Techno Tuesday: John Digweed on the art of the extended set
Techno Tuesday is a feature on Dancing Astronaut documenting the culture of underground dance music. We’ll bring you exclusive interviews, tracks, and narratives from artists within the techno, tech house, and deep house world in an effort to shed light on some of the best talent outside the world of mainstream dance music.
There is perhaps no DJ as renowned for the art of the extended set as John Digweed. The English legend has been a pillar of the electronic world for over two decades, performing 7 hour+ sets on the regular. Digweed is the epitome of total control, crafting long, engaging story arcs that string one along in effortless fashion.
Case and point: Digweed’s 11-hour performance from Stereo Montreal, which has become the 8th iteration of his venerated Live CD series. In celebration of the mix CD, we’ve asked John a few questions about delivering a proper extended set, and how he prepares for his long-winded performances.
This Saturday, John Digweed headlines the Spiegeltent at Mysteryland USA. Tickets are available here.
How do you prepare for an extended set?
It’s not something you can go to college to learn it’s something that takes years of watching and listening to other DJ’s. The first club I went to the resident DJ played all night 9pm – 2am he had to pace out the night and save some of his bigger tracks until the end of the night ( it always amazes me when a DJ upends his set with the current biggest track out there where do you go after that!).
I made friends with the DJ and convinced him to let me play the first hour. I was 17 at the time and went in playing all my new releases. He told me I got it all wrong straight away as there was still another 4 hours to go and I had already played all my biggest tracks.
I learnt so much right there that it has stayed with me to this day. Nobody walks straight into a club at 9pm and starts dancing straight away so you don’t have to force them on. Set the mood and build it gradually, search out cool and interesting tracks that have a nice groove but not much more. It’s all about pacing out the night you want to keep it interesting and have peaks and also moments to give the crowd a rest. If it’s hands in the air all the time you will wear them out too quickly and they will not last the distance.
How do you structure your extended sets? Where do you begin and where do you end up?
It all depends on venue and are you doing start to finish or continuing on from another DJ — if the opener has done his job correctly he will leave you in a place that you can dovetail into and continue the night, if he has banged it out you might have to stop and start from scratch or continue and slowly edge towards your vibe and sound you want to play. You want to end up on a high with a fairly decent size crowd left not just the bar staff and 5 people shuffling around on the dance floor. If its been a mega long set, maybe send them off with a classic to leave them with a smile on their faces.
How does the flow of energy change over the course of an extended set?
The energy of the set is key. It needs to increase slowly over the set. Live in Montreal started off Ambient, then around 110bpm through to 116bpm, 120bpm and ending up 11 hours later around 125bpm You don’t want to hear a 8 hour set thats stuck at 120bpm for the whole time.
What are some of your best tips/techniques you’ve learned over the years for delivering an extended set?
Eat a light meal, no dodgy sushi, do a 5K run, and have a bottle of Patron Cafe in the booth just case you start to lag.
What’s your favorite part about performing an extended set?
The best extended sets I have done are usually the ones that were not planned to be extended. Stereo was meant to be 8 hours and ended up being 11 hours. The crowd should always be the reason that you are playing so long, when you have an amazing crowd in front of you that is hanging off every record, they will allow you to dig deeper into you box and pull out track after track like you can read their minds.
Photo Credit: Doughlas Wojciechowski