone.
You lose that once the DJ becomes big enough to tour, and the only ones that keep a semblance of that on the road are the real selectors and diggers, the DJ Harveys of the world.
Mostly you just hear djs lose all personality once they grow accustomed to the biggest rooms, learning that if you can’t see all the faces, your best help is very generic big room tricks, and tracks that sound good on every sound system.
So a “best dj list” can never be good.
Because you can’t champion a dj harvey over a david guetta. The system isn’t broken, even, it just really works.
The only good dj list is one that is very unrepresentative of the wishes of the masses.
A devious creation by smart people like you and me, willfully elitist, where time is spent finding good enough representative faces to give all colors and creeds role-models, making originators seem bigger than they are, giving scenes and tastes the same representarion as people’s skin, and a mindful eye to age too.
In short, with all that work, there is no space to push your mate to #1.
The format is always corrupt, so the only chance of credibility is faultlessness and quality.
So more girls, more new stuff, don’t waste an oppurtunity like this on a publicity stunt.
As you say.
Comments are closed.