In light of the recent Paris Hilton fiasco, we thought it was a prime time to dig up this old friendly feature from 2009.
Words: Phil Dudman
Photos: Vincent Dolman
Fashion Editor: Sophie Lopez
Published in Mixmag 2009
Are celebrity DJs a threat to club culture or just a harmless example of what passes for glamour in 2009? Mixmag investigates.
For most people, getting DJ gigs is down to perseverance: forcing CDs on promoters, putting on your own nights, uploading your mixes to DSI and MySpace, entering competitions, randoming your heroes and doing your utmost to be in the right place at all times. But once you’re in Heat magazine, all that can change. Whether you’re the brother of someone talented, a ‘star’ of reality TV, an actor, a model or comedian, even if you can barely mix a vodka and Red Bull and have the musical talent of a spoon (wooden, not Dave), somewhere out there is a club night that will book you, and pay you well, to play records.
It’s not a new thing. There is an argument that Boy George was the first celebrity DJ, managing to parlay his fame from another life into DJing superstardom. But really, pop stars and band members, from Howard Donald to the Hot Chip DJs, don’t really count – they are, after all, musicians (OK, maybe not Howard). No, the first real celebrity DJ was probably former world super middleweight champion Nigel Benn, someone we doubt even Steven Gerrard and his mates would attempt to challenge for control of the playlist, let alone point out that giving his 1997 ‘UK Speed Garage’ compilation the hopeful addendum ‘Volume 1’ was perhaps a bit optimistic. Since then celeb DJs have come and gone in all shapes and sizes, from models and heiresses to sporting heroes and the siblings of people with real talent.
Some seem to do it for a laugh, others obviously consider it an important part of their revenue stream. Some, like Sam Ronson, seem to exist in a strange middle ground where it’s impossible to work out whether their gossip rag appearances are designed to boost their DJ profile, or the other way round. Most are bloody awful.
There is a chance that revellers at a Sick On The Dancefloor at London’s SeOne last autumn preferred the housey vibes of former rugby player Martin Offiah to being ‘lifted’ by the Lighthouse Family DJs. But who wouldn’t? The celebrity DJ phenomenon even continues to grow despite the fact that some of its most famous names have decided to jack it in: Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Peaches ‘spawn of’ Geldof seem to have realised that it takes hard work and skill to be a DJ proper, and jumped back off the celebrity DJ bandwagon again. In fact, talk to a real-deal superstar DJ like Paul Oakenfold and he’ll tell you even these international ‘it girls’ have found a far less strenuous way to make their money.
“They can’t compete in our scene, they can’t play in our scene, they don’t have the music, it’s a hard job to do – I realised that straight away and, to be fair, I think they realised that pretty quickly too. And they weren’t ever trying to get on the scene to be taken that seriously,” says Mr Perfecto. “In America it was a trend and it died pretty quickly. It’s all about ‘appearances’ now. It’s unbelievable. They get flown in, paid ten grand, put up in a free hotel and get to bring all their mates just to be in the club and have a party!” Such ‘appearances’ buy clubs truly global publicity and pull in the world’s star-loving punters from far and wide, without the risk that anyone will take the needle off the wrong record.
Yet have no fear – Insanity Artist Agency, the ‘go-to’ DJ management company for celebs, has recently added Kelly Osbourne to a bulging roster of names that includes Denise van Outen and Ralf Little.
But then, says Oakenfold, the whole trend has never threatened the health of him or his peers. “Honestly, you know Bob Geldof’s daughter isn’t going to be playing Gatecrasher on a Saturday night. There’s a lot of pressure walking in front of 10,000 people or whatever it is. They’re a completely different DJ who would play in a small club for an hour where people aren’t interested in the music.
It doesn’t offend me that they jumped on the DJ bandwagon. You’ve got bands that do it. Or look at Deadmau5: he slagged all us DJs off when he came on the scene, and now he DJs. So where do you draw the line?”
Of course, Oakey has already made his reputation – and lots of money. Aspiring DJs, trying to get gigs based solely on their talent and tunes, may be a little more offended at others jumping the queue just because they’ve been on telly. There are, of course, openings for them as ‘stunt jockeys’ – an ‘actual’ DJ paid to do the mixing, shield the decks from Champagne spillages and actually plug in some headphones. All the work with none of the credit.
So with all our transatlantic copy-catting, why do our home grown Z-listers, reality TV dregs and talentless celebrity-siblings still insist on being DJs now it’s scientifically proven to be naff? Maybe it’s because no one’s going to offer Michael Fielding or Alfie Allen ten grand to come and linger in their club like a post-kebab fart. But promoters across the country will pay a thousand or two to get these guys on the roster of their clubnights – knowing that enough people will pay £8 a pop in advance for a ticket – and perhaps that says it all. As Oakenfold points out, “let’s face it, people go to a place where they might see some stars” – however dimly they twinkle. One thing our society is good at coming up regularly with is vacuous, empty fame – who can really blame those in its maw for trying to cash in? After all, many of these celebrity jocks serve an important purpose (besides giving us a good laugh): reminding clubbers that, actually, DJing does require a degree of skill and practice. Even with Ableton.
So the next time your local resident goes down a minimal cul de sac or tells you to fuck off when you ask for a birthday request, count your blessings.