By: Jess Stokes
Illustration by Stephanie Kervin
If you’re anything like me, you spend a lot of your time in shitty dive bars listening to your friends or random people play music off of laptops. Some people call these people Laptop DJs or DJ MacBook Pro, jokes meant to marginalize the legitimacy of playing music off of programs, such as iTunes, as a musical art form. In a time when everyone seems to have laptops and there is endless access to vast archives of free music, what makes an individual more qualified to quench a crowd’s musical thirst? Can these people call themselves DJs or does the absence of turntables and mixing equipment makes them just another dude playing some songs in a bar?
Patrick McGuire is an up and coming Toronto DJ who spends a lot of his time playing music in bars and galleries throughout this concrete playground. Over the past three years he’s been instrumental in the creation of hip-hop parties in Toronto (White Girl, First World Problems, Bad Taste), filling a much-needed niche for those of us who just can’t handle anymore house and dubstep in our lives. “We started because a friend of mine who I was in residence with, James and I, were the only skinny white people we knew that were obsessed with hip-hop. We were obsessed to the point were went out and we couldn’t really enjoy ourselves because we thought we could do it better.” He’s interviewed a range of popular hip-hop artists from Clipse to Kid CuDi. This Friday he’ll be opening for the sold out Das Racist show at Wrongbar (FYI 50 door tickets left) – his largest venue yet. I checked in with him at home to get thoughts on the legitimacy of laptop DJs, the Toronto hiphop scene and the art of hyping a crowd.
When asked how he responds to people who think playing music on computers in bars is not a legitimate art form, Pat’s reply is straight forward: “I think those people are really bitter and I think a lot of people who do say stuff like that are traditionalists of something that’s just not even worth being traditional about. One of the classic debates on this subject is whether Serato is a viable way to DJ… if you’re a good DJ it’s because you know the music you play really well and which song will work with the next song. If you really want to use vinyl than have fun lugging 200 pounds of wax with you but if you are going to do that four times a month in dives bars than I think you’re kind of a loser.”
For those that think scratching is a more legitimate art form, I’d say that the two forms of musical expression cannot be compared. We agree they are different creative processes meant for different sized venues and musical genres. Pat adds “Yeah I think there is a lot of incredible technical skills to DJing and being able to juggle records, mix well and scratch is really credible but if you’re doing that you’re probably playing bigger venues not small bars. I just think it’s a completely different thing and honestly, if you play house music you can come off as a lot more technically adept because a lot of house music sounds the same. The bpm’s for hiphop is all over the place and it’s a lot harder to mix songs together.”
Anyone can drag and drop songs onto an ITunes playlist, an argument often cited as the main criticism of laptop DJing. But not everyone has an equal ability to draw out a crowd or play music they’ll all want to hear. McGuire point’s out that if you’re rocking a playlist and “you still have 60 people coming out to your night at 751 every week [shouts to Dan Arget] than you are obviously just attracting people because they like you, think you’re cool, and they don’t give a fuck whether you’re mixing or not.” In this digital age music is so freely available now that anyone can have an extensive music collection without spending all of his or her time and money on it.
The playing field has been leveled, Pat says, arguing that the “differences are now made by people who A) legitimately love the music they’re playing, B) have some or great technical skills at playing it (because I think they standards for technical skills have gone down an C) have any social ability and pull to bring people out. If you’re able to do those things that you’ll rise above some kid that’s doing it for the first time.” He points out that radio jockeys are called DJs only what they play is mostly prescribed. At the very least, laptop DJs can use mixing programs and generate their own style.
These people often don’t just stop at playing music off their laptops; they create digital booklets and mixtapes, use tmblrs and blogs to creatively express their own personal style and musical taste. McGuire adds, “anytime you can make a visual component to accompany music that you may not have ever made it just shows more interest.”
Check out Pat McGuire’s mixtapes at http://rooflyfe.tumblr.com/ and Youtube his name for interviews with current rap artists.
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/the-inside/dj-macbook-pro/.