Even though the art of disc-jockeying is nearly one hundred years old, with modern DJs selling out stadiums and celebrated like rock stars the world over, there remain many misconceptions about DJs, and the art of djing.

Perhaps the most egregious of these misconceptions is that djing is easy, and anyone with half a sense of rhythm and the ability to push a button can do it—this is, to put it mildly, absolutely, patently, violently untrue.

For the most talented DJs know how to read and feel a room better than anyone on the planet, digging deep into their unique musical knowledge to spin records that will, above all else, create a vibe, get people moving, and feeling good. This is not easy, and I write to you today as a DJ who is learning this more and more.

I imagine that dancing at a club with a good DJ must feel something like how going to a religious festival feels for the religious. This life-affirming experience of spiritual renewal is possible, and only possible, with a DJ who possesses hard-won skill, sensitivity, rhythm, creativity, curiosity, and above all else, the ability to create a unique atmosphere, and play directly to the dance floor’s often unconscious yearnings. 

To help me understand all of this better, I wanted to speak to one of the foremost historians of djing.

Photo courtesy of Resident Advisor
Photo courtesy of Resident Advisor

A talented and widely-respected DJ himself, Bill Brewster is the co-author of Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, the definitive history of the art form, while also contributing to The Guardian, The Independent, and many other publications. Bill also hosts a popular podcast called DJ History, and tours the world spinning the records he loves.

In today’s episode of Travels in Music, Bill and I talk about his personal history in dance music, the art and history of DJing, why disco is so important to modern dance music, the secrets of the world’s best DJs, and much more.

Regardless of whether or not you’ve attended a club in your life, I don’t think you’ll want to miss sitting in on this fascinating conversation with the author and world traveling DJ, Bill Brewster.

Also available via Stitcher Radio

Mentioned in this episode:

  • Last Night a DJ Saved My Life by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton (Amazon)
  • “The Love” by Linus Loves, from Bill Brewster’s Late Night Tales Presents After Dark (Amazon / iTunes)
  • An oral history of the beginning of disco (Vanity Fair)
  • “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor (Amazon / iTunes)
  • A “60 Minutes” story on disco from 1978 (YouTube)
  • An excellent DJ set by Bill courtesy of Boiler Room (YouTube)
  • “Quiller” by Quiller, from Bill’s Late Night Tales Presents After Dark (Amazon / iTunes)

Learn more about Bill Brewster at: