The Greasy Pole

So, you're a DJ, desperate to reach the dizzying heights of success? Read our guide and you’ll learn all the moves you have to make to climb the greasy pole of success.

By Tom Magic Feet

It happened without warning. A deep, American voice said: "Hi, this is Tony Humphries and you're listening to Super DJ Danny Rampling on Radio 1 FM." Say what? 'Super DJ'? As in 'Supermodel' and 'Superstar'? Is this man's ego completely out of control, I wondered?

Yet when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Rampling is at the top of his game, a household name. No wonder he wants to differentiate himself from – pah! – mere Premier Leaguers. DJing is a huge industry, so it's only natural that it should have established its own pecking order. And it has: there now exists a fully defined hierarchy amongst DJs. So far it has been unspoken, but it exists all the same.

In an age when DJing is no longer seen as a hobby but as a viable career option and every FE college worth its salt offers a course in the subject, the DJ hierarchy is what dictates everything from the running order at Creamfields to how much the guy in that bar you were in last night gets paid. It is an intricate web of agents, promoters, magazines and managers, a system based on patronage, exposure and public recognition, on how many mix albums you've sold and how many magazine covers you've been on. Skill, aptitude and musical taste, on the other hand, are fast becoming irrelevant.

Overload therefore presents, for the first time ever, the complete guide to the DJ hierarchy of 2001. If you're an 'up and coming' DJ, our guide will show you the moves you have to make to climb the greasy pole of success. If, on the other hand, you're already a successful jet-setting record-changer, it might just serve as a reminder of both how far you've come and how far you might one day fall. Failing that, it should at least help you find your true place in the scheme of things. And hey, deep down, isn't that what everyone wants?

So what are you waiting for? Read our guide and in a few years you too could be a Super DJ. Just like Danny.

 Wannabee DJs

Examples: Take a peek through the window of the nearest student house.
Where to find them: Mostly in their bedroom, but occasionally seen at house party or in Student Union bar on Tuesday night frowning in deep concentration. On 'Learn to DJ' courses.
Defining characteristics: Got into dance music a year or two back at university, knew they'd found their 'calling' and bought decks immediately. Buys records from HMV as specialist shops are jolly intimidating. Heavily influenced by one or more Super/Premier League DJs. Have never heard of Chicago house or Detroit techno. Still wet pants at sight of a promo copy. Harbour fantasies about pulling foxy DJ groupies, but never will. Cannot talk about anything apart from DJing or music.
Pay scale: Usually nothing, but occasionally £25 and maybe some beer on a good night.
Ambition: To be noticed.

 Struggling DJs

Examples: There are no famous examples of Struggling DJs - if they were famous they wouldn't be struggling, would they? You probably know several, though.
Where to find them: Local bars, back room on student club nights, warming up at friends' club nights. Anywhere that'll have them, basically.
Defining characteristics: Spend more a week than they make on records. Never very excited about their gigs, but do them all anyway because the money's useful and hey, you never know, it might lead to something.
Pay scale: £50 a throw.
Ambition: To land a residency.

 Resident DJs

Examples: 'Mike Smith', 'Jim Brown', 'Dave Perkins' etc or 'Laggy', 'Devious J', 'Deckmaster Dan' – residents always have either really boring, forgettable names or just crap made-up ones.
Where to find them: In small type at the bottom of flyers. Playing the dead 9-11pm slot before any crowds show up. Still playing in bars midweek, too, only now they don't brag about it.
Defining characteristics: Burning sense of injustice at having to constantly take a back seat to the guests. Secretly delighted when guests don't show up and they're told to fill in for a fraction of the fee the guest would have got. Annoyed at failure to be included on enough mailing lists or pull enough women. Thinking of starting own label to boost name, increase bookings and because no-one else will release their stuff.
Pay scale: £50-200, depending on the success/profile etc of the club.
Ambition: To be namechecked by a more famous DJ and progress to Credible Guest status. And make records.

 Credible Guest DJs

Definition: They keep their heads down and never worry about musical fads and fashion, because the Credible Guest DJs are about one thing and one thing only – music.
Examples: Chris Duckenfield, Kenny Hawkes, Harvey, Phil Perry.
Where to find them: At smaller, more credible nights across the UK and abroad playing credible but boring music. In the studio doing 'swap' remixes of credible, obscure records destined to sell a thousand copies apiece, if that.
Defining characteristics: Own credible little label which releases a credible twelve-inch every couple of months, followed by a very credible self-mixed compilation CD every ten releases. Flyers always put the name of their label after their name or else no-one would know who they were. Give dull-as-fuck interviews.
Pay scale: Few hundred quid. It's not about money, you know.
Ambition: To retain credibility at all costs.

 Nu-breed DJs

Definition: A media term used to describe young(ish) DJs who journalists have started writing about because they're bored of all the established names. The 'nu-breed' usually favour deep or progressive house and hero-worship Sasha and Digweed.
Examples: Steve Lawler, Craig Richards, Yousef, Lee Burridge, Terry Francis.
Where to find them: Fabric, The Bomb, Bugged Out! etc – any club that likes to think of itself as 'switched-on'.
Defining characteristics: Have actually been DJing for ten years, but no-one noticed until some better-known DJ gave them a namecheck them in a magazine – either that or they won a Cream residency in some saddo contest. Endless long, smooth, boring mixes of long, smooth, boring records that all sound the same. Boring haircuts, T-shirt and jeans. Idolise certain obscure foreign producers. Just started dabbling in production. Already signed the mix album deal.
Pay scale: Up to a grand and rising.
Ambition: To 'work with' Hipp-E, Onionz & Halo.

 Also-Ran DJs

Definition: On the face of it, the Also-Rans seem to be doing OK. For example, they're not short of bookings and remix requests, but then that's only because these are the DJs that promoters call when the DJs they really wanted are unavailable. The Also-Rans made their names years ago and have spent all their time since endlessly gigging around the circuit without making any progress up the ladder. Deep down they know there's more to life than this, but by now they have a habit to maintain and are too scared to quit.
Examples: Justin Robertson, Billy Nasty, John Kelly, Jim 'Shaft' Ryan, Ian Ossia
Where to find them: On cover of second-rate dance music mags eg. DJ, Wax, M8 – the Also-Rans never turn down press, it's the only thing that ensures people remember them.
Defining characteristics: Have all the best tunes and can mix, but it's impossible to get excited about them.
Pay scale: £500-1000 a gig. Think it's not enough.
Ambition: To be awarded the status and plaudits their long years of experience merit, of course.

 Scene Leader DJs

Definition: Those given ultimate 'respeck' by their own specialist scene.
Examples: Prime Cuts, Mr Thing (turntablism), Ashley Beedle, Terry Farley (house), Mickey Finn, LTJ Bukem (drum'n'bass) etc.
Where to find them: All the most prominent clubs in their scene, occasional forays into crossover spots when someone wants to buy in a little cred.
Defining characteristics: If a Scene Leader plays a record, the label will use it as 'proof' that the artist is great, for example: 'Bongotwat's last release, I'm A Bongotwat, found favour with such distinguished names as LTJ Bukem'. Foreign clubbers get all excited when a Scene Leader comes to their town. Lots of credible records and remixes to their name. Given licence to play really weird records that any unknown would get bottled off for.
Pay scale: A hefty wedge, mark my words.
Ambition: To keep it very, very real indeed.

 Established circuit DJs

Definition: Still classed as 'Superstar DJs' by lazy dance music journos, the Established Circuit DJs are booked up for months ahead and doing very nicely, thank you.
Examples: Dave Seaman, Brandon Block, Boy George, Dave Clarke, Sonique.
Where to find them: Everywhere. If you'll pay, they'll play.
Defining characteristics: Often known as 'good blokes' or 'real caners'. Have own radio show on second-rate regional or Internet station, so consequently desperate for THAT call from Radio 1. Several Essential mixes behind them.
Pay scale: A grand or three a throw, give or take a grand or two.
Ambition: A transfer to the Premier League.

 Premier League DJs

Definition: Only slightly less famous than Super DJs, Premier League DJs are often Scene-Leaders who have managed to break into the mainstream by virtue of being associated with a hit record or having a nice line in patter, yet they still retain more credibility than the Super DJs.
Examples: Carl Cox, Sasha, Seb Fontaine, Norman Cook, Gilles Peterson, Fabio & Grooverider, Dreem Teem, Tim Westwood.
Where to find them: Top of the bill at all the biggest and best venues, unless a Super DJ is also playing.
Defining characteristics: Usually 35+. Own late-night show on Radio 1 or frequent appearances on the station. Pack out clubs on the strength of their name alone. Either MD of a label or have fat recording contracts. Constant remix requests. Minor part in crap clubbing film.
Pay scale: Not far off Super DJ levels. Loads, in other words.
Ambition: Primetime show on Radio 1.

 Super DJs

Household names, massive amongst 14-year-old Radio 1 listeners, the Super DJs are the top boys. Is it a DJ? Is it a celebrity? No, it's a Super DJ!
Examples: Judge Jules, Dave Pearce, Pete Tong, Paul Oakenfold, Danny Rampling.
Where to find them: Cream, Home and the biggest, glitziest clubs worldwide.
Defining characteristics: Old enough to have fathered 90% of their audience. Primetime show on Radio 1, TV slot on the prestigious UK Play channel. Several juicy business deals with websites and/or record labels, if not already MD of own label. High-profile summer residency in Ibiza. Several managers and agents. Regular meetings with accountants to discuss substantial stock portfolio. Several mix compilations to their name. Top of bill at Creamlands. Last vestiges of credibility abandoned long ago.
Pay scale: We're talking a good few thousand – Oakenfold starts at seven grand (note the use of 'starts'). The Inland Revenue's choice, natch.
Ambition: What else is there? A book deal? A gold-plated Technics back-scratcher?
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